Posts Tagged With: improving project management

Agile advice from our ancestors

Old sayings might not be the first thing which comes to mind when considering agility, there are many proverbs which are apropos.

Two heads are better than one (or the similar Maasai proverb “One head cannot hold all wisdom.”): I’ve found this saying to be useful when presenting pair programming. Prefacing an introduction of the practice with this saying helps as people will generally agree with its merits so they are more likely to be receptive to the concept of non solo work.

Out of sight, out of mind: This proverb can be used when referencing traditional techniques for tracking and reporting delivery progress and contrasting those with the increased transparency which is encouraged with agile approaches. Most listeners will remember a time when a lack of visibility or shared understanding resulted in needless churn from one or more key stakeholders.

The wise do as much as they should, not as much as they can: Whereas traditional approaches might have encouraged gold-plating or feature bloat, this saying is well aligned with the tenth principle from the Manifesto: Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

A stitch in time saves nine: Cost of poor quality increases when we don’t take the time to identify the root causes for variations and merely inspect and correct. Shifting quality “left”, reflecting on how we can improve our processes and then implementing improvement ideas quickly and developing quality-focused Definition of Done guidelines are all ways in which this saying is put to good use.

Cut your coat according to your cloth: Focus, like transparency is a pillar of Scrum and most other agile methods. Multitasking, building up too much work in progress or taking on more work items that we can complete in a quality manner are just a few examples of how we ignore the wisdom of this proverb.

Chickens should be seen and not heard: While we encourage stakeholders to visit and observe ceremonies such as standups or sprint planning, their purpose in attending is to learn and not to disrupt.

When we were younger, whether it was from our parents or our grandparents, chances are we heard a number of proverbs. While those might have been intended to impart wisdom to us during our formative years, they can also be relevant in our adult lives.

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

Defeating the multitasking monster

Multiple research studies have shown the negative impacts of multitasking.

Whether it is the waste generated by context switching, the elevated stress levels for staff or the increased cost of poor quality, few people would assert that it is a good practice for knowledge-based work. Front line workers might argue that their managers think that multitasking works, but I have yet to meet a management team who believe in the practice since most of their members will also suffer from its negative outcomes.

Lots has been written about the benefits of reducing multitasking, but this is not a straightforward feat for most organizations. The Lernaean Hydra (as opposed to the Marvel universe’s evil organization) could be used as a metaphor for this unhealthy practice. Deal with one contributing factor and others will take its place.

Here just a few of the forces encouraging multitasking and some suggestions on how to slice and cauterize each one:

  • Using batch-based, push-oriented delivery approaches. When there is finite scope, batched work prevents team members from being kept busy throughout the delivery lifecycle. To avoid idle time, managers are required to assign additional project or operational work. Shifting to a flow-based, pull-oriented delivery approach can increase the likelihood of the full team being busy.
  • A limited capacity of high demand skills. When only a few team members within a delivery organization possess a set of technical or business competencies which are in high demand, managers feel obliged to spread them as thin as possible to help projects or products get some support. There might be insufficient funding to hire more staff with these skills, but a long term solution is to leverage techniques such as non-solo work to build bench strength.
  • Use of inappropriate metrics. Maximizing utilization is easy to do. Set up a time tracking system and track actuals against high targets. Performance incentives (and disincentives) will be based on the level of individual and team utilization. Unfortunately, maximizing utilization is not the same as maximizing the value delivered. Henrik Kniberg does a great job of illustrating this fallacy in this YouTube video. Moving to value-focused metrics should help shift team members and their managers away from just keeping busy.
  • Weak portfolio management. The essence of strategy is saying “No” to the urgent to ensure that the important can be delivered efficiently. Governance committees can start to use criteria such as the cost of delay to determine which investments really must start now and which can be safely postponed.

Similar to battling the Hydra, these ideas need to be considered from a holistic perspective to avoid sub-optimizing the whole.

Reducing multitasking might seem like an impossible feat, but leadership teams should draw inspiration from Heracles.

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

There can be only one (and it is not YOUR project)!

Managing a high priority project can be a wonderful experience.

You will usually receive ample support from senior leadership in resolving critical issues, getting funding for team celebrations is rarely a challenge, and helping team members and other key stakeholders understand the importance of the project and how its success will benefit them should be simple.

But this is rarely the case. Most of the time, we are working on initiatives which, while important, are not top of mind for your senior executives.

Here are just a few of the challenges with managing such projects:

  • Getting and sustaining senior leadership commitment and support is going to be much more difficult. Even your sponsor might have more important projects to support.
  • Keeping your team focused on delivering the project’s scope, especially if they are also working on higher priority projects is a constant struggle.
  • Ensuring that functional managers remain responsive to changes in staffing needs and providing you with the “right” staff to get the job done won’t be as easy.
  • Securing funding for more than the absolute bare minimum is tricky – especially contingency reserves or budget for team events.

So what can you do to improve your odds of success?

  • Practice effective, full life cycle risk management to reduce the number and impact of unpleasant surprises.
  • Consider using an incremental delivery approach so that your sponsor and other key stakeholders achieve an early and progressive return on their investment.
  • Spend extra effort emphasizing the holy trinity of purpose, autonomy & mastery to inspire your team members to do their best.
  • Double-down on team development through free or low-cost events and simple, but regular recognition of individual and team efforts. Help your team to identify the rituals and working agreements that will define team culture.
  • Have a “Plan B” handy so that if your staffing complement or funding gets slashed the team will still be able to deliver something of value. Wherever possible, structure your scope delivery to deliver higher value work packages early.
  • Take the time early in the life of the project to develop positive working relationships with the functional managers who will provide the staff for your team. Explore opportunities to help them achieve their goals through your project’s success. For example, if they want to raise the competency level of their team members, identify stretch activities or other learning opportunities within the project which might address this. If you can earn some IOU’s early on with these functional managers, those will come in handy down the road when you’ll need their help.

You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.” – Michelle Obama

 

 

 

 

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

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: