Posts Tagged With: management failure

The Manifesto’s missing link: Valuing agility over agendas

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development gave us four values supported by a dozen guiding principles. While methodologies or practices can be domain specific, taken as a whole, the Manifesto’s values and principles¬†can be applied to almost any industry or domain to deliver customer value in an efficient, people-focused manner.

But there is one more value which might have helped to avoid some of the failures attributed to agile transformations – agility over agendas.

Do any of the following behaviors sound familiar?

  • Empire building – vest someone with the authority to lead an agile transformation and they might join the Dark Side by setting up squads of Stormtrooper Scrum Masters
  • Turf protection – this often seen in functional managers who might view the restructuring of teams and development of generalizing specialists as a dilution of their formal authority or encroachment on their fiefdoms
  • Framework fanaticism – the Balkanization of agile methods and certifications has helped spawn a large number of fundamentalists who are unwilling to accept that their chosen method or credential might not be universally applicable. This is an unfortunate side effect of limited exposure to the significant breadth of agile knowledge.
  • Hoarding knowledge – the desired shift to T-skills might cause panic in those who have rested on their deep but narrow competencies as they fear being dispensable rather than embracing this as a resilience opportunity to learn new skills
  • Prioritizing politics over progress – who is best suited to fill a key role such as a Product Owner or Scrum Master might not always align with the politics of an organization or department
  • Ego stroking – it might be a Product Owner using an autocratic approach towards prioritizing the backlog or a team member who refuses to have someone partner with them in pair programming or other non-solo work

Some of these behaviors are hardwired into us from our Neanderthal days, and to in small doses might sometimes result in good outcomes. But when we double-down on them at the cost of agility, we need someone to remind us that we’ve lost perspective.

If you see something, say something and remind the parties involved to value agility over agendas.





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

How comical is your project?

Frequent readers of my blog will know how much I respect Scott Adams’s unique insights into the dysfunctions of corporate life. Let’s analyze the case study provided in today’s comic strip!

Risk (mis)management

The pointy-haired boss who serves as a constant reminder of the validity of the Peter Principle expresses surprise about the bumpiness of their white-water team-building project.

A modicum of effective risk management might have caused him to utilize an avoid risk response by picking a slightly less adventurous event although with that group it is hard to envision what would be a perfectly safe one!

If there was still a desire to take the group white-water rafting, then perhaps investing in life vests for those who couldn’t swim would have been a reasonable risk mitigation response, although as the boss indicates in the last frame of the strip, there would likely have been a corresponding higher cost for implementing this response.

While the boss uses ignorance as his rationale, there is no excuse for not practicing risk management commensurate to the level of complexity and uncertainty of a given project.

Avoiding assumptions analysis

An assumption is stated in the sixth frame by the pointy-haired boss about Ted’s ability to swim. That assumption germinated a key risk – if Ted was NOT able to swim and fell in, he’d require more assistance than a competent swimmer and hence the team’s decision to not look for him was unwise. Had the boss conducted a quick elicitation of assumptions and had the team challenge those assumptions which could have been proactively validated, Ted might not be missing.

Project managers have a responsibility to ask their team members and key stakeholders what assumptions are being made as plans are defined, incorporate those assumptions as inputs into risk identification, and schedule reminders to validate those assumptions as the project progresses.

The glamour of groupthink

The fourth and seventh frames of the comic strip confirm that the team members are complicit in the project’s failure. While team consensus was achieved with the decision to not look for Ted after he fell in and then again later by pretending that he never participated, it is quite likely that Asok or Dilbert, who are two characters who usually act as the conscience of the narrative, would not have agreed with these decisions but were likely concerned about rocking the boat (or white-water raft!).

While project managers are expected to recognize the symptoms of groupthink so that it can be nipped in the bud, a more effective countermeasure is to encourage healthy conflict as one the team’s ground rules so that individual team members don’t shy away from speaking up if they believe the wrong decision is being made.

Oscar Wilde – Life imitates art far more than art imitates life


Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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