Career Development in Overdrive

OverdriveIn his best-selling book Drive: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us, Dan Pink explains three attributes (Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose) that people need to feel satisfied and motivated at work. It is a great book, but we can do more. Drive only gets us started. As project managers, we can do more to help the people on the projects we manage.

Remember, Nobody Wants to Be Managed
It’s important to remember that PMs manage projects, not the people working on the projects. Rarely can anyone effectively manage people, and rarer still are the people who want to be managed.

Instead, “We manage property and lead people; if we try to manage people\e, they will feel like property.” Over the long-term, people are more satisfied when they have control or input into how they undertake their work. Using our own skills, insights and decision-making process is more rewarding than blindly following instructions.

Yet there are a few instances when we want to be told what to do. These include emergency situations or a scenario that is totally foreign—such as a temporary volunteer role. However, they are not common, and satisfaction at work requires freedom of choice in how to work—and an opportunity to bring our skills to bear on a problem.

This freedom and skill opportunity make up the “autonomy” and “mastery” components of Dan Pink’s motivation triad (which also includes purpose). Pink explains what people want to feel satisfied and fulfilled. Here’s the recap…

What People Do Want Instead
When we can provide freedom of choice (autonomy) with an ability to apply and learn new skills (mastery) in an environment that pursues a worthwhile goal (purpose), the magic happens. Now people are motivated. Then our role as leaders and managers of projects is to channel and coordinate these driven contributors in their pursuit of that goal.

If that sounds unrealistically optimistic, maybe you have never felt or seen true motivation. Maybe YourGreedyCorp’s reason for being (max profits for owner and shareholders) lacks any sense of purpose for its employees?

Unfortunately, organizations with uniting and worthwhile missions are scarce. We cannot all work for companies like PatagoniaTesla or Buurtzorg, so how can we support people working in more traditional organizations?

If we cannot influence the purpose of our organization, we can try to find the compelling purpose for our project and create as much autonomy and opportunities for mastery as possible. Then we can see what other motivational factors people desire.

Beyond “Drive” Enablers – Into “Overdrive”
A recent Entrepreneur article about seven basic human needs provides great insights into a holistic set of motivational/satisfaction ideas we can bring to teams. Let’s review them:

  1. Safety/security: - Without it, we feel anxious.” Creating a psychologically safe environment is critical for experimentation and learning. People need to feel it is not only okay for them to extend themselves and try new things, but are positively encouraged to do so.

As leaders, we can help by modeling the desired behavior and talking about our own learnings and failures. For example, “I made a mistake on the status report I am sending it again” or “I heard my presentation to the steering committee was too technical; I would like your help explaining it in simpler terms.

This second example also demonstrates vulnerability by asking for help. It turns out vulnerability in leaders is less a sign of weakness and more a bridge to building stronger relations with team members. Creating a safe environment and being human produces a better working environment.

People join companies because of the opportunities and leave them because of the managers they encounter there. Don’t be one of those managers.

 

  1. Variability/challenge: - Without it, we are bored.” Our brains are wired to seek new experiences and solve problems. It releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the pleasure circuits in the brain. It is likely to reward exploration and learning, which is critical for our evolution.

We can take advantage of the motivation circuits everyone comes wired with by presenting work as problems, not tasks. Outline the problem, let the team tell you how it intends to solve it. This will usually be how you would have structured work tasks, but it might be a better plan. Then, providing it is legal and appropriate, let the team execute its plan. Now the team members have ownership of the approach and are much more invested in ensuring its success.

It’s not rocket science, it’s neuroscience—and very well worth the extra steps of framing new work as problems and vetting proposed solutions.

 

  1. Status/significance: - “Without it, we feel undervalued.” We need to recognize the role and significance people play on projects—and not just at the end of them. That is too little, too late. Instead, we need to find ways to acknowledge and explain the contributions people are making on a regular (say weekly) basis.

It does not have to be much, but it does have to be something. People working without recognition can slide into doing the minimum tolerated. Instead, people who know their work is recognized will be more likely to try and do it well.

Yes, making sure we talk to everyone about their work each week takes time and effort. However, it is much easier than explaining lackluster performance to executives or recruiting new team members because someone quit or was fired for underperforming.

People need momentum to push past the obstacles they will inevitably face on projects. Regular recognition of their work creates and builds that momentum.

 

  1. Love/connection: - “Without it, we are lonely.” We spend a large proportion of our waking hours at work. As social creatures, we crave some connection—but the depth varies from person to person. For some, it is enough to be recognized and have your name remembered. For others, they want to learn about their teammates and share their interests and dreams.

HR departments can get justifiably concerned about inappropriate friendliness, and so often tend to err on the transactional side of interactions—e.g., “Bill, here is the marketing report you asked for.” However, this misses the opportunity to connect. “Hey Bill, there you are…here’s that marketing report. How did Wendy do at her first basketball game?

Having someone that cares enough to ask how you are—and also learn whatever aspects you want to share—is significant. We should try to learn what our team members like to do in their spare time, what causes and activities they enjoy.

People make terrible interchangeable cogs in a machine. They are inconsistent, unreliable and malleable, always changing shape. However, they make fantastic flowers in a garden. Some like shade, some like the sun; once we learn more about them, we can help them flourish.

 

  1. Self-expression: - “Without it, we can’t express our personality.” We need to let people show us who they are. Let them customize their work environment appropriately. If working the front desk of a fancy hotel, that might not be much visually; but in other environments, it could be considerable.

Dress, music, work time flexibility to go rock climbing or see the new Star Wars movie all show we recognize what is important to people. We hire people for who they are and their ability to contribute. Let’s not forget who they are, or they will forget to contribute.

 

  1. Growth/knowledge: - “Without it, we feel stuck.” This is the “mastery” component of Dan Pink’s three motivators. People want to improve their skills. They want to get better at the craft they chose as a career. Providing training, access to education and conferences improves job performance, employee satisfaction, and retention.

Education and training not only improve people’s sense of job worth, but it also improves their self-worth. People recognize and remember that.

 

  1. Contribution: - “Without it, we don’t have the satisfaction of helping someone.” This is the “purpose” component from Pink’s Drive book. People seek meaning, a purpose, an opportunity to help build a valuable legacy.

Connect work to a worthy goal. People do not want to spend a day pushing keyboard buttons. They want to know they helped people get access to healthcare or education, or book a fun night out with friends.

 

Putting the Seven Human Needs to Work
Great leaders and the best project managers do all of these things instinctively. They weave and blend the concepts into every interaction and conversation they have each day. The rest of us likely need some coaching until we feel natural—and then they become habits to us.

There is nothing wrong with creating a checklist of people to go talk with each day. We do not want to use the same questions, but instead develop interest, appreciation, and opportunities for growth.

Demonstrate the desired behavior, admit your failings and concerns. Ask questions, be upbeat, seek connections and knowledge. Everyone in a leadership role is being watched and judged, whether they like it or not. So, behave as if every action—seen or unseen—is being scored. Integrity and transparency remove the need for remembering the story for this situation, or what you told who.

When outlining work, start and end with the problem. Let people decide how best to solve it, and invite their ideas. Providing the solutions are legal and efficient, let them run with them. Check-in frequently to see how things are going. Investigate failures calmly. What can we learn? What can we do differently next time?

It takes time, but it gets easier. Then people start helping you when they see you are not a total jerk. Then things get much easier, and it is tempting to think you are hot stuff and become a jerk. Stay humble, stay thankful and always be learning.

Summary
Dan Pink’s Drive motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose are critical in ensuring motivation at work. However, they are a subset of the seven universal human needs we all seek to feel satisfied.

As we manage our projects and lead our teams, we should check to see how many of them we can engage every day.

[An earlier version of this article first appeared on ProjectManagement.com here]

(See www.LeadingAnswers.com for the full list of articles from Mike Griffiths)


Agile Illustrated – Sample #3

Agile Illustrated - Cover smallThis is the third sample from my new Kindle book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. The book is a graphical introduction to the agile mindset and servant leadership behaviors for working with agile teams. If you missed the first two samples you can find them here and here.

Also, just in time for Christmas, Agile Illustrated is now available as a physical paperback book. So if you prefer to hold a physical book rather than read a Kindle book you can now get your hands on a copy. Or, if you would like to give a copy to a manager or executive who is unlikely to read a normal length book on the agile mindset and how to support agile teams then buy them a copy as a gift.

Agile Illustrated New Physical BookAt just 88 pages and mainly pictures it is a quick read that explains the agile values, principles and servant leadership behaviors needed to support agile teams. Available from your local Amazon online store, the US link is here.

Today we will review Team Performance. The Team Performance domain includes Team Formation, Team Empowerment, and Team Collaboration activities. (Anyone taking the PMI-ACP exam should expect to see 18-20 questions on this topic.)

Here is a mindmap showing all the tasks, we will then review them one at a time.

Domain_04_d (1)

 Team Formation

D41
 
Task 1 – Jointly create team norms

Learn how people want to work and agree on how things should be done and how issues should be handled.

As a group, develop the group rules that will be followed. By being involved in the creation of the team norms, people are much more likely to feel ownership and commitments towards them. Telling people how we should work is much less empowering than engaging those people in jointly developing their own framework.

 

D42

Task 2 – Help develop technical and interpersonal skills

Encourage the development of technical and people skills so everyone is equipped to work effectively.

Knowledge work requires two sets of skills. The first is to do the technical work as a subject matter expert (SME), the second is to work productively with other SMEs and stakeholders, including the business and customer. The job of learning and honing these skills is never done, and we should always be improving our technical and collaboration skills.

 

Team Empowerment

D43

Task 3 – Encourage generalizing specialists

Encourage people to have a broad range of skills, not only deep, narrow ones, so that as workload varies people can help other team members out.

The concept of “T” shaped people rather than “I” shaped people captures the idea of having skills in surrounding fields of work, in addition to a specialization. To maximize the value delivered we want global rather than local optimization. This means focusing on overall throughput of value over people-utilization efficiencies. T-shaped people are valuable for optimizing value since they allow us to share work to reduce bottlenecks.

 

D44
 
Task 4 – Empower team members

Encourage people to step up for new roles. Allow them to make their own decisions. Put them in charge of many elements of their job.

We want people to take ownership of their work and start to make their own improvements. So encourage people to look for opportunities for improvements and take initiative to make them happen. These are forms of emergent and shared leadership. Subject matter experts know their domains best, so empower them to manage complexity and create solutions to the problems they face.

 

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Task 5 – Proactively manage morale

Learn what motivates people and provide that motivation in their workplace.

