Creed Over Greed: Motivation and Purpose

SunriseThere have been a couple of stories in the news recently that reveal some important facts about motivation and purpose.

  • Ex-Tesla Workers Are Still Believers

Some people’s reactions over being fired from Tesla surprised many analysts. Rather than the normal angry barbs (and I am sure there were plenty of those) what made the news were the messages of thanks from, now ex-employees, explaining how they enjoyed their time there and were glad to be a part of it. Some of the Tweets included:

  • “Thanks for the opportunity, Elon! Eye on the mission. Will always be proud to say I worked for Tesla”
  • “I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed working for Tesla”
  • “I was laid off from Tesla yesterday and although it hurts (a lot!), it is the right thing for the company. I don’t regret giving all I had and in a way bidding adieu is my last contribution. I’ll be cheering Tesla on knowing I did my part. Thanks for the years of memories!”

A Bloomberg article Fired Tesla Workers Still Love Elon Musk recaps some of the comments.

  • Enlightened Pessimism

From a reverse perspective, a recent Science Direct article found that Employees who practice mindfulness meditation are less motivated, having realized the futility of their jobs. It seems that when people learn how to detach from sources of stress they are less likely to want to work towards goals they are not aligned with.

So, beware those corporate mindfulness workshops unless your organization has a compelling purpose!

The Importance of a Compelling Purpose

First, people want jobs that satisfy their physical and safety needs of having enough money to provide the necessary food and shelter. These are levels one and two in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. None of the later stages of motivation ever come into play until these most critical needs are met. However, once they are met, people want to work towards something worthwhile and motivating.

Tesla has never been about making fancy electric cars, that’s just a side effect of their real purpose. The Tesla vision and mission statement used to be: “To accelerate the world's transition to sustainable transport.” However, in mid-2016, the company changed it to “To accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy.” So, they are not building cars, they are helping save the planet for us and future generations.

That is a worthy goal. It is a purpose people can get behind, and a reason people were glad to work at Tesla, even if their role has now ended. They were never just car makers, they were game changers and that’s what people are grateful for.

Contrast it to the mission of BMW: “Strategy Number ONE aligns the BMW Group with two targets: to be profitable and to enhance long-term value – from a technological, structural and cultural perspective. The mission statement up to the year 2020 is to become the world's leading provider of premium products and premium services for individual mobility.”

While it mentions culture, there is a focus on profit, value and being the world’s leading… In other words, it is based on money and dominance, rather than a compelling purpose.

Creed Over Greed

Most organizations share mission and vision statements like BMW’s. They talk about generating shareholder value and becoming the biggest this or the leading that. This is understandable in a purely economic model, but as we saw earlier, once people have enough money they want something more - something compelling, something worthwhile.

When we can appeal to people’s desire for meaning, and when we can support them to make valuable contributions to a worthwhile purpose, they will experience motivation beyond the economics that dwindles over time. “Creed” means a belief system, it is more powerful than greed. Growing larger for the sake of profit and market share is unfulfilling, like a cancerous growth.

Having a worthwhile purpose people can unite behind is tremendously powerful. Organizations like TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker attract top talent not only because they are rewarding places to work, but also because they share a larger goal of helping others less fortunate. Studies show that contributing to good causes makes us happy so it should be no surprise that working for an organization that helps others should be the most rewarding and motivating.

Talent is More Mobile Than Ever

The internet has lowered the cost of communication. It is easier than ever to advertise jobs and share the corporate purpose. People tend to switch jobs more frequently now and the same tools that make advertising jobs easier, also make relocation easier. Smart, talented people are more mobile than ever. They want to apply their skills in worthwhile, interesting settings.

Given the choice of making more money for executives and shareholders or saving the planet, most people (thankfully) would choose to try and help save the planet. When Tesla was hiring last year, they received nearly 500,000 applicants for about 2,500 job openings. So, people only had about a 1 in 200 chance of being accepted – a  testimony to how much people want to work there.

With these odds only the very best people get accepted. This has a two-fold effect, 1) the top talent moves to the better companies, 2) lacklustre organizations get a higher concentration of sub-par people as the best move on.

Find the Purpose/Make a Purpose

If you are a CEO, aligning your organization with a higher propose will help attract top talent. If you are a leader in a traditional organization, then creating opportunities for employees to contribute to society is a powerful motivator.

We cannot all work for Tesla or Patagonia, but we can try to inject some worthwhile components into people’s work lives.  Hackathons for a good cause, Habitat for Humanity volunteering, they all help create more satisfied and motivated team members.

At various stages of people’s careers, they care about different things. Many people starting out just want the highest paying job they can obtain to get established in their adult lives. This is understandable and natural. Then, later they want to be part of something bigger, something more useful. Understanding and recognizing this desire allows organizations offering a motivating purpose the capability to appeal to the top tier talent.

 

[Note: I wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com first and it was published here]


AI Assistants for Project Managers

Robot hand
Predictions like “AI will take our jobs” sound scary. However, long before our jobs as project managers are taken, AI will help us. In fact, it already is, and we don’t think about it much. While writing this article, AI in Microsoft Word and the add-in Grammarly helped protect you from the bulk of my spelling and grammar mistakes. This is how AI will help us first, by doing small things we are error-prone with, before tackling larger tasks.

Like me, do you spend time booking meetings, finding rooms, and distributing information? Do you analyze backlogs and scope outlines for potential risks, or review estimates for commonly missed activities? Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help with these tasks and many more.

Imagine having a non-judgemental expert monitoring everything you do (and do not do) at work and making helpful suggestions to you in private. This expert is constantly learning, is plugged into all the latest research and works for free. This is the not too distant future of AI assisted project management.

June was Technology month at Project Management.com, and there have been a few articles about AI taking away project management jobs. This article focusses on ways AI can help project managers which will happen as AI develops and before it can replace jobs. It deals with automating the process and science parts of project management, leaving people more time to focus on the relationships, leadership, storytelling, empathy and emotional intelligence side of projects that are harder to tackle and are (currently) best done by people.

AI has come a long way since Microsoft rolled out the annoying and not so helpful “Clippy” Office Assistant tool in 2003. It was never tuned for project managers, but it if were it might have looked something like this:

ClippyInstead, AI is becoming more sophisticated and useful. Gmail will remind you to attach a file if you mention “attach” in the text of an email that has no attachment. Most people use personal assistants like Siri and Cortana on their phones, or Alexa in their homes. Voice recognition and comprehension are steadily increasing. Google recently demonstrated their new Google Assistant calling and interacting with a hair salon to book a haircut. Clearly, these tools will soon be ready for prime time and their use will be widespread.

Kevin Kelly, futurist and founding executive editor of Wired magazine, says in his TED talk: “Everything that we have electrified, we are now going to cognify”. In other words, we will add intelligence to devices and products. Kelly went on to say, “I would suggest that the formula for the next 10,000 start-ups be very, very simple: take X - and add AI.

To understand how AI can help project managers, let's examine its basic capabilities.

  • Knowledge Based Expert System (KBES) – these work from decision trees of IF - THEN statements to provide expertise. Gmail’s attachment reminder works with similar IF body_text includes “attach” AND Attachment = False THEN issue a warning.
  • Artificial Neural Network (ANN) – these systems model our real brains and consist of networks of weighted connections. They can be programmed to learn, recall, generalize and apply fuzzy logic. So, if we teach it someone 4ft high is Short and someone 6ft high is Tall it can generalize that someone 4ft 6 is “Not very tall”. Being able to make these types of generalizations are important for realistic interactions with people, such as Google Assistant making a hair appointment.
  • Machine Learning – this builds on Knowledge Based Expert Systems and Artificial Neural Networks to create predictive analytics that can provide validation and advice. In the project management space, this is the technology that can help with checking for missed risks, rebaselining plans, recalculating the Cost of Delay for waiting initiatives, etc.
  • Chatbots - AI powered programs designed to simulate a conversation with humans. Chatbots use artificial neural networks and machine learning to combine domain intelligence with natural language processing. This gives the impression of interacting with a (currently somewhat) knowledgeable person.

If these technologies sound far-fetched in the project management field, consider the quote “The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed”. Agile tool vendor Atlassian, already provide project assistants that help with budgets, estimates, and sprint management. They also have chatbots to share project information and remind team members for estimates and status updates.

Moving forward, these tools will be expanded to help check our work for common mistakes, just as Word checks for common spelling errors. Every industry has catalogs of defect origins and removal methods (here is one for software projects) AI assistants can apply this knowledge and suggest steps to help avoid or reduce these risks. It is not an exact science and as a project manager, I may choose to dismiss potential risks flagged. However, having assistants available to highlight these risks or list the top 10 estimation omissions in my field is probably better than not having them.

AI assistants can also alert project managers to slowly developing trends that might otherwise go unnoticed. The old saying that projects become late one day at a time is very true. Optimistic project managers with “Can-do” attitudes often underestimate the impact of small setbacks and or hope that teams will “catch-up” later.  This hardly ever happens, and AI assistants can be programmed to alert early and avoid hope-based-planning.

Over-Reliance?

There is a risk that with expert knowledge systems, organizations may be tempted to use inexperienced project managers. Or project managers become reliant upon these tools and not think as deeply as they may otherwise. Like any technology, a fool with a tool is still a fool. However, tapping into standard risk lists from your industry, that gets augmented with those from previous projects in your organization is a smart move.

Having calculators has likely reduced our ability to perform long division calculations manually. However, I don’t want to go back to self-calculation just because I fear an over-reliance on technology. Instead, I want to use technology where I can and free up my time and mental capacity for other work.

Higher Value Work

The PMI Talent Triangle is a good model for thinking about all the work a project manager does. It includes: 1) Technical Project Management – the project mechanics described in the PMBOK Guide and Agile frameworks, 2) Strategic and Business Management – your industry-specific work, and 3) Leadership – the people dynamics of projects.

If we squash the triangle out and lay the pieces in order of how much impact the project manager’s contribution has towards project success we get: Technical, then Strategic, and then Leadership. By this sequence, I mean that if the basics of Technical Management are met then Strategic and Business Management work is more significant. Furthermore, good Leadership has an even greater impact on overall project performance than Strategic and Business Management Work, and Technical Project Management.

This sequence is shown below:

AI Focus

The good news for us as project managers is that (currently) AI is best suited for the lower value end of this work spectrum. It is already capable of assisting and saving us time with Technical Project Management work. Next, it should soon be commonplace to get AI assistance with Strategic and Business Management tasks. This will involve accessing machine learning focussed on our industry domains, like ROI models, common risks, and estimation omissions.

The last area AI will move into is the Leadership domain. Machine learning requires deep data sets in a consistent form to draw reliable conclusions. The people dynamics of motivation, conflict management, and negotiation are harder to classify and rank.  Currently, most people would rather work with a real person to solve issues or discover their calling. Who knows, maybe in future people will prefer to interact with chatbots who’s decision parameters can be shown to be neutral and fair. This might be preferable to dealing with people with all their inherent bias and gaps in knowledge.

All I know for now is that I currently welcome any AI assistance I can use. It is likely to safeguard me from making basic technical project management errors or omissions. It should also be helpful soon in providing industry knowledge and best practice – like having a seasoned professional in the industry available to look over your work. However, AI tools will check in real-time before you commit that decision or share a plan.

This leaves me more time to focus on the people. The people sponsoring the project, those working on it, and those who will be impacted by it. They will have their own AI assistants too. Booking meetings, getting rooms, and sharing ideas should become frictionless leaving us to work on the more significant issues.

My recommendation is to stay abreast of AI developments and remain open to trying the tools as they emerge. Standing still in an environment that is moving forward has the effect of moving backwards -which is not good. Where I should probably be more worried is in writing articles like this. It seems like a blend of domain-specific Strategic work with some Leadership based storytelling. Likely a candidate for an AI takeover long before the project manager. (My plan is to get in on the research and get a Chatbot writing this stuff for as long as I can get away with it!)

References:

  1. How AI could Revolutionize Project Management, CIO Magazine, Mary Branscome, January 12 2018
  2. 3 ways AI will change project management for the better, Atlassian Blog, April 7, 2017
  3. Artificial Intelligence in Project Management - Is Your Company Ready for it?, Teodesk Blog, Minja Belic, January 22 2018
  4. AI will Transform Project Management. Are You Ready?, PWC White paper, Marc Lahmann, et Al, 2018
  5. Artificial Intelligence in Project Management, Khaled Hamdy, March 2017

[Note: I wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com, it first appeared here – free membership required.]

 


Webinar – Solving Wicked Problems: What is Old is New Again

Problems
My PMXPO webinar has now been watched by > 11,000 people and received lots of positive feedback. It is hosted at ProjectManagement.com here.

(For people collecting Professional Development Units (PDUs), it also auto-records 1.25 credits for you.)

The webinar reviews problem-solving through the ages and shows how agile is the rediscovery of many old approaches. Wicked problems are those that cannot be solved with traditional methods or ways of thinking. They are the unique challenges never seen before in your organization, region or industry.

As companies race to innovate and compete in a global market, we are seeing wicked problems more and more often. While the solution may be new, some common steps repeat in the stories of novel problem-solving successes through history. This presentation combines a fast-paced view of wicked problems and solutions through history—with a slower reveal of the common steps for solving challenging projects.

It is ideal for anyone faced with managing projects with lots of uncertainty—or people looking to understand the links between lean, leadership, building collaborative teams and problem-solving.

Watch Now.


Agile 2018 Conference – Unraveling Team Dependencies

Agile_SD2018_600x100_Speaking_FM
I am excited to be presenting on the Enterprise Agile track at the Agile 2018 conference in San Diego, August 7. I have worked with several organizations this year that had issues with work dependencies between teams. My session called “Two-Pizza Team Heartburn Relief: Solutions to Team Dependencies” highlights the shift to global rather than local optimization.

We will investigate dependency problems through animations and simulations and then explore some candidate solutions. Each brings their own issues – if these problems were solvable they would have been already, but the suggestions do help considerably. Here is the description from the conference program:

Small teams are great - until they cause bigger problems than they solve. Small teams can communicate more effectively than large teams. They can leverage face-to-face communications more readily and share tacit knowledge without the need for so much written communication. However, for large endeavours, using many small teams present their own problems. Work dependencies between teams can cause major delays through costly hand-offs, mismatched priorities, and blocked tasks.

This workshop introduces strategies for structuring teams to reduce hand-offs and dependencies that create blocked work and delays. By investigating the (lack of) flow through multiple teams we can diagnose the cost of hand-offs and culprits of delays. We examine tools for making hand-offs and dependencies visible to highlight and bring collective attention to the problems. We then explore resolution patterns and work structures that maximize small team communications but limit negative aspects of managing multiple, inter-dependent project teams.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the time and cost penalties of team dependencies and hand-offs
  • Gain tools for making dependencies, queues, and blocked work visible
  • Learn how and when to balance small team benefits with more dependency issues
  • Share implementation patterns and strategies to maximize team throughput
  • Examine the pros and cons of larger teams, feature teams, and product vs. project development.

That probably sounds more technical than it really is. It is a workshop to show people how teams often get stuck with work items when they rely on work from other groups. It combines anecdotes and experiences from 20+ years of agile consulting along with some insights from Troy Magennis on dependency delays, and Dominica DeGrandis, author of Making Work Visible.

Through case studies and exercises, we explore the hidden impacts of well-intentioned small teams. First, we’ll explore the “mostly harmless” two and three team dependencies, and then see the impacts when five or six dependant teams try to get work done. Please come along if you are attending the conference and have issues with dependencies between teams.


Post-Industrial Project Management

Old TractorIntroduction

We know old concepts that govern agriculture do not apply to industry. Engineers do not consult the weather or growing seasons before designing machinery. Yet many project managers who work in the knowledge worker domain still apply project management approaches developed for the industrial era. This mismatch of approaches wastes effort and misses important new risks.

This article identifies the mismatch of applying industrial project management in today’s post-industrial marketplace. We first examine how to determine if your projects are: industrial, knowledge work, or hybrid. Then classify project management tools and techniques. Fortunately, for every industrial focused approach, there are modern knowledge worker equivalents. Using this information, we can apply the right tools for the job or at least identify the risks of mismatched projects and techniques.

 

How We Got Here

Work, like people, has evolved. Humans started out as nomadic hunter-gathers following the seasons and game. Then, when they discovered farming, they settled and built permanent home sites. This change was christened the Agricultural Revolution and heralded a huge shift in how people lived and worked.

Next came the Industrial Revolution. Farmers and craftsmen (craftspeople really) moved from distributed communities to live in expanding cities where the industrial mills and factories were booming. Again, this was a massive change for humanity. Schools focused on timekeeping, rigour, and repetition to prepare children to work in factories. Conformance to schedules and plans made the scaling of a workforce possible.

Concepts like Taylor’s Scientific Management provided tools for tackling big engineering endeavours and applying specialized labour. Progressive decomposition of work and detailed scheduling of tasks allowed complex projects to be planned and managed. Techniques like work breakdown structures, network diagrams, and Gantt charts were taught to project managers to tame and track engineering work.

These techniques work well for tangible, stable and mostly predictable projects. As long as an organization has a history of building a similar product, then the gap to a new design or bigger scale can be reasonably estimated and planned for. Difficulties arise when we try to use these approaches on intangible, unfamiliar, and new environments. Differences in understanding frequently occur when we lack physical reference points such as “I want a wooden door like this one, but a foot taller”. These differences result in more change requests, more reported defects, more uncertainties and risks.

In novel, intangible environments like software development or filmmaking things rarely progress predictably enough to follow the “Plan the work, work the plan” mantra of industrial projects. New technology evolution accelerates the rates of change. Demands to deliver faster worsen the situation. Many of today’s projects fit this new breed of project that were christened "Knowledge Work" projects by Peter Drucker.

Also, many traditional industrial projects have been automated or offshored to cheaper labour markets. This leaves a higher proportion of new projects developing largely invisible, intangible, difficult to reference, products and services – knowledge work.

I am not suggesting all project work has changed. Just as we still have farmers - and hopefully always will, we still have traditional industry and industrial projects. So, while not all work has changed, the fastest growing segment has. The increasing role of software in business also means a larger proportion of projects have at least some knowledge work component. 

To help diagnose your project types, answer the following questions about the nature of projects you execute.

Table 1

If you scored more on the left-hand side of the table, you are engaged in mainly industrial type projects. This is good news for reliable execution, traditional project management tools and techniques should serve you well. If you scored more on the right-hand side, you are firmly in the knowledge worker domain. You should move from industrial project management approaches and adopt knowledge worker ones. If you scored equally from each column, you are in a hybrid environment. Here you likely need to draw on a combination of approaches to be successful.

 

New Territory, New Tools

The tools and approaches of the knowledge worker revolution address the complexity and ambiguity that accompany these projects. Let’s dig deeper to understand the characteristics and appreciate post-industrial project management techniques.

Knowledge work projects bring subject matter experts together to collaborate on new and unique products and services. This might involve scientists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, software developers, or web designers working with the business to build something new. Each of these groups has specialized knowledge, typically no single person knows everything needed to complete the project. What is being created is new or sufficiently different to the sponsoring organization that previous project’s plans and estimates are not particularly useful to predict progress.

Compared to traditional, predictable industrial engineering, complexity, uncertainty, risk and change rates seem very high. Without tangible reference work, it is necessary to use an iterative-and-incremental approach to determine fitness-for-business-purpose. Teams could attempt to analyze and predict all features and functions, but often initial use uncovers additional opportunities and requirements.

