So how’s your agile transformation going?

If your organization is in the midst of an agile transformation, ideally this change was justified through a business case which articulated expected benefits and the means by which those benefits would be measured. But we rarely live in an ideal world.

So how could you assess whether the initiative is delivering value or not?

You could look at a metric like average time to deliver scope but this has limitations. Averages by themselves mean nothing. If there is an overall reduction in the distribution of release times and ideally a shrinkage in the variation for these release times, that might be cause for optimism if a sufficiently representative sample was taken before and after.

Just because we are delivering scope sooner doesn’t mean we are reaping the full rewards of an agile transformation. A team might miss the mark by prioritizing schedule over quality and we would end up producing a product which the customer doesn’t want.

And, this says nothing about how we delivered that scope. Over short timeframes using Theory X-type behavior it is possible to whip a team into delivering quickly but we would usually see a corresponding reduction in quality and in team satisfaction.

Perhaps we could look at velocity across teams. While we know that velocity should never be used to assess performance between teams or at an individual level, surely an ongoing, incremental increase in velocity across the majority of teams would be a positive indicator? Unfortunately, without introducing other measures to add perspective, it would be relatively easy for a team to claim such improvements at the expense of quality, or delivery of real value to their customers.

In place of these vanity metrics, consider these:

  1. The distribution of lead time to deliver utilized features – by filtering out unutilized features, our time to market distribution will focus on true value add to our customers
  2. Features utilized/features completed – this ratio will assess how effective teams are at meeting the true needs of your stakeholders
  3. The distribution of defect severities and counts – this will assess whether quality is being sacrificed at the altar of speed
  4. The total number of high impact organizational blockers – assuming teams are surfacing and escalating organizational impediments to full agility, a reduction in the number of these blockers should translate into improved delivery outcomes
  5. Team satisfaction – this will keep a pulse on team morale to ensure that it is not suffering through the transition
  6. Customer or key stakeholder satisfaction – this will be another balancing measure like #5 to ensure that the end is not justifying the wrong means

Developing a balanced, holistic approach to measuring outcomes should help to sustain leadership support and to focus continuous improvement efforts on the right things but just remember:

…not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – William Bruce Cameron


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

Does your company recognize “Here, there be (project) dragons”?

Over time companies tend to take on projects with increasing levels of complexity. This happens either as a side benefit of a boost in organizational project management maturity, reactively when responding to regulatory or competitive pressures or organically as an outcome of strategic planning.

Unlike many of my previous posts, the WHY behind this increase is not my focus but rather the HOW.

Do governance bodies within most companies recognize when a proposed project or program is beyond its current capabilities and if so, how do they do this?

Project uncertainty and complexity are continuums and the sweet spot along those continuums will vary by company. There are three company-specific zones within this continuum – low uncertainty/complexity, high uncertainty/complexity and the chaos zone.

The boundary between the first and the second zones tends to become clearer over time, and as a company matures, they will use that boundary to dictate staff assignments as well as the required level of governance. For example, lower complexity projects might require minimal oversight and can be managed by a junior or intermediate project manager whereas those in the higher complexity zone will benefit from steering committees, highly seasoned project directors and regular delivery assurance checks.

But what about the chaos zone – what defines its boundaries?

In the past, when travelling the world’s oceans, ships’ captains used maps with notations indicating where the edges of the known world were as well as that wonderful warning “Here, there be dragons”. Unfortunately, such cartographic aids are not available to portfolio governance teams! Without having the boundaries for the chaos zone defined, it would be easy for a company to invest in a project whose failure could result in catastrophic organizational consequences.

One approach might be to use the same set of criteria which are used to distinguish low and high complexity projects. A radar chart such as the one below provides one way of presenting this. Complexity inputs such as the number of distinct stakeholders involved/impacted, total number of unique delivery partners or the extent of external influence could be assessed using a simple questionnaire.

Assessing and presenting this information is a good start, but it might still not be enough to prevent a sponsor or line of business from undertaking a “bet the firm” project. This is where the checks and balances of effective governance are crucial.

A common misbelief is that Sir Edmund stated the reason “Because it’s there” when asked about climbing Mount Everest. In fact, George Mallory is believed to have said it almost thirty years earlier. Unfortunately, George perished on the way to the summit.

Start a chaos zone project and your company could face a similar fate.






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

Kanbanize your personal development resolutions for 2018!

The new year is a time for making resolutions and most people’s lists are likely to include some behavior-related ones (e.g. I resolve to eat only one dessert with dinner!) as well as some goal-oriented ones (e.g. This is the year that I’ll get washboard abs without the benefit of Photoshop!). While behavior-related resolutions usually come down to our self-discipline and soliciting and receiving candid feedback from those closest to us until those behaviors become ingrained, goal-oriented resolutions might require us to do some planning and tracking.

This is especially true for personal development-related resolutions. You might be aspiring to attain a new role, a new credential or to gain competency with a new skill.

Perhaps you’ve taken the time to write down these goals and shared them with those around you. That’s great as studies have shown that documenting and communicating goals increases our sense of commitment and ownership to their completion.

Unfortunately, when it comes to personal development, reality has likely asserted itself now that we are through that halcyon first week of January. Whether it’s work priorities or family commitments it can be easy to de-prioritize those development activities, especially if there is no one reminding you of them regularly. Like the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable, days will turn into weeks and soon you might find yourself singing “And so this is Christmas and what have I done?”

Sometimes the problem might not be ignoring personal development activities but being overly ambitious by taking on too many at the same time and not completing them. It feels great to start something new but it can be less fun to see it all the way through especially while also juggling work and family activities.

If this sounds like you, Kanban might be just the support you need to accomplish your development goals.

Break your development objectives down into a few key activities, prioritize those activities, define the workflow for them, establish Work In Progress limits taking into account your capacity, and transfer those activities on Post-it notes to a simple work board containing high and low priority swim-lanes as well as one for blockers. Ideally this work board should be installed in a prominent location such as the side or front of your refrigerator where others will be able to see and support your development activities. This has the bonus benefit that when activities get blocked, you can draw on the creativity of your family to overcome them.

A development journey of a thousand miles begins with a Kanban step.



Categories: Project Management | Tags: | 1 Comment

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