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.

Is increasing agility a recurring resolution?

As we kickoff the final week of 2018, many of us will be making New Year’s resolutions. While some of these resolutions might relate to achieving a specific goal or objective (e.g. I resolve to run a marathon this year), most relate to changing our behavior (e.g. I resolve to eat healthier this year). But for many of us it becomes a case of déjà vu as we end up making the same resolutions we had confidently made in previous years.

Increasing organizational agility is a journey and not a one time goal.

Similar to New Year’s resolutions, some delivery teams initiate plans to become agile only to revert to long ingrained habits when things get tough. It might not be on an annual basis, but companies which have struggled with agile transformations once will often try again and many will experience more than one failed attempt.

When it comes to personal resolutions and being able to stick to them the American Psychological Association’s website provides some good advice which could be applied to agile transformations.

Start small

It might be tempting to pick the very largest product or project when starting an agile transformation to surface many key organization blockers and to glean some valuable lessons. However, the very visible impacts of potential failure as well as the higher volume of stakeholders whose behavior will need to change makes this extremely risky. Just as a casual runner shouldn’t try to run a marathon in their very first month, starting with too ambitious a set of pilot initiatives is usually a recipe for disaster.

Change one behavior at a time

There are multiple behaviors which leaders and team members might need to modify and trying to change all of those at one time is like a golfer who tries to keep multiple swing thoughts in their head when addressing the ball. Usually they will end up with a worse swing than if they had just cleared their mind of all thoughts! A transformation team should identify which behavior change might result in the biggest impact and that should become the focus of coaching and peer support.

Talk about it

To succeed with any significant organizational change we need to over-communicate. The more we can talk with stakeholders about our target operating model, the challenges we will face to get there, and the small wins we are achieving, the more we will remain committed to the journey.

Don’t beat yourself up

No agile transformation is going to go smoothly. Some initiatives might turn out worse than if a traditional approach had been used. Some staff will leave the organization. As the APA website states “Perfection is unattainable”. But as long as we have support mechanisms in place and a desire to get better, we can bounce back from such setbacks which are usually minor when viewed from the perspective of an end-to-end transformation timeline.

Ask for support

Every organization has a unique culture, but it can be easier to stick to an increased agility resolution when you have support from those who have been there and done that. The value of external support comes from the breadth and depth of experience to know which patterns of behavior or practice are likely to lead to success and which won’t.

Adapting the quote from Dr. Lynn Bufka “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle behavior change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.

 

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

Product-centric teams have skin in the game!

I’m midway through Nassim Taleb‘s latest book, Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life. As is usual with Taleb’s writing, he provides thorough but humorous coverage of a concept which can be applied to many contexts. The premise of this book is that without skin in the game, asymmetries emerge which encourage unfairness, poor decision making and can contribute to a lack of understanding of realities.

One of the key principles discussed in the book is that there should be a negative incentive or cost to decision makers when things go wrong. Without this, we have an asymmetry since risks get transferred away from those who should have been held responsible. A common example of this is seen in companies where sales teams are compensated for initial sales but are not held accountable to some degree for customer satisfaction beyond the point of purchase. This can encourage salespeople to over-promise with inevitable expectation shortfalls. Another highly publicized example is that of the financial company executives who were never jailed for poor decision making which led to the 2008 financial crisis.

This principle can also be applied to some project teams.

There are industries such as large scale construction where the cost of poor quality in extreme cases (e.g. a bridge collapse) will result in punitive consequences to the engineers who were involved. However, in other domains such as software development for internal use where deadlines may be emphasized higher than product quality, there is no such downside. The teams who delivered the buggy release will have likely disbanded and the team members will have moved on to different departments or projects before the real cost of ownership is understood by the business owners.

On the other hand, when there is a product-centric model delivered by long-lived teams, there’s greater skin in the game. Escaped defects are no longer the responsibility of an operational group or some future project team. Quality issues will come home to roost in the delivery team’s backlog and the Product Owner has an incentive to focus on improved quality if he or she doesn’t want to have ongoing uncomfortable stakeholder interactions.

Taleb also states that skin in the game supports the principle of survival of the fittest. Product Owners or teams which consistently miss the mark with their releases are unlikely to be around for long in product-centric contexts whereas in project-centric organizations, it may be easier for individual mediocrity to fester if there isn’t ongoing vigilance.

“Skin in the game prevents systems from rotting” – Nassim Taleb

 

 

 

 

Categories: Agile | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Justify yourself!

A project manager asked me this week whether I was aware of any studies which could be used to justify the assignment of a “real” project manager to manage a project as opposed to having this function performed by someone else within a team. While I’m sure PMI and other project management associations have researched this thoroughly, I felt this would be a good topic for an article.

In some companies, such justification is not needed on a project by project basis. Organization policies or standards might require that projects exceeding a given estimated total cost or those that are over a certain level of complexity must have a project manager assigned. However even in these companies if perceptions fester that the role isn’t adding value, standards owners may be pressured to raise the thresholds at which project managers are required.

But in those companies where such standards do not exist, the battle might need to be fought at an individual project level. Convincing the funding authorities for these projects that a project manager is needed could be done in a couple of ways.

A fear-based approach might be used. This requires creating a sense of urgency by highlighting data from project failures or by communicating the personal risks to the stakeholder if something were to go wrong as a result of not having a project manager assigned. A decision tree could be used to compare the expected cost outcomes of both sides of the decision. While this might seem to be a reasonable approach, unless you are dealing with a particularly risk averse stakeholder, optimism bias is likely to cause the sponsor to ignore your arguments.

A different approach might focus on promoting the upsides of using a project manager. While this approach will be much harder to justify using financial projections, it doesn’t put the sponsor in the uncomfortable position of having to imagine their pet project failing and the emphasis is on showing the incremental benefits which they might achieve by having a project manager. Increased outcome predictability, improved communications, better focus by other team members on delivery, higher levels of stakeholder and team member engagement are just some examples of the advantages which could be communicated.

Regardless of a company’s level of organizational project management maturity, ensuring that the costs incurred by a project manager are providing some value in return is important otherwise it shouldn’t be a surprise if sponsors push back on the need to assign one.

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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