Frequently observe and ask team members about what motivates them individually and as part of a team. Also, learn what demotivates or upsets them. Then try to find ways to improve the work environment to foster happiness, productivity, and satisfaction.

 

Team Collaboration and Commitment

D46

Task 6 – Encourage ongoing communications

Encourage dialog and technology that helps share information.

Usually, the best way to help communications is to physically co-locate with the people you need to communicate with. Nothing beats seeing them and talking with them. It allows for the richest exchange of information accompanied by body language and emotion.

When colocation is not possible, provide the best tools you can to keep people in communication. Monitor communications and look for ways to reduce miscommunication or address missing communication. This helps reduce costly and wasteful rework caused by miscommunication.

 

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Task 7 – Protect team from distractions

Shield the team from interruptions.

Distractions and low-priority interruptions can come from many sources. They might be requests from superfluous sources or demands for low-priority admin work. Even quick interruptions cause task-switching and interrupting flow.

Special-ops and Skunkworks teams have been effective and highly productive in part because they were separated and shielded from interruptions.

 

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Task 8 – (Re)communicate the vision to align the goal

Show the end goal and how people’s contributions help get us there.

People should understand how their work contributes to the end goal. So we need to align the team goals with the product or project goal and show the connections and steps along the way to our final destination.

 

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Task 9 – Measure performance to help forecasting

Encourage people to measure and share their performance so we can get better at forecasting at a high level.

In order to improve our ability to forecast, we need to track how things actually turned out. If we keep making estimates without checking actual performance, we will keep making the same estimation errors. Tracking velocity and work delivered helps create a more accurate view of the team’s true capacity for future work.

I hope you enjoyed these samples from my most recent book. It was a fun project for me and my wish is that people find it an easy introduction to agile values.


5 Major Changes Coming to the PMP Exam

5 ChangesSome fundamental changes are coming to the PMP® exam. Currently slated for July 2020, the content and composition of the exam will be completely revamped. As described in the new PMP Exam Content Outline, PMI commissioned a research study into trends in the project management profession. This study, called the Global Practice Analysis, investigated which job tasks and approaches people frequently use.

The job task analysis identified the knowledge and skills required to function as a project management practitioner. Now the PMP is changing to better reflect these practices; here are some of the major changes:  

New Focus1. New focus– Switching from the previous domains (initiating, planning, executing, etc.), the new exam will be based on three new domains: people, process and business environment. These new domains align more closely with the PMI Talent Triangle®sections of leadership, technical project management, and business and strategic work.

Since project management occurs in a variety of industries, the business environment domain only tests universal concepts and does not get into any specifics around project types. The split of questions between these domains is:

  • People: 42%
  • Process: 50%
  • Business Environment: 8%

New Content2. New content– The job task analysis revealed that many project managers are using agile approaches, or some agile concepts in hybrid life cycles. To reflect this, the new exam covers the complete value delivery spectrum including predictive, hybrid and agile approaches.

The inclusion of agile concepts and increased emphasis on the people aspects of projects represent a big shift. Concepts like servant leadership, conflict resolution and retrospectives were previously the domain of the PMI-ACP® exam, but will now be featured more frequently on the PMP exam (although not in so much depth or frequency).

New Question Types3. New question types– A change announced by PMI at the recent PMI Global Conference in Philadelphia was the introduction of some new question types. PMI will be introducing question types that depart from the tradition multiple-choice format of four options and one correct answer.

The new format questions include drag-and-drop and clicking on a graphic region. These new question types allow questions such as asking the test taker to select the graph/chart that best fits a described scenario, or identify what part of an image applies to a described situation.

Crossword and coloring-in based questions will be added later (just kidding). Personally, I applaud the incorporation of visual questions; a large component of effective communication involves interpreting and creating graphs and charts, so any way to assess this capability is welcome.

Move Away from PMBOK4. Moving away from the PMBOK® Guide – The PMP exam is not a test of the PMBOK Guide.

This concept is so fundamental—yet so universally misunderstood—that I feel the need to repeat it: The PMP exam is not a test about or on the PMBOK Guide. This misunderstanding may have arisen because the domains in the old PMP Exam Content Outline matched the process groups in the PMBOK Guide. This was a logical (but flawed) assumption.

When question writers develop questions, they must reference at least two source documents for each question. This is to make sure the question is based on agreed-to sources and not just their belief or recommendation. Previously, the PMBOK Guide was frequently used as one of the sources, but it was always accompanied by at least one non-PMBOK source.

Since the Global Practice Analysis and job task analysis identified more people-based skills and agile approaches, then increasingly, the sources referenced will not include the PMBOK Guide. By structuring the PMP Exam Content Outline around people, process and business domains, PMI is further signaling the departure from PMBOK-focused topics. The list of new source materials is available here.

The takeaway for PMP aspirants is to base their studies on understanding and applying the concepts described in the domains, tasks, and enablers listed in the exam content outline.

Education Evolution5. Education evolution– These radical changes were planned to be implemented in December 2019. However, perhaps in part to questions from the training community, the changes have now been deferred until July 2020.

No doubt it will be a big change for Registered Education Providers (REPs) as they update their materials. Many PMP preparation courses followed the knowledge areas and domains of the old exam content outline. Now, with more of a focus on people and the decision to embrace the entire value delivery spectrum, training materials should be changed to better reflect the new exam content outline. This will take time but will result in a more practical exam.

Conclusion
I welcome the change to make the exam more realistic and better aligned with how projects operate. The increased emphasis on the people aspects of projects more closely reflects where project managers spend the bulk of their time and attention. While the process groups and knowledge areas were useful buckets for organizing content, they did not really map how the project management activities integrate across multiple domains simultaneously.

There will be an adjustment period as training companies adjust their materials. However, the end result will be an exam that better matches day-to-day work—which ultimately is where the exam should be moving to so that it’s a relevant assessment of project management activities.

[This post first appeared without the list of source materials on projectmanagement.com here]


Organizational Structures that Support Faster Innovation and Evolution

Organizational agility is the ability of an enterprise to change direction, realign and succeed in volatile, uncertain business environments. It requires sensing emerging trends and actively listening to customer requests, then acting on this information and making the changes required to position the organization for where it needs to be in the future.

Small organizations can change direction quickly because they have fewer people or processes to change. Most medium to large-scale organizations have considerable mindset inertia in the form of strategies, multi-year plans, in-flight programs, and projects, etc. When fundamental change is required, it can be difficult to turn these large elements that have gathered their own momentum through the day-to-day behaviors of staff.

Momentum is mass in motion. Think of a thousand people all moving toward a common goal—and their organizational structures and processes to get there. Now imagine the goal has shifted; we want to get to somewhere else. We need to shift all those minds - and likely much of the org structure and processes, this is a bigger ask requiring more energy.

The Efficiency vs. Adaptability Trade-off
There is a growing trend. As rates of change increase, organizations are trading off efficiency for adaptability. Large-scale processes, specialized resources, and large batch sizes are optimized for maximum efficiency (the lowest cost per widget, the highest productivity rates per worker). From a cost-per-unit perspective, it’s hard to beat the scale, hierarchies, and specialization that are the lifeblood of efficient systems.

Unfortunately, optimizing for efficiency decreases adaptability. A huge stamping press used for producing car door shells is great for fast, cheap output until someone wants a new car door design. Likewise, organizations created to optimize efficiency have a similar structure and process momentum toward a single fixed goal. This momentum is an obstacle if that goal moves or becomes a collection of separate moving goals.

The Diversity and Evolution of Organizations
Fortunately, because there are no fixed ways of structuring a company (or operating one), we can learn from all the forms that have been tried and been successful—along with those that failed, too.

Throughout history and alive today, we can find examples of organizations that exhibit varying degrees of structure/efficiency versus flexibility/adaptability. We have a rich gene pool of organizational diversity to study.

Looking at organizations that do well in times of uncertainty can help us determine what qualities are required to thrive in high rates of uncertainty and complexity. Of course, we need to be careful with this natural selection approach, as good companies fail for a variety of reasons. But there are useful lessons and trends to observe.

An Autonomy Spectrum
In the book Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux describes the evolution of organizations from primitive gangs ruled by fear, to sophisticated organizations that distribute power and decision making to local branches. The book is a fascinating read that assigns colors to each level of evolution and discusses many different attributes.

However, for this article, I just want to focus on the structure/efficiency vs flexibility/adaptability element.

Red Org

Red Organizations
The most basic organizations impose pyramid-shaped command-and-control structures around the “Who?”, “What?” and “How?” aspects of work. Strict organizations like the Mafia or Catholic Church have a lot of structure around the who—only certain people get to make some decisions, and it is not questioned. Likewise, there is hierarchical control over what gets done and how it is done.

Amber Org

Amber Organizations
The next level of evolution describes most traditional organizations. Here there is some flexibility on the who. Anyone should be able to rise to a position of power, but there is still a pyramid structure controlling what should be done—and standards and process for exactly how it should be achieved.

Examples include government agencies and charter schools.

Orange Org

Orange Organizations
Orange organization make up the bulk of modern, profit-oriented enterprises. There is still a pyramid structure and control on what the company is focusing on, but freedom on how the results are obtained. Now people are empowered and encouraged to solve problems and achieve results.

Examples include banks and retail organizations.

Green Org

Green Organizations
These are today’s modern organizations that encourage empowered teams. Within traditional pyramid structures, there is as much freedom as possible with whowhat and how goals are accomplished. People are supported to own, define and improve how they work, so they improve not only the product, but the production process in which they work.

Examples include Southwest Airlines, and W.L. Gore and Associates.

Teal Org

Teal Organizations
Teal organizations break free from the pyramid structure and instead behave more like towns or organisms. Rather than try to funnel decision making and policy through a single hub, they spin-off and give authority to local groups. So local branches define new products, hire people, decide on pay rates, etc. Freed from a central, governing body, they are more autonomous and flexible.

Examples include Buurtzorg Nursing and Morningstar.

Laloux is careful to explain that this evolutionary progression is not necessarily from bad to good, or from worst to best. Instead, they just reflect different levels of consciousness and values within the organization. Also, different levels can exist within the same organization, nested like Russian dolls. For instance, a predominantly green organization can have an amber or red department within it where things are still very fixed with little flexibility.

From Control and Efficiency to Autonomy and Adaptation

Org Agility Spectrum

The model is useful for showing the progression from a control and efficiency focus to one of autonomy and adaptation. In high-change environments, having a single hub for decision making slows the process down. Shoals of fish can change direction, split or merge to avoid prey in an instant. They do not take orders from a single source. Moving decision-making powers to those navigating improves responsiveness—but may lose out on efficiency and economies of scale.

