Everything in moderation…

overindulgenceThe end of the holidays is the traditional time for people to make resolutions and a common theme for many is to practice moderation in eating, drinking or spending. Too much of anything, even a good thing, is unhealthy and the same can be said about project management practices. While there is a “right” amount of discipline which should be applied to a given project, it is quite easy to go beyond minimally sufficiency with negative repercussions.

Here are a few examples of project management over indulgence.

Too much planning is as risky as too little. Over planning consumes effort and time which might have been better spent on delivering scope. It can also create a false sense of confidence as the more detailed the plan, the greater the potential for bias causing us to ignore evidence that the plan is flawed.

Excessive effort spent by the project manager on stakeholder engagement might result in ensure that expectations are well managed, but may mean that the PM is neglecting the team. The opposite could also be happening in the case of project managers who focus too much on team building and miss early warning signs of stakeholder disengagement.

A little risk management can save a lot of fan cleaning, but too much risk management is like being over insured. Not only does this impact the value realization of risk management but it also reduces credibility in this critical discipline.

Obsessing over the triple constraint might cause a team to achieve approved baselines but deliver a solution which doesn’t generate expected business outcomes. This could also result in reduced quality or increased technical debt if the team cuts corners to meet cost or schedule constraints.

Communicating might represent 90% of a project manager’s job, but over communicating would mean that a thimbleful of meaningful content gets lost in a sea of minutiae.

And finally, monitoring the team’s progress is important but over monitoring is micro-management.

Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.” – Epicurus



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Do you deliver dazzling demos?

boringdemosDemos, or showcases as they are sometimes called, are a critical ceremony when they are run effectively as they address multiple project delivery objectives in a single event including:

  • Validating that what the team has completed to date is valuable from the perspective of their customer and other key stakeholders
  • Helping the team and stakeholders change or evolve their understanding of the desired solution
  • Getting signoff on completed work items in those organizations where such signoff is a required prerequisite for implementing change
  • Facilitating transparent progress reporting as stakeholders see what was committed by the team and what was completed
  • Providing team members with regular feedback and recognition for their hard work which increases levels of engagement and job satisfaction

But demos are just like any other project delivery practice in that their misuse could result in a worse outcome than if they had been skipped entirely. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help increase the value your team gets out of demos.

  • DO send meeting invitations well in advance and if you are following a standard sprint or iteration cadence (e.g. two or three weeks) then schedule a set of recurring invitations
  • DON’T book demos on Friday afternoons to avoid having stakeholders who are absent in body or mind
  • DO share the wealth by having everyone on the team take a turn to present a demo
  • DON’T use the demo as your soapbox for complaining about the team, blockers or what could or should have been done different
  • DO provide objective context when sharing sprint or iteration outcomes (e.g. committed vs. completed)
  • DON’T present a demo without having tested what you are going to show beforehand
  • DO invite both your customer representatives and relevant control partners to your demos
  • DON’T overwhelm your stakeholders with content
  • DO record the presentations either in advance or (if you feel lucky!) during the demo itself for the benefit of any stakeholders who were unable to attend
  • DON’T take negative feedback personally

While this article is primarily aimed at teams who are using an agile delivery approach, it is equally applicable to traditional projects. Dazzling demos can help sustain the attention and support from your customer and will keep team members focused on value delivery.



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Never neglect the human side of agile!

footprintPeople and not policies, processes, practices or platforms are required to achieve successful projects.

This is why the following principle from the Agile Manifesto needs to be careful considered whenever an agile transformation is underway:

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. 

The required shift is significant but subtle.

It’s a project manager changing how they phrase a simple action from “assigning work items to team members” to “team members committing or selecting which work items they will complete”. It’s a sponsor being mindful of how she expresses her concerns when observing a daily standup. It’s a team member volunteering to help peers without fear that someone will say “focus on your work, that’s NOT your job”.

Training at all levels is a good first step in the journey, but as with any type of soft skills learning, there is no substitute for hands-on experience.

Coaching will help to create behavioral muscle memory, but good coaches don’t come cheap, and limited availability of effective coaching support could act as a throttle on the pace of your agile transformation.

Leaders who walk the talk are essential but it is insufficient to have only executive leadership aligning with the desired “to be” set of behaviors if functional managers or other important influencers continue to follow traditional playbooks. This is one reason why coaching services could add value beyond just delivery teams by reinforcing leadership learning.

Behavior changes need be embedded across all aspects of culture.

One way to support this could be by taking the Manifesto’s value statements and principles and incorporating them in a personal, meaningful way into the company’s core values. These will provide a baseline for verifying individual alignment during performance appraisals and could also serve as a litmus test for evaluating how well potential candidates might fit.

It’s relatively easy to change organization policies or to introduce updated procedures or tools, but (to mashup Lao Tzu and Gladwell) changing human behavior requires a journey of ten thousand steps.




Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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