Posts Tagged With: Project performance

Help your team to fire it up!

Summer time in Canada gives us the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors without having to worry about frostbite! One of my favorite weekend pastimes is to light up some logs in my backyard fire pit, pull up a Muskoka chair and listen to the crackling sounds, smell the pleasant aroma of the burning wood and gaze at the stars. But starting and sustaining a wood fire outdoors does take some effort, not unlike nurturing a team.

Enjoying a good fire normally requires starting with some type of accelerant or fire starter, then some kindling and finally the logs. Just using fire starter or kindling doesn’t work well as you won’t get a long lasting burn. On the other hand, trying to start a fire with just a log is amusing to witness but not much fun to experience. If you have the benefit of picking your team members it might be tempting to only pick people who get along with you, but you are likely to lose out on the many benefits of diversity including a reduction in the likelihood of experiencing groupthink.

Beginners often have a tendency to constantly fuss with a fire. They get worried that it will either extinguish itself or that burning embers might land on nearby flammable materials. Whether it’s incessantly blowing on the fire, smothering it with excessive logs, waterboarding it with fire starter fluid or poking and prodding it frequently with a poker, their micro-management spoils the fire and irritates those of us around them who might be trying to enjoy it. Other people are too hands off as they don’t see the warning signs of a starving fire and end up having to restart the blaze multiple times in an evening due to neglect. Teams work much the same way. Micro-management is one of the quickest way to suck the life out of your team but neglecting them is also a recipe for disaster. As with Goldilocks, our job is to discover what’s “just right” for a particular team.

It’s easier to keep a healthy fire going than it is to start one from scratch. With a long running fire, just when you think the embers have died out, the addition of some kindling and some encouraging puffs of air can bring it roaring back to life. Nurturing a high performing team takes work, but it’s a lot less than the effort required to guide a new team through forming, storming and norming.

Once your fire is going strong, there’s not much to worry about from outside elements. A good fire can withstand light rain showers and will deter most insects from bothering those sitting around it. Strong teams usually possess higher levels of psychological safety which can help team members to face challenges knowing they will be supported by the rest of the team.

It’s getting cold in here so somebody fire it up – Thousand Foot Krutch

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

What stories do your charts tell?

Organizing the delivery of project scope into sprints provides stakeholders with an opportunity to objectively assess progress at regular intervals. Comparing what was delivered against what remains in the overall release or project backlog helps us understand when we might be done. Looking at what the team was able to complete in relation to what they committed to complete at the beginning of the sprint can help us assess their self-discipline and delivery maturity.

Tools such as sprint burn-down, velocity and release burn-up charts can provide stakeholders with the power to interpret how a team is doing, but as usual, with great power comes greater responsibility.

Let’s look at two examples which illustrate the danger of drawing conclusions from such charts.

At first glance, the sprint burn-down chart above might be a sign that a team is not delivering in an agile manner and are batching work items till the very end of their sprints which would seem to indicate immaturity.

But before jumping to conclusions, what else might cause a similar sprint burn-down pattern?

  • Work items have actually been completed but the supporting work item tracking tool has not been updated yet. This would be an indicator of poor discipline but not necessarily immaturity.
  • The pod’s Definition of Done includes a task which can only be completed at the very end of sprints – for example, testing within a shared environment, or the completion of independent testing by a team outside of the pod. This should not be a cause for concern if such a constraint cannot be avoided.

How about the following velocity chart which illustrates what a pod has completed compared with what they committed to complete for three sprints?

One conclusion could be that this is an immature pod as they are chronically over-committing and under-delivering. But another interpretation is that the sponsor or some other senior stakeholder is the one demonstrating poor behavior by ignoring the better judgment of the pod and mandating the number of work items which have to be completed each sprint. Addressing that issue will be very different than if the former interpretation is the accurate one.

You can use all the quantitative data you can get, but you still have to distrust it and use your own intelligence and judgment – Alvin Toffler

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

Three things to ask yourself before leaving a project…

The end is in sight, deliverables have been approved, the team is starting to eye their next assignments, and your sponsor is likely breathing a huge sigh of relief.

But before you shut the door and move on to your next gig, here are three questions to reflect upon.

If we did not deliver the expected business outcomes, what could I have done different?

Projects fail to achieve their original expectations for a variety of reasons, many of which are outside of the control of the project team. But just because external factors or shortfalls from team members or other stakeholders might have been key contributing factors doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do some soul-searching to envision what might have been if we had taken a different course of action.

This reflection should happen frequently over the life of a project. Waiting till the end of a project to consider our own performance means we’ve likely missed some important learnings, but this final reflection provides the opportunity to consolidate the micro-lessons into one or two key calls for personal action.

Would I have wanted to work with me?

This second question moves us from the “what” to the “how”. The project may have been deemed a success by our customers, but do we have evidence to prove that team members or stakeholders enjoyed the journey? If not, was that related to how we treated them, especially when the going got tough?

Our ability to forge and grow positive relationships is the secret sauce towards our success as project managers, and if we left bruised egos and morale issues in our wake, we’ve lost the long game.

Did I further any of my personal goals through my work on this project?

We don’t manage projects just to get paid well or to have a fancy title. Many professions pay better and provide more glory if that is all we wish to achieve.

What higher purpose of ours did we progress through the project, and if the answer is “nothing”, isn’t that reason enough to question our choices? Perhaps this is an opportunity to identify specific outcomes that are aligned with our long term aspirations which we’d like to achieve in our next project.

Introspection will establish your personal continuous improvement from one project to the next.


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

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