Trying to explain the nuances of iTunes or Netflix to someone who has never seen anything like it before is difficult. Incremental trial proves faster and more useful than speculative big-design-upfront that cannot anticipate every interaction with user behaviour or linked systems.

Tools rooted in big-design-upfront, predictable decomposition of tasks, linear progression of work, etc do not work well in these environments. These include detailed requirements documents, work breakdown structures, network diagrams, Gantt Charts and earned value management. That’s not to say you cannot use these approaches, just there are alternatives that better handle the high rates of change and uncertainty.

We still need to record requirements and the use of product backlogs containing user stories makes it easier to reprioritize when changes occur. We still need to break down work and help the business decide how to best divide a big project. Instead of looking at complex architectural component diagrams, the business can make better delivery decisions by using release roadmaps, and features lists.

In the face of high rates of change, averaging delivery rates to-date can give more reliable projections than estimating the durations for planned activities. Likewise, when work is creative or R&D type in nature, we often get nonlinear progression – in other words, some things go faster than anticipated while other items take longer. Approaches like earned value management that extrapolate performance to-date to predict likely completion schedules and costs assume a linear progression of work. Instead, tracking progress based on tested, accepted features only is a more reliable predictor of true progress.

Table 2 shows knowledge-work alternatives to industrial work project approaches

Table 2

Traditional project management approaches are built on the realities of predictable, industrial work. Knowledge work projects defy these traditional laws of physics since they operate outside the physical domain. Instead, they deal with ideas, people and collaboration, which is intangible. Traditional resource management suggests if we are digging a ditch with 10 people, then adding 10 more people would complete the task in half the time. Fred Brooks’ law of software development tells us that adding more people to a project that is already late will increase its duration.

Traditional project management approaches are not flawed or broken. They work great for the industrial world. In these environments, the best way to run a project is with detailed upfront planning, clearly articulated tasks and schedules, and careful granular tracking. However, if your results from assessing Table 1 indicate a hybrid or knowledge work environment then use the appropriate tools.

Trying to use the recommendations from a previous work era is akin to waiting for a full moon before starting your kitchen reno. At best you are adding wasted activities and at worst you are ignoring the realities of your environment that carry the risk of overruns and failure. 

 


The Truth About Transformations

TransformationTransformations are flavor of the month. It is no longer enough to launch “initiatives,” “programs” or “projects” to undertake work. Instead, we launch agile transformations, digital transformations and productization transformations. They sound more revolutionary, more dramatic and further reaching. Our organizations will emerge reborn, uniquely positioned to compete in a new world of opportunities and growth. Like a larva transforming into a butterfly, we can now fly!

Well, that’s the idea and the promise of the consulting companies that sell transformation services. However, what really happens? Can the average organization actually become a disruptive leader just by adopting the structures, tools and processes from the real disruptive leaders? Or, is it like buying the same shoes as our basketball heroes wear hoping they will transform us into slam-dunking superstars? The reality is somewhere between these extremes. Any company can improve, but we should not expect to become something we are not.

Let’s look at some of the popular transformation services on sale and examine the promise and truths they hold.

 

Agile Transformations Dandelion

The goal: Agile transformations move organizations from working with traditional project management approaches to using agile approaches. They also seek to change the way organizations are structured and run from a top-down, command-and-control model to a more business- and customer-led, value-driven approach.

They aim to instil lean concepts of respect for people, minimization of waste, and value delivery. They employ a more trusting Theory Y view of workers as willing contributors rather than the traditional Theory X view that workers need close supervision to work hard. They encourage workers through intrinsic motivators such as empowerment, autonomy of work, and belief in a worthy purpose rather than carrot-and-stick approaches.

The claimed benefits: Agility allows organizations to respond to change more quickly since plans and work are done in smaller batches with frequent checkpoints. This allows changes in direction to be made when feedback indicates it would be desirable. The evaluate-as-you-go and learn-as-you-go aspects of iterative and incremental development help organizations manage complexity and uncertainty.

Agile approaches allow for the delivery of value sooner since work is prioritized via business value. The empowerment and intrinsic rewards offered result in happier, more engaged employees. Allowing workers to design their own workplace and work practices results in a more loyal and productive workforce. A mantra of one agile approach is to “Change the world of work.”

The reality: Agile is much easier to implement at a team and project level than it is at an organizational level. Teams quickly see the benefits of frequent collaboration and business engagement. Tools like product backlogs, kanban boards and release roadmaps bring much-needed visibility to design work and problem solving that often manipulates invisible data and ideas. Iterative development of small batches of work, with frequent reviews, provides better insights into progress and issues than sequential, large-batch development. While some people find the “let’s try something” approach counter-intuitive to rigorous upfront planning and design, most understand the risk reduction and true requirements validation benefits.

At the organization level, it’s a tougher sell. The initial confusion and apparent chaos that comes with establishing empowered, self-organizing, self-managing teams can seem like the inmates are running the asylum. What happens to supervisors and managers? In some organizations, departments are built around functional silos. If I was head of the quality assurance group and now all my people report into individual teams, what’s left for me to do? How do I justify my yearly budget (and position) with my headcount down to zero?

Organizational structures often reflect their culture and decision-making style. This may be hierarchical, flat or distributed. Truly transforming the organization to be agile requires a change of structure, which means changing the culture. Not an easy task, and not something to be undertaken lightly. It requires sufficient buy-in from the very top through every layer to the bottom.

Agile transformations often stall at the organizational level. Instead, we see pockets of conversion and pockets of resistance. It often takes changes in roles for the transformation to occur. However, just changing the way teams operate brings many benefits. While not really an agile transformation, a “switch” to agile project operation within a traditional organization can still be very beneficial.

So, while true agile transformations are rare, agile implementations are common and still worthwhile. The organization may never grow wings and fly as promised by consultants—but if it learns to wiggle more efficiently, avoid danger, and eat faster, that might be all it needs.

 

Digital Transformations  Digital

The goal: Digital transformations aim to convert and grow business in the self-serve digital domain. They do not have to involve websites, but many do. Rather than visiting offices or calling in for service, customers self-manage through apps and websites that greatly reduce labor costs and offer almost unlimited scaling opportunities.

The claimed benefits: Cost reduction and closer engagement are the main claimed benefits. They use websites and AI-powered chatbots to handle the majority of customer questions and interactions. This reduces the need to have as many people employed at physical locations and answering phone calls. Banks and insurance companies are undertaking digital transformations to offer services in convenient formats for customers (mobile phones) as well as reduce overheads.

Encouraging customers to manage their services via mobile apps also opens up options to ping, notify and promote upsell opportunities. It is cheaper and easier to push promotions and “exclusive member benefit offers” to people who install apps than compete for attention in traditional advertising channels. Apps also let companies gather additional marketing intelligence like location, contacts, spending habits, etc.—all additional fuel for promotions and potential sales.

The reality: Building compelling websites, apps and AI services is no small undertaking. Many organizations go through the significant expenditure to discover that only a portion of their customer base embraces the new options. Organizations then try carrot-and-stick paperless discounts or paper-based account fees to incentivize the desired behavior.

These new websites and app projects will never be finished or done. Since they now represent the organization's face and communications vehicle, expect ongoing investment in their upkeep and technology refresh cycles. When looking at the potential savings, do not underestimate the likelihood of initial build costs to spiral—and integration into existing back-end systems to be orders-of-magnitude more costly and time-consuming than anticipated.

However, it seems an inevitable trend. Using established content management systems and app frameworks can help rein in costs. Being at the forefront of technological capability is only paramount if your core business is selling technology services (Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft). For everyone else, fast-follower (or even majority-adopter) is probably fine. Digital transformations are real, already here and unlikely to be fading anytime soon.

 

Productization Transformations Product

The goal: This is the transition from using projects to build software systems to building and viewing software as long-term products. As organizations realize software represents a market differentiator, they recognize their systems will never be “done.” If they were to finish, it means they are no longer innovating, improving or competing.

So, they move from the start-stop world of software development through projects and instead adopt continuous development and drip-feed funding models. Historically, organizations staffed and funded projects through vendors and contractors using capital expenditure models. The switch to software as a long-lived product or service changes both staffing and budgeting. The increase in cloud-based hosting also raises the question of opex (operating expenditure) versus capex (capital expenditure) funding.

Organizations often reach out for help making these changes to development, staffing and funding models. This is the new and emerging world of productization or “continuous digital delivery.” It involves restructuring and forming long-lived product teams with everyone present to develop and maintain the software products over its entire lifespan.

The claimed benefits: By eliminating the handoffs between development teams and sustainment teams, more knowledge about the system, and how to extend it, is retained. Fewer handoffs in general is one of the biggest benefits of switching to products instead of projects. Handoffs are very wasteful—they contribute to the eight lean DOWNTIME wastes…

Defects
Overproduction
Waiting
Non-utilized talent
Transportation
Inventory excess
Motion waste
Extra processing

…all of which can occur when one group hands off work to another group.

By creating stable teams that are aligned with developing and sustaining long-term products, organizations can wean themselves off unpredictable vendor models. From a budgeting perspective, estimating the burn rates and capabilities of stable teams is much more reliable than estimating how long a new vendor-based team will take to complete some work.

Stability, continuous development and better knowledge retention are all compelling reasons to trade projects for products. The difficulties come in the transition and available support.

The reality: Switching from running traditional stop-and-start software projects to continuous product development is still a new idea. Usually, organizations have a suite of currently executing projects that still need to be delivered on schedule. Existing vendor contracts may make it difficult to switch to the onsite execution approach favored by continuous digital delivery.

Finance departments are typically set up to evaluate and approve requests for expenditures based on one- or multi-year ROI projections. In the continuous development world of productization, the spending never stops.

Instead of project-based funding, small teams create minimal viable products for evaluation. If they show promise, they get additional funding in more of a venture capital-style model. New metrics like customer market share and profit-to-funding ratios are used.

The benefits are real and don’t require a major upheaval to organizational culture or structures. However, experience is thin on the ground along with books and training courses. It’s like using what we today call agile approaches in the 1990s. There are early adopters, conference sessions and blog posts, but far to go before the idea even approaches the chasm (let alone crosses it).

 

Summary

“Transformation” is probably too grand a word for the degree of change most organizations achieve. However, as so many ideas compete for our limited attention spans, it would seem crazy to merely name a change initiative a “rollout” or “improvement” these days. People have become desensitised to reasonable names and seek revolution and excitement to generate the interest they need to participate.

We should not expect traditional organizations to truly match digital-first companies like Spotify. They were founded to disrupt existing businesses and came without the baggage of a traditional client base to support. (Also, they are led and staffed by people that share different values than most North American institutions.)

Their ideas may be great for other organizations to experiment with and adopt what works, but what makes them truly powerful is that the ideas were created internally and vetted through experiments. Copy the concept (internally generate new processes to solve local problems), but not Spotify’s actual procedures.

There is nothing wrong with buying the same kind of shoes as Michael Jordan wore (heck, if the placebo effect gets you exercising more, they were likely a good purchase). However, don’t leave your day job to sign up with a basketball team until you’re sure you are world class. Today’s transformations bring many benefits—as long as you take the “transformation” claim with a grain of salt.

 

[Note: I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


Where Did All the Project Managers Go?

PuzzleSoftware is eating the world” claimed venture capitalist, Marc Andreessen in his 2011, New York Times article. Seven years on, the trend continues, and project managers are also on the menu. The next generation of project managers face new challenges but also new opportunities as organizations undergo a major transformation.

Software is becoming omnipresent, it is embedded and integral to all industries. Not just technology companies (like Google, Apple) but every sector is being disrupted by software including retail (Amazon), banking (PayPal, cryptocurrencies), transportation (Tesla, Uber), and travel (Airbnb).

As a project manager you may say “Great, just think of all those IT projects that will need project managers!” Well, that’s where things get interesting. First, today’s software teams don’t respond well to being “managed”, that’s old-school command-and-control thinking along with Gantt charts and calling people “resources”. Instead, they are led, empowered and supported by servant leaders. Next, the idea of a “project” with a defined endpoint is dissolving too.

As organizations realize their software systems provide the competitive advantage then stopping development equates to an end to innovation or competing. When organizations become more software-driven their systems are never “done”. As a result, organizations are switching from projects (that have a fixed end) to products - that continue to evolve. This movement popularized by the #NoProjects and Continuous Digital titles is growing exponentially.

 

 The Project Manager in a No Projects, No Managers Future

This double whammy of no more projects and no more managers likely creates heartburn for people with the job title “Project Manager”.  While this trend is clearly the future of work I believe there will always be a role for smart, cooperative people that can help with collaboration and development. 

 A quote that comes to mind is “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. The next generation of project managers will have new titles like “Product Leads”, “Development Team Coordinators” and “Digital Transformation Leaders”. They will help organizations build development capabilities around long-term products.

 This new generation will still communicate with stakeholders about status and risks. They will still facilitate consensus gathering amongst experts. They will still try to diffuse conflict and find common ground during arguments. The goals (satisfied stakeholders and value delivery) will remain the same but the tools, titles and processes employed will be vastly different.

 

New Tools and Approaches

Heavy upfront planning efforts and the use of tools like critical path network diagrams and PERT charts are not so useful when the input data is very uncertain. Tools like work breakdown structures offer great insights into sub-system assemblies but they are slower and more difficult to reprioritize than modern backlogs and release roadmaps.

As rates of change increase so too does early lifecycle uncertainty and the competitive need to start work quickly. The days of carefully analyzing work products upfront are dwindling. Instead, organizations build prototypes based on what they know right now and then iterate towards the final product. In the intangible world of software, the cost of experimentation is less than that of detailed analysis.

Also, using a software product provides better feedback on its suitability and possible expansion than reviewing a document or diagram about it. IWKIWISI (I Will Know It When I See It) becomes the new mantra, replacing the “Plan the work, and work the plan” ideas of old.

As organizations adopt a continuous delivery model that is focussed on products not projects then funding models change also. Instead of yearly budget cycles to fund entire projects, smaller tranches of funds are released to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Then, providing the product continues to return value, more funding is made available. A venture capital funding model lets product leaders focus on delivering a stream of high-value features that support continued investment.

Projects classically track metrics like on time/budget and Return On Investment (ROI). Products track customer satisfaction, market share, profit to funding ratios. They are similar concepts but a new vocabulary to learn.

 

Role Changes

Agile software development teams organize their own work, solve most of their own problems, and are empowered to experiment with new work strategies and approaches. They do not need (or want) to have work assigned to them, nor asked to report status. Instead, they make their work visible via kanban boards and new features.

They do however need people to remove impediments and chase up external dependencies. They also need investment in training, shielding from interruptions, plus regular encouragement and words of thanks to stay motivated. In short, all the servant leadership practices that good project managers did anyway still apply.

Project managers cannot be the center of work planning or task distribution. There is too much complexity to be anything but a bottleneck. Instead, we must trust development team members and product owners from the business as subject matter experts in their own domains.

Where these teams often need help is keeping the larger perspective on where it is we are trying to get to. When you are heads-down on solving a technical issue, it is easy to lose sight of the end goal. Having someone communicate the product vision reveals a beckoning summit towards which others can chart their own course.

In this way servant leadership and visionary leadership that predate modern project management are still valuable and needed. Yet the scientific project management that grew out of the industrialization of process is largely left behind.

 

The Future

In many industries, the classic role of projects and project managers will continue. I don’t see construction moving away from big upfront design and the reliance on project managers any time. In the software world though I think we are heading for substantial changes. Sure, some companies will continue as they always have with software project and project managers. However, most organizations will transition to long-term products with leaders and coordinators.

It is an exciting time for life-long learners willing to acquire new tools and approaches. There is no shortage of work for people who can collaborate with others and solve problems. The critical role of software will increase as organizations undertake digital transformation and adopt continuous digital strategies based on products vs projects. So, while the role “project manager” might be heading into the same category as “switchboard operators”, “human alarm clocks”, and “bowling alley pinsetters” the work and opportunities in this exciting field continue to grow.

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


Talent Management of The Future

Talent Management 2.JPGWe have shifted to Knowledge Work, but how do we find, develop and retain knowledgeable workers? This post examines Talent Management from two perspectives. First, what works well for agile teams. Second, how does the function change as organizations evolve, showing us how talent management may be done in future.

Let’s start by understanding what talent management covers. Talent Management is the strategy, planning and execution of everything needed to hire, develop, reward performance, and retain people. So, all the traditional Human Resources (HR) work, that we don’t call “HR” anymore because people are not resources.

The term talent management comes from research done by McKinsey in the late 1990’s and popularized in the book “The War for Talent” in 2001. At the time the authors were talking mainly about recruiting for leadership roles and the importance of finding people who possess: "a sharp strategic mind, leadership ability, communications skills, the ability to attract and inspire people, entrepreneurial instincts, functional skills, and the ability to deliver results." However, the term became so popular it is now used for the hiring and development at all levels, not just senior roles.

Why it became a big deal and the model organizations aspire to follow is because the McKinsey research found a definitive connection between top performers and superior corporate achievement. Not surprisingly, when you have the best people, you get industry-leading results. Not only that, but based on studying 13,000 executives in 27 companies, they identified how to do it and defined the following steps:

  1. Embrace a Talent Mindset
  2. Craft a Winning Employee Value Proposition
  3. Rebuild Your Recruiting Strategy
  4. Weave Development into Your Organization
  5. Differentiate and Affirm Your People
  6. Construct a practical framework for making this happen in your organization

When we read through this list anyone familiar with the agile mindset will likely see connections to agile and lean values. The recognition that people bring value and the need to respect, attract and engage people is central to the process. However, like agile adoption, just because organizations have known what they should be doing since the early 2000’s it does not mean they always behave that way.

Just as the agile mindset is sometimes paid lip service and poorly implemented, many organizations say they have policies for talent management but implement them poorly also. So, after recognizing why the process is a good one, even though it is often implemented less well (much like agile) let’s see how talent management operates for agile teams.

Agile Teams

Agile approaches recognize it is people who add value. They favor a Theory Y (people want to contribute and learn) approach to leadership over Theory X (people are lazy and need close supervision). Agile teams are built around intrinsic motivators such as autonomy of work, mastery of skills, and alignment with a vision and purpose.

Agile approaches encourage engaging the team in the recruiting process. So, while a hiring manager may pre-screen candidates for basic skills or security clearances, the actual evaluation of candidates and selection of the successful person is performed by members of the team itself. While this may sound inefficient, diverting attention from project goals, the negative impact of a poorly matched new hire is much greater.

When external people hire new team members without significant team consultation problems often ensue. This is then made worse because there is usually a delay in resolving the issue. People understandably want to give new hires “time to find their feet” and the “benefit of the doubt” before removing them from a team which aggravates the issue.

By contrast, when the team selects new members themselves they have already mentally prepared themselves for them joining. By asking candidates to perform tasks like coding exercises or a design-review, they test skills, get a feel of how candidates think, and how interactions may be.  There are fewer mismatches of talent or temperament and high performing teams are more likely to stay in the Tuckman Performing stage rather than churning back through the Storming and Norming stages again.

Getting the teams involved in hiring is part of the talent management process Step 6 “Construct a practical framework for making this happen in your organization”.  Agile approaches adopt many of the other steps also, they support Step 4 “Weave Development into Your Organization” and Step 5 “Differentiate and Affirm Your People” through empowered teams and adaptation.

Agile teams are empowered to make local decisions and encouraged to self-organize about accomplishing work. Shifting ownership and decision making down to the doers of work is more respectful of their talents and a more rewarding way for people to work.

Encouraging inspection and adaptation through product demonstrations, retrospectives, and experiments develop employees. It demonstrates trust in their opinions and allows them to better advance in their careers through experimenting with new roles.

Finally, the emerging practice of keeping high-performing agile teams together and bringing new work to established teams, values employee contributions. Rather than disbanding high-performing teams when the project completes, keeping that integrated unit together and giving them a new challenge to work on.

Organizational Evolution

Some progressive organizations have dropped hierarchical, command-and-control structures in favor of flatter, empowered teams. Coming from a background of agile development it is natural to think this is the broadening of agile thinking into the larger organizational landscape and the growth of truly agile organizations. However, while this observation matches our worldview, it is a flawed perspective of a bigger picture.

When we start examining organizational evolution from primitive gangs to the most sophisticated egalitarian organizations we discover that the agile mindset and principles are stepping stones on a journey that goes further. Agile approaches, that started out in organizing knowledge-work teams, are not the best tools for examining organizational structures and strategy.

Social researcher Frederic Laloux, a former associate partner with McKinsey, literally wrote the book on organizational evolution entitled “Reinventing Organizations” in 2014. In it he charts the development of organizational types in a progression from the most basic to the most advanced. Each stage of this progression has an accompanying color associated with it as a shorthand for the more descriptive titles. A summary of these stages with their color names is listed in the table below:

Teal Organizations

Laloux is careful to point out that organizations may straddle categories. Some departments in the same organization may be more mature than others. Also, one level is not necessarily better than another, they are just different and hold different values as their guides.

40 years ago, most companies were Amber with inflexible hierarchies and they struggled to compete with the emerging Orange organizations that valued and rewarded talent more. These days most organizations are Orange and are struggling to respond to the challenges of competing with the growing number of Green values-oriented organizations.

What is surprising to some agile enthusiasts is that agile is not the latest stage of development. Agile values and principles align most closely with Green organizations that emphasise empowerment and a value-driven culture – like maximizing for business value.  However, there is a stage beyond Green called Teal. It breaks apart the family mentality that uses centralized operational functions and empowered teams and instead encourages small communities of practice in more of an organism/ community-based model.

Laloux’s Red to Teal model is very useful for agile teams. The characteristics of Amber and Orange organizations nicely summarize most corporate companies today. The challenges of implementing agile approaches successfully involve the struggles of moving a traditional Amber or Orange organization to Green. Not an easy task.

However, Teal organizations are more advanced than agile Green and their approaches to talent management may reveal the future of recruiting and retention. In Teal organizations small, self-managing groups are given autonomy to do what is necessary to be successful. Each group contains all the decision-making power it typically needs, supported by a very light-weight group that provides templates and services. People are encouraged to find where they can add value and roles change frequently.

Attributes of Teal Organizations

An example of a Teal organization is Buurtzorg, a Dutch nursing organization whose name means “neighborhood care” in Dutch. Grown from the idea of its founder and nurse, Jos de Blok in 2007, who had become frustrated at the bureaucracy and “machinification” of nursing care. Buurtzorg is now the largest nursing organization in Holland. It has over 10,000 nurses and assistants working in 850 self-managed teams of 10-12 people and routinely wins awards for Best Employer of the Year.

Buurtzorg has organized around autonomy, not hierarchy. Teams make nearly all their own decisions and are supported by a bare-bones staff of 45 in the back office and 16 coaches. While they conduct over 280 Million Euros of business each year, they have only 6 people working in finance and no CFO. Without this hierarchy, their overhead costs are 8% compared to industry average of 25% which provides more funds for care and innovation. People enjoy working there too. Their staff sickness rate is 4% compared to industry averages of 7% and staff retention is the highest in the industry.

Talent Management in Teal Organizations

For a start, they don’t call it “Talent Management”. Just as “HR” is a throwback to Amber thinking of organizations as machines and people as interchangeable parts in that machine, “Talent” is also a throwback to similar thinking about skill trumping values and integrity. An unlucky/insightful choice of companies to profile in the book “The War for Talent” that give rise to the term “Talent Management” focussed on how Enron selected people based heavily on their intelligence.

Subsequently, the book and movie “The Smartest Guys in the Room” recounts how prioritizing intelligence over integrity can lead to poor choices, scandals and downfalls. Instead, Teal organizations just call the hiring and care of its staff process “growth and looking after its members”. They do not have a centralized HR department; each local group practice self-organizes and recruits as the business expands.

Work structures change quickly in Teal organizations. People may see an opportunity for improvement and partner with other team-mates to tackle it. Roles and functions come and go frequently. People are not bound by job titles and may be working on many different initiatives. In such a dynamic environment, it makes little sense recruiting for a single role, since that role may not exist for long. Instead, people are recruited for fit by their peers. Their skills are still checked, but it is much more important that the values of the new hires align with the organizational values.

After hiring the onboarding process in Teal organizations differs from Traditional/Orange and Agile/Green organizations. Since values and working co-operatively are so integral to Teal organizations, significant training in relationship skills are common after joining. It is normal for Buurtzorg staff to undertake extensive training on how decisions are made, how to resolve conflict, and how to collaborate effectively.

Training and performance reviews happen differently as well. People in Teal organizations have personal freedom and responsibility for their training. Employee’s at FAVI, a metal manufacturer in France also using Teal approaches, decide what products and techniques would best benefit their group to learn. Once mastered these skills are then used to enhance services or open new product offerings.

Instead of traditional performance reviews that try to take an objective view of past performance, more holistic reviews of one’s learning journey and calling are undertaken. They focus on wellbeing in addition to skills acquisition and growth. This may sound “Foo-Fooey” to employees in traditional organizations used to leaving their emotions at home. However, the mid-life crisis is the classic result of a life in traditional organizations without emotion.

All too often in traditional organizations people play the game of success and run the rat race. After 20 years when they realize they will not make it to the top, or the top is just as bad, but now with fewer friends, they question Why? After chasing targets and numbers, surviving yet another change program for so long people cannot help but wonder about the meaning of it all and yearn for something more.

So, What Does This All Mean?

Organizations are evolving. HR practices became Talent Management and will likely evolve into something else. We currently exist in a landscape where most organizations are run as machines prioritized for growth. However, we are seeing changes in more employee engagement and autonomy. As these changes continue work should become more meaningful, personal and rewarding. We need to embrace these changes, after all, "When you're finished changing, you're finished." -Ben Franklin

 

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


Project “You” and Project “Two“


We work hard in our organizations on projects to build new products and services, or affect some kind of change. We are also constantly on the lookout for ways to make the work go faster, by removing impediments and improving efficiencies. Techniques like Value Stream Mapping analyze the value-adding activities and the non-value adding activities to identify queues and waste in our processes that can then be eliminated. Looking at our contributions and opportunities for efficiencies is like considering our work as a machine and trying to lubricate it so it will go faster and run more smoothly.

Cog 1

However, this view misses who is driving your work - you. In effect we watch the work, but not the worker. It is you that drives the contributions you make on the project.

Cog 2

Attempts to improve and optimize the project may not be as productive as improving our own performance. So, instead of oiling the process, increasing our capability is a great way to improve output.

Cog 3

Now with a bigger and better you, your project performance will improve.

“Project You”

This is “Project You”, the improvement and investment in yourself. “Project You” should come first, but often it is relegated to second or third choice, or forgotten completely, as work and home pressures take over. However, I invite you to consider “Project You” as your first priority and your regular project work as “Project Two”.

This may seem selfish, but it is not when you consider what is powering your project contributions – your capabilities. Investing in yourself will help your employer and project, it will increase your competencies and capacity to do more work.

More than Just Skills

Skills are just one aspect of you. Your Health, Happiness, and Relationships with others are also critical parts of your makeup that will hurt performance if they are not attended to and in good condition.

Cog 4


All too often people focus on work performance or skills to the detriment of another aspect such as health or supportive relationships. When this occurs your work and project performance will eventually suffer also.

 

Cog 5

Like having a faulty or unevenly developed cog wheel, mismatches in these quadrants will in due course limit your effectiveness at work. People cannot go on if they are unhappy, unsupported, or sick. Just like learning new skills, we need to invest in our well being and the well being of those close to us to remain productive.

A New Year, a Better You

As we start the New Year, now is a great time to assess our overall work engine. To perform a review of “Project You”, recognize and celebrate what we have working in our favour and make a commitment to improve the elements that are our weakest.

Focussing on “Project You” now will bring dividends to your “Project Two” and “Project Three” in 2018. Look beyond the usual sphere of just work and ask: “Am I happy?”, “Am I healthy”, ”Am I in and creating strong relationships?” Then, just as we would for planning the acquisition of new skills or certifications, create a plan of action for addressing the areas that need the most work.

It Nests Infinitely

Of course, the idea of “Project You” applies to all the team members on our project also. It is common to view teams as the interaction and sum contributions of the team member efforts. Then, as good servant leaders we attempt to remove roadblocks and communicate a clear vision of where we are trying to get to.

Cog 6

However, a better view of projects is to see the people components driving these contributions. When we consider our team members as more than just their skills and effort, but also take an interest in their health, happiness and relationships we discover more places we can help.

Cog 7

I remember working on a software project where a developer came up to me and explained he had just received a call from his wife who was sick, and he wanted to go home to see her. I could have just said: “Sure, no problem, go home and see her”. However, because I knew he walked to his nearest train station and took the light rail network to get into the office, I asked if I could drive him home, since I drove to the office and had my car there. He was very appreciative, he saved 30 minutes on his journey home and I was back in the office in under an hour.

It was no big deal to me; my team was very self-sufficient and diligent, and I was glad to help. However, that simple gesture to help with his relationship and the health and happiness of his wife was not forgotten, it helped strengthen our work relationship and was repaid many times over.

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Helping Others

It would be hypocritical of us to try and assist with the health, happiness or relationship success of our colleagues if our own lives were steaming piles of self-loathing and depravity. We don’t need to be saints, but we should try to get our own lives in order before helping others.

We will also be viewed as a more credible source of council if we have a healthy, balanced home and work life. So, start where you have the most influence, in your own life. See how we can address any imbalances and then look more holistically at your team members. Maybe share the “Project You” and “Project Two” concept with them and see if there is any way you can support them as they grow also.

Summary

Projects, by definition, are temporary endeavors, people, however, should take a longer-term view of their success. Our achievement on our current project and the projects to come will in large part be driven by our full-spectrum wellbeing.  The same goes for the colleagues we work with. So why not use this year as the opportunity to examine “Project You” and invest in your future?

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com, available here]


Government Lessons in People Over Process

CubicleMy first opportunity to create and run a large agile team did not start well. Having had good successes with small to medium sized agile teams I was keen to unleash the benefits on a bigger scale. I was working for IBM at the time and was able to persuade my account manager to pitch the approach on one of our government projects. A clean-sheet development opportunity with a smart team and engaged business group – what could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty due to my ill-advised approach.

It was the early 90’s and we were trialling techniques that would later become the agile approach DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development Method). Taking ideas like James Martin’s RAD (Rapid Application Development) and active user involvement from Enid Mumford’s Participative Design Approach, we had already dramatically reduced development time and improved acceptance rates on several projects. I was convinced collocated teams with short iterations of build/feedback cycles were the future. We were all set for a big client success and who better than the British Government for good publicity! My enthusiasm was about to be tested.

I was given a full rein of the project, or as I would later realize, just enough rope to hang myself with. Having struggled to get dedicated business input on previous projects I commandeered a large boardroom to collocate the development team and business subject matter experts (SMEs). It was awesome, everyone was together in one room and we had direct access to the business representatives for requirements elicitation, clarification, and demo feedback. We were working hard and getting lots of features built but the business representatives hated it.

At first, I thought they hated me. I think that is a common mistake, we internalize changes in behaviour as attacks or criticisms of ourselves. What have I done? What did I say to upset them? - all of them! I recall wanting to write on my internal project status report to the IBM PMO that “the business is revolting”. However, that is what occurred, starting as cordial and helpful, the business SMEs became less helpful, then uncooperative, and finally hostile. I had a revolt on my hands that I did not understand.

This was my first introduction to organizational change. Luckily for me, I had access to many people in IBM smarter and more experienced than I was. I was given a book called “How to Manage Change Effectively: Approaches, Methods, and Case Examples” by Donald Kirkpatrick that changed my career. In it Kirkpatrick outlines circumstances where people will resist change. These include:

  1. When people sense loss in: security, pride and satisfaction, freedom, responsibility, authority, good working conditions, and/or status
  2. It creates more problems than it is worth
  3. Extra efforts are not being rewarded
  4. Lack of respect for those initiating the change
  5. The change initiative and its implications are misunderstood
  6. Belief that the change does not make sense for the organization
  7. Change is misdirected, current state or alternatives are better
  8. A low tolerance for change in our lives
  9. When change violates a principle or commitment that the organization must stand by
  10. Exclusion from the change initiative
  11. Changes viewed as criticism of how things were done in the past
  12. The change effort occurs at a bad time, other issues or problems are also being handled

Something I was not aware of at the time is how the career development process works within the government. The most junior new hires work in open-plan cubical offices. Then as you get a promotion you get moved to bigger cubicles with higher walls that are more like mini-offices. Next, you get promoted to a real office, then an office with a window, and eventually a corner office. In short, your workspace defines your status, responsibility and authority.

By bringing these business representatives into a shared boardroom to work on the project I had unwittingly generated change resistance scenarios 1-3 and probably triggered many others also. Making them sit and work together like the most junior recruits had caused a loss of good working conditions, status, freedom, pride, satisfaction, and perceived authority. A bad idea when hoping to develop a productive working relationship with someone.

Luckily for me the Kirkpatrick book also lists circumstances when people do accept change, which unsurprisingly are the opposite conditions and include:

  1. When change is seen as a personal gain: in security, money, authority, status or prestige, responsibility, working conditions, or achievement
  2. Provides a new challenge and reduces boredom
  3. Opportunities to influence the change initiative
  4. Timing: the time is right for organizational change
  5. Source of the change initiative is liked and respected
  6. The approach of the change and how it is implemented appeals to us

So, equipped with these ideas we changed our approach. Instead of the business SMEs being collocated with us they returned to their fancy corner offices, long lunch breaks, and afternoons spent reading the newspaper - none of which they could do when they all sat together. Instead, we reserved their mornings for questions, review sessions, and demonstrations. This was better received because their morning calendars were blocked with important project meetings, but we rarely called on all of them at once unless it was for a business demo.

Now they had their offices back, a little more free time, and were engaged in a more respectful way. The team were sceptical at first. However, it really is much better to have one hour of someone who is cheerful, engaged, and helpful than eight hours of someone who is bitter, obstinate and causing issues. The project went much smoother after these changes and it taught me an important lesson in never trying to introduce a process or practice without considering the people elements first.

We completed the project early, largely due to the input and hard work during acceptance testing of the business SMEs, and IBM got their successful case study. I learned to temper my enthusiasm and consider other stakeholders who will undoubtedly have a different view of the project than myself. Individuals and interaction are indeed more important than processes and tools, even if they are your own pet agile processes and tools.

[I first wrote this article for the Government themed November issue of ProjectManagement.com, available to subscribers Here]


The Importance of Focus

Edison BulbI have an old-fashioned Edison bulb desk lamp. It’s to remind me to focus (and because I like steampunk, industrial design). A 40-watt incandescent bulb will barely light a room, but a 40-watt laser can cut through aluminium, leather, and wood. It is the same amount of light energy, just focussed instead of being diffused.

The same principle applies to our attention, work and teams. Diffused and scattered there is not much impact. Focussed and concentrated that energy is very impactful. Removing distractions and focussing on a single deliverable at a time allows us to complete our work faster with fewer defects.

Aligning a team to a common vision and purpose directs their energy towards it. No longer diffused to fulfil a dozen competing demands, effort is channelled to the shared goal. Distractions come in many forms. Fancy tools, cool architecture, requests from different groups. If we do not pay attention to focus, our laser beam team becomes an Edison bulb, it is busy and glowing, but not very effective.

So, be cautious of distractions. Monitor time and energy directed to the project goal compared to energy directed to peripheral activities. Work life is like a greased pole with a 40-watt Edison bulb at the bottom and a 40-watt laser at the top. We must always be striving upwards to focus because as we relax we slide down towards distraction.

(Also visible in the picture is my “Do The Work” Post-it. another reminder to focus and a pointer to work on the same topic by Seth Godin and Stephen Pressfield. I guess I could get a 40-watt laser too, but that would scorch the cat rather than amuse it. Plus yes, it is snowing here and yes, my windows are old)


Inverted Classrooms

Inverted Classroom 2My last article on why We Should All be Learners explained how today’s knowledge worker projects are all about learning effectively. This article explains how new technology can deliver a more effective and enjoyable learning experience.  So, whether you are studying for your PMP credential, cramming on blockchain technology, or learning conversational Spanish, blended learning is something you should be aware of.

Blended learning combines online resources with in-person instruction. Both approaches have been available for many years, but their combination has recently given rise to what’s called Inverted Classroom Model that is both new and very effective.

If you have ever experienced painfully slow or incomprehensibly fast lectures, or the problems of trying to coordinate group activities outside of class then blended learning with an inverted classroom model might be just the ticket.  It works like this:

Lecture materials are made available online outside of class time and people consume them at their own pace, whenever they like. If you already know something, just skip it, if its difficult or mind-boggling pause it, repeat it, or access additional resources. You control the delivery speed of lessons, how much time you dedicate to it, and you also control when you consume it. So, if you are an early bird use the mornings, a night owl then use the evenings, it's all up to you.

Then, and here’s the clever part, during class when lectures would normally be delivered, this time is used for assignments and group exercises.  So, you attend lectures at home and do homework in class. It is all reversed – hence the inverted classrooms name.

Inverted Classroom

This brings several advantages. Students move at their own pace, on their own timetable. Also, instead of classes being spent on passive listening, they are now dedicated to active work which is more engaging and enjoyable. Trying or organize group work outside of class when people are busy can be a logistical nightmare, now everyone should be available to take part in group work during the regularly scheduled class times.

In addition, the instructor is available to facilitate group work if needed and shift their focus from getting through the material at the appropriate speed to helping students in the areas they need. It is important that people still get face to face time to interact with peers and the instructor. However, in the inverted classroom model, that time is spent applying knowledge not trying to absorb it at a standardized delivery pace.

The approach is not without its own challenges. The technology for consuming material online must be effective and easy to access. Instructors and students must also buy-in to their new roles. Students are now curators of their own content consumption and need to make sure they have understood the required topics before showing up to the next class, whether it took them 2 hours or 20.

Instructors must also switch roles, moving from narrator of wisdom to facilitator of group activities, troubleshooter, and coach. They also need to make sure the students really are consuming the course materials, not just turning up to class and coasting a free-ride on their peers. Good content management systems can track content consumption and test basic recall with tests and quiz questions.

When the technology is in place and roles understood, blended learning and the inverted classroom model can deliver a very engaging and enjoyable way of learning a new topic. It combines Goldilocks pace (not too slow, not too fast) along with engaging group activities without the logistics issue of scheduling busy learners. So, for that next credential or must-have skill, you may want to investigate a blended learning environment with an inverted classroom model.

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com under the title Flipped Classrooms here]


We Should All Be Learners

LearnersKnowledge work is learning work.” That was the message delivered by Dianna Larson’s keynote presentation at the Agile on The Beach conference held in Falmouth, England earlier this Summer. Dianna explained that anyone involved in today’s collaborative, problem-solving projects such as new product development need to be learners. We all need to learn how to learn new topics effectively and get used to lifelong learning to stay useful and relevant.

Technology evolution and disruptive business changes are happening at such a high rate now that we can no longer rely on the theories and techniques we gained at university to see us through our professional careers. Instead, we must learn on the job and in our own time to stay current. How much we learn and how quickly we can learn new skills become our competitive advantage.

“Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival.” – W. Edwards Deming

By learning new skills, we increase our adaptability and usefulness in the marketplace. It creates resiliency to becoming obsolete and provides more career options. Like many things, this is not a zero-sum game; it is not just about us learning things faster than other people to stay employed. If we can increase our team’s ability to learn also, it will be more successful and so will our organization.

For on-job learning to occur, we need three attributes:

  1. Courage
  2. Compassion
  3. Confidence

To be effective leaders and help promote learning in our teams and organizations, we must embrace and model these desired behaviors:

1. Courage: It takes courage to be okay with not knowing something. It takes courage to be wrong and fail as we try to gain and apply new skills. It requires a willingness to be curious and a willingness to tolerate the messiness of trial and error that comes from learning. So check your ego at the door, get over yourself and admit what you do not (yet) know.

2. Compassion: We need a safe space to learn. Also (and this is a surprise to some people), the transparency of showing what we do not know is motivating to others. When leaders learn out loud, it creates compassion toward them. So, create a secure place for people to learn on your projects. Provide psychological safety and encourage learning by doing it yourself in public.

Since we learn in the direction we ask questions, we should frame work as a series of learning problems, not execution problems. For example, instead of explaining the task of porting a system from .NET to Android, explain that our success is linked to our ability to learn Xamarin, our selected tool to port .Net to Android. Clearly explaining we want people to learn new skills is often the approval enabler they need to dedicate themselves to being more useful.

3. Confidence: We need confidence to try and we need to understand our confidence levels. When we learn anything new of significance, our confidence will likely move through the stages depicted in the Satir Change Curve. Think about when you learned to drive, play a musical instrument or learn a foreign language. First, our confidence is high at the prospect of gaining independence, becoming a rock star or traveling with ease. This is illustrated by the initial high score of confidence/comfort at point 1 on the graph below:

Satir

Then we start our learning and we quickly realize that driving, playing the guitar or learning Spanish is difficult and we are not as good at it as we are at all the familiar things we do every day. This is the confusion/loss period of the Satir Change Curve shown as point 2. Many adults who have not had to learn significant new skills for many years find this very uncomfortable.

Next, comes the “groan zone” of turmoil and despair, where some days go well and some days go bad and you seem to be moving backwards (point 3). Understanding that this is perfectly normal is a great relief for many learners. It is helpful to just point to the graph and explaining it is okay to feel bad because they are in the turmoil/despair phase of learning a new skill, and it will be followed by growth and confidence if they just stick with it.

Finally, with perseverance and practice, we acquire the new knowledge or skill and our confidence and comfort rises above our original level (point 4) along with our usefulness.

Summary
Learning and the need to learn are not identifiers of a junior employee anymore. They are the hallmarks of the professional knowledge worker. We need to move beyond the stigma of not knowing all the answers and embrace the learning path that comes with not knowing, making mistakes and asking for help.

When leaders model the learning mindset of curiosity and the courage to learn out loud, they pave the way for faster organizational learning and increased competitive advantage.

[I wrote this article first for ProjectManagement.com here]


Agile 2017

17-2480-Agile_Orlando2017_Speaking_300x250_FM (1)I will be speaking at two presentations at the Agile 2017 Conference next week in Orlando. I am looking forward to catching up with old colleagues and meeting new practitioners, it looks set to be a great event.

My first presentation is called “Bridging Mindsets: Creating the PMI Agile Practice Guide” and is an experience report that tells the story of creating the Agile Practice Guide. This is a new book, sponsored by the Agile Alliance and the Project Management Institute that will be published September 6th. I was Chairman of the writers group and along with Vice-Chair Johanna Rothman we will explain the inputs and constraints to the guide along with our iterative, pair-writing process.

Agile Practice Guide Inputs

My second presentation is called “Integral but Insufficient: Why the Future Needs More than Agile to be Successful”. This one is a little more controversial, claiming large complex projects are rarely successful using agile alone. It is based on my 23-year experience of working on successful and not so successful agile projects, particularly one team that won a PMI “Project Of The Year” award.

It introduces some core observations such as good answers are rarely simple, and processes carry weight while knowledge is weightless:

Agile Conference Slides

Along with suggestions for a more cohesive, comprehensive model that will be the focus of my next book. I am looking forward to sharing these ideas with people and hearing their reactions. I hope to see you there.


They are “Lessons to be Learned”, not “Lessons Learned”

The suggestions, observations and ideas we capture at retrospectives are not Lessons Learned. That would imply we have already learned from them and will not make that mistake again. Instead, they are Lessons-to-be-Learned which is subtly different but stresses the most important part, which is we now need to learn something.

Learning involves several steps. David Kolb, an educational theorist, describes a 4-step learning process:

  1. Concrete Experiences (What we already know)
  2. Observation and Reflection (What our retrospectives help us identify)
  3. Abstract Conceptualization (Thinking about the problems and designing potential solutions)
  4. Active Experimentation (Trying something new)

These stages act as part of an experimental learning cycle. The last step, Active Experimentation, creates new concrete experiences and builds on what we already know. Experimental Learning Cycle

It is easy to confuse the retrospective actions of Observation and Reflection (Stage 2) as gathering lessons learned. However, this is not the case, instead it is just one step in the process. We then need to determine a solution (Stage 3) and run experiments to learn from them (Stage 4). Only then might we actually learn something.

To remind us that simply gathering ideas and suggestions for improvements is not the same as learning, I suggest we stop using the term “Lessons Learned” and instead useLessons to be learned”.


New PMI-ACP Workbook

PMI-ACP WorkbookI am pleased to announce the availability of my new PMI-ACP Workbook. This new workbook focusses on a smaller subset of 50 key topics.   My original PMI-ACP Exam Prep book distilled all the relevant content from the 11 books on the PMI-ACP recommended reading list in a common voice. The workbook is also different by providing lots of exercises and many situational questions like you will find in the exam.

So, while my PMI-ACP Exam Prep book covers all the background and theory – ideal for a comprehensive coverage of everything in the exam, the new PMI-ACP Workbook is a practical, hands-on study tool that focusses on the core topics needed to pass the exam. If you already have your CSM credential or 3+ years of agile experience you likely know the agile mindset, values and principles material already. However, you may not have the lean, kanban, and team development knowledge needed to pass the PMI-ACP exam so the workbook can fill those gaps.

To help determine which book is best for you I created the following flowchart:

PMI-ACP Workbook Flowchart

Hands-on learners and people who do not want to read all about how the approaches fit together will find the 50 key topics of the new workbook a simpler way to navigate the material. Also, since the content is arranged by topic alphabetically you can easily jump around and create your own study plan based on just the topics you need.

While the workbook coverage of topics is less than the prep-book, the emphasis on exercises and situational questions is much higher and accounts for the slightly higher page count (457 pages). There is white space for writing notes and the whole thing is spiral bound so it lays flat when you are working in it. The content changes are summarized by these rough page count graphs:

PMI-ACP Book Contents

I think it fills an important need. A workbook for hands-on learners looking to build their own study plan and gain access to high-quality situational questions. It also provides access to a free online quiz. Readers can order and get an early-bird discount from RMC here.

 

 


PMI EMEA – Rome – PMI’s Agile Future

Emea17_rome_badge_800x400_v2I will be presenting at the PMI EMEA Congress May 1-3 in Rome on “PMI’s Agile Future”.

2017 marks an important year for embracing agile approaches by the PMI. The PMBOK® v6 Guide, set to be released in Q3 will have agile accommodation guidance for each of its Knowledge Areas and an Agile Appendix. I wrote these sections with Jesse Fewell and hope they enable practitioners to see how techniques can be tailored for agile environments.

Synchronized for release with the PMBOK® V6 Guide is the new Agile Practice Guide. A collaboration between the Agile Alliance and the PMI to create a guide for project practitioners working in the “messy middle-ground“ of agile teams and plan-driven environments.

I am chair of the author team for this book and just returned from our final meeting to edit the first draft of the guide. We had a huge number of comments from our SME reviewers. Some agile enthusiasts believed it was too lenient to tolerate hybrid approaches as a temporary stepping-stone to fully agile approaches. Some plan-driven enthusiasts believe it was too dismissive of plan-driven approaches to be endorsed by the PMI.

I think if we can equally upset “enthusiasts” at both ends of the agile and plan-driven scale we have probably found the sweet-spot for pragmatic practitioners looking to navigate the very real in-between world we often occupy.

Also, out this year is the BA Standard and BA Guide, similarly with agile coverage. I am grateful to Joy Beatty, chair of the BA Standard and Cyndi Dionisio, chair of the PMBOK® v6 Guide for the support they provided at the Agile Practice Guide - Development Workshop we ran at the PMI Global Congress in San Diego last September.

My “PMI’s Agile Future” presentation for Rome is not just a list of PMI agile products. Instead I will be telling the story of how people have managed uncertainty and complexity through history. I hope to dispel some myths around phase-gates, PERT, Gantt charts and waterfall lifecycles and introduce some unsung heroes of adaptive planning.  Then, to stay on track, I will introduce PMI’s agile developments and link them to the future trends indicating the importance of being able to manage uncertainty and complexity.

I am really looking forward to the event and particularly enjoy talking to people afterwards. Please bring your questions and I’ll see you there.


Agile DNA Webinar

Agile DNA 2This post is a follow-up to my Agile DNA webinar I hosted a couple of weeks ago. This was my first webinar for RMC and we had a great attendance with over 2,000 people registering for the event. The recording is available now,  see below for details of how to access it.

The webinar was entitled “Agile DNA, the People and Process Elements of Successful Agile Projects” and the DNA theme came from the twin strands of People and Process guidance that run through all agile approaches and make agile uniquely what it is.

Agile DNA 1

In case you have not noticed it before, Agile approaches weave people elements and process elements together through the agile mindset, values and principles. For simplicity of understanding we pull these elements apart to talk about them individually, but in reality, they are inextricably linked and self-supporting.

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The Business Analyst and the Product Owner


BA and PO rolesIn my last article we talked about the role of the BA on agile projects, reviewing what stays the same and what changes from traditional approaches. In this article, we will review the contentious topic of how the role of the BA varies and overlaps with the Product Owner (PO). We cover the similarities and differences including danger signs such as “BA as PO Go-Between” and positive patterns such as “BA as PO Supporter”.

 

The Product Owner (PO)

First, let’s make sure we understand the role of the Product Owner (PO). It originated in Scrum but is often also used beyond Scrum in other agile approaches and hybrid approaches. The Scrum definition of the role is the person responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the development team. This includes being responsible for managing the Product Backlog. Extreme Programming (XP) has a similar “Customer” role, DSDM has one or more “Business Ambassadors” depending on the scale of the project. They all play a similar role in stewardship of the backlog, including:

 

  • Ensuring that the product backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all, showing what the team will work on next
  • Ensuring the team understands items in the product backlog to the level needed
  • Clearly expressing the product backlog items
  • Ordering the items in the product backlog to best achieve goals and outcomes
  • Optimizing the value of the work the team performs

 

Benefits Beyond Backlog Management

In addition to this backlog focused work, the Product Owner is often the primary interface to other business stakeholders. They help teams gain access to business subject matter experts for insights on topics where the Product Owner may not have all the answers. They also often act as a gateway to funding, making the business case for additional funding requests, or as a powerful ally when asking for roadblocks to be removed. Playing the “Business is asking for X” card is typically stronger than the “Team is asking for X” card when asking for an exemption from process, or to expedite an issue.

 

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BA's on Agile Projects?

Team EffectivenessThe role of the business Analyst (BA) on agile projects in some ways parallels the role of the project manager (PM). In that, some people believe these roles are not needed at all! The Scrum Guide, for instance, that outlines the Scrum approach describes only three roles: Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development Team. Even when you look deeper into the Scrum Guide’s description for The Development Team role, it does not mention analysts or analysis work. However, most organizations agree, good BAs are great assets for any team, be it plan-driven, agile or hybrid.

This article examines what BAs really do, looking at what stays the same on an agile project and what changes. The quick version is that the What and the Why fundamentals stay the same, but all the How, When, Where and With Whom details change dramatically.

Let’s start with What business analysts are supposed to do. (I say supposed to do rather than actually do because yours might watch cat videos most of their time and that is not what they are supposed to do!) Anyway, Business Analysts elicit, analyze, communicate, manage and validate requirements. They also help understand the business and make sure the solutions fit the business. In addition, they help translate technical issues to the business and facilitate stakeholder communications.

Why they do these things should be fairly obvious. To help ensure the project builds the right product, and requirements are not missed or misunderstood. They are also valuable to help facilitate and bridge communications between client, customer and technical groups.

The good news is that all these functions, roles, needs or whatever you want to call them still exist on agile projects. Also, to some extent, because agile timelines are often compressed, these functions become more critical for teams to remain productive and so good BAs are extra valuable.

Now for what changes; let’s start with the How? Agile teams typically do not create large, detailed requirements documents that get reviewed and signed-off before development begins in earnest. Instead, requirements may be captured as user-stories, or on index cards that act as reminders to go and have a conversation with the relevant subject matter expert prior to development. They are typically smaller in terms of how much scope they cover and depth of description. More like micro-requirements for attention deficit readers who only want small, bite-sized components.

 

Continue reading "BA's on Agile Projects?" »


Agile DNA Webinar

Agile_dna_webinarI am excited to announce a free webinar with RMC Learning Solutions entitled “Agile DNA: The People and Process Elements of Successful Agile Projects” that will be taking place on January 11th 2017 at 12:00pm Central Time.

This is an introductory level presentation about agile approaches that qualifies participants for 1 PDU. The “Agile DNA” title comes from the twin strands of People and Process that are woven into agile approaches and uniquely define what they are. Please join me for this review of agile through the twin lens of People and Process to get a deeper understanding of the building blocks of agile.

Register now for this event here.


Agile Risk Management

Risk Action in BacklogThis article aims to dispel the myth that agile projects somehow magical manage risks for us, and outlines a couple of practical tools that can be used to start improving risk management approaches. 

Agile is Not a Risk Management Approach

Some people believe agile approaches with their short cycles and regular feedback have a risk management approach naturally built into the process. It is easy to see why, the building blocks and attachment points for plugging in an effective risk management process are certainly present, but unfortunately just building something iteratively or incrementally does not ensure risks are managed. 

It is all too easy to develop iteratively missing opportunities to actively address threats or exploit opportunities. Many agile teams also fail to actively look for risks, discuss and decide on appropriate actions, undertake those actions and reassess the risks and evaluate if the risk management process is even working. 

It is a shame because in many ways agile methods provide an ideal framework for introducing effective risk management practices. They have short timeframes, active reprioritization of work, frequent review points, high team member and business engagement in planning, etc. However, similar to having a group of people to help you find something, a beach-party is not the same as a search-party. We need a conscious effort, coordination and cooperation to make it effective.

 

Consciously Adding Risk Management to Agile Approaches

The good news is, that when organizations and their participating teams decide to layer risk management onto agile approaches there are many self-reinforcing cycles and mechanisms to make use of. For instance, the frequent consideration of change requests and reprioritization of work in the backlog makes the insertion risk avoidance or risk mitigation tasks an easier process to handle. 

Likewise, the regular retrospectives that review progress and process are great points to examine the effectiveness of risk management strategies and take corrective actions. Daily standup meetings that surface issues and blockers can also act as early warnings for potential new risks, etc. 

For anyone interested in linking agile approaches to risk management steps, here’s a White Paper on Collaborative Games for Risk Management that was presented at the 2012 Agile conference and PMI Global Congress. These ideas and their development more into Opportunity Management were explored at this 2015 Agile Conference Session. However, the mechanics of doing the work and linking it into an agile lifecycle are the easy parts, getting people to take a risk-based view to project work is where the real work is needed.

 

Thinking about Risk Management

Education and acceptance are the keys to successfully adding risk management to agile practices. We need to get people engaged in the process and instill a common understanding of threats as the possibility of negative value. Once people understand this they can answer the question “Where is the next best dollar spent?” more effectively. It might not be on building the next feature from the backlog, but instead avoiding a risk or exploiting an opportunity. 

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When Outsourcing Makes Sense

When to Outsource GridDisclaimer: This article is based on my personal experience of software project development work over a 25 year period running a mixture of local projects, outsourced projects and hybrid models. The data is my own and subjective, but supported by 1,000’s of industry peers I question while delivering training courses for the PMI. I do not work for a local based or outsourcing based company, I have nothing to gain from favoring either approach, but I hope these thoughts are useful for determining some of the pro’s, con’s, true costs and circumstances when outsourcing is better or worse than local development.

To the uninitiated, outsourcing seems like a great idea. Software engineers are expensive in many countries but much cheaper in other parts of the world. So, since software requirements and completed software can be shipped free of charge via email and web sites, why not get it developed where labor rates are much lower?

Coding vs Collaboration Costs

The flaw in this plan comes in the execution of it when it becomes apparent that software development projects typically entail more than just the development of software. Writing code is certainly part of it, but understanding the problem, agreeing on a design, discovering and solving unforeseen issues, making smart decisions and compromises to optimize value and schedule are big parts of it too. This is the collaboration effort part of a project. Also, while the coding part might represent 30-50% of the overall project costs, these shrink to 20-30% when a 3-year ownership cost view is considered that includes support, maintenance and enhancements.

Sticking with just development costs for now, let’s examine a scenario. The business case pitched to executives by outsourcing companies initially seems very compelling: Project Alpha needs 9 months of software development by a team of 5 people. If you work in an expensive labor market, like North America, we can assume fully-loaded hourly rates of $100 per hour, yet highly qualified consultants from our fictional outsourcing country of TechLand cost only $25 per hour. So, the project for 9 months x 160 hours per month x 5 people at $100 per hour in an expensive market costs $720,000. For a TechLand team this would cost 9mths x 160hrs x 5pl x $25hr = $180,000, that’s a cool $540,00 saving, right?

Let’s revisit this scenario based on the acknowledgment that the actual software writing part of a project is closer to a 30-50% of the total effort. This leaves the remaining 50-70% of the work as the communications heavy collaboration part. It should come as no surprise that separating people via distance, time zones, and potentially language and cultural barriers increase communications effort and propagates issues up the cost-of-change-curve

So, when 50-70% of the communication-heavy collaboration work takes longer, how do we quantify that? Agile methods recommend Face-to-Face communications because it is the quickest, conveys body-language and provides an opportunity for immediate Q&A only for the issues that need it. Switching from Face-to-Face to video, conference call, email or paper create barriers and adds significant time and opportunity for confusion. A 2-3 X increase in effort likely downplays the true impact when considering the costs of fixing things that go awry because of inevitable misunderstandings, but let’s use that number.

Redoing our project Alpha costs with, say, 40% as the actual coding effort and 60% effort communications heavy collaboration work that takes 2.5 X as much effort we get: 9mths x 160hrs x 5pl x $25 hr x 40% = $72K Coding + 9mths x 160hrs x 5pl x $25 hr x 60% x 2.5 = $270K Collaboration giving $342,000 in total. However, this is less than half the costs of the $720,000 locally developed project so we are still good, right?

The Compounding Costs of Delay

An error in the logic applied so far is that this 2.5 X communication and collaboration penalty on 60% of the work can somehow be magically absorbed into the same 9 month timeline. In reality these outsourced projects take longer because of the increased communication and collaboration effort and 2.5 x 60% = 1.5 X as long is consistent with my experience from 25 years of mixed local and outsourced projects.

Continue reading "When Outsourcing Makes Sense" »


The Diagnosis and Treatment of Bimodal IT

Bimodal IT TreatmentIs it just me, or does Bimodal IT sound like a mental health condition? Unfortunate name aside, it has been adopted by companies reluctant to embrace agile but looking for a halfway-house / best-of-both-worlds solution.

In my last post I reviewed some of the issues I see with Bimodal IT; these include promoting a segregation of techniques when companies really need integration and recommending sequential lifecycles for complex projects. While it is easy to poke holes in ideas, it is more useful and rewarding to fix and improve things. So, let’s help organizations using Bimodal IT improve.

First, we should acknowledge the elegance of its simple design and understand why organizations are drawn to it. The simplicity of an If-This-Then “A”, If-Not-Then “B” approach is appealing and it allows companies to try agile-like approaches without making a full commitment. There is a refreshing clarity and simplicity in a simple two-way model. However, true to its namesake personality disorder, organizations using Bimodal IT exhibit large swings in the execution approach that are not natural or optimal.

Diagnosis: Tyranny of the OR vs. the Genius of the AND

In the book “Good to Great” Jim Collins popularized the idea of the “Tyranny of the OR vs. the Genius of the AND” to explain the problems of being forced to choose from alternatives and the potential in choosing a better third alternative – even if it takes more effort.

The “Tyranny of the OR” part describes having to choose from two seemingly contradictory strategies – either Mode 1 which is traditional and sequential OR Mode 2 which is exploratory and nonlinear. The “Genius of the AND” part refers to instead embracing both ends of the continuum and simultaneously making the best decision for the unique circumstance at hand. Most organizations are ruled by the tyranny of the “OR”, whereas Great organizations find a third way to satisfy both and leverage the Genius of the “AND”.

Jim Collins linked the ability to leverage “AND” thinking to high performing companies, but this third alternative or “Middle Way” has been around for a long time. I wrote about it in 2008 here, and my favorite quote relating to it is: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Treatment: Mix Models, Engage the teams and Innovate

An example of applying the AND mentality to Bimodal IT would be to execute a couple of Mode 1 and Mode 2 projects and then get the teams together for an improvement workshop. We could ask them about their experiences and suggestions for cross-pollination of the best techniques. Maybe Mode 1 projects could benefit from a monthly Show-and-tell review of project outputs and planned work for the next period with the wider project community? Maybe Mode 2 projects would benefit from the development of RACI charts before distributing work between team members and part-time supporting roles?

I am not suggesting these are universal enhancements Mode 1 and Mode 2 projects, they are just examples of things that might be suggested. The real power of the process comes from getting people thinking about how to improve the process and caring about the outputs. Giving people input into how we undertake work and the ability to improve it moves them from un-invested-followers of a process to engaged-workers with some autonomy and say in how things get done. Guess which group enjoys their work more? Guess which group tries harder to overcome problems and deliver results?

I am in favor of using established and proven development approaches, they leverage good practice and help prevent common pitfalls. However, since organizations vary in function, organization and culture it is naïve to assume different companies should use the same one (or two) processes to execute their projects. The impacts of failure in air traffic control are quite different from pop-culture web sites and they should use different development approaches.

As Alistair Cockburn and Jim Highsmith have been saying for decades, we really need a methodology per project. Or as the Declaration Of Interdependance (DOI) say an approach that is "Situationally Specific". If this all sounds too hard or complicated it need not be. There are lots of free frameworks available to engage their team members in continuous improvement of their methodology. Doing so also increases ownership, support and engagement.

The continuous improvement model used could be one already in place at the organization or one that best fits with the mindset or culture. It could be PDCA, Six Sigma or Kaizen, they all share six common principles.

Summary

Gartner did a great job creating a framework that is appealing and accessible to organizations slow to adopt adaptive lifecycles. If they were to now follow it up with some guidelines for tailoring and evolution within organizations adopting it they would have a winning strategy for engaging participants and driving better results.


PMI-ACP Training in Calgary

CalgaryI am testing demand for another Calgary based PMI-ACP Exam Prep course. Please let me know via email to Mike <at> LeadingAnswers.com if you are interested in attending a 3-day Calgary based PMI-ACP Exam preparation course. 

 

Evolution of the PMI-ACP Credential

I ran a couple of Calgary based PMI-ACP courses three years ago when the exam first came out. Since then the certification has grown in popularity from niche to mainstream with over 10,000 people now holding the credential. This makes it the most popular experience based agile certification and the credential of choice for hiring managers looking for the rigor of a ISO 17024 backed PMI credential. 

In October 2015 the PMI rolled out the updated version of the PMI-ACP exam, based on feedback from hundreds of existing credential holders and agile practitioners. The new Exam Content Outline has been restructured with the addition of a new domain “Agile Principles and Mindset” to focus on thinking and acting in an agile way as opposed to simply implementing agile processes and hoping for improved results.

 

My Involvement in the PMI-ACP Credential

I was a founding member of the steering committee that designed and developed the exam content outline. We based the exam on what agile practitioners with a year or two’s experience should know to be effective. We wanted a methodology agnostic credential that captured the agile practices used on most projects most of the time. The exam covers Lean, Kanban and agile methods such as Scrum and XP. 

I worked with RMC to write their best-selling PMI-ACP Exam Preparation book. I recently updated this book to restructure it to the new Exam Content Outline. The book is currently available for 30% off from RMC here and is also included in the course.

 

Details about the Course

The course will be capped to 15 people for better Q&A and will take place at historic Fort Calgary which is close to downtown on 9th Avenue and has free parking. It includes the second edition of my book, colour printed workbook, sample exam questions, and USB stick of additional materials. 

The course has a 100% pass rate and uses Turning Technologies audience response technology. Following the course each participant receives a personalized follow-up study plan based on their sample question performances. For more details see the Course Outline.  To express an interest and get pricing information please contact Mike <at> @LeadingAnswers.com.


Agile Talent Management

Talent ManagementTalent Management is the science of human resource planning to improve business value. It includes the activities of recruiting, retaining, developing and rewarding people along with workforce planning. From an agile perspective much of what we do on agile projects helps with talent management. We encourage empowered teams and give people autonomy over how they work which improves satisfaction and motivation. We also promote knowledge sharing through a variety of collaborative practices which reduce the impact to the team of people leaving. 

However, these measures only address some recommendations for talent management. This article examines the ideas and project implications of the other recommendations. First, let’s examine why talent management is important and understand the labor cost vs opportunity cost differential. 

Recruiting costs

If we lose a team member and need to replace them; a job posting needs to be created and sent out to agencies and online forums. We then need to sift through replies and come up with a short list of candidates to consider further. Next comes reviewing candidates with the project manager, arranging interviews, interviewing candidates (preferably with team involvement), following up on references, salary negotiations and hopefully finally hiring someone. I went through this recently for a developer on a software project and estimated the total time to the organization to be 64 hours. At an average labor rate of $80/hr that is $5,120. Had our first choice candidate not joined or failed reference checks the total time to hire would be much higher. 

Getting up to Speed Costs

A point often overlooked is not this initial hire effort, but the subsequent, much larger learning cycle before becoming a productive team member. A convenient Tayloristic view of management believes one developer can be swapped out for another. However, for a large, complex project it often takes smart, motivated individuals 3 months of learning to get up to speed with the business and technical domain and a further 6 months before they become truly productive. In these first 3 months not only are they not contributing to net new functionality but they are spending 50% of their time asking questions of other team members – slowing their output too. 

These costs are huge, assuming a fully loaded developer rate of $80 / hour (typical for North American software engineering) 3 months of not contributing and slowing other developers by 50% full time equivalent (FTE) costs: 3m X 4.2wks x 40hrs x $80/hr + 50%(3m X 4.2wks x 40hrs x $80/hr) = $60,480.

Follow this with 6 months of increasing capability going from 0% productive (no longer a net drain) to 100% productive (up to speed) we can use an average figure of 50% non-productive so 6m x 4.2wks x 40hrs x $80/hr x 50% = $40,320 

So, the cost of losing a team member and having to recruit and train another could easily be $5,120 + $60,480 + $40,320 = $105,920. However it gets worse, whenever a high performing team loses a team member they move from the Tuckman “Performing“ phase to the ‘Storming” phase again as the team dynamics change and have to get back through “Norming“ to “Performing”. 

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Agile Innovation

Psst, this is your conscious, I am here to remind you about something you have thought about, but then hid away in the back of your mind. Lots of this agile stuff is hypocritical, it preaches evolution and change, but then we ask the same old three questions at standup every day. Also, why must we have standup every day, isn’t that kind of prescriptive? Agile methods are supposed to facilitate innovation through iterative development followed by inspection and adaption. They practice the scientific method of measurement and feedback on products and team work; so why are the agile practices themselves magically exempt from this precious evolution?

I believe there are two main reasons; first off, it is to protect inexperienced agile practitioners from themselves. With a free rein to morph product and process there is a strong likelihood that by six months into a project the practices followed by the team would have deviated from the proven and tested methods of most successful teams. The risk of failure would increase and every project in a company would be using a radically different approach making integration, scaling and team member transfers a major problem.

The other reason is a little more sinister. Most of the creators, proponents and promotors of agile methods have interests in keeping the methods pure vanilla. This is so they can create training courses, certifications and web sites for them. While scrum, as one example, has its specialized ceremony names and products you can neatly market services for it. If you allow or encourage people to change it then the result is not so proprietary and more difficult to defend, promote and assert ownership over.

I am not suggesting we should be changing agile methods willy-nilly, I think a basic suggestion to try them out-of-the-box for a couple of years is sound advice. However, beyond that I believe there are great opportunities for growth and deviation outside the standard agile models for stable teams who want to evolve further. This article tells the story of one team that did just that and what other people can learn from it.

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Agoraphobia: The Fear and Loathing of Open Space Offices

Agile methods like XP, Scrum and DSDM have been advocating co-located teams in open plan offices now for 20 years. The idea being that since face-to-face communications are the fastest and most efficient, teams should be established to work this way whenever possible. Also, software projects, where agile methods started from, build intangible, often new and novel solutions to problems; as such there are lots of opportunities for miscommunication about how these new systems should look and work. Having people working together makes it easier to surface these misunderstandings, collectively troubleshoot problems and collaborate on new solutions.

However co-location is not always possible and open plan offices can suffer from “noise pollution” and frequent interruptions. The following infographic was created by a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) provider so probably has some selection bias, but importantly draws its findings from over a dozen respectable sources including articles from Bloomberg, The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal and Fortune.

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Knowledge Sharing on Agile Projects: Absent or Abundant?

Absence or AbundanceKnowledge transfer and sharing on agile teams differs from traditional approaches in both form and the internal vs external focus. Agile teams produce few of the traditional knowledge transfer documents yet their daily practices focus on knowledge transfer. While agile teams spend much of their time transferring information internally they share little with external groups other than the evolving product or service they create. These differences lead to some polarizing views of knowledge sharing and transfer on agile projects.

Some people see agile projects as knowledge transfer deserts where information is hoarded by key individuals and no useful documentation produced. Others believe agile projects are all about knowledge transfer.  So why the disagreement, how can smart, experienced people have such different views about the same topic? It comes down to what we consider knowledge transfer and sharing to be.

A requirements specification document should be a great vehicle for sharing knowledge and transferring it from analysts to developers. It is a permanent record of requirements that can be read by many people and referred back to when needed. If questions or the need for clarifications arise – go look in the requirements specification. This works well for stable, unchanging requirements that can be gathered comprehensively up front.

Baselined plans are great knowledge sharing tools too. They lay out what should happen, when and by whom and paint a clear picture for all to see. Plans illuminate the path forward and communicate this to all involved stakeholders. Lessons Learned documents gathered at the end of a project are classic knowledge transfer and sharing tools also. Recording what went well, what did not go well and recommendations for similar projects to follow seems the epitome of knowledge transfer.

Agile projects down play the value of upfront plans, avoid detailed requirement specifications declaring them unreliable and wasteful. They often spurn Lessons Learned documents too, instead performing retrospectives amongst themselves. It is no wonder then, that to some people agile projects appear to lack the basics of knowledge sharing and transfer. However these people are measuring with the wrong yardstick, or fishing with the wrong size net and missing the knowledge rich plankton that feeds agile teams. When you “see the matrix” of agile projects you immediately realize the whole process is about knowledge transfer.

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Agile 2015 Conference Session

My presentation outline “Eat Risks for Breakfast, Poop Awesomeness All Day!” was accepted for the Agile 2015 Conference in Washington D.C., August 3-7. As much of the agile community seems engaged in scaling debates I am really happy to share some useful tools that can be used on any project, regardless of approach.

The learning objectives for the session are:

  • See why project managers are the least equipped to effectively identify and manage project risks.
  • Learn engaging ways to educate team members about risk management including identifying threats to avoid and opportunities to exploit
  • Preview 5 collaborative games for effective threat and opportunity management from planning and identification, through management, to reporting and closure
  • Understand the untapped potential of an increased emphasis on opportunity management
  • Review case studies of projects teams that have been using these practices for three years and are achieving measurably better results than teams that do not

Risks_monster_color


PMI Credentials – The Last Decade and the Next

PMI Certs Fig 3Today we take a look at how the number of PMI Credential holders has grown over the last 10 years and speculate where they might go in the future. While 10 years is a good period to look back over, the PMI’s PMP ®(Project Management Professional) credential dates back much further, to 1984, making it 31 years old this year.

Growth of the PMP was slow in the 1980’s partly due to the different communication methods being used then. The Internet did not start becoming popular until the 1990’s, so information about the PMP certification was shared mainly through periodic journals and newsletters. Another factor was the self reinforcing nature of credentials. When credentials are new few people outside of the originators have heard of them so there is little external incentive to get one. Slowly, people wanting to demonstrate their skills and/or distinguish themselves from their peers obtain the credential. Then, once it reaches a critical mass, hiring managers start asking for it so more people are motivated to obtain it and growth increases rapidly.

By the mid 1990’s the PMP credential was picking up steam and by 2004, our 10 year look back starting point, the PMP had over 100,000 holders. By the end of 2014 this has grown to nearly 640,000 certificants and is by far the most popular credential offered by the PMI. 

During the last 10 years a number of new credentials have been launched to provide opportunities for both specialization (like the scheduling and risk credentials) and diversification (such as agile and business analysis credentials). The first credential after the PMP was the CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) introduced in 2004 that serves as a potential stepping-stone to the PMP and is targeted for people who have worked on and around projects, but do not have experience leading and directing  projects.

Since then there have been several more credentials launched that we will discuss in more detail later, but for now we can see from the stacked areas graph below in Figure 1 that the PMP and CAPM make up the majority (98%) of all PMI Credential holders.

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Quality Project Management

Unexpected SuccessHow do we define quality as a project manager? Is it managing a project really well, or managing a successful project? How about managing a successful project really well, that sounds pretty good. However it poses the next question: What is a successful project? Let’s look at some examples of project success, failure and ambiguity.

 

Apollo 13
Apollo 13, the third manned mission by NASA intended to land on the moon that experienced electrical problems 2 days after liftoff. An explosion occurred resulting in the loss of oxygen and power and the "Houston, we've had a problem" quote from astronaut, James Lovell (that is widely misquoted as, "Houston, we have a problem".)

Apollo 13
The crew shut down the Command Module and used the Lunar Module as a "lifeboat" during the return trip to earth. Despite great hardship caused by limited electrical power, extreme cold, and a shortage of water, the crew returned safely to Earth and while missing the main moon-based scope, it was a very successful rescue, allowing for future missions. Clearly, this was a remarkable achievement, but the original project goals were not met. Lovell now recounts this story at PMI conferences under the very apt title of “A Successful Failure”.

 

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The Evolution of Teams

The Evolution of TeamsMy other workshop submission for the Agile 2015 Conference is titled “The Evolution of Teams” and examines one team that stopped doing the traditional agile practices is more agile than ever.

Agile practices such as daily stand up meetings, sprint planning and retrospectives are great tools for encouraging team members to share information, collectively make decisions and improve. However, how do you maintain active participation for long periods without burn-out or boredom?

As companies recognize the productivity of high performing teams and bring new projects to established teams rather than disband and reform teams, how do we keep things fresh? My session is a case study of an award winning agile team that has been delivering projects for over 7 years. It examines how the original core practices that are familiar to any team starting agile have evolved into new practices while honouring the original values and goals.

A casual observer may be concerned: “What, no stand-up meetings, sprint planning meetings or retrospectives? You guys are not agile at all!” However teams can be agile without doing the traditional agile practices. Agility, after all, is a mindset not a To-Do list, and this session introduces the practices of “Show-and-tell”, “Tech-talk” and “Sense-Pull” amongst others.  They may not work for your team, but show the journey of one team’s progression through adaptation and refinement of process. (Along with all the bumps, set back and mistakes made along the way too.)

If the presentation gets accepted I will share the main topics of the session here for feedback before delivery.


Eat Risks for Breakfast, Poop Awesomeness All Day!

Risk Eating MonsterI have submitted a presentation for Agile 2015 Conference about team based risk and opportunity management that may well get rejected based on its title alone!

It has always been a good practice to engage team members in the estimation process; then agile methods taught us how teams should do the local planning and decision making too. So it should come as no surprise that the best people to undertake effective risk management are team members. They possess the best technical insight and are closer to any execution issues than team leads or project managers.                                               

However, risk management as tackled by many organizations, is academic, boring, seemingly removed from real-work and it often ignores the maximization of positive risks (opportunities). My proposed workshop demonstrates how to turn teams into risk-consuming, opportunity-chasing beasts that that leave a trail of business value and delighted stakeholders.

  Risk Eating Monster

At the Agile 2012 Conference I presented a session called “Collaborative Games for Agile Risk Management” that introduced fun, team based games to engage the team in risk and opportunity management. In the intervening years many teams have adopted these techniques and become much more effective at Risk Management. However it turns out I was focusing on the wrong end of the lever, the big news are the results teams are getting through Opportunity Management.

Teams using these approaches are not only driving out risks, but more surprisingly, building great inter-organization alliances, being given free passes on bureaucratic process and generally having an easier go of things. At first I was surprised at all the “good luck” these teams encountered but then I saw how small adjustments in team behaviour were being made towards freshly identified opportunities.

A little like the 18th Century discovery linking germs to infections that gave rise to the introduction of hand washing in hospitals increasing survival rate dramatically. Putting teams in charge of opportunity management leads to changes in day to day behaviour that dramatically increased the execution effectiveness and success rates of their projects. 

Good leaders know the value of a powerful vision; it “Reveals a beckoning summit for others to chart their own course”. In other words once we know what our true goal is we can make our own micro adjustments. Getting teams to own opportunity exploitation causes them to behave differently and benefits start occurring all over the project.

My session proposal outlines the practices and reviews case studies so you can equip your team to be risk-consuming, opportunity-chasing beasts that leave a trail of business value and delighted stakeholders. However if the mental image of eating risks for breakfast and pooping awesomeness all day is too graphic to share in your organization, maybe a machine that harvests risks and opportunities and outputs business value is an easier sell, but not as much fun.

Risk Eating Machine


“Solving Today’s Complex Projects with Agility” Presentation

Gran Canaria PosterNext week, on February 18th, I will be presenting on “Solving Today’s Complex Projects with Agility” at the Society for the Economic Promotion of Gran Canaria (SPEGC), co sponsored by ITProiectus. I have been working with ITProiectus for a while but this will be my first time to meet them and I am really looking forward to it.

The presentation will explain how today’s complex problems can be solved by collaborative teams that  better handle ambiguity than traditional plan-driven approaches. I will review some of today’s wicked project management challenges and show how agile methods, while they look deceptively simple, actually harness sophisticated approaches for generating consensus and driving towards high quality solutions. 


Big Agile, the Route Less Travelled

Scaling Collaboration not Process is the Key to Enterprise Agility.

CollaborationAgile methods have been found to be extremely effective when used correctly. A reasonable reaction to witnessing any great performance in an organization is to demand more of it. So a tremendous amount of time, effort and resources have been expended over the last few years on scaling agile for the enterprise with all the new processes and models that can go along with that. 

I admire a lot of the work done to scale agile methods in the attempt to replicate the success of the initial `golden-teams` to all groups in an organization. Unfortunately these roll out attempts largely result in disappointment or failure because the investment and effort has been applied in the wrong place. It is not process we need to scale and duplicate, it is the art of collaboration.

Agile methods are successful when they equip motivated subject matter experts to collaborate in an effective way with minimal process overhead. In attempting to make agile methods scalable, it is tempting to add more process to assist larger scale coordination. However that is the last thing we should do. Not that we don’t add more process, just that we add it last, not first, after you have replicated and established collaboration models. Adding process first kills collaboration and then even the best intentioned and resourced development environment is doomed.

This phenomenon of process stifling smart behaviour was identified by Dee Hock, former CEO of Visa who said: `Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behaviour. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behaviour.` The real path to scaling agile successfully is not choosing a scaled framework to implement, but focussing on replicating good teamwork and collaboration models and then adding minimal process.

The trouble is process and tools get all the press because they are more tangible and easier to describe. Plus vendors can promote and sell frameworks more easily than teamwork advice since they are proprietary and more marketable. So, a bit like diet pills and fitness gimmicks, we see more coverage of quick fixes that don’t really work than good (but less flashy) basic nutrition / teamwork advice that actually does work.

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The Economics of Compassion in the New Economy

Employee Perfect StormThis article is less about agile techniques and more about the people related challenges of today’s agile projects. As work switches from industrial work to knowledge work, companies face a perfect storm of employee engagement and retention issues. On the one hand the time taken to learn a job is increasing as domains become more complex and new tools add layers of abstraction and integration problems. On the other hand the average time spent in a job is decreasing. Frequent job changes are now the norm and long term workers are a rarity. Two years is the new five years average tenure and six months is the new two years of young worker average placement. It may seem just as people become productive they leave and the training process has to repeat.

An additional problem is that it is often the best people who move on, since they are sought after by more organizations and there is now less stigma with short work assignments. Companies not paying attention to their workforce or offering appealing work environments find themselves subject to an involuntary Sedimentation-Effect as the best float to the top and depart leaving less capable people behind. The process has been accelerated by social media and online job sites that make finding good places to work and connecting strong candidates to great companies easier than ever.

Things are not going to get better any time soon either, as Baby Boomers and Gen X workers leave the workforce Generation Y and Millennial workers are entering the market place in increasing numbers and with new expectations. Paul Harvey, a University of New Hampshire professor says that Gen Y and Millennial workers “…have unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback" and "an inflated view of oneself." 

Employee Perfect Storm

It is not all doom and gloom though; fortunately agile projects provide ample opportunities for tuning the workplace for better motivation and retention. Bill Pelster, principal of Deloitte Consulting, suggests that “Organizations need to understand that the world of work is changing. What millennials want — innovation, opportunities to grow and develop, mentors — aren’t overly demanding. They’re what every organization needs to succeed. All generations generally want what the millennials want, but what is different is the priority placed by millennials on development and core values versus, for example, a safe and secure job. Millennials are more inclined to take risks and change jobs much more quickly than other generations.”

In fact there are a number of things companies and managers can do to attract and retain the best talent.

Leaders, not managers - Forget trying to manage people, that’s too command-and-control and reactionary to cope with today’s speed of business changes, nor is it engaging. Today’s teams want leading. This involves communicating a vision of the desired end state, clearing the path of obstacles or bureaucracy, and providing mentorship with support.

There is a useful paradox that helps remind us of the leader role “We lead people by standing behind them” i.e. we back them up, provide support, encouragement, training and mentorship. Let them take any praise or glory and be a close, but in the background, supporting player.

Problems, not tasks – humans are hard wired to get a buzz from problem solving, that’s why many people play video games and do Sudoku puzzles in their spare time. Tap into this motivator and present the project’s goals as problems, don’t try to manage them away into tasks. Let the team see all the complexity then ask or challenge them to solve the project problems.

Engaged, self-organizing teams are incredibly resourceful and creative. The traditional model has solutions being designed by a small group of specialists and then selling the selected approach to the team for implementation. Agile leaders instead invert the model and engage the team in solutioning and have them “sell” their approach back to the project managers and business champions for approval.

This higher level of engagement builds a much stronger commitment to deliver and remove obstacles encountered along the way. It also taps into people’s reward mechanism of problem solving and helps build everyone’s sense of achievement rather than drudgery. Obviously some work will always be dull and we just have to grind it out, but that should be the exception not the norm.

Say “Yes” to time off requests – “kids school play”, “camping trip”, “whatever”,  if someone has enough of a reason to not want to be at work, especially contract staff who do not get paid when taking time off, why make them feel bad about asking or turn them down? The good-will and appreciation for having a flexible working environment ranks high among high achievers. Most people recognize when they have good working conditions and the small cost of reduced capacity is more than made up for by the benefits of retaining the best workers, reduced recruiting and training, etc.

Obviously if anyone abuses this goodwill guide and finds reasons not to work on a regular basis then there needs to be a separate discussion. Failing that I have only seen upsides from providing a very flexible work environment.

Leverage improv comedy’s “Yes, and…” – Responding to someone’s plan or suggestion with reasons why that won’t work here, or the famous “OK, but what about …” is demoralizing. “OK, but“ is often a thinly disguised “No” and after a series of these, people just stop suggesting ideas, shortly followed by stopping caring.  The first rule of improve comedy is build on ideas, not shut them down; it is the same with team work and co-creation in the work place.

So, if someone suggests an open house to demo the new system to customers, we can reply “Yes, and if we do a dry run with our business group first, we can iron out any kinks”. “Yes, and” promotes ideas and involvement rather than stifling them. We can always edit and improve plans later, but if the best suggestions never get made for fear of ridicule, no refinement can ever wish them into being.

Since collaboration and teamwork are so critical on knowledge worker projects, many forward thinking companies are looking to Improv training to help their employees. See these Forbes and FastCompany articles for more information.

Keep perspective and stay calm - remember our project issues are definitely first-world problems, a broken promise, buggy release, missed demo, or poor estimate are not worth getting truly upset about. Save the drama for where it is warranted, work compassionately and objectively.

Create projects, not roles – drawing from Deloitte’s Bill Pelster again: “It is important that organizations realize that millennials are looking to constantly gain new experiences and push their development. This means that organizations need to think through the velocity of developmental opportunities and the potential need to “re-recruit” millennials on a regular basis. Failure to do this will potentially lead to higher than expected turnover and more pressure on your recruiting organization to constantly source and on-board new talent.”

We can frequently re-recruit staff through exposing them to new projects with new problems to solve. Align people with key projects and mentors so that they are challenged and have an accelerated growth experience. This is good for the organization and their employees.

HippySh*t or Solid Sense?

To some people these recommendations may seem like indulgent panderings to a soppy workforce of over-entitled layabouts. They may seem to be overly generous, but the world is so connected now it is easier than ever for the best people to find good work. If your company undertakes industrial work involving the repetition of established process, you likely do not need the best and most talent workforce; instead reliable and cost effective staff are the way to go.

However if you are in the knowledge work space of solving novel problems then attracting and retaining the best staff you can is not a company differentiator, but the minimum required to stay in business. The suggestions outlined above, and others besides, do not replace standard work. Instead they get woven into our normal behaviour for leading teams, hopefully to effect subtle shifts towards a more desirable work place that retains the best talent and attracts more of the same.

The economics of compassion and empowerment might not sit easily with everyone from my generation. Like many people, I worked in junior, menial roles for decades before being given any opportunity to influence. But as the saying goes “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less”. So, the question becomes what can we learn to stay up with the wave of change if we want to succeed?


The Dangers of Visual Project Management

(Or how a picture can divert 1,000 eyes)

Optical Illusion

This post was first written for ProjectManagement.com who were doing a series on Visual Project Management at the time. I was excited when I heard about the theme since I am a big fan of adding meaning through visual tools to all kinds of project elements, whether it is methodology scope, project progress, or risk lists.  As a visual thinker I like to make sense of a concept spatially before adding detail or explaining it to others. Yet I have found this to be a weakness as well as a strength, because what cannot easily be visualized can often get trivialized or forgotten.

Plans and prototypes are great because they easily bring people together to debate and collaborate on important project elements. Since we have something to point at and annotate; discussions and agreements progress quickly because consensus making is greatly facilitated. However what about conflict management, decision making across teams, or business engagement issues? These are more difficult to visualize but arguably more important than if a web site should have a blue or a green background.

The idiom of “Out of sight, out of mind” speaks to the dangers of an overreliance on visual management.  So how do we address this threat? I believe there are two main choices: first, find a way to somehow make it visible, or second, consciously bring extra attention to it.

Another project saying “What gets measured, gets managed” might hold a clue to helping find ways to make things more visible. I think there are some parallels between the visible / invisible issue to the measurable / immeasurable issue. Many of the things we can measure on a project are not helpful and many of things we would really like to measure are intangible and difficult to measure. Einstein summed it up nicely with the quote “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”.

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Helping Your PMO Help You

PMO Agile CoordinationDo any of these traditional PMO scenarios match your agile team experiences? Your traditional PMO is so laughably outdated that most agile projects ignoring them; other projects produce token deliverables to appease them, but these bear little resemblance to anything actually happening on the agile projects.

The PMO looks for conformance to BDUF (big design up front) methodologies with signoffs to premature speculations about requirements and scope definitions. It reports progress on traditional projects such as being 75% through Requirements Gathering or 50% through Analysis and Design as if these non-value delivering activities are actual progress. Finally, when projects have issues the PMO responds by creating more review and approval groups to ensure competence and adds gates and sign-offs to try and improve quality.

If these scenarios sound familiar to you I would like to ask a follow-on question: How is your agile roll out going? Is the PMO the last bastion of opposition or are you fighting pockets of resistance and misunderstanding throughout you organization? Is the once “no-brainer” decision to switch to agile actually causing some headaches and frustration? If you answered yes to this too, you are not alone.

It turns out the PMO is not usually the problem, but they are a good litmus or canary-in-the-coal-mine for how an agile transformation is going. The PMO’s focus is project execution process, so if you cannot convince this group that agile is the way to go, then how do you plan to convince groups who don’t care about process at all? How about the BA Center of Excellence or the Architecture group, have they fully bought in to your agile approach or are they requesting more formal practices?

Getting the PMO onboard is helpful in convincing these other, more problematic groups that agile methods can be a better way of working. So how do we do that? Well making agile more accessible is a good start. PMO’s often shy away from agile methods since the short iterations and repeating cycles of work do not offer the familiar phases and gates they are used to. In fact interacting with agile team iterations seems as appealing as putting your arm in a spinning concrete mixer.

However we can make the process less daunting by showing how the user story and backlog process works. Take some required deliverable, like a handover document, and create a story for it. Give it to the team and along with a customer proxy (a Product Owner for instance) the story will get prioritized and placed in the backlog. Since it is required for Go Live the story will get selected and worked on by the team prior to the release date – all with PMO limbs intact.

PMO Agile Coordination
 

Another point of confusion around agile methods for some PMO groups is the lack of a visible end point or meaningful progress reporting. They may wonder if iterations just repeat until the customer is happy rather than the specification is complete? Gaining visibility into the process can help by providing retrospective data to the PMO along with story points and feature metrics. By explaining the cadence of reviews and tracking metrics PMOs are assured progress is measurable and all the old favorites like Budget At Completion (BAC) and Schedule Performance Indexes (SPI) can still be obtained.

Helping the PMO helps agile adoption by creating another advocate group. It may be a surprise to some PMs and teams but PMO’s are under a lot of pressure to justify their existence and demonstrate their value add. They are usually very receptive to ways to stay current and support emerging practices.

Investing some time to train them in Product Owner training or Retrospective Facilitation pays dividends since now they can offer these new project services. Project teams will benefit from a more educated and aligned business community and gain impartial facilitators making it easier for all to contribute ideas at retrospectives.

Rather than unaligned PMOs representing an obstacle to agile teams, they really represent missed opportunities for further agile adoption and an indicator that the agile message might be miscommunicated to other stakeholder groups. Spending some time to address their concerns, explain the risk reduction goals of early feedback, and equip them with useful services will pay dividends and ease the larger adoption of agile and lean principles.

(I first published this artice at ProjectManagement.com here)


It is not the Process, Stupid

ProcessEven though Mickey Mouse is the symbol of Disney theme parks he is not really what these locations are about. Agile methods are similarly known by their novel processes and team ceremonies but these are largely irrelevant distractions from the true focus.

Just as Disney is all about manufacturing a positive visitor experience through detailed buildings, social engineering and extensive staff “character” training; agile methods are really about creating a social framework where effective work can be accomplished. This social framework will vary from project to project and enterprise to enterprise. It is a problem solving exercise like building a custom galley kitchen inside a boat not a standardization exercise like force fitting IKEA kitchen cabinets.

I realize that by using analogies to Disneyland and IKEA so early in an article many readers may assume I have finally lost the plot but after 20 years of practicing agile I have had enough with rote methods implementation and attempts to scale through process training that fail. To me agile is about process as much as Disney theme parks are about Mickey Mouse. Yes, they are an easily identifiable symbol, a short cut to identification, but far removed from what the real focus is.

In fact Mickey Mouse cartoons kind of suck and most people would be hard pressed to think of a good one. However, luckily for Disney that is not the point, their real goal is to capture imagination and allow people to explore fantasy environments while spending lots of money, hopefully as part of a pleasurable experience so they will come back and also tell their friends.

Agile methods aim to shorten the time to value and build high quality, positively received products or services by intelligently adjusting behaviors and employing good construction practices. The activities commonly used to do this include:

Sense making – agree information gathering steps and prioritize exploratory work

Short Build / Feedback cycles – iterate through short cycles of Planning, Exploring, Learning and Adapting

Conesus gathering - collaboratively gain consensus on direction, approach and decisions

Prioritization – build mindful to risk reduction and business value

Results oriented reporting – use metrics based on accepted work that give meaningful indicators to likely completion rates

Respect and empowerment – engage in respectful practices that encourage information sharing and organizational rather than personal optimization

None of these things say we need two week iterations, retrospectives or daily stand up meetings. Those tools are suggested practices to start encouraging some of the right behavior, but pursuing them or measuring them misses the real point. Companies that attempt agile transformations through process training typically fail and it is like assessing a Disney theme park by asking “Does everyone have their Mickey Mouse ears?”

I am lucky to work with an agile team that has been together for 7 years. Not that it has taken us that long to finish a project, but instead the business sees the benefits of a high performing team and keeps bringing us new projects to undertake.

[The whole idea of bringing projects to established high performing teams could be the subject of another post . Instead of creating new teams per project and going through the Tuckman stages of Forming, Storming, Norming then hoping to get to Performing, using existing high performing teams bring many benefits.]

The team is the best I have worked with and won a PMI Project of the Year award for the first project they completed. Yet I cannot remember the last time we had a stand up meeting or retrospective. We dropped two week iterations in favor of a continuous pull of features and use cycle time in lieu of velocity or detailed estimation based on points or days. So is the team still agile? An outside observer looking for process or ceremonies might say No; I would say You Betcha! The team embodies the sense making, iterative, consensus driven concepts implicitly. Techniques like prioritization, results oriented reporting and empowerment are baked into every conversation and action.

It would feel weird to wait until the end of a sprint to discuss adaptation of process. In fact the notion of a sprint seems an artificially restrictive and wasteful construct to manufacture. Inter team communications are too important to wait for a daily stand up meeting and team members get an equal say in decisions and spend lots of time in healthy debate, both face to face and with remote team members.

The set up is not perfect and still has room for growth. We could do better at interacting with other groups and our tendency to “fly-under-the-radar” to avoid delays for approvals from other groups also means we miss opportunities to share success stories and spread effective practices to other departments as well as we could. Yet on the whole the group is very effective.

Skills acquisition is often described using the “Shu”, “Ha”, “Ri” progression. In this model new practitioners start with obeying the rules (shu, which means to keep, protect, or maintain), then consciously moving away from the rules (ha, which means to detach or break free), and finally unconsciously finding an individual path (ri, which means to go beyond or transcend).

My point is that agile is not process following. Success is not methods replication, it is not really gaining an agile mindset either, that’s too insular and individual; instead it is creating a working ecosystem for your environment. The ecosystem may have activities that could be labeled as “processes”, but true processes are designed to resist change, they are like robust pipes that force compliance on items that vary. Activities and behaviors are more open to change and support it where it makes sense.

There are some popular tests to gauge if a team or project is truly agile. The Nokia Test and the Scrum Test are good starting points but they still ask if ceremonies like daily stand ups and constructs like iterations exist. These questions miss the true intent of these practices and bring focus to the process. Yet the process is not important and may/should change over time as a team develops, or be adapted to better suit a client. So it is better to separate the process from the behavior we are really trying to assess.

The following questions do not dictate what process to use but look for signs of a healthy, productive project environment.

  1. Does the business value what is being delivering and want to continue with the same group?
  2. Is the team still improving and learning as it works?
  3. Are the increments of delivered work frequent and of a high quality?
  4. Is the project ecosystem healthy?
  5. Is the system receptive to change?

Thinking of behavior and capability rather than process conformance will help organizations deploy and scale their agile adoptions. It might be easier to measure process adoption than underlying competency, but like associating Disney with Mickey Mouse it is not really about the process.

[I first published this article at ProjectManagement.com here]


Thinking Tools for Scaling Frameworks

Light bulbsScaling agile is a hot topic these days. Frameworks like LESS (LargE Scale Scrum), SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) and DAD (Disciplined Agile Delivery) are in the limelight as too are companies training up ‘’Agile Transformation Consultants’’ to transition entire organizations to agile. However, successful scaling is not easy, it is one thing to put a company through a week’s worth of training and mentoring, but another completely to make lasting changes to working practices and resolve all the issues that get surfaced along the way.

 The logic is simple, when executives see a successful agile project their initial thoughts are often: “Great, let’s do more of this!”, yet the solution is complex. Solving the simple question of “How do we reliably duplicate exemplary performance?” is anything but simple.  Moving from one or two successful agile projects to transitioning an entire organization to use agile methods is a challenging and daunting task.

Factors such as people who do not understand the problems with current practices and a lack of agile thinking are difficult issues to overcome. Strategies for transforming an organization to agile vary. Some favour a top-down education process, others a bottom-up, grass roots initiative.

Should the approach be Buddhist (teach the principles and allow local adaptations) or more like Catholicism (everyone must follow a strict standard protocol)? Insights into these concepts of scaling up agile can be found in the book “Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less” by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao. 

The authors describe this Catholic vs Buddhist split along with strategies for bridging the two. The In-N-Out Burger chain popular in California takes a very Catholic view to replication where common practices are replicated with very little deviation. This is akin to proclaiming all teams will follow Scrum by the book. The KFC food franchise on the other hand, allows lots of local customization and sells egg tarts and soy milk in its stores in China that are not offered in other countries. This is like explaining the agile manifesto values and principles and allowing variations in team implementation.

There are times when the need for local uniqueness is obvious. Stanford researches tracked a software company who opened offices in Silicon Valley and India. The Silicon Valley offices had bare concrete floors and rough unfinished surfaces to provide a funky, urban-contemporary look. Yet in India rough finishings send a different vibe and some locations have more dust and are impractical for women wearing long saris that quickly get dirty as they drag along the floor. So the company quickly dropped its Catholic approach and installed carpeting.

There are also times when people can suffer from “delusions of uniqueness” when they think they are “special” or more unique than they really are and miss out on some improvement. Brigham and Women’s Hospital had very high rates of doctor customization occurring in its selection of joint replacement products despite no evidence suggesting these new products were any better. It seems doctors just enjoyed trying out new technology - a problem common to many industries.

It is possible to bridge the two poles of Catholicism and Buddhism by using swappable sub-assemblies. Like reusable chunks of Lego, these proven successful components can be used to quickly get the benefits of some standard process while allowing for local customization.

In an agile setting this could be as simple as moving the 9:00am Stand-up meeting to 11:00 to ease co-ordination with a West Coast team, or more sophisticated such as swapping iterations for a continuous pull of features via kanban and DevOps in a high change environment.

When discussing the top-down education or bottom-up change, Sutton and Rao assert that success comes from a ground war not just an air war. During World War 2 commanders often called in bombing raids with the hope of devastating the enemy. Unfortunately only 20 percent of bombs dropped fell within 1,000 feet of their target. More recently with the advent of GPS and laser targeting it is easy to think air wars are now effective. However a review of NATO’s seventy eight day air war on Serbia to stop ethnic cleansing by Slobodan Milosevic concluded it was “a major blunder that the use of ground troops was ruled out from the beginning’’.

All the research and case studies in Scaling Up Excellence find that “Scaling requires grinding it out, pressing each person, team, group, division or organization to make one small change after another in what they believe, feel or do.”

Air assaults are often useful first steps, but are rarely long term solutions. More often, territory must be won inch-by-inch working through issues as they are encountered. This requires persistence, lots of work and slow progress to reliably instill a new way of thinking and working.

For these reasons we should be wary of “agile transformations” that claim to transition an entire organization over a 2 week or 2 month period. This is more akin to an air battle. Yes, maybe everyone in the organization was exposed to some agile training and this is a necessary step, but true understanding and adaption only come through use, failure, learning and growth which take much more time.

Before planning to scale agile (or any other approach) discuss the “Catholic vs Buddhist” and “Air-war vs Ground-war” concepts with those who will be engaged in the rollout. Learn to detect Delusions of Uniqueness and employ Lego Bridging Strategies. These techniques can avoid “Clusterfugs” - an enterprise friendly word used to describe a poorly received transformation and instead can pay huge dividends.

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


PMI-NAC Conference

PMI-NACOn May 5th I will be presenting at the PMI-NAC Conference on the following topics:

  1. 21st Century Risk Management: Supporting mathematical analysis with social influence
  2. PMO Evolution: Frameworks to Support a Mix of Traditional, Agile and Lean Project Approaches

I am looking forward to the event and will share thoughts and feedback on the sessions here afterwards. Until then here are the presentation outlines:

Presentation 1: ”21st Century Risk Management: Supporting mathematical analysis with social influence”

Today’s complex projects need proactive risk management to stand any chance of executing successfully. Yet, all the steps of: identifying, classifying, analyzing and prioritizing are for nothing if the risks cannot be effectively avoided, transferred, or reduced. These risk avoidance and reduction steps are largely human led activities with success criteria closely linked to social influence.

While the project manager is key to project co-ordination and success, they are rarely the domain experts and instead bring subject matter experts (SMEs) together to collaborate on novel solutions. These knowledge worker projects require a whole team approach to not only risk finding, but also risk resolving.

This session explains the need for proactive risk management and the importance of social influence on risk management. Using case studies, a team approach to risk management to collaborative workshops, new risk visualization techniques, and examples of team risk avoidance and risk mitigation actions are examined.

Presentation 2: ”PMO Evolution: Frameworks to Support a Mix of Traditional, Agile and Lean Project Approaches”

Agile, lean and kanban approaches are a part of the new project delivery toolkit, especially for projects with IT components. The PMBOK Guide v5 published in January 2013 now describes a lifecycle spectrum spanning “Predictive, Iterative & Incremental and Adaptive” approaches. The new “Software Extension to the PMBOK Guide” expands this model with further agile related guidance for project execution.  Gartner Research claims 80% of today’s software projects employ agile methods. So, is your PMO living in denial, or simply living in the past?

Fortunately, a new class of PMO has evolved to support a dynamic mix of traditional, agile and lean project approaches that we can learn from. Using case studies from award winning PMOs, this presentation examines how proactive organizations are tracking diverse project types with common metrics and enablers.


Are Virtual Teams the Next Revolution of Work?

Virtual Team T ShirtVirtual teams may well be the next step-change in the evolution of work. So it is interesting to ask if today’s management principles and processes are optimized to support them? To help answer this question let’s take an illustrated tour of work through the ages and also review how management has progressed along the way.

Work patterns have evolved through revolutionary and evolutionary waves. Some have brought major, irreversible shifts; others step-changes and refinements. Tens of thousands of years ago population densities were generally low as people worked at farming, fishing and still some hunting and gathering. You needed space to do this and too much local human competition was not helpful. Then, as crafts, trading and specializations emerged towns became useful hubs for exchanges and population patterns changed. Access to fresh food sources was still a major concern, but trading and money allowed for easier centralized living.

These were slow, likely imperceptible advances, quite unlike what happened next with the Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s. People were needed to work in factories and a major migration from rural to city living occurred within decades. Factory funded schools began focusing on time keeping, discipline and following instructions to better condition children as future workers. The Victorian work ethic promoted by many leading entrepreneurs was a useful conditioner for taking farmers, who were used to working following the daylight hours and seasons, and adapt them to a regular 7:00am to 7:00pm work days favored by factory owners.

How industry shaped cities is also an interesting topic. Steam engines where large machines that could only transmit power via shafts and belts over relatively short distances.  So early factories were tall, square buildings to maximize machine capacity within close reach of the steam engine. Electrification made power easy to transfer and factories became long, low structures that were cheaper to build and required less lifting of materials. As work patterns evolved so too did our industrial complexes from tall to sprawling.

Shown below is a picture of the moving production line at Henry Ford’s Piquette plant completed in December 1913.  This approach to manufacturing, generally known as progressive assembly, heralded a major increase in productivity that was adopted by most manufacturing industries. It was inspired by the time-in-motion studies done at the Bethlehem steel plant by Fredrick Taylor which showed increases in efficiency for specialized labor. Ford was the first to employ moving production lines and specialized labor on a large scale to increase productivity and drive down costs.

Model T Assembly

Photo Courtesy: Ford Motor Company

We still see examples of these decomposition principles today when software project work breakdown structures reduce complex systems into small components and assign “Developer 1” and “Developer 2” type resources.

The next photo shows the Tesla production facility at Freemont California.

Tesla Assembly

Photo Courtesy: Tesla Motors

The Tesla factory has a rich history of manufacturing and management evolution. Starting out as a General Motors Freemont Assembly plant in the 1960s it embodied the modern interpretation of production line thinking. A downside of working in a specialized labor role in a highly mechanized environment can be a feeling of being a machine yourself and the plant suffered many worker disputes and union clashes during the 1970’s and 80’s. There were reports of deliberate protests and cars being sent out with Coke bottles in the doors to rattle and annoy customers.

Relations broke down and the plant was closed in 1982 only to be reopened in 1984 as a joint Toyota / General Motors plant known as New United Motor Manufacturing Inc (NUMMI), rehiring many of the same disgruntled workers. Toyota introduced lean manufacturing processes including respect for staff and empowered workers to stop the line if problems were encountered. The Japanese / American relations during these transition years created many stories and was the motivation for the comedy movie “Gung Ho” that Toyota later used in training sessions of how not to motivate American workers.

The switch from traditional manufacturing using production lines and large inventories of materials and sub assemblies to lean, just in time (JIT) production systems was driven by new philosophies of management. Lean and JIT techniques follows the work of James Womack, Peter Senge and Eli Goldratt who reposition management from schedulers and task masters to identifiers and removers of impediments to workers. They encourage and reward team problem solving and promote continuous improvement.

As capitalism and the pursuit of labor cost reduction continued, many manufacturing plants moved to cheaper labor markets. North American and other previously industry focused countries saw a rapid drop in local production. In their place however we saw an increase in design, finance, research, health and education services. This was the birth of what Peter Drucker called the Knowledge Worker – professionals with subject matter expertise that work together to solve new or novel problems.

These three big shifts in work are shown below:

Evolution of Work

Picture Courtesy: www.LeadingAnswers.com

In 2009 the joint venture between GM and Toyota at the NUMMI plant ended and neither company could find a suitable use for it. In 2010 Tesla, then a startup Electric Vehicle research and development company struck a deal with Toyota and bought the 380 acre site previously valued at $1Billion for just $42M. Toyota also invested $20M in stock of Telsa and some of the Toyota staff were rehired as more traditional industrial work gave way to newer exploratory knowledge work.

Agile methods are very effective for knowledge worker projects. They provide Sense-Making activities for gaining consensus from diverse stakeholders during the early stages of projects where uncertainty is high. They also provide tools like short iterations of build / feedback cycles to help reduce risk, prove approaches, and surface deficiencies in designs when tackling novel problems or using new technologies. Finally, they have process adaptation and goal seeking reviews built into their operation that helps teams refine their approaches and work more effectively.

Yet the changes have not stopped. Now with the widespread adoption of email, video conferencing, real-time chat and an emerging workforce who “grew-up-digital” and fully embrace these technologies, virtual teams are poised to revolutionize work once again. We just discussed the car industry, but it is telling that for the first time ever fewer teenagers who are becoming eligible to drive are buying cars, the cost of ownership is perceived as too high, but don’t try and take away their smart phones! Maybe since communications are so easy and prevalent, texting your friend is easier than driving to see them?

One thing for sure is that talent is distributed and technologies for finding and linking teams is improving rapidly. If I want a logo designed or web site built I can log onto a freelance site like Guru.com or Elance.com and access a global marketplace of talent showing examples of their work and hourly rates. Escrow services exist to ensure work and payments occur fairly and help with arbitration if the need arises. Or, if I want a custom door handle or even a titanium bicycle I can download the design and print it in my home or at a local 3D Printing shop.

What these technologies mean to how we work and live in the future remains to be seen. Alvin Toffler wrote about the “Electronic Cottage” in his 1984 book The Third Wave that describes people living where they want in a future paperless society and communicating electronically. Many of the technologies we need for wide scale virtual teams working are in place but we need to overcome the C.U.T.E. problems:

  • Communications – how do we meaningfully communicate complex issues across geographically dispersed teams with different languages, time zones and cultures? How do we clearly articulate requirements, issues and feedback in universally understood ways?
  • Unity – How do we instill a sense of team in people who have never physically met? Why would people be motivated to go beyond their regular roles to help out people they have only seen on a computer screen? Remote working is easier with people we have previously worked with physically, but such relationships may be the exception in the future.
  • Trust – How do we build trust that people are working when remote? How do we strike the balance about remote work monitoring tools and trusted, empowered teams? How do we overcome differences in laws and ethics on a world scale?
  • Economics – How do we fairly compensate team members based on their skills and contributions? How do we effectively price, tax, invoice, collect payments and pay contributors on projects that may only take days or hours to perform?

The building blocks of each solution are already available. Video conferencing with real time translation, peer based endorsement networks, community voting, and bitcoins all might play a role. However what about our project management tools? Where do Microsoft Project plans, PMBOK Guides and Stage Gates fit travelling at the speed of trust?

In a poetic twist of fate, just as Victorian classrooms were engineered to condition children to the discipline of working in textile factories, maybe the Instagram, Facebook and text messages of today’s school children will shape the workforce and workplace of our future. Using these tools and their replacements, virtual teams will be the norm, today’s CUTE problems will be overcome and a new era of work practices introduced. If the past is anything to go by these changes can happen quickly so we should keep our eyes and options open!

[Note: This article was written by Mike Griffiths and first appeared on ProjectManagement.com here]


Agility as an Enabler for Local Intelligence

Team intelligenceMuch has been written about agile processes, how they can better respond to changing requirements and be used to tune approaches over time through retrospectives and adaptation. While this is true, it masks the importance of human involvement. It is people that respond to change and teams who update and tune their processes. Agile methods give more freedom and autonomy for teams to do the right thing, but it is the team members that act intelligently to improve things.

Understanding this distinction that agile methods don’t directly help much, instead it is the actions of agile team members, allows us to better explain why some agile projects go well and others do not. Agile processes are an enabler for intelligent action, but not a guarantee of it. Teams that are asked to follow agile methods, but not motivated or equipped to improve the project environment will likely fail.

This is why we often see some agile project teams do very well and others struggling to produce results within the same organization. If you look at the processes both teams are following they look the same. They might both be doing daily stand up meetings, iteration planning sessions, backlog prioritization, demos to the business and retrospectives. However, these processes don’t ensure success; it is the local decision making that comes from them (which we observe in different ways) that lead to successful projects.

The concept of “Local intelligence” is described nicely by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants”. Gladwell tells the story of Lawrence of Arabia, an archaeologist conscripted into the British Army in World War 1 who led the Arab revolt against the Turkish army occupying Arabia.

Lawrence’s goal was to destroy the long railroad being built to set up operations deep in the Hejaz desert. The odds were against him, the Turks had a modern army and Lawrence commanded an unruly band of Bedouin nomads who were not trained in combat. However they were mobile and self sufficient they travelled extraordinary distances, attacked quickly and were gone before major battles ensued.

Lawrence is best known for leading a daring attack on the port town of Aqaba. The Turks expected an attack to come from British ships offshore, but Lawrence attacked from the unprotected East desert during summer, leading his men on a 600 mile loop no one thought possible and to anyone but the Bedouin nomads likely fatal.

His success was attributed to a number of factors. First, as a historian and archaeologist he had little regard to traditional military order or standards and that helped with unconventional thinking. Second he made great use of the local intelligence of his men who were very self-reliant and skilled in dessert survival and travel to mobilize and do the right things to be successful.

This enablement of local intelligence is the key to agile success too. The agile process is only a framework, the real work happens in the discussions and decisions made by the team. I used to be concerned by how much time some teams spend talking about work compared to actually doing work until I saw a correlation with project success. The teams that spend lots of time discussing options, priorities and business requests were actually thinking and refining strategies to be more effective. They were using local intelligence to be more successful and it showed in their results.

When my current team stopped holding daily stand-up meetings I was a little concerned. I wondered if we were getting lazy. If the process was devolving and should I intervene? However I trusted they must have had the same thoughts and the frequent discussions both face-to-face and online for remote members negated the benefit in these daily updates. To them these meetings felt unnecessary and low value. So, stand-ups became three times a week then twice a week then more sporadic. We have not had a daily standup meeting for three months now and things are going great.

One practice we are doing extra is a weekly technical show-and-tell meeting so developers and QA’s get to see what people have been working on and ask more technical questions ahead of, and separate from, the bi-weekly business demonstration. I am not suggesting that agile teams drop daily stand-ups and adopt weekly technical reviews. For most agile teams the daily stand-up is core and critical for effective communications between team members.

Instead, my point is that success is more closely aligned with the application of local intelligence from the team members than adherence to agile process. What works for one team may not work for another. As leaders of agile teams we should not be looking for conformance to process but signs of effectiveness and the application of local intelligence. High levels of “productive work related discussion” appear a good sign.

By “productive work related discussion” I mean new discussions that cover fresh ground and solve issues, not Bill and Ted having the same argument about architecture X or tool Y. Ask if the discussions result in solutions, are they business results focused, and inclusive to all team members that want to participate? These are indicators that they are productive.

In addition to productive discussion, team led modification of process is another sign of local intelligence applied. The fact the team diagnosed, discussed and agreed on an amendment to regular working process is a good indicator that they are applying local knowledge. Alistair Cockburn’s Shu, Ha, Rei model, describes a progression from obeying the rules (Shu, which means to obey, or follow), consciously moving away from the rules (Ha, which means to break or change), and finally unconsciously finding an individual path (Rei, which means to separate, or release).

Organization adopting agile and teams using agile methods are encouraged to first “use it out of the box” i.e. without modification. Then, only when everyone understands why things are as they are might we want to change process. Many of the agile processes balance each other. Rigorous testing allows for light documentation for instance. Dropping one without addressing the other and you could be headed for trouble.

However, in my view agile processes are a default starting point for teams. They work well and cover all the basics. Yet if the team sees a problem, or an opportunity for improvement then we should not stop them trying to become better. Iterations provide short test cycles to try new approaches and revert back if they are not working or build on success if they are.

When leading teams look for and encourage high levels of engaged debate and productive discussion. Support team based process adaptations and change. They are both signs of an engaged team applying local intelligence to improve their ability to deliver. Agile methods should be enablers of change not strict frameworks to work within. Our goal is performance not conformance so we should provide support and encouragement accordingly.

When asked if my team is agile I answer “kind-of, “mostly” or “predominantly” depending on the formality of the question. However I don’t really care about the label, they are kicking butt and delivering a ton of high quality software the business loves, which is my real focus and measure of success. Methodology labels help shorten conversations about process but are of a lower importance than results, we should act accordingly and spend more time encouraging local intelligence - a critical key to success for today’s knowledge worker projects. 

(Note: This post was first written for ProjectManagement.com here)


Agile Horrors

ZombieI know it is Christmas time not Halloween, but think of it as holiday re-gifting. Here is an article on agile horrors I wrote for ProjectManagement.com Halloween Edition that we should be on the lookout for on our projects in 2014.

Frankenstein Process – This is the methodology designed by committee that tries to combine iterative, empowered development with linear scheduling and command-and-control task assignment. Perhaps created in an attempt to satisfy the desires of competing groups, but this half goose, half salmon abomination neither flies nor swims.

Agile practices are in a balanced network. Ruthless testing balances the need for comprehensive documentation; colocation, demos and daily stand ups reduce the need for detailed status reporting. Changes made to this web of practices can easily create risks, gaps and duplications if they are not carefully considered.

Think candy apples not pumpkin pie; hybrid methods work best when there is a core of agile for the team to own and execute, surrounded by a wrapper of more traditional process to buffer and integrate into a less agile aware environment. Don’t try and glom disparate process pieces together, it becomes a monster nobody loves or defends.

Zombie Projects – some projects should just die but won’t seem to. Doomed from the outset with unrealistic deadlines, overly ambitious scope, or ill equipped skills and support; everybody knows it will not end well, but nobody seems willing or able to kill it.

These death marches to eventual failure or cancelation are damaging to the people working on them who see the futility and mismatch of progress to targets. However, like the emperor’s new clothes there is a shared acceptance that this is unlikely to work, but nobody seems to speak out. Perhaps thinking that the “higher ups” must know what they are doing and would intervene if there are problems; they continue shuffling forward like an army of undead looking for brains.

Unfortunately, there are no brains here and the higher-ups rarely have some cunning plan that turns struggling forward progress into an elegant solution. More often if it looks, smells, and behaves like an undead zombie, it is one. Just like in the movies, it is best not to start shouting and bring attention to yourself if you are surrounded by zombies. Instead try to find an opportunity to exit quietly, see if there is a reset or restart initiative planned. Offer to be part of the solution, instead of bitching about the issues, usually others have reached the same conclusion and are looking for support to fix things.    

Vampire Scrum Masters and Project Managers – These people just suck the life out of things and never give back. Scrum Masters who look for process compliance but do not own or remove impediments; or project managers who push for velocity improvements, but don’t want to hear about quality improvements or refactoring plans.

Agile teams generally work very hard to deliver as many high quality features as they can. When they report problems or ask permission to undertake maintenance work it is so they can be better equipped to deliver high quality features long into the future. Like ignoring a Check-Engine light in your car or missing regular maintenance, you might save some money in the short term but it is a false economy longer term.

Scrum Masters and project managers need to learn enough about their teams and their technical domain to distinguish genuine reports of problems and requests for investment from everyday complaints and unnecessary requests for resume boosting technology upgrades.

Teams who routinely get their requests ignored by leads that just want results without investment will correctly draw the conclusion that they are not valued. When this occurs, the motivation to try hard, delight customers and go the extra mile to overcome an obstacle is removed. The delivery of results will decline and then the whole process sucks.

So, show some interest, ask people to explain why issues and requests are important. If all the solutions are not possible ask them to prioritize. Try as hard as you can to fulfill these requests and usually the teams will reciprocate with improved effort and results.

Product Owner Ghosts – these are business representatives that are kind of there, but not really, they tend to vanish or dissolve when pressed on anything. Whether it is a tough decision on a product feature, or their attendance at a demo; product owner ghosts are unreliable.

The product owner / business representative role is integral to agile processes. They are needed to ensure requirements are understood, refined and prioritized, along with providing prototype feedback and resolving design decisions. Like missing or getting a poor developer or QA person, a project with a “hardly there” product owner will suffer tremendously.

So, look out for signs of less than real product ownership. Warning signs of a non-committed or weak business involvement include:

C - Contrary – decisions flip-flop with no clear explanation

A - Absent – you cannot find them or get their time when needed

S - Switching – the person changes, no dedicated product owner is assigned

P - Passive – without prompting we would not hear from them for long periods

E - Elusive – they will not provide clear feedback on the suitability of a prototype

R - Reclusive – they withdraw from priority discussions and decisions

Instead try to staff projects with product owners who exhibit more solid, proactive business representations.

C – Collaborative – willing to discuss and evaluate alternative solutions

O – Owners – owning the backlog of work, taking reasonability for its grooming

N – Nearby – available when required to ask questions and get clarifications

C – Committed – having the same person or people throughout the project

R – Representative – representing the group we are building for, not personal goals

E – Expert – knowledgeable about the domain at hand to answer team questions

T – Traceable – contactable when needed or with a proxy available if away

E – Experienced – experienced in the field to warn of outliers and exceptions

(I prefer these attributes over Barry Boehm's CRACK mnemonic that does not emphasize the Nearby, Experienced and Expert qualities that can really save teams time.)

Getting the best users is always difficult since the best people are busy doing real work. Try to explain the costs and risks of building the wrong or a sub-optimal solution. Offer to back fill admin work from the project for the best people even just to free up some of their time each week for input and feedback.

Summary

Hopefully this light hearted view of some agile anti-patterns in the guise of Halloween ghouls reminds us of things to be on the lookout for. Unlike Halloween these problems are year round threats. More than just something that goes bump in the night, these problems are ever present in our lights-on projects. Look out for them and use your garlic and silver bullet awareness to keep them from impacting your projects.

 


Overdue Update and Designing the Pontiac Aztek

PDCI have had a busy autumn and it has been too long since I posted here. I did some consulting in Europe and attended the PMI Global Congress in New Orleans to present on “21st Century Risk Management” with Dennis Stevens.

More recently our local PMI Chapter won the “Chapter of the Year” award and held their excellent Professional Development Conference that I gave a couple of presentations at. The first on “PMO Evolution: Frameworks for Integrating Lean, Agile and Traditional Projects” and one on “Surviving Agile Projects” aimed at traditional project managers transitioning to manage their first agile project.

The consulting and conference interactions led to a number of ideas for application on agile projects that I will be sharing here in upcoming posts. At our local PMI conference in Calgary last week Bob Lutz, Retired Vice Chairman of General Motors Corporation gave a great talk on design and project management.

He was discussing the importance of defined, repeatable process for efficient, high quality production. Strict compliance and rigorous process controls certainly help improve the manufacturing process. What was interesting was his cautions about applying defined, repeatable processes to design work. He said it flat out does not work and can lead to terrible products.

Bob recounted how upon rejoining General Motors in 2001 he asked Who the hell designed the Pontiac Aztek?(which appears on many Top 10 worst car design lists and is generally slammed from a design perspective – although liked by some loyal owners.) The Pontiac engineers were very defensive claiming that in fact the design of the Aztek was one of the best executed vehicle design projects that had run, hitting each of its targets and assessment milestones during the process. Lutz went on to say while some processes need rigour, design processes need collaboration, feedback and frequent verification to ensure we are on the right track.

As we execute our projects I think there is great value in determining if we are designing something or manufacturing something. The creation of software solutions is like car design, we are trying to understand the problem space and create candidate prototypes for evaluation and evolution towards the best available solution. This requires collaboration, feedback and frequent verification.

Other projects like upgrading servers and training 500 people are more defined, repeatable activities that can benefit from well defined process and strict controls. Most projects I have worked on have elements of both work types mixed together. An important skill for project managers is to know when to employ strict process and when to encourage less structured collaboration where designs evolve based on build-feedback cycles.

I really enjoyed Bob’s talk; he is an engaging speaker who tells things as he sees them and I look forward to reading his latest book “Icons and Idiots”. Over the coming weeks and months I intend to post here more frequently and continue the dialog on the smart application of process and pragmatism.


9 Ways PMOs Can Help Agile Projects

Agile PMOIt may not always be apparent but the goals of the Project Management Office (PMO) and agile teams are well aligned. Both groups want to get to the same destination: namely successful projects and happy stakeholders. However, things often come adrift as soon as the best direction to travel in to get there is discussed. The PMO might expect lots of planning and some documentation to confirm everyone understands the approach. An agile project team might want to build some proof-of-concept models to test feasibility and get confirmation of understanding. So, very quickly the two groups can disengage and have difficulty generating alignment again.

This is one reason agile teams don’t always see the Project Management Office (PMO) as a source of assistance. All too often a traditional PMO can Present Multiple Obstacles, but it does not have to be that way.

First let’s examine what PMO’s are supposed to do. The old roles of: “Rules”, “Tools” & “Schools” goes some way to describing their functions, but a more complete set of offerings was provided in the 2010 PMI Project Management Journal article “Identifying Forces Driving PMO Changes”. These are:

  1. Monitor and control project performance
  2. Develop and implement standard methodologies, processes, and tools
  3. Develop the competency of project personnel, with training and mentoring
  4. Multiproject management, including program and portfolio management, coordination and allocation of resources between projects
  5. Strategic management, including participation in strategic planning and benefits management
  6. Organizational learning, including the management of lessons learned, audits, and monitoring of PMO performance
  7. Management of customer interfaces
  8. Recruit, select, and evaluate project managers
  9. Execute specialized tasks for project managers (e.g. preparation of schedulers)
  For organizations using agile methods, these services can be delivered as follows:

1. Monitor and control project performance – Help teams track their velocity. Assist with tracking team and sponsor satisfaction ratings. Look out for and alert teams of dangerous velocity trends, check backlog size, and offer reviews of iteration and release plans.

2. Develop and implement standards – Provide templates for user stories, test cases, cumulative flow diagrams, etc. Provide agile PM tools, educate supporting groups on iterative development concepts.

3. Develop personnel with training and mentoring – Provide agile training courses, coaches, and mentors to help project mangers transition to agile projects and upgrade their skills. Send people to local agile events.

4. Multiproject management – Coordinate between agile teams, communicate between projects including items such as outlining progress, issues and retrospective findings. Help manage Release Trains at the program level and Investment Themes at the portfolio level using frameworks like the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

5. Strategic management – Identify projects with opportunities for early ROI or competitive advantage.

6. Facilitate organizational learning – Gather project velocity profiles, capture, store and index retrospective findings. Include perceived PMO cost vs. value in project metrics.

7. Manage Stakeholders – Provide Product Owner training, guidance on acceptance testing and how to evaluate and give feedback on systems. Champion the importance of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to projects.

8. Recruit, select, and evaluate project managers – Develop guidelines for interviewing agile project managers.

9. Execute specialized tasks for project managers – train and provide retrospective facilitators, create agreements with agile project trouble shooters, provide mentors and coaches.

Understanding the role of a PMO and translating the goals into an agile setting helps create alignment rather than conflict between the groups. These items may sound a tall order for your average old-school PMO. However PMO’s are under pressure to remain current and demonstrate their value in a climate of fast moving projects, cost cutting and increased scrutiny.

In the September 2009 PMI Community Post magazine Jack Duggal published an article called “Teaching PMOs to DANCE” that dealt with the issue that many of today’s projects are moving quicker than PMO’s can respond. Many PMO’s struggle assisting projects that DANCE:

Dynamic and changing

Ambiguous and uncertain

Non-linear and unpredictable

Complex

Emergent nature of projects that causes instability

The agile community calls projects like these “a good fit for agile” and this is the synergy. When we can explain agile approaches are not just non-conformist, ill-planned projects, but instead a proven approach for these tricky new project types then a win-win is possible for both camps.

Jack Duggal also gave a presentation at the 2011 PMI Global Congress entitled “Reinventing the PMO which was quite agile manifesto like. Jack outlined a need for PMO’s to shift:

1. From Delivery of Projects to Benefits Realization and Business Value
No longer is delivery of on-time, on-budget projects considered successful. It is necessary but not enough. PMOs need to cultivate a mindset to shift to a benefits and outcomes focus and establish measures to ensure benefits realization and achievement of business value.

2. From Delivery to Adoption and Usability
Typically, PMOs are focused on improving execution capabilities. Projects are implemented well, but often the outputs and deliverables are not used or adopted. With a shift to an adoption and usability mindset, PMOs can promote and plan for adoption throughout the project lifecycle to ensure intended realization of projects’ benefits and value.

3. From Diffused and Disjointed Focus to Holistic and Balanced Adaptive Approach
Often PMOs are pulled to address the current pain or fix the problem of the day. This results in a diffused and disjointed PMO focus and limits the ability of the PMO to provide a balanced approach.

4. From Change Management to Change Leadership
Change management in the PMO realm has focused on configuration management and procedural changes. Evolving PMOs understand the need for organizational and behavioural change and get involved in change-readiness assessments and preparation. PMOs can play a key role in understanding, leveraging and leading change.

The “Next Generation PMO” as Duggal names it will have a mindset viewing the organization as a complex adaptive system. The PMO’s purpose becomes more focused on linking tactical & strategic help with business value. Success will be measured via benefits realization and business value rather than project delivery. All of which are very much aligned with agile concepts.

So, rather than PMO’s being unsupportive of agile, I have found most to be very co-operative when alignment with agile helps them address challenging projects, deliver value and stay current. Also as project managers experienced in agile take roles in the PMO I think this transition will accelerate. With some education and buy-in a good PMO can Provide Many Opportunities for agile teams.

(This article first appeared at projectManagement.com here)

Next PMI-ACP Exam Prep Class with Mike Griffiths

PMI-ACP Prep BookMy next PMI-ACP Exam Preparation course will be November 18, 19, 20 in Calgary, Alberta. The course will be capped to 15 people for better Q&A and will take place at historic Fort Calgary which is close to downtown on 9th Avenue and has free parking.

Since I am offering the class in my home town I have no travel costs and can offer the course for a discounted price of $1,290 for 3 days including lunches and snacks, my book, color printed workbook, sample exam questions, and USB stick of additional materials. (You can deduct another $60 if you already have a copy of my PMI-ACP Prep book).

The course has a 100% pass rate and uses Turning Technologies audience response technology. Following the course each participant receives a personalized follow-up study plan based on their sample question performances. For more details see the Course Outline.  To reserve your place or ask questions please contact Training@LeadingAnswers.com.


Planning Balance

Planning BalanceLife is all about balance, live too conservatively and you run the risk of missing out on life’s adventures and opportunities. Live too wildly and you run the risk of misfortune and regret, we have to walk a fine line guided by our personal view of where that correct boundary is.

Planning is similar; the adages of “Look before you leap” and “Cross that bridge when we come to it” speak to the differing views towards project planning. However, instead of being guided by some moral compass, we should be guided by the quality of our planning inputs and likelihood of changes.

To some people a mentality of “Cross that bridge when we come to it” strikes them as the irresponsible abandonment of project management rigor and fiscal responsibility trusted to them by project sponsors. Why would you not always do as much planning as possible before starting a project? Surely, that is only right and proper! Well, not if doing so would be harmful, it all depends on the quality of that input data. When the input data is good, we can reliably plan, when the input data is bad, or the project’s final destination is likely to change then we need to get better data and keep evolving the plans.

When aiming at a fixed target it is appropriate to aim, aim, and aim some more and then fire. In the project world this is akin to plan, plan, and plan some more and then execute. However, when trying to hit a moving target this approach is ineffective. Where do you aim? Where the target is right now, where you think it might be next, where you hope it might be at completion time? Instead a different approach is needed; something more like a guided missile that makes many mid-course adjustments to hit a moving target.

When we know our project requirements may change, or there is technological uncertainty, or market volatility from competing products, we need to equip the projects with the abilities to make multiple mid-course adjustments. Instead of plan, plan, plan we point the team in the right direction, get them started and give them the tools and authority to make these mid-course adjustments through build feedback cycles to hit that moving target.

Jim Highsmith says it best, there are times when “You cannot plan away uncertainty; you have to execute away uncertainty”. It is not really in the best interests of the sponsor to consume project time and budget trying to plan something with incomplete or erroneous data. It would be more prudent to get closer to the problem, try a few things and then come up with a better plan now we have more information.

Yet this idea of doing less upfront planning presents a large obstacle to many stakeholders because the words we often use to describe exploratory information gathering are poor. For a start we don’t often call it “exploratory information gathering” instead using phrases like “we will build a small portion”, “start coding”, or “do a spike”. To people not familiar with why we are doing this work it seems counter intuitive and rash. So, we can do ourselves a favour and use words like “more data gathering”, “proof of concepts” and “options exploration” instead of “development” to explain the goal of this work.

Another tool we can use to convince the skeptics that less upfront planning is sometimes better value is the planning-risk graphs developed by Barry Boehm. The first risk presented by Boehm is the obvious risk of not doing enough planning and running into problems of people not knowing what they are doing, duplicating work, and building poor solutions that need to be corrected.

Planning Balance 1

From the graph above, we can see that as more time is invested in planning, the risks due to inadequate plans reduce. While these risks are intuitive, there exists another set of risks that are less intuitive or obvious; the risks of doing too much upfront planning. 

Planning Balance 2

This second, red line denotes how the risks of creating very detailed, brittle plans that do not survive contact with reality increase as we spend more time planning. So too do the risks of delaying the project and getting a late Return On Investment (ROI) because the project spent too long in the planning phase.

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Agile For Oil and Gas - mixing lifecycle models

Considering Alternative LifecyclesIntroduction

This post is about Implementing agile at the organizational level across multiple technical domains. I was in Bogotá, Colombia recently working with an oil and gas company to introduce agile to their organization. They were not looking to improve their IT delivery, they were seeing if it could bring benefits to their whole business value stream. Since moving to Calgary 13 years ago I have worked with many oil and gas companies, they are the major employers here and the predominant industry. Lots of energy companies employ lean approaches to exploration, facilities creation and operations to maximize efficiencies and optimize the value stream.

Applying agile techniques to lean processes are a natural compliment and fit especially well with the unique problem solving and collaboration needed to undertake complex projects. Yet, oil and gas projects present a mixture of both these knowledge worker challenges that are a great fit for agile, and industrial engineering that requires traditional approaches. The real benefits come in knowing how to mesh these approaches together and provide some mental models to facilitate planning and problem solving. This is still an emerging field and I don’t think we have all the answers yet, which makes it challenging and rewarding. At the end of the post I outline some questions that I am trying to solve.

The Bigger Picture

Oil and gas development is a long value chain engaging many different groups with unique specializations. Like designing a new car, bringing it to market, producing it, selling and then sustaining it, the skills needed along the way are diverse and often conflicting. Oil and gas development includes the following disciplines:

  • Surveys – identifying areas with favourable geological conditions.
  • Surface Rights Negotiation – arranging for land access with land owners, environmental surveys, native and community outreach.
  • Exploratory Drilling – verifying the presence or absence of hydrocarbon reserves and quantifying the reserve.
  • Facilities – creating the infrastructure for oil or gas extraction, initial processing and transportation to market.
  • Operations – managing the safe extraction and operation of the well and associated facilities. Performing maintenance and projecting production declines and decommissioning work.

Oil Lifecycle

 Mixed Project Types

Some of these activities like the collaborative work of the G & G groups (Geologists and Geophysicists) are classic knowledge worker activities. Here specialists with subject matter expertise come together to share information and as a group and build consensus on the most likely areas for further exploration. No two regions are the same, no two geological formations are the same, and just like software teams use agile methods to collaborate on solving complex problems and gain consensus on the direction to move in, so too do G&G teams.

Further down the chain though, some pieces of work can be more traditional in nature. After determining an area to explore, the execution of a seismic survey might involve mobilizing a large workforce of several hundred people and scheduling constrained equipment. While this can be done in an iterative, prioritized manner, many of the benefits of short iterations, reviews and adaptation are diminished so a hybrid approach is preferable.

Agile Processes

Surface rights negotiation and exploratory drilling are very much expert driven, collaborative problem solving exercises. Starting the process with incomplete information and uncertainties is the norm. There comes a point where more planning can not remove the remaining uncertainty, instead execution must be used to provide data and remove uncertainty. Activities progress with the acknowledgement of ambiguity and proceed through stages of:

1) Embrace ambiguity – getting stakeholder agreement of areas of uncertainty

  • List areas of uncertainty
  • Discuss and agree known scope boundaries

2) Sense making – collaboratively forming consensus on exploratory work to undertake

  • Agree information gathering steps
  • Prioritize sense-making exploratory work

3) Iterate through cycles of Plan, Explore, Learn, Adapt – Learn by doing rather than speculate via planning

  • Plan – agree and assemble work plans, guidelines, objectives
  • Explore – undertake short period of exploratory work
  • Learn – collaboratively analyze findings and gather results
  • Adapt – retune upcoming work plans, incorporate learnings

4) Maximize value – once it is agreed that the “Next Best Dollar Spent” is elsewhere on the project AND the iterative learnings have been maximized, finish the experiments

  • Gain consensus that the exit criteria has been reached
  • Articulate findings, learnings and decisions

Agile Lifecycle

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