Author Archives: Kiron Bondale

About Kiron Bondale

Measurable business value can be realized through the successful initiation, prioritization, planning & execution of strategic projects. Striking a pragmatic, value-based balance between people, process & technology is a key to achieving success with Project Portfolio Management initiatives. Effective change management is crucial when trying to improve PPM or PM capabilities. Having been involved with multiple capability improvement initiatives, what I've learned is that "it's easy in theory, difficult in practice"! Continuous improvement of hard & soft skills gained by assisting organizations in the achievement of their business goals through the execution of the right projects in the right way is my ongoing mission.

Have we learned anything?

In a recent role, I had the opportunity to review the lessons submitted by teams running large, complex projects and programs and found that over 90% of what was being captured and shared was of low or no value.

Back in April 2009, I published my very first blog article titled “Lessons Learned; Avoid the Oxymoron“.  Since that time, I’ve gained a broader appreciation of the multiple challenges organizations face when trying to get sustainable, reusable knowledge out of projects and felt it was time to put a capstone on my writing about this specific topic.

So what have I learned about lessons over the past decade?

Patterns

  • Frequent identification – either on a fixed cadence such as in a sprint ending retrospective or just-in-time based on a team’s recognition that there is something of value to be captured and shared.
  • Scrubbing and distillation – lessons are like a diamond hiding within a drab rock. Someone needs to take the time to harvest reusable knowledge from a raw lesson. This is not simple because stripping out too much specificity will result in a generic, low value outcome, but leaving in too much contextual detail will make it hard for a reviewer to decide whether it is applicable to their project or not.
  • Category-driven response – depending on whether a lesson is a reminder, an organizational blocker or true knowledge, its deposition will be quite different. Reminders might be a call for more training or guidance whereas blockers should be escalated to an appropriate owner.
  • Context-based guidance – rather than poring over hundreds of lessons spanning a project’s lifecycle, it is helpful if a reviewer can be presented with a subset of lessons applicable to where they are in a project.
  • Likes and dislikes – give reviewers the ability to like or dislike lessons. Let the free market decide which are truly useful and should be retained and those which can be safely purged.
  • Regular incorporation into standards – instead of leaving it up to an individual to decide whether a particular lesson should be followed or not, those which are applicable in most cases should be baked into your templates, standards and policies.

Anti-patterns

  • Lesson suppression – sometimes the most valuable lessons are those which weren’t shared. A good PM must provide a safe environment and approach to help stakeholders be open about sharing the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Finger pointing – PMs need to ensure that lessons learned sessions don’t turn into the blame game.
  • Going through the motions – a risk of capturing lessons frequently is that the activity becomes mechanical and produces little value. Team members should have the confidence to cancel a session if there is nothing of value to be shared.
  • Superficial parroting – as with requirements, the value of lessons comes from their analysis, not just regurgitation.

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing” – Henry Ford

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Maintain a sense of change urgency through agility

According to John Kotter’s model for leading change, the first step to overcoming inertia requires us to instill a sense of true urgency in those we need to support, implement and sustain the change. While it is ideal if this urgency is tied to What’s In It For Me, at a minimum, we all want proof that committing our time and political influence to a particular initiative at this very moment is cheaper than the cost of doing nothing.

But the steps in Kotter’s model, like PMBOK processes, are not to be followed in a purely sequential manner. 

Significant organization transformations usually require a year or more to become “the new normal” and we are only fooling ourselves if we assume that those stakeholders who were focused and motivated to champion our initiative in its early days will continue to remain so for the long haul. Executives and mid-level managers are constantly juggling competing priorities and as long as it appears that a change initiative is not on fire, their attention spans are likely to be shorter than that of a goldfish.

As such, we need to iterate back to instilling that sense of true urgency at regular intervals. The specific cadence varies based on the complexity and duration of a transformation. Fan the flames too rarely and the spark will be extinguished. Do it too often and you’ll be treated like the boy who cried “Wolf!”.

But is reminding stakeholders that they need to support us enough to gain this support? Maintaining focus requires quid pro quo otherwise we are likely to hear “What have you done for me lately?” 

This is why regardless of the nature of a transformation we need to inject agility into its delivery. We can follow adapted versions of key Manifesto principles such as:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy our stakeholders through early and continuous delivery of business value
  • Deliver business value frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to implement change more effectively, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly
  • Change champions and the team must work together frequently throughout the transformation

Newton’s first law: An object at rest remains at rest, or if in motion, remains in motion at a constant velocity unless acted on by a net external force.

 

 

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

How do we encourage organizational adoption of an agile mindset?

Changing mindset is all the rage in the agile community.

Years of failed transformations which started with practice, methodology or tooling changes are convincing many that changing the hearts and minds of all stakeholders involved in value delivery provides a more safer road to organizational agility.

But how do we change people’s minds? We aren’t trying to change what they do as that results in superficial agility, we want to change how they think about what they do.

Attending a course is not the answer. As Morpheus states about The Matrix: Unfortunately, no one can be…told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a red pill that could flip that switch in our heads and turn us into inspiring, empowering, servant-leadership aligned, waste-exterminating leaders?

The Scrum Guide states that a key responsibility of a Scrum Master is “Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption and surely a key element of that centers around shifting mindset. Realistically, when teams are struggling to embrace agility, the majority of a Scrum Master‘s efforts are spent coaching them. This is the rationale behind organizations investing in coaching support outside agile teams. But even there, many agile coaches focus their efforts on evolving Scrum Master capabilities or at best working with a few key stakeholders surrounding the project or product release.

But a fish rots from its head.

To institutionalize agility, not just from a delivery perspective, but with regards to portfolio investment making, resource allocation, and operations, mindset change is needed from the top down which means that coaching services should also be targeted at multiple levels of the organization. Having executive leaders who truly walk the agile talk increases the likelihood of senior and mid-level managers doing the same. While it is common for staff to pick up bad habits from their managers, the same holds true for positive behaviors.

How much coaching assistance and time is required to realize a sustainable level of mindset change?

As usual, it depends. Factors such as organization size, current culture and behaviors, external forces, competing priorities and overall sense of urgency will all influence the level and duration of the investment in coaching. However, just as team-level coaching should start heavy and reduce over time as our teams get better at learning to fish, executive and mid-level management coaching should do the same. At some point, just as with delivery teams, leadership teams need to become self-managing and self-disciplined.

Until someone invents a red pill (or more likely, a chip), the best alternative we have is coaching coupled with the power of imitation. 

 

 

 

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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