Posts Tagged With: improving project management

Show respect!

I’ve previously written about the importance of courage and discipline for agile teams, so let’s review another important quality – respect. The Oxford English Dictionary provides two definitions for which are apropos:

  • A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
  • Due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.

You might think that showing an appropriate level of respect is table stakes for anyone in any role regardless of their being an individual contributor or part of a team. That is true, but there are many dimensions to respect which need to be considered. Here are just five which I expect to see in practice in mature teams along with a few examples of how we fall short with each.

Respect for the organization’s resources

Producing excessive or unnecessary documentation, inviting people to meetings who don’t need to be there or not running disciplined meetings, and not regularly inspecting and adapting ceremonies or other delivery practices are just a few ways in which we needlessly squander the limited financial resources of our organizations.

Respect for our customer

Publishing out-of-date or inaccurate content in information radiators, failing to engage our customer in key ceremonies or the product decisions which they should have been involved in, avoiding the escalation of key blockers which our customers could have resolved or releasing low quality products just to hit a deadline are all examples of disrespect for these critical stakeholders.

Respect for our product

Skipping quality assurance procedures because we don’t have time, ignoring our Definition of Done just to say we completed our sprint backlogs, kicking low severity defects down the backlog, ignoring technical debt and regular refactoring show that we don’t really respect what we are producing.

Respect for each other

Making sprint commitments without full team participation, gold plating, showing up late for ceremonies, listening to make our point rather than actively listening, multitasking when we should be focused on what someone is saying, hoarding knowledge, not offering to help a team member when we are ahead on our work, and not having the courage to raise impediments which affect the entire team during daily standups or retrospectives demonstrate that we are putting our agendas and egos ahead of team success.

Respect for ourselves

Blindly following poor decisions without challenging them, making a sprint commitment which we know we can’t achieve, refusing to ask for help when it would result in more efficient, higher quality outcomes and failing to invest in ourselves (e.g. personal development, sleep, exercise) are common ways in which we make it difficult to look at ourselves in the mirror.

Confucius said it right: Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?

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

What is your project management familiar?

Familiar – Noun, a supernatural spirit or demon, often in the form of an animal, supposed to serve and aid a witch or other individual.

Project managers frequently wish that they had a trusted right-hand person who could help them out of challenging situations but why not broaden our imagination to think about the benefits of our multi-legged friends? Dear reader, before you start worrying that I have lost my marbles, fear not, this is merely a Gedanken experiment to help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself.

Let’s consider a few of the ones which came to my mind.

A dog

A canine will sacrifice itself if you are about to be thrown under the bus by an untrustworthy stakeholder and will cheer you up after you’ve experienced a rough work day. But you must also remember that dogs don’t lead long lives so this might not be the best familiar if you are working on a long project.

An elephant

“An elephant never forgets” goes the cliche, so just imagine the benefits you’ll gain by not having to document much of the information generated by your projects. Elephants are also able to carry a lot of weight which means that they could help you better bear the burden of a complex project. Unfortunately, they also generate a lot of waste so you might find yourself spending too much time cleaning up after your familiar.

A cobra

The swaying motion and spectacle markings on the hood of an alert cobra can be hypnotic which might be just what is needed to help you sway the attitude of your stakeholders. Cobras can’t be tamed so you might have to constantly protect yourself from being bitten.

A fly

A fly has compound eyes which enable it to see the world in a completely different manner than we can. This could be extremely helpful when trying to understand a decision or issue from multiple perspectives. Just imagine the benefits of having your very own “fly on the wall” – think of all those hidden conversations which you will now be able to eavesdrop on! Unfortunately, one fly looks very much like another to an untrained eye so you could end up accidentally swatting your familiar.

A pig

Pigs are among the animal kingdom’s smartest animals and have a phenomenal sense of smell. A pig could help you sniff out untruths faster than a lie detector could and when the going gets tough, your familiar might save your bacon.

A bear

There’s no doubt that a bear could be a formidable ally to have your back in challenging meetings but do you really want a familiar which will sleep for almost a half year at a stretch?

So if you were granted the wish of having an animal familiar what would it be?

Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to” – Mark Twain



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

The perils of percentage availability…

Through education or experience most of us learn early in our project management careers about the dangers of using percentage complete for any activity where the work completed cannot be reliably measured. This is unfortunately the case for most knowledge-based work. While a contractor can examine a wall being built and verify what percent of the work is complete based on how much of the wall has been finished, a development lead looking at the source code for a given function will be unable to come up with more than an educated guess as to what the true status of developing that function is. That is why we are encouraged to ask objective questions such as “How many hours of work is remaining?” or better yet, to utilize conservative reporting methods such as 0% and 100% or (for those in the agile delivery space) Not Done and Done Done.

So why wouldn’t this also apply to resource availability?

Unless you are benefiting from either a project-oriented or a long lived team, chances are your team members will not be dedicated to your project.

I’m not referring to the normally expected non-project activities that everyone incurs such as department meetings, HR activities and so on. While there is an ebb and flow to those, there is usually a combination of historical data (e.g. at least 20% of the month before fiscal year end has been proven to be spent on annual performance review activities) and personal plans such as team vacation calendars to provide confidence about those estimates.

What concerns me is when a people manager gives me a percentage availability. “I can’t provide Bob full-time, but I can give him to you for 50%”. This occurs so frequently that we rarely challenge it unless we are sure that a staffing shortfall will critically impact our project’s objectives.

But what does 50% of Bob really mean?

  • Is it 3.5-4 hours per day, every day for the duration of the project?
  • Is it Mondays, Tuesdays & half of Wednesdays for the duration of the project?
  • Is it Mondays, Tuesdays one week and Wednesdays, Thursdays & Fridays the next week?
  • Is it 75% time for half the duration of my project and 25% for the second half of the project?
  • Or (and this is the most likely case) is it that at the end of the project, if I divided Bob’s actual hours spent working on my project by the potential hours he might have worked if he had been allocated full time, it will be close to 50%?

And what will be the impact to your timelines and other project success criteria if you made the wrong assumption?

So the next time someone gives you a percentage availability commitment for a team member, ask a few questions to really understand how much time that person will be dedicating to your project and when.

If your body temperature is average but half of you is in a freezer and the other half is in an oven you aren’t likely to be too happy!




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

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