Timing is everything for your team!

Those of us who have managed projects with team members dispersed across distant time zones are well aware of the risks caused by geographic, cultural and temporal distance. The benefits of thoughtful co-location for right-sized teams are also well recognized, but even in such ideal situations, we face a different challenge which Daniel Pink covers in his latest book, When.

We know that some of us tend to deliver our best work first thing in the morning, whereas others are late bloomers who are most productive much later in the day. Daniel uses the common terminology of larks and owls to refer to those people who act as bookends of the working day, and refers to the majority who fall somewhere between these extremes as third birds.

He also provides guidance on the type of work which, for the majority of people, are best performed at specific times of day. For early birds, analytic tasks or critical decisions are better made in the morning whereas tasks requiring insight are better done in the late afternoon or early evening when analytical safeguards are down. For night owls, the opposite pattern appears to hold true.

While this is intellectually stimulating, what’s the relevance to our teams?

When our teams are forming, if we take some time to understand which of the three categories our team members fall into we might be able to more fully realize their collective potential. If we have a team which is predominantly larks, daily stand ups or other planning or analytical activities might better be done first thing in the morning whereas solving a particularly challenging problem or tapping into the team’s creativity might be better done during the latter part of the afternoon.

For a parliament of owls, you could consider the opposite approach. Such homogeneous cases rarely occur, so it is helps to understand each individual’s preferences. The book provides a number of simple tools as well as references to more advanced assessments to facilitate this discovery process.

Daniel also highlights a darker pattern – the early to mid-afternoon time tends to be both productivity and quality quicksand. Daniel provides the example of a hospital where the probability of an avoidable surgical problem was shown to increase from one percent in the early morning to four percent in the mid-afternoon. While this might not hold true for all people, the majority of larks and third birds are affected. However, the impacts of this can be significantly reduced through preventative measures such as short breaks and the use of quality methods such as checklists or non-solo work.

When it comes to productivity and quality, timing is everything.


Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Gantt charts still have a place in the agile-verse!

Those of you who have followed me for a while will know that I value pragmatism over absolutism when it comes to delivery practices, tools and techniques. Pick the right tool for the right job should be a guiding principle followed by all project teams.

Easier said than done!

It is difficult when enterprise standards dictate a fixed tool set, but it is even more challenging when a company is undergoing a fundamental transformation of its delivery practices. When adopting new delivery frameworks it is tempting to embrace the bright, shiny new tools while branding those of the previous delivery approach as obsolete, but if we understand the context in which their usage will still add value we should still find a home for them in our toolboxes.

A good example of this is the use of Gantt charts by teams who are following an adaptive or agile delivery life cycle.

Although Gantt charts have been around since the early 1900’s, just as with people, age is not negatively correlated to value. Tools such as burn-up charts provide an objective means of evaluating progress towards completing a release, but it is rare outside of pure product development contexts to find projects where a traditional representation of a schedule wouldn’t also provide some incremental benefits.

This need could arise from any of the following causes:

  • Complicated dependencies between the outputs from different teams
  • Work streams that are delivered using traditional, deterministic life cycles
  • Activities performed by supporting roles working outside of the agile teams

The project team will want to define the best way to combine the use of traditional and agile scheduling tools to avoid information duplication and inconsistency. Agile teams can continue to use their default tools, but traditional scheduling tools can be used to track other work which is not captured in the backlog yet still needs to be completed for project success. If there is a need to have an overall integrated project schedule, the agile teams’ sprints can be shown as a series of sequential fixed duration activities without the need to decompose those to any lower level. By reviewing burn-up charts, the exact number of such sequential activities can be adjusted to reflect accurate completion dates.

With significant change, there is a greater likelihood of success if you preserve valuable current practices when introducing new ones.

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

How many concurrent projects following an agile delivery approach can your company sustain?

Organizations that are in the midst of an agile transformation will often track how many projects within their portfolios are being delivered following an agile lifecycle. Obsessing over this number or using it as a basis of comparison, or worse, competition between departments will make it a vanity metric. However, used appropriately, it can be a useful data point for assessing the progress of the transformation.

Knowing how many concurrent projects can be delivered using agile approaches is important because if the organization attempts to execute more than its capacity to deliver, a slew of issues will emerge.

Mandating that core team members will be dedicated to a project or product is important so that many of the beneficial outcomes of agile approaches such as predictable velocity, reduced context switching and increased team cohesion can be achieved. Dedicated product ownership is also needed to ensure that stakeholders needs and wants are being actively solicited and the team is not delayed waiting on decisions or requirement clarification.

But is that enough?

Having sufficient agile leads (e.g. Scrum Masters, XP Coaches) and coaches is also critical to meet increased delivery expectations from business sponsors.

Agile leads need to be focused on a single project. Within that project, they can be supporting more than one team, but to have them juggle different projects will impede their ability to remove blockers, increase alignment and build high-performing teams.

Coaching is needed at the delivery team level but it is equally important to have key stakeholders such as functional managers coached to achieve the necessary mindset and behaviors shifts required for successful adoption. Without this, teams are likely to stall in their agile evolution.

Procuring and retaining competent agile leads and coaches is not easy. They are in high demand due to accelerating demand for agile delivery and finding qualified candidates who have both the experience and cultural fit with your organization is challenging. Like any other hot skill, there will be a limited supply of full-time talent in a geographic area given the number of companies simultaneously conducting agile transformations.

You should certainly have plans being executed to build these skills internally, but this won’t happen overnight and if your company has compensation or cultural shortfalls relative to others in the local market, it will be very difficult to build sustained bench strength. You could use contingent staffing to address peaks in demand this is not a long-term, financially viable strategy if increasing organizational agility is truly a strategic objective and not just the “fad du jour”. 

But not tackling this will just prove Peter Drucker right “In most organizations, the bottleneck is at the top of the bottle.



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