Project Management

Articles related to doing projects right

Need help team building? Try to escape an escape room!

There are multiple types of external events which a project manager or Scrum Master could consider to increase the level of collaboration and cohesion within their team. Escape rooms provide a fiscally responsible, but highly effective option.

For my readers who have never experienced one of these, an escape room provides a small team (ideally no more than eight people) with the task of completing a set of puzzles within a fixed duration of usually 45 minutes to one hour. These puzzles are incorporated within a fictitious scenario such as escaping a prison or surviving a zombie apocalypse. The narrative and challenges in lower quality rooms will follow a linear path and focus on solving one combination lock after another whereas better ones will provide the opportunity for parallel and alternate paths as well as providing puzzles which test multiple senses.

So why am I such a proponent of this type of team building activity?

Collaboration is a must, not a nice-to-have

I’ve enjoyed almost a dozen escape rooms and the mental and physical work involved in solving most challenges requires close collaboration. If one is shackled to a fellow “cell mate” at the start of a scenario, both have to work together to ensure that the keys to their shackles can be reached. Many puzzles require team members to coordinate their activities across different points in the room so once again, you can’t go it alone!

We is greater than the smartest Me

It’s a lot of fun trying to solve escape rooms with a group of self-stated Type A leaders. As the clock ticks down, it becomes apparent that the wisdom of the group needs to be harnessed rather than relying on a single leader. Situational leadership is exercised as some puzzles require spatial acuity, some memory or mathematical skills and others will demand physical dexterity. Escape rooms often have a few fiendish red herrings which can mislead one or more team members and ignoring these can be a good exercise for overcoming group-think.

We all need a helping hand sometime

All escape rooms provide teams with the ability to ask for assistance from a staff member at least once over the duration of the game. Deciding when is the right time to ask for help can pose its own challenges, especially if some team members are unwilling to show vulnerability. The same is true within the team – someone might believe they can solve a puzzle, and refuses to ask for help, but with limited time, the team will need to have the discipline to swap them out if they aren’t making progress.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

With clues to solve a puzzle scattered around the room or even split across multiple rooms, team members need to effectively communicate with one another in order to efficiently solve puzzles.


There are lots of distractions in an escape room. Multiple puzzles, false clues, artwork and interesting (but useless) trinkets and gadgets can trap us into losing focus. Support from the team is needed to help individual players focus on solving one puzzle at a time.

Unless the escape room is very simple it’s rare that a team will complete their first escape room. When time runs out, rather than just rushing to the nearest watering hole, it might be worth holding a quick retrospective to understand what everyone learned and to identify opportunities for improvement with the next escape room event as well as with our projects.

To plagiarize Michael Jordan, a single team member’s talent can solve individual challenges, but teamwork completes escape rooms.

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

Are regulatory projects a better fit for adaptive or deterministic delivery approaches?

During a presentation at a local agile meetup this past week I asked the audience to think about what sorts of projects, products or organizations wouldn’t be a good fit for the use of agile or adaptive approaches and one of the attendees felt that regulatory projects weren’t suitable.

Non-discretionary compliance projects present many challenges, but does this make them help or hinder their delivery via agile approaches?

Here are some advantages to using adaptive life cycles with such projects.

  • The “what” is inflexible, but there is usually wiggle room around the “how”. Once external regulations have been translated into a set of internal business requirements there are many ways in which those requirements can be met. With deterministic approaches, a business owner might be tempted to go for a “Cadillac” fully automated solution whereas with an adaptive approach, the focus might be on minimally meeting the requirements through a combination of manual and automated steps and then letting empirical data and budgetary and schedule constraints dictate what incremental enhancements get made.
  • Adaptive approaches encourage fixing schedule and cost and letting scope remain variable. With regulatory projects, schedule is usually externally fixed and since there is no business value in going above and beyond the regulatory requirements, a ceiling on costs could also be set.
  • Frequent feedback from end users on what is getting delivered increases the likelihood that complex regulatory requirements are correctly understood.
  • Early and regular releases will reduce the learning curve for sustaining the process changes.
  • Risk exposure can be used as a criterion for prioritizing the backlog of regulatory requirements. With this approach, a regulatory business owner can feel confident that those requirements posing the highest risk exposure to the company get delivered first.

However, there might also be some good reasons to follow a deterministic approach.

  • These projects often involve changing multiple legacy processes and systems. Such changes might require heavy governance oversight and there could be blockers such as a lack of automated test capabilities or dedicated environments.
  • Regulatory staff are often unable to dedicate themselves to the delivery project given their operational responsibilities so it might be difficult to secure a product owner or other business users.
  • Regulatory projects often require participation of external partners such as vendors and government regulators. These stakeholders might be unwilling or incapable of working with an adaptive delivery approach.
  • Regulatory business owners might be uncomfortable with not fully reviewing and approving the details of the “how” upfront. While this could be said of any business owner who hasn’t previously worked with adaptive delivery approaches, the perceived risks and impact of failure are much higher for regulatory projects.

As usual, when deciding what delivery approach to take, the specific context of the project and supporting organization have to be taken into consideration.

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Are we marketing the right metrics?

Recently, I’ve been experiencing frequent brief loss of Internet connectivity issues at home. I live in a major urban area, no internal or external home renovations have happened which would affect cabling, and my cable modem was recently swapped. Thankfully, the technician who swapped the modem did provide me with his mobile number and recommended that I call him if I had further issues within a few weeks.

We have all heard that the Internet is becoming a critical utility and hence we should demand the same reliability as we do with power, water or our telephone dial tone. While this is a reasonable expectation, few Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have focused on this in their marketing campaigns to the personal market. Commercial customers are a different story – they enjoy real SLAs but at a higher cost. Most of the ISPs who service residential customers will hype their transmission speed or capacity in their advertising. While those are important, guaranteed up time would be a more welcome benefit in the long run, and would likely contribute to greater customer loyalty. ISPs are under pressure to scale their infrastructure to support greater speeds at lower costs, but the side effect of this “arms race” might be reliability.

This situation brought to mind the challenges we face when communicating delivery metrics as part of an agile transformation.

Many of the leaders I’ve worked with focus on schedule metrics: reducing time to market, lead time, time between releases, and so on. While these are important, an overemphasis on reducing lead time may unconsciously encourage delivery teams to kick quality concerns down the road. Having effective Definition of Done working agreements can help, but these can also be diluted to favor speed over quality. Defect reporting and customer satisfaction surveys provide opportunities to identify whether there is an unhealthy focus on delivering faster, but these are lagging indicators.

This is why it is so important that the communication campaign supporting the transformation, including the sound bites from top-level executives, reflect an equal footing for speed AND quality. And mid-level managers need to walk this talk in their daily interactions with their teams.

Don’t sacrifice quality at the altar of speed.


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

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