Organizations looking to improve their agility can examine where they are on the autonomy spectrum and determine what the next logical step for them would be if they want to be more adaptable (but potentially less efficient.) It is a trade-off; there is no single best organizational structure; it depends on the environment in which you operate.

Some organizations spin-off start-ups to explore new product streams. These start-ups can be nimbler and operate unencumbered from the large pyramid structures and processes of the parent. Other organizations use Skunk Works groups to explore new ideas. Again, free from some of the normal scrutiny and controls that aim for efficiency, these insulated groups can innovate quicker.

Please Innovate While We Micromanage You!
Organizations that demand innovation in highly controlled environments designed for process efficiency are likely in for a rude awakening. Organizations seem either structured for efficiency with strict controls on the who, what and how; or structured for flexibility, innovation, and adaptation.

Much has changed since Laloux first published Reinventing Organizations in 2014 and many of the organizations he featured have gone on to evolve yet newer structures. However, the efficiency-adaptability spectrum remains a useful tool for understanding the type of organization we work in and for discussing the characteristics and challenges associated with organizational agility.

[This article first appeared on projectmanagement.com Here]


Agile Illustrated - Sample #2

Here is the second sample from my new Kindle book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. The book is a graphical introduction to the agile mindset and servant leadership behaviors for working with agile teams. If you missed the first sample on the Agile Manifesto, you can find it here.

Today we will revisit the Declaration of Interdependence. A lesser-known cousin to the Agile Manifesto, the Declaration of Interdependence was created in a few years after the Agile Manifesto to describe how to achieve an Agile Mindset in product and project leadership. It describes six principles essential to agile project teams. We will review them one by one.

 

DOI1

 

 1 – We increase return on investment by making a continuous flow of value our focus.

Amaze your customers; keep giving them what they ask for!

Concentrate on developing features the business asks for: This is how we can get the best benefits for the business and support for the process. Projects are hard to cancel or deny requests from when they consistently deliver business results.

 

DOI2

 2 – We deliver reliable results by engaging customers in frequent interactions and shared ownership.

When planning interaction with the business, try to be more like the good neighbor you see frequently and can easily call upon rather than the intrusive relative who moves in for a while and then disappears for a year. We want regular and engaging business interaction, not a huge, upfront requirements-gathering phase followed by nothing until delivery. Frequently show how the system is evolving and make it clear the business drives the design by listening to and acting on feedback.

 

DOI3

3 – We expect uncertainty and manage for it through iterations, anticipation, and adaptation.

Software functionality is hard to describe, technology changes quickly and so too do business needs. Software projects typically have lots of unanticipated changes. Rather than trying to create and follow a rigid plan that is likely to break, it is better to plan and develop in short chunks (iterations / sprints) and adapt to changing requirements.

 

DOI4

4 – We unleash creativity and innovation by recognizing that individuals are the ultimate source of value, and creating an environment where they can make a difference.

We manage property and lead people; if you try to manage people they feel like property.

Projects are completed by living, breathing people, not tools or processes. To get the best out of our team we must treat them as individuals, provide for their needs and support them in the job. Paying a wage might guarantee that people show up, but how they contribute once they are there is governed by a wide variety of factors. If you want the best results, provide the best environment you can.

 

DOI5

5 – We boost performance through group accountability for results and shared responsibility for team effectiveness.

Everyone needs to share responsibility for making the project, and the team as a whole, successful. We can help by empowering the team to make their own decisions. When people are more engaged in a process, they are more committed to its outcome and success. In short, people care more about things they had a hand in creating than things given to them or imposed upon them.

 

DOI6

6 – We improve effectiveness and reliability through situationally specific strategies, processes, and practices.

Real projects are complex and messy. Rarely do all the ideal conditions for agile development present themselves. Instead, we have to interpret the situation and make the best use of the techniques, people, and tools available to us. There is no single cookbook for how to run successful projects; instead, we need to adjust to best fit the project ingredients and project environment we are presented with.

 

The next post will feature another random excerpt from the book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. If you liked this sample please consider buying the Kindle book available on your local Kindle store – here’s a link to the Amazon.com store.


Agile Illustrated – Sample #1

Cover v2Over the next few weeks, I will be featuring samples from my new Kindle book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. The book is a graphical introduction to the agile mindset and servant leadership behaviors for supporting agile teams.

Let’s start with the Agile Manifesto:

The Agile Manifesto was created during a meeting in February 2001 that brought together a number of software and methodology experts who were at the forefront of the emerging agile methods. Let’s look at the values one by one.

 

M1 - sample

Value 1 – Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools

While processes and tools will likely be necessary, we should try to focus attention on the individuals and interactions involved. This is because work is undertaken by people, not tools, and problems get solved by people, not processes. Likewise, products are accepted by people, scope is debated by people, and the definition of a successfully “done” project is negotiated by people.

What will help set up a project for success is an early focus on developing the individuals involved and an emphasis on productive and effective interactions. Processes and tools can help, yet projects are ultimately about people. So, to be successful, we need to spend the majority of our time in what may be the less comfortable, messy, and unpredictable world of people.

 

M2 - sample

Value 2 – Working software over comprehensive documentation

This value speaks to the need to deliver. It reminds us to focus on the purpose or business value we’re trying to deliver, rather than on paperwork.

Many developers are detail-oriented and process-driven. While these characteristics are often highly beneficial, they can also mean the developer’s focus is easily distracted from the real reason they are undertaking software projects—to write valuable software. So, this emphasis on valuing working software over comprehensive documentation acts as a useful reminder of why these projects are commissioned in the first place—to build something useful. Documentation by itself, or at the expense of working software, is not useful.

 

M3 - sample

Value 3 – Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

We need to be flexible and accommodating rather than fixed and uncooperative. This involves tradeoffs between the development team and business rather than reverting back to contracts and statements of work. We could build the product exactly as originally specified, but if the customer’s preferences or priorities change, it would be better to be flexible and work toward the new goal.

It is difficult to define an up-front, unchanging view of what should be built. This challenge stems from the dynamic nature of knowledge work products, especially software systems. Software is intangible and difficult to reference: companies rarely build the same systems twice, business needs change quickly, and technology changes rapidly.

We should recognize at the start that things are going to change, and we’ll need to work with the customer throughout the project to reach a shared definition of “done.” This requires a more trusting relationship and more flexible contract models than we often see on projects.

 

M4 - sample

Value 4 – Responding to change over following a plan

The quote from scholar Alfred Korzybski, “The map is not the territory,” warns us not to follow maps if they do not match the surroundings. Instead, trust what you see and act accordingly.

In modern, complex projects, we know our initial plans will likely be inadequate. They are based on insufficient information about what it will take to complete the project.

Agile projects have highly visible queues of work and plans in the form of release maps, backlogs, and task boards. The intent of this value is to broaden the number of people who can be readily engaged in the planning process by adjusting the plans and discussing the impact of changes.

 

The next post will feature another random excerpt from the book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. If you liked the sample, consider buying the Kindle book available on your local Kindle store – here’s a link to the Amazon.com store.


"Agile Illustrated" - Update

Confirm business participationThanks to everyone who downloaded my new eBook “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner's Guide to Agility” you made it #1 Amazon Hot New Releases for “Technical Project Management”, along with #1 Amazon Best Seller in “Computers and Technology Short Reads”, and even #1 Amazon Best Seller in “PMP Exam” - which is odd because it is not even about the PMP exam.

Amazon sales stats

Manage risk proactivelyA couple of people have reported “not available in this region” messages and I am working with Amazon to fix these. The issue seems associated with the large file size due to all the illustrations. It should be available soon, I appreciate your patience.


Help develop technical and interpersonal skillsPeople have also requested a physical version. On-demand color printing increases costs but if it can be made available, still at an affordable cost, I will and let you know here.

Thanks again for the support and great feedback.

Encourage generalizing specialists


Announcing "Agile Illustrated" Book

Agile Illustrated - Cover small

I am excited to announce a new eBook “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learners Guide to Agility”.

It is a short, graphical overview of agile and agile team leadership published as an Amazon Kindle eBook.

 

Using mind-maps, cartoons, and short summaries it covers the agile manifesto, the declaration of interdependence for agile project management, and each of the 7 Domains and 60 Tasks covered in the PMI-ACP exam.

Gain concensus on acceptance criteria

It is short and light read but a powerful study aid for anyone preparing for the PMI-ACP exam. It also serves as a great executive summary for instilling an agile mindset and teaching the leadership behaviors to serve agile teams. With over 70 illustrations, mind-maps and cartoons it engages spatial and visual memory making the points easier to recall and explain to others.

If you think in pictures and like to see how ideas fit together this will be a valuable resource.

Tailor process to environment

This book is ready now and readers of this blog can get special pre-release pricing of $4.99 for just 1 week (normally 8.99) here. Please let me know what you think of it and create an Amazon review, that really helps promote the eBook within Amazon search results.

Agile Manifesto - Agile Illustrated


PMI Organizational Agility Presentation

PMI Organizational Agility Conference

Please join me on Thursday, September 12th for the PMI Organizational Agility Conference. This free, online event for PMI members awards viewers PDUs. I will be presenting on the topic of becoming a Change Resilient Professional.

 

As rates of change increase, building strategies and skills for adapting to change are becoming more important than ever. We will explore beyond agile models and the power of a “Yes, and…” mindset. I will be profiling the increasing pace of change and what the best organizations are doing to keep up with it, drive it forward, and future proof their employees.

 

There is a great lineup of presentations scheduled for the day. Check out the full program and register here.

OrgAgility19_792x200

 


Innovation: Running Experiments and Learning

Experiment DesignIn my last article on Incubating Innovation, we explored the culture and mindset of accountable experimentation. This article focuses on actionable tools and approaches.

Within agile frameworks, the team retrospective is the primary workshop for planning and evaluating experiments. Yet most team retrospectives I see are broken.

Teams spend too much time recording viewpoints and information—but not enough time reviewing or planning experiments. It is common to see the majority of the time spent gathering what went well, what did not go well, and appreciations. Yet where’s the focus on experiments, the learning process and trials for the next iteration?

To make things worse, some teams do not take the retrospective seriously. Maybe after the potential stress of the sprint review, the largely internal retrospective is a relief. A chance to chill out, maybe share some food, and pat each other on the back. However, innovation and learning take conscious effort, forward planning and accountability.

As I work with organizations, I often sit in on retrospectives. Of all the regular workshops/ceremonies, these sessions are typically the least prepared for and worst executed. I often see lazy retrospectives where a basic lessons-learned format is used, but timings are not managed and the recommendations for the next sprint get skimped as they run out of time.

The pie chart below shows a typical planned allocation of time—and the reality of how time is actually spent:

R1

In these lazy retrospectives, people are slow to start, spend longer on recording what went well than what could be improved, and then try to cram the recommendations for experiments (the most important part) into the last few minutes. As a result, experimentation suffers. Few experiments are scheduled for the next sprint, and those that are run are not evaluated properly.

This is not how agile retrospectives are supposed to operate. An excellent guide to running effective retrospectives is Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen. In it they describe a five-step process:

  1. Set the stage – Help people focus on the task at hand; check that people are ready and willing to contribute. Outline and gain consensus on the process we will use. Techniques we can use include: check-in, working agreements, focus-on/focus-off (see the book for full descriptions of these techniques).
  2. Gather data – Create a shared view of what happened during the sprint/iteration. When completed, we should have a common understanding of the observations and facts. Team activities we can use include: timeline, mad-sad-glad, team radar.
  3. Generate insights – This focuses on understanding the implications of our findings and discussions. We need to see the impacts of the problems we are faced with before trying to solve them. Techniques we can use include: five whys, fishbone analysis, dot voting.
  4. Decide what to do – Now we move from thinking about the iteration that just ended to what we should try next to improve things. We identify the highest-priority action items, create plans for experiments and set measurable goals to achieve the desired results. Techniques we can use include: SMART goals, circle of questions, short subjects.
  5. Close the retrospective – Here we reflect on the retrospective process and express our appreciations. We may summarize what we have decided to keep or change and what we are thankful for. Team-based activities we can use include: plus/delta, return of time invested (ROTI), appreciations.

This is a more useful format. However, despite people having access to good retrospective advice, poor implementations are still common. Teams continue to attend late, start slowly and run out of time or rush the agreement on what experiments to run.

R2

The recurring theme is poor experimentation design and restricted learning. Gunther Verheyen summarized the problem nicely in his recent post entitled “Inspection Without Adaptation Is Pointless.” Gathering data and deciding what to do is pointless if it is not acted upon. We are doing most of the preparation work but not getting any of the benefits.

Experiment Design to the Rescue
Fortunately, there are some good models we can use. We need to manage time and effort more effectively and use retrospectives to plan and evaluate more experiments. We should spend only 50% of the available time on gathering information and the remainder reviewing the results of past experiments, making wins part of our process, designing new experiments and learning from inevitable failures.

We can help the time management problem by assigning work to be done in advance. People should be thinking about issues and potential solutions independently. There are benefits of group discussion and consensus gathering on agreed experiment design, but observation and idea generation is best done individually.

The New Yorker magazine [3] describes numerous studies that show how brainstorming groups think of fewer, lower-quality ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas. There have been numerous reports on the downsides of brainstorming ideas as a group. Groupthink and the halo effect stifle idea generation. So, ask for people to come with ideas, then use the group setting to vet and vote for them.

Visualizing the ideas and experiments is an effective way to bring collective attention to them. Trent Hone and Andrew Jarding developed the “Ideas and Experiments board” pictured below. It shows the progression of ideas through experiments and their success or abandonment:

Experiment Board

Ideas and Experiments Board (Image Credit: Trent Hone and Andrew Jarding, MindSettlers)

As discussed in the last article, by design, 50% of our experiments should fail since we are trying to maximize our learning, not validate things we already know. So I would expect to see an equal number of abandoned experiments as successful ones.

However, this format (or a slightly modified version that represents an experiments Kanban board) is a useful tool to bring the focus for retrospectives to the experiments being run and considered. With some pre-work on idea generation and an increased focus on experiments, we can structure more effective retrospectives.

R3

This retrospective format saves some time by assigning idea generation as pre-work; this also helps avoid the groupthink pitfalls. It furthermore places emphasis on the experiments—the inputs for learning and innovation.

I have experienced pushback from teams about the goal of 50% experiment failure. People understand it optimizes learning—but say it sets people up for too much failure. I understand the sentiment but counter with two perspectives.

First, these are experiments; they should be dispassionate explorations, not evaluations of the people undertaking the work. We need to be professional and try to overcome habits of internalizing results. I know this is easier said than done, so also offer a second reason: We need to kill bad ideas early to save time and money for better ones.

In the article “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures,” Gary Pisano describes how killing bad ideas is critical. He profiles Flagship Pioneering, a Massachusetts-based R&D company. It uses a disciplined exploration approach to run small experiments minimizing expenditure. Instead of running experiments to validate ideas, it designs “killer experiments” to maximize the probability of exposing an idea’s flaws. The goal is to learn what went wrong early and move in a more promising direction.

Other useful ideas from the paper include:

  • Tolerance for failure, but no tolerance for incompetence – Hire the best people you can. Explain the goals clearly and let go of those that do not perform.
  • Psychologically safe, but brutally candid – Encourage frank but respectful two-way dialog. It may feel uncomfortable, but it can prevent issues or concerns from going unreported.
  • Collaboration—but with individual accountability – Encourage discussions, but avoid groupthink and hold people accountable for decisions and outcomes.

These are all great concepts and align with the frustrations I experience when I see teams not taking retrospectives seriously—or following through on conducting experiments. I realized I needed a better model for discussing the problem. Fortunately, I found the field of collaborative problem solving (CPS).

CPS is the study of how we work together in groups to solve new problems, innovate and build products. The innovation process and retrospective workshop fall squarely within its scope. CPS skills are quite separate from individual task-focused skills, meaning people can be great at working individually but poor at working together.

A good introduction to CPS frameworks can be found in the article “Advancing the Science of Collaborative Problem Solving.” One model they feature is the “PISA 2015 Collaborative Problem-Solving Assessment.” Unfortunately, like many academic models, the degree of difficulty goes downward, which may make sense as you read down through more advanced stages. However, I think graphically, so I have redrawn the model to show degrees of completeness and difficulty radiating up and out from a 0,0 origin, as shown below:

PISA 1

Along the X-axis, we see three categories of collaborative problem-solving competencies. These are:

  1. Establishing a shared understanding
  2. Taking action to solve the problem
  3. Establishing and maintaining team organization

Up the Y-axis, we have four categories of problem-solving:

  1. Understanding the problem
  2. Representing the problem
  3. Planning and executing
  4. Monitoring and reflecting

Within the body of the model, each square is labeled with the column number and row letter, and describes the tasks that occur in that space.

The model provides a diagnostic tool for identifying broken and lazy retrospectives. The poor engagement and weak follow-through I see in many Scrum teams is characterized by an incomplete execution of column 1 and only half-completion of columns 2 and 3 (as shown by the red outline below):

PISA 2

Teams are not spending time in “(D1) – Monitor and repairing the shared understanding,” nor are they getting to the “(C2) Enacting plans,” (D2), (D3) and (C3) areas to follow through on plans and hold each other accountable for actions and results.

What we want is a complete execution of all the collaborative problem-solving competencies; only then is the framework complete (along with the feedback mechanisms to keep things in check and moving in the right direction):

PISA 3

Summary
Innovation involves combining the right mindset and philosophy with tools and practical steps to ensure its execution. Motivation and attitude are paramount; people have got to want to do this work, enjoy it and create a pull demand for the tools and process that enable it. Trying to foster innovation with demotivated teams is like trying to push a rope.

When motivated and happy people create a strong pull demand for innovation, we need to be ready with the right tools to support the process and keep the momentum going. This includes designing experiments to maximize learning and killing bad ideas quickly—all while demanding competence, accountability and candor.

It is not easy to master the combination of soft skills and techniques required for successful improvement and innovation. However, organizations that succeed can respond to market changes faster and are poised to exploit new technologies and opportunities. Ideas and inventions are spreading quicker than ever. Learning how to build collaborative, innovative teams has become a critical skill.

References

  1. Book: Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen
  2. Article and video: “Inspection Without Adaptation Is Pointless” by Gunther Verheyen
  3. Article: “Groupthink: the Brainstorming Myth” by Jonah Lehrer
  4. Article: “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures” by Gary Pisano
  5. Article: “Advancing the Science of Collaborative Problem Solving” by Arthur Graesser, et al.

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


Let’s Rewrite the PMBOK

Future PMBOK
Phew, the wait is over! I have been wanting to talk about this for what seems like ages and now the official announcement is out! If you have ever been frustrated by the PMBOK Guide now here’s your chance to fix it.

We are looking for volunteers to write and review the next edition of the PMBOK Guide. However, this will not be just an update, instead a radical departure from all previous editions aligned with PMI’s new digital transformation strategy. That’s all I can explain for now, but more details will be announced when I can say more.

Meanwhile, we would like people with knowledge of the full value delivery spectrum (waterfall, hybrid, agile, lean, etc.) to participate.

The full details of volunteer opportunities and entry requirements can be viewed at the PMI VRMS site Here.

I will be acting as Co-Lead for the initiative, which is like a co-chair role. However, Chair and Co-Chair sounds too hierarchical so we switched to Lead and Co-Lead role to match the new structures we will be embracing.

If we want to change the future of project management I believe the best way to do that is from the inside outwards by doing the work - not from the outside inwards just criticizing. Longtime readers may recall my 2010 post Raise A Little Hell when the PMBOK v5 Update was being commissioned. Since then we developed the PMI-ACP, PMBOK Agile Appendices, and the Agile Practice Guide.

This is going to be different!

Click here to see full volunteer role details.


Incubating Innovation

InnovationIf success goes to those who can innovate the fastest, how do we nurture innovation? The basics are simple to understand—but difficult to implement and stick with in the face of adversity. We need to create an environment that encourages experimentation while also tolerating, investigating and learning from the inevitable failures.

It may sound easy, but executives and shareholders demand results, not “learning opportunities.” We need an approach that fosters experimentation and learning in a defendable way, with a bias for results. To innovate faster than our competitors, we need to maximize our learning potential. This means that by design, 50% of our experiments should fail since we are seeking knowledge expansion, not validation of things we already know. The trick is keeping people engaged and motivated when half of their experiment time is spent failing.

It starts with leadership and cascades down to a shared mindset of team members. Leaders need to be transparent about their own mistakes and learning moments. They need to model the desired behavior, share what they have learned and their new plan of action.

These can be strategic learnings (“Our European market testing has been poor, we are reworking the price options”) or personal (“Feedback on my presentation to investors indicated I was too technical; I need to find simpler ways to describe our technology”). Until team members see transparency in common use, they will be reluctant to practice it themselves for fear of reprisal or criticism.

We Are in the Maze-Solving Business

Maze 1
Developing new products or services is a maze-solving exercise. Nowadays, it is also a race. We need to find a workable solution faster than our competitors. There will be obstacles and dead-ends along the way, and that is okay. We must not let them demoralize us; we just need to learn from them, not repeat them, and keep going.

The process of learning starts with understanding the knowable and then adding to this through experiments and new learnings. So, we start with smart people who understand their industry domain, technology and the business goals. We then need to create an environment with a dual track of product development and experimental learning.

Organizations that run more experiments and iterate faster also learn faster. Scientists studying inheritance use mayflies because they reproduce and provide experimentation results so quickly. The more experiments you can run in a year, the more you can learn.

Our Mazes are Really Big

Maze 2

Developing a new product does not happen overnight. Outside of movies, rarely do lone geniuses develop a marketable product themselves. Instead, it takes teams of subject matter experts months to create proof-of-concepts and multiple iterations of tweaks to complete a viable product. These teams need support and coordination services throughout the process.

Sponsors, executives and shareholders need plans, projections and updates. Product managers, project managers and team leaders all play an important role in keeping the maze-solving teams motivated and moving in the right direction. They also need to keep funding and support going while providing inputs about changing market demands and conditions.

It sounds a difficult balancing act, but approaches such as design thinking, lean startup and agile provide stewardship models for development with inbuilt experimentation, observation and learning. What gets less attention is motivating teams to persevere despite the many failures encountered when experimenting for learning, not just validation.

The “Success Leads to Happiness” Fallacy
Most people start their lives with the mistaken view that success leads to happiness. Our internal dialog creates a series of “if/then” scenarios:

  • IF I pass this exam, THEN I will be happy.”
  • “IF I get this job, THEN I will be happy.”
  • “IF we finish this project on schedule, THEN I will be happy.”

However, the brain has a knack of moving the goalposts. We might be happy briefly, but then we quickly focus on the next exam, an even better job or a more ambitious project.

While it is good to progress in life, we should not connect achieving a goal with achieving happiness. Instead, we need to understand that happiness is only 10% extrinsic (external things that happen to us, like success) and 90% intrinsic (how we think and feel about things).

A Happy Brain is a Productive Brain

Dopamine

Happy workers are more productive and creative than stressed or unhappy workers. In our brains, the chemical dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for sending reward-motivated happiness signals. Put more simply, dopamine is a happiness chemical—it gets released when we are happy. Interestingly, dopamine also switches on more learning circuits in our brains.

Research [1,2,3] shows that happiness improves work performance. Happy people are 31% more productive, happy doctors are 19% more accurate at diagnosing correctly, and happy salespeople are 37% better at sales.

This intuitively makes sense. When we are unhappy or stressed, the brain prioritizes circuits for survival. If you spot a sabre-toothed tiger, it is probably best to focus on escape rather than contemplating the interplay of sunlight and shadows through the leaf canopy. Yet when searching for an innovative solution, we want all these extra brain circuits engaged. This brings us full circle on the “I’ll be happy when I am successful” logic. It turns out, being happy actually activates more of the brain to help us be successful.

Success Fallacy

Nurturing Happy Teams
So, if the smartest workers are happy workers, how do we make them happy? Well, we don’t “make them happy” at all—that would be trying to force it in externally, using weak extrinsic motivators. Instead, we equip them with the tools to help build intrinsic happiness themselves.

This might be sounding more touchy-feely than you are comfortable with. However, hard economics show that happy workers also persevere with problems longer, take less sick days, quit less and sue for wrongful dismissal much less, too…so let’s suspend the cynicism for a moment.

The good news is that with as little as 30 minutes a day, measurable increases in dopamine levels are achieved in three weeks. So, if we can encourage these behaviors and turn them into habits, we get happier, healthier, smarter and more productive workers.

These 30-minute exercises don’t even require expensive equipment or management consultants. They are simple, backed by research and include:

  1. 3 Gratitudes – a daily recording of three new things you are grateful for [4]
  2. Journaling – recording positive experiences from the past 24 hours [5]
  3. Exercise – increases blood flow to the brain and helps eliminate toxins [6]
  4. Meditation – resets multi-tasking fatigue and helps with concentration [7]
  5. Acts of Kindness - helping others and saying “thanks,” which makes us feel better [8]

Organizations spend vast sums of money hiring smart people and providing them with complex tools and training. In comparison, the cost/benefit potential in investing and encouraging team happiness is extremely compelling. As project managers, team leads and executives, we need to be conscious of the behaviors we model, because people are watching us.

If not already doing so, we can use these techniques ourselves to improve our own happiness and productivity—then share and encourage others to make use of them. A great benefit of intrinsic motivators is that they can be applied anywhere. It does not matter if you work in a toxic environment or report to a jerk. There is likely nothing stopping you making sure the first email of the day you send is to thank someone for their help or contribution. Also, no one will know if you make notes about positive experiences.

People with budgets and hiring authority do know that yoga instructors are much cheaper than labor relations consultants and HR lawyers. Longer lunch breaks and fun team activities may require some explanations, but improved problem solving, fewer sick days and better ideas are definitely worth it.

Don’t wait until project completion to celebrate team achievements. That’s too little, too late—and our brains have moved the goalposts to be thinking of the next project. Instead, celebrate the little things that recognize effort, persistence and displaying a good attitude.

Obviously, it is not as simple as “happy people are the perfect innovators.” There are some concerns that people characterized as “happy” might be less likely to spot certain types of risks. Optimism needs to be tempered with realism. However, given the variable success rates of helping people become happier (“leading horses to water,” etc.), there will still be some pessimists; but on the whole, it creates a positive change that is worth the risk.

Summary
Smart companies know the future belongs to the best innovators. Building and maintaining teams of productive innovators requires investment in tools, techniques and people. We need to have the right tools and be using today’s techniques such as the design thinking, lean startup and agile approaches. Then it comes down to our people. An appreciation of what truly makes us happy—and its effects on success—is a great starting point.

Most organizations are not R&D labs, so we need to balance innovation with everyday production and service. The mindset and changes described here may feel uncomfortable (or even unprofessional) at first. However, a quote from Eric Shinseki explains that “If you dislike change, you're going to dislike irrelevance even more.” It reminds us that the business landscape is changing faster than ever—and that we need to change with it to stay valuable.

References

  1. The Happiness Advantage
  2. The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?
  3. Happiness and Productivity
  4. Counting Blessings Versus Burdens
  5. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Words, The Social Effects of Expressive Writing
  6. Behavior Matters
  7. One Second Ahead
  8. Interventions to Boost Happiness and Buttress Resilience

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


Review of Product Development Books

Product Development CycleNow that a software “Done” Milestone is more like a Tombstone

If you work in an industry that has digital products and services then the Product Development trend will impact you. As software becomes more critical to business operations and product offerings we are seeing that software projects do not end.

Many organizations are transitioning to become software focussed organizations that offer specialized services. Amazon is a software company with retail (and cloud) offerings. Banks are increasingly digital companies with financial services. The same with insurance, travel, music and even commercial goods. The cost of developing the software in new vehicles is now greater than the cost of the engine. It has become the single most expensive component, even in internal combustion engine vehicles with no autonomous driving features.

These websites and software services will only be “done” development when the company stops being competitive, offering new services or keeping up with technology evolution. At one time getting to "Done" on your software project was a relief, a goal, a milestone, now it is more of a tombstone. It means the product is no longer competing or actively being maintained as technology continues to evolve.

Switching from projects (that are temporary in nature) to products that are designed to be ongoing sounds easy enough - just keep funding the team, but for many organizations it is not that simple. Also, organizations that embrace the whole digital product view still need help governing the ongoing process.

This is where product development books can help. They describe the factors at play and provide ideas for guidance around planning, funding, staffing and governance. As I was working with clients experiencing the transition from projects to products I was lucky to engage with several authors of product-first, #NoProjects books and chat about the challenge areas and potential solutions.

I have written about #NoProjects a few times before:

 

Then when I recently read a third book about product development shift I thought it could be useful to review some of the books in the market. A neat aspect of these books is that they all present different views on the project to product mind-shift and journey.  

Continuous Digital

 “Continuous Digital: An agile alternative to projects for digital business

Allan Kelly, Software Strategy Ltd.; October 2018

Allan’s book was the first I read about switching to continuous product development. I had been following his blog for a number of years and was familiar with his work. However, it was not until reading the book that I saw his points laid out in order with full explanations.

It is a great read, it makes a compelling argument for why a project view of software projects is a flawed model. I loved the explanation on the diseconomies-of-scale for software and why it is actually cheaper in small batches – unlike physical goods.

It offers the best explanations I have heard into why a continuous delivery of features by a stable team is preferable to using conventional project models. It nicely describes the team aspects of knowledge work and offers some good suggestions around funding and governance models.  

Any change in mindset has to happen internally first before we can help others adopt it. Continuous Digital cemented my own thoughts about why good software projects never end. It explained the “Why?” questions at the heart of any shift in thinking and behavior. In the same way, we have to understand the agile mindset before generating any kind of commitment towards it. This book helps set the mindset and Why of #NoProjects so we can start our journey.

 

Noprojects book#noprojects: A Culture of Continuous Value

Evan Leybourn, Shane Hastie, lulu.com; July 2018

I read an early draft of Evan and Shane’s #noprojects about 6 months after I started reading Allan Kelly’s LeanPub drafts of Continuous Digital. While Kelly’s Continuous Digital and his spin-off book Project Myopia focus on explaining the Why with some How topics, #noprojects has more of a team focussed view.

It talks about the history of software development. It explains how we came to run software development with project structures and the inherent issues that came with them. It then outlines the case for continuous development with all the arguments for retaining knowledge, reducing handoff and dependences, etc.

I think it is a great follow-on from Continuous Digital. Obviously, it is designed to be a stand-alone text but, for me, Kelly explains the Why of product development better. Then #noprojects fills in some additional background information and focusses more on the team level implementation. It might just be because I read Kelly’s book first but if you are looking to convince others in your organization about the need for transitioning to product development it is the go-to source. Reading both will provide a great foundation to understand and transition from projects to products.

 

Project to ProductProject to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework

Mik Kersten,  IT Revolution Press; November 2018

I first came across Mik’s work via a podcast he did with Shane Hastie. In the podcast, Mik explained that technologies often follow 50-year cycles and then transform through a tipping point into the next evolution in the way of working.

Organizations that try to continue operating with the old model flounder and fail. Moreover, it is now about 50 years since NATO held the first conference on software engineering and the age of software began. Mik explained he believes we are at that tipping point and transitioning to product delivery will be part of the differentiator for the next wave of successful organizations.

I have an interest in technology evolution stories and learning how ideas spread and then transform our lives. So, the 50-year cycle piqued my interest and I ordered the book. The book delivers and not only does it explain the tipping point we are living through right now, but it gives the best explanation of the digital revolution and need for digital transformation I have read to date. Kudos to Mik. If you want to explain why a digital transformation is necessary, and the implications of ignoring it, Project to Product is a brilliant source.

After this great introduction, the remainder of the book explains the Flow Framework Mik helped develop and promotes through his company Tasktop Technologies. The Flow Framework provides metrics and tools for tracking and managing product development. This is useful because while the project management world has a wealth of information about tracking and managing projects, organizations that switch to product management often experience a void or competing recommendations.

The Flow Framework is useful for explaining what we should pay most attention to tracking. Namely features, defects, risks and debts. It recommends a business outcome set of measures that include: value, cost, quality and happiness. The framework employs a lean inspired set of metrics that include flow velocity, flow efficiency, flow time, and flow load.

It is in the rebranding of tradition lean metrics that I struggle to recommend the book wholeheartedly. By prefixing the normal throughput based lean metrics with the word “Flow” Mik is able to define  specific versions of the terms that are often implemented slightly differently from organization to organization. I can see the advantage of that, but it seems an unnecessary name-grab or overloading of lean terms to create trademark-able terms.

That’s a minor quibble though and what Flow Framework does provide is a good mental model for organizing, executing and tracking your product development process. It nicely extends the pattern of books started with Continuous Digital that explains Why product development. Then #noprojects that provides some team-based and stewardship elements. Finally, Project to Product provides solid How To ideas for ongoing governance and improvement.

 

Summary

These three books form a useful progression for anyone wanting to learn about the product development trend. They each provide valuable ideas to help with understanding, practicing and then managing successful product delivery.

Product Development Books Progression

The books allow readers to understand and internalize the need for a product development mindset. Then how to practice on a small scale before encouraging others to try and providing ways to measure and manage it.

Obviously, you do not need to read all three of them, or in this sequence. Any one of them is a good read and source for practical ideas. However, I found that they build nicely upon each other and thought people would be interested to consider them as complementary.


Agile 2019 Presentations

DC ConferenceI learned this week that two of my presentation submissions for the Agile 2019 conference in Washington D.C. August 6-10 have been accepted. I was very lucky to get two accepted as they received nearly 2,000 submissions for around 250 slots. It should be fun and I am really looking forward to it.

My talks will be on moving beyond agile approaches and case studies in transitioning from projects to products.  Here are the outlines:

 

The Future Looks Awesome, and Moving Beyond Agile - The Future of Agile Software Development (IEEE Software) track. The Future is Awesome

“Agile approaches succeeded and changed the way we work. They brought the philosophy and tools previously used by only the high performing teams to the majority of organizations. Now it is time to move beyond them and embrace a new wave of emerging ideas and approaches.

It is short-sighted and self-absorbed to imagine agile approaches represent the best way to execute all work types. As new technology, products, and services emerge, we need new ways to deliver them. Likewise, as organizational structures evolve to use this technology and integrate the aspirations of next-generation workers - who grew up in a digital world, our approaches much evolve again.

Fortunately, patterns are emerging from new organizational structures and the lessons from failed agile transformations. Agile’s “Family” mindset of empowerment and values-driven culture is being overtaken by “Organism” and “Community” mindset organizations embracing Holacracy and Teal Organization ideas. People are also realizing not everyone wants to adopt an agile mindset and we need better ways of integrating with more traditional models that remain that way for their own advantages. The future involves further expansion and integration, not more fervent conceptual conversion.

Come and examine the future beyond agile and hybrid agile. Explore the trends in corporate structures, career aspirations, engagement models, and the technology that is making it all possible. The future is exciting, dynamic, and decidedly less agile – but in a good way.”

It will be a fast-moving presentation recapping the rise, role, and results of agile approaches before moving onto emerging trends. Through case studies of successful organizations, we will explore new patterns in work, the worker, and the workplace.

Agile approaches play an integral role and will continue to in the future. However, they are already being augmented and extended by additional models and techniques. Using a “Yes, and…” mindset of combining approaches we examine emerging trends and what they may mean for the future of collaborative work.

 

PotholeSpeed-bumps and Potholes on the Road from Projects to Products - Experience Reports track.

“Transitioning from projects to products made perfect sense for my client. Much of the business was digital and their websites / online-services would not be “completing” or going away soon. Development was deliberately continuous, and executives embraced this as both inevitable and desirable. However, just because it was the logical thing to do, it did not mean it was easy.

Maybe if we did not have over 100 inflight projects executing simultaneously, we could have picked an easier starting time? Maybe if there were not so many dependencies between teams, work would have been easier to untangle? Maybe if they were not in the midst of transitioning to microservices and new hosting technology, the technology challenges would have been easier to resolve?

Most organizations considering the transition from projects to products have similar challenges. By definition, “transitioning” means doing things mid-process; otherwise, it would be “starting fresh with product development” – and where’s the fun in that?

This experience report recounts the story and transformation from slick PowerPoint slides to people problems and development difficulties. We did survive the journey and arrived in the land of continuous digital delivery, but we took some detours and lost some paint along the way. If you are considering the switch from projects to product development, maybe we can help you avoid some potholes and speedbumps along the road. Being forewarned is to be forearmed, but each journey is different, and as they say, your mileage will vary.”

It recounts my experience as a consultant working with the leadership team and development teams. There was general agreement that a shift to organizing around products made sense, but disagreement on the best way to get there. Rather than a big-bang changeover, we adopted a ripple-out, incremental approach. This allowed us to review and monitor for issues before spreading approaches to more teams. Naturally, the executives wanted everything done at once and the teams wanted to be left alone until after the next release.

Not being able to please everyone, we developed a workable plan and rolled out the changes to teams, technology, and supporting groups. We experienced many obstacles such as having to rewrite vendor contracts, get exceptions from accounting for budget processes and from HR for reporting changes.

More details about the Agile 2019 conference in Washington D.C. can be found on the official website.


New PM - The What?, Why?, and How? of Project Charters

Project CharterCreating a great project charter is an art and a science. Anyone new to the profession of project management needs to learn how to create a project charter. It is not only an important early project deliverable, but it also sets the tone and lays out the foundation for the rest of the project.

While we can spend our careers improving our ability to craft effective project charters, we can get to a 70% good-enough state by addressing some basic topics. This article explains those basics.

Context is Crucial
First, it is critical to understand that context matters. The definition of what makes an acceptable—or great—project charter will vary from organization to organization. It will also be driven by factors such as project size, criticality, type, approach, etc.

The project charter for kicking off a safety-critical public works project will be very different than a charter for a small internal project to, say, build a tool to recover disk space used by duplicate files.

Large, critical projects will require large comprehensive charters. These can take teams of experts weeks or months to create. Small projects will likely have their three- to eight-page charter written in a day or two by the project manager. When creating (or reviewing) project charters, we need to understand this context. Ask, what is appropriate? What level of rigor and detail does this effort require and deserve?

To start the chartering process, we first need to understand a few things about the project goals and our internal processes.

  • For the project, we need to understand the business case and an outline of the desired scope.
  • For our organization, we must understand any strategic plans we need to align with, our standards and processes, contracts to use, and any relevant external factors like market conditions and industry standards.

Once we know these things, we can start writing our charter.

Make it Clear
I am a simple person and like simple ideas and definitions. I probably miss subtle nuances but have learned that most people appreciate simple, clear documents. The style points we lose for a lack of sophistication are made up for by improved comprehension and clarity. So, my definition of a project charter is a document that authorizes the project and explains the what, why, where, when, who and how aspects of the project.

We can call the whatwhywherewhenwho questions W5 and add a “+” for the final how question. Provided the project charter answers the W5+ questions and provides approval to start the project—all at the appropriate level of rigor—it’s a winner. So, let’s get started by reviewing each question…

What?
In your project charter, you will not call the section “What?” It will likely be called “Scope” or something similar. The “W5+” idea is just a tool to make sure we address the important sections. So, in the scope section, we would describe or list the major deliverables or high-level functionality the project should deliver. People need to understand what we are talking about before they can appreciate further details such as schedule and approach.

When defining what the project will deliver, it is also useful to state what it will not deliver. So, a list of “out of scope” items is also valuable. It is better to have sponsors or user representatives complain now rather than halfway through the project (or worse, at completion when there is nothing we can do about it) that their anticipated element will not be delivered.

Why?
The why of a project is described in a “Problem Statement” or “Business Need” section. Some people put this section before the what. That is fine; follow your organization’s standard, or the preferred sequence of who approves project charters (or failing those, your own preference). Just make sure the what and the why are addressed early on.

People need to understand why this project is important. What new revenue will it bring? What problem or legal requirement does it serve? What new opportunities, new products or new customers do we hope it will attract? Projects are expensive and risky endeavors, so we better have a good reason to undertake one. The business case or problem statement is where we describe it.

It needs to be clear and compelling. It may reference a separate business case or return on investment analysis. If these components are necessary and not in separate documents, include a summary in the charter body and put the details in an appendix. We don’t want people to stop reading our project charter because they came across pages of calculations.

Where?
“Where?” can seem a strange question, maybe inserted just to get the “W” count up to five. However, think broader. Which markets, products, and departments are we impacting? Where is the project going to touch our organization, customer base, and market segment?

Remember: The project charter normally provides approval for a project to start. We need to provide the relevant context so people are thinking appropriately before they approve, reject or request changes be made.

This information may be contained in a section called “Organizational Impact” or form a sub-section of the scope section. It also explains how the project is aligned with the organization’s strategic plan.

When?
This is where we describe the “Project schedule”—not only when we plan to start and (hopefully) complete the project, but also major steps along the way.

Being a project manager writing a charter, it’s easy to get caught up in the apparent importance of your project. You might assume that once approved, the organization will rush full-steam ahead into kickoff and execution. We need to inject some caution and realism. What seems important and obvious to us is often low priority for the sponsors or those already over capacity in executing existing projects and operations. Things might take a while to get going.

So, do not build a schedule based on starting work immediately after approval. That just sets everyone up for failure. The most common source of late project completions is not poor estimating or a lack of risk management, it is late starts. Every late project I have reviewed had a late start. They may also have been terrible at estimating and blind to common threats, but late starts are very common. We need to explain that real end dates are driven by real start dates.

Projects get delayed for a host of common reasons. We were delayed in getting our team, we were delayed in finding a space, we were delayed in accessing funds. So, do yourself (and everybody else) a favor and explain that the project will likely take three weeks, months or years from having the requisite start conditions.

We also need to be realistic about uncertainty. The uncertainty associated with our estimates needs to be reflected (to some degree) in our schedule. It is probably not acceptable to say, “We have no clue when we will be done.” But do not commit to completing within a certain timeframe unless you have a realistic and robust plan for achieving that.

Robust means including contingency to address uncertainty. Be open about it, such as, “We included a 15% buffer for unanticipated work.” You might get asked to remove it and “work smarter” or “find a way, damn it!” and that is fine. You reflected the uncertainty inherent with the work. Depending how supportive the sponsors are, we could consider explaining that removing contingency is accepting the risk of an overrun due to learning in the future things that we do not know today.

Plans and estimates created at the beginning of the project are, by definition, the least reliable because that is when we know the least about the project. It is only when we begin to execute that we learn about its true complexity and the actual abilities of the team, vendors and supporting groups. Sponsors usually don’t want to hear this kind of smartass insolence from the project managers. PMs are hired to deliver projects, not tell them how to set stretch goals or run a business.

There are other ways to shorten a schedule. We can cut the scope of what is delivered. This could allow us to hit a deadline and maybe have a follow-on release for lower-priority work. It is not ideal and is really wriggling out of the defined scope. However, for software products, where must-have and nice-to-have features are more fluid, it could be a viable option.

We can also add more people to the project. This works great if you are undertaking simple work like digging ditches or building pyramids. For anything more complex that involves problem-solving, idea sharing and collaboration, books like The Mythical Man-Month explain that adding people to a project that is late will make it later (while spending more, too).

For these reasons (and others learned the hard way), make sure schedules clearly contain contingency to reflect uncertainties. Also, ensure that schedules work from a project start date that is contingent upon having prerequisite project conditions in place. Yes, they might both get ignored, but it is the responsible thing to do—and you can bring them up at steering committee meetings when asked why the project is behind.

Who?
The who question represents the “Team” and “Stakeholder” sections of a project charter. It is normal to show org charts of core project roles and list known team members and open positions. RACI charts can be used to list who is responsible, accountable, consulted and informed (RACI) for work and deliverables.

We should understand that the term stakeholder encompasses not only the people working on the project and sponsoring it, but also everyone it will impact. This extended family of project influencers include suppliers, customers, and even the general public if the project is likely to draw public opinion. Obviously, we do not list these broader communities by name, but we should identify them and assign a contact within the project for managing that group.

The PMI definition of a stakeholder includes not only those impacted by the project, but even those who perceive they may be impacted by the project. This is important—the scope of people who may influence development is wide. It is better to have a plan for engaging or at least monitoring these groups (be them environmental, minority or special interest) before they can blindside the project. Inventing a fire-response plan is always easier to do before you also have a fire on your hands.

How?
The how question reminds us to explain the “Project Approach.” We should describe how the project will be executed. Will we be following the standard corporate project lifecycle? Are we trying a new approach? Are we outsourcing portions?

People need to understand how the project will be executed before agreeing to fund it or participate in it. If they think the project has merit but we are suggesting to go about it all wrong, they will want the ability to influence the approach used.

When we are following a standard approach, it is sufficient to just name it. When we are proposing something different, we need to describe it in more detail. This could be a reference to another document or pointer to an appendix in our project charter.

Approval
The charter describes the project from a holistic perspective by addressing the W5+ questions; it also provides the approval/authorization to start work. In most organizations, approval of the charter triggers a request for funds or authorization for expenditure (AFE). For this reason, we need some formality around the approval and sign-off of the charter. It is normal to have a signature section for sponsor, division leads and other steering committee members.

The approval circumstances are rarely as simple as either approved or not approved. It is usual to have definitions of the various options that the steering committee may use. Common status options include:

Approve – Looks good, let’s get started
Approve with modifications – Will be okay if you make these changes (provide some space in the signature area to hand-write requested changes and then get signatures)
Request changes – Major changes are required and a new charter will need to be submitted
Defer – Not at this time, keep on hold
Reject – No, do not proceed

What about agile projects that do not have charters?
Today’s agile projects produce fewer documents. However, since charters often authorize work to start and trigger the release of funds, we still sometimes see them used in hybrid traditional/agile environments. If project charters are not used in name, typically a lighter-weight deliverable with a different name is used.

We might see an Agile CharterProject Skinny or Product Canvas. The purpose is similar—describe the endeavor and get agreement to start. When working with agile approaches, we can still use the W5+ idea to make sure we address the common viewpoints. The coverage in each section will likely be brief, but is still helpful.

Summary
Consider the context you are working in. Organizational standards and project characteristics such as size, cost, and impact of failure will dictate the level of detail and rigor that will be necessary. Then keep the sections simple and clear. Use appendices or references to external documents if sections become too long. We want people to be able to read the core body of our charter through in one sitting and then make a decision to approve it.

Make sure the sections address the W5+ views of the project one topic at a time. For instance, do not mix schedule with business justification; keep them separate. Do not paint yourself into a corner by committing to unrealistic delivery dates or optimistic costs. Present what you believe is realistic and let the steering committee assume the risks of reduction (if possible).

Recommending a template is problematic since organizational needs vary, but common sections for a small- to medium-sized project might contain:

  • Introduction – Explain the purpose of the charter
  • Problem Statement – Outline the what
  • Scope Outline – More detail on what would be delivered
  • Definition of Success – Define what “done” would look like
  • Risk Summary – Review the high-level threats and opportunities identified
  • Constraints and Assumptions – Outline the accepted operating parameters used
  • Business Case – Explain why the organization should do this
  • Schedule – Explain when the project will be completed
  • Deliverables Schedule – Outline when the key deliverables will be completed
  • Budget – Explain how much this is likely to cost
  • Team Structure – Outline who will be working on the project     
  • Organizational Structure – Explain who will be responsible for oversight and direction
  • Project Approach – Explain how the project will be run
  • Steering Committee Decision – Record the approval (or otherwise) of the charter
  • Appendices
    1. Project Background – Supporting material about why this is a good thing to do
    2. Deliverables List – A list of what should be delivered and what Done looks like for each
    3. Deliverables Schedule – A schedule for the deliverables’ leave some wiggle room
    4. Risk Assessment Detail – Details of the threats and opportunities analyzed to date
    5. Communication Plan – Details of how people will be kept informed about progress and issues

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


New PM, New Choices

Choices(Over at ProjectManagement.com January’s theme was “New PMs”. I wrote this article about the choices of approach we have and ways for new PMs to navigate them.)

These days, new project managers are exposed to conflicting guidance. On the one hand, there is a plethora of traditional “Plan the work, work the plan” literature. On the other, media is full of light-touch, self-organizing team advice. These sets of recommendations often appear to be at odds, so what is the new PM to do? Consultants will say, “Oh, it depends…” and start a lengthy (aka expensive) conversation. I say let’s examine the basics so we can make an informed decision ourselves.

The goals of planning, scheduling, and tracking are universal. We need to understand what work needs to be completed, determine a good way to do it, then make sure it happens while making adjustments as new information emerges. However, in the last 30 years, we have started tackling more projects with higher degrees of uncertainty and change. These characteristics help us determine if we should use traditional, predictive approaches or rely more on newer, adaptive techniques.

When our projects undertake defined, repeatable work using technologies and approaches our organizations have experience in, then uncertainty and change rates are typically low and manageable. Here, traditional project management approaches work great. It is safe and effective to use Gantt charts, detailed work breakdown structures (WBS), network diagrams and earned value analysis.

Yet when projects use new (to us) technology and tackle problems our organizations have not solved before, then risk, uncertainty, and rates of change will be high. Traditional approaches have plenty of tools for handling risks, uncertainty, and change; but modern, adaptive approaches were purpose-built for these types of projects and have proven to be effective in these circumstances.

Work Characteristics, Not Industries
It is important that we examine work characteristics, not just the industry domain we are operating in. It would be easy (and wrong) to classify all construction projects as candidates for traditional approaches, and all IT projects as needing an agile approach. Instead, there are plenty of experimental construction projects using new designs, materials and assembly approaches. Likewise, there are defined, repeatable IT projects that can (and have been) successfully managed using meticulous planning, detailed estimation, and formal change control procedures.

So we need to dig deeper and see if we are dealing with low-variability tasks or more consensus gathering and problem-solving. These work types often change depending on which phase of a project we are working on. Designing something is typically a consensus-gathering and problem-solving exercise. Here, formal planning and estimation are difficult because we don’t know what we will encounter.

Consider the process of designing a new car or home. We have a combination of creative goals (produce something new and appealing) and engineering goals (meet specifications, constraints). The process is likely to be iterative and adaptive. We are looking to build consensus between stakeholders, who include sponsors (concerned with value, schedule, quality), designers (aesthetics, features) and engineers (performance, practicality).

This design phase requires collaboration between subject matter experts and probably iteration on prototypes to confirm understanding and validate ideas. Approaches like lean, kanban and agile work well in these uncertain, high-change environments. Their tools for experimentation, rapid feedback, reprioritization, and improvement help generate consensus on designs and drive uncertainty out of models.

Then, once the design is agreed upon, the process of production is typically more defined and repeatable. Unless our car or home is using new technology, materials or assembly techniques, the process of actually turning designs into completed examples should be less uncertain and iterative so more predictive approaches to work management can be used.

Physical projects—which manipulate tangible materials like concrete, steel, and plastic—have significant production phases where predictive approaches can be employed effectively. Digital projects—which manipulate intangible data and algorithms—have no production phase since the process of turning code into executable software (the process of compiling code) is automated.

Physical Project Characteristics

So, software projects remain in the design phase—that early, upfront, uncertain period where subject matter experts are collaborating to create something that has likely not been done before.

Digital Project Characteristics
There will be many trade-offs between design goals and implementation practicality to be made. All the divergent stakeholders will have divergent goals. The sponsors want fast, cheap and high quality; the users want their work simplified and streamlined so they can focus on their goal. The development team wants interesting work using new technology and skills to further their craft.

Once we understand what work types suit predictive and adaptive approaches, we can make better sense of our projects. Having said software development is design phase focused, it’s important to understand most IT projects do more than just software development. Tasks like ordering equipment, installing hardware and training users can all benefit from predictive planning and management techniques.

A Case Study
A couple of years ago, I worked on a project to develop and install routing software for truck drivers. This combined custom software development, integration with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software, and hardware installation that required wiring into the truck’s engine management system and installing GPS transmitters, tablets, etc.

The custom software development was easy to plan (but not easy to do). It was new, uncertain and benefitted from an agile approach. Integrating with the COTS software was a hybrid process. We worked with the vendor to iteratively tackle the highest risk and highest business value portions first. However, being just one customer of many, the vendor did not have the availability to serve our needs as quickly as we would have liked.

We worked on a monthly delivery cadence maintaining a backlog of issues and features to tackle next. Due to previous disputes about charges, the working relationship with the vendor was quite adversarial—so detailed statements of work and a formal change control process was followed. This consumed quite a bit of time for both parties, time that could have been focussed on feature development—but that reflects the reality of many commercial projects. We have to make the best use of what we have, given the current circumstances.

Installing the equipment in the trucks demanded precision timing, OCD levels of planning and copious communications. Semi-trucks cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and are carefully scheduled to make the most of their time. Bringing them in from a wide distribution area and having them out of commission while installs are performed (and drivers trained) is an expensive exercise.

When there are several hundred trucks spread across the United States and Canada, scheduling install teams and trucks to come to install/training centers becomes a variation on the traveling salesman math problem. Minimizing the total cost of lost trucking time, travel costs and staff time is a classic traditional planning problem.

In summary, like most real-world projects, the environment was complex and required using a variety of approaches. The custom software development was in-house and under our control. We used an agile approach with team-led sprints, demos, retrospectives, adaptation etc. The integration with the third-party package software was more of a hybrid approach. There were monthly deliveries based on a backlog we prioritized, but also statements of work and formal change requests.

Finally, the hardware installs and driver training was handled in a traditional, predictive way. Schedules for installs, equipment, and labor were planned and communicated well in advance. We did adjust these plans based on findings from early installs, but traditional, waterfall-style plans have always been amenable to minor adjustments. Software updates were delivered to the trucks over-the-wire as the trucks communicated back to base, so the agile teams could get new versions distributed once the equipment was installed.  

Making Informed Choices
Assessing uncertainty and consensus-gathering needs are important factors in determining the most appropriate approach to use. Thinking first about uncertainty, well-understood, often repeated work (such as building a new Costco store) represents much less uncertainty than rare endeavors such as building an underwater hotel:

Project Uncertainty

If we add to this uncertainty view the dimension of approach focus, we arrive at a framework for assessing project approaches (shown below):

Approach Focus

The “Approach Focus” Y-axis describes if techniques (approaches) are technical, such as creating a work breakdown structure (WBS); or people-focused tasks, such as team decision making or conflict resolution.

Using this framework of project uncertainty and approach focus, we can see that traditional, predictive approaches cover the bottom left quadrant of the graph well. They are great for work we are able to define and provide good process guidance:

Traditional Approach

Agile approaches tackle the problem space from the opposite corner. They are best suited for projects with high degrees of uncertainty and offer good people-based guidance:

Agile Approach

There is a large overlap, too; it represents areas where we could use a traditional approach or an agile approach. Usually, it is recommended to use the approach the stakeholders will be most familiar with. So, if we are running with an agile team, a risk-adjusted backlog and risk burndown chart will likely be an easier sell than traditional risk management approaches. Likewise, if we are in a traditional, formal contracting environment, then statements of work and bills of materials will be accepted more readily than agile alternatives.

Summary
We can use the project environment to help determine which execution approach to use. Obviously, there will be organizational standards and guidelines to be aware of, too. However, even within traditional or agile guidelines, we can tailor our approaches based on uncertainty and task focus.

New project managers should understand that traditional project management has a wealth of process-oriented guidance for well-defined tasks. Likewise, agile offers much for uncertain, high-risk work that focuses on collaboration and people-based tasks.

We should also be aware that real projects are messy, complicated affairs. We often use a combination of approaches at macro and micro levels to try and be successful. It sounds complicated, but it forms the mastery of being a great project manager and is a journey worth pursuing.

[Note: I first wrote and published this article on ProjectManagement.com here]

 


Volunteering: Giving Back That Feels Like Taking

Volunteer 2Volunteering with PMI has many benefits. Not only does it feel good to be giving back to the profession that supports us, but whenever I do it, I learn something new and build useful connections with fellow project practitioners. Add to this the fact you also earn PDUs makes the whole process a win, win, win.

Project management can feel a solitary activity sometimes. Even if you work with large teams and in organizations with many project managers, the unique nature of projects means PMs often have less in common with their peers than other roles.

In a work setting, not all PMs are willing to share their best approaches or secret sauce. Perhaps they feel competition as if their jobs could be replaced if they openly shared what worked for them. There is no such nonsense when interacting with other volunteers. You are automatically in a self-selecting group who have put a higher cause ahead of their sense of self-worth or importance.

I have come to discover that people who seem guarded with advice typically have little to protect, while those who are generous with their experience know the most and prosper more as they educate others. Knowledge and experience are not finite resources to be hoarded; instead, they become more valuable as you share them.

Over the years of volunteering with PMI, I have met many great industry leaders like “Risk Doctor” David Hillson and PMO guru Jack Duggal. They have been generous mentors, and I often learn more in a 10-minute coffee break than days of training or reading. Generally, the quality of people you meet when volunteering is exceptionally high, because they are doing it for intrinsic reasons, not for pay or recognition. It’s the perfect environment or qualifier to find generous, knowledgeable people to network with. By definition of them being there, they are willing and happy to help others.

I have been in the industry long enough now to have people ask me how I got started. I have been asked how I became involved in agile approaches, or a SeminarsWorld instructor, or worked on PMI standards. The answer to each and every one is that I volunteered for something. That led to me meeting some people and then volunteering on something else. Every industry achievement I have I can trace directly to volunteer activities and volunteer contacts.

I half considered keeping this career secret to myself—the fact that the best method for professional development is free and available to everyone. Yet, that would be so anti-volunteerism that I could not.  The fact is, of course, that only people truly in love with project management want to volunteer long term.

Let’s be clear: It is not all rainbows and unicorns. There may be lots of stacking chairs, waiting around and unproductive administrivia—it is not always about discussing the “next big thing.” Also, the payoffs are random in frequency and nature. The odds of meeting your next hiring manager on a conference call or in-person meeting are very slim. Yet, like many things, there is power in showing up—and luck only favors participants.

The good news is that effort and goodwill seem cumulative; who knows when and where something useful will show up. In the meantime, you are doing something useful and even getting PDUs for your time.

There are many ways to volunteer. I used to help at local dinner meetings, but after moving far out of town I find virtual and full-day events easier to participate in. Your local chapter and the PMI.org website have many volunteer opportunities.

One thing I wish I had realized earlier is that you do not have to be an expert—or even experienced on a topic—to take part or be valued. Unlike a work setting (where you are payed a salary and so expected to largely know what to do), volunteering is great for the inexperienced. People are just glad you are there; and in fact, you get most out of working in new areas since most topics come with a free education and you have a bunch of generous individuals around to explain things.

For years, PMI have used the slogan “Good things happen when you get involved”—and it is so true. If you are looking for professional development opportunities for 2019, I strongly suggest you consider volunteering. I acknowledge the gushy nature of this write-up might suggest some insider prompting from PMI to drum up more volunteers; however, this is personal and heartfelt.

As I reflect on 2018, looking at what went well and what not so well, I see an undeniable correlation. This year, like the last 10, my most rewarding work and business connections came out of volunteering. Heck…maybe I am just terrible at capitalizing on regular work (I do have a history of buying high and selling low at most things), but the things that go well seem volunteer related. Confirmation bias? Maybe. But if you have not volunteered before, give it a try…it’s free, and did I mention you get PDUs?

I don’t think this is just me. If anyone else has experienced similar serendipitous benefits from volunteering (at PMI or anywhere else), please share in the comments below.

[This post first appeared on ProjectManagement.com here]

 


Focusing on Results, Not Agile Approaches

Focus on Business Value


Quarter Century

25 Years Agile2019 marks the 25 year anniversary of Scrum and DSDM. I was involved in the creation of DSDM in 1994 and was an early adopter of Scrum and FDD shortly afterward. Now, having been at this for a quarter of a century I am reflecting on where my journey has taken me compared to others.

I am agnostic about agile. I value the mindset and goals more than approaches that preach a single path. This has had mixed blessings for me. I remain agnostic and impartial, but I have not jumped on any of the approach bandwagons.

I received more training in Scrum by Ken Schwaber in 2002 and offered a training role (before they were called CSTs)  but I have never offered Certified Scrum Master training. I would feel wrong evangelizing the singular view of Scrum as the way, or role of the Scrum Master to spread Scrum. That feels too religious to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Scrum is an OK starting place, but I would not recommend only using a Scrum approach - since approaches like Lean, Kanban and FDD have great things to contribute too. Some Scrum practitioners correctly explain that Scrum does not say you cannot add other approaches. In fact, it can be viewed as a deliberately incomplete framework, so organizations have to add their own process to make it successful. Yet this message is undersold as I visit organization after organization that only use Scrum practices with maybe some XP engineering practices. They are missing out on so much more and struggling because of it.

The Scrum community often has a myopic focus blaming implementation struggles on a failure to understand or apply Scrum properly - when maybe something outside of Scrum would better suit the situation.

Likewise, I think SAFe does a great job of packaging and presenting some good ideas for organizations to consider - but its adoption draws too much effort away from developing valuable product. By all means, raid SAFe for valuable content and ideas, but create your own approach with the bare minimum of process. Then continue to ditch that process as soon as it is no longer worth the effort.

 

Take Off

Agile TakeoffIn the 25 years I have been using agile approaches, I have seen companies like LeadingAgile and LitheSpeed form, grow and prosper. They offer Scrum and SAFe training even though they are also agnostic and understand the benefits of various approaches.

I have thought about just sucking it up, drinking the cool aid and offering these courses. I could also explain there is nothing to stop us blending other approaches too. However, then its not really Scrum or SAFe, or whatever I am peddling so it is not a genuine message, which is important for me.

I offer my own training courses in agnostic agile, focussing on the philosophy and tools available for a variety of circumstances. However, like trying to market a healthy, balanced diet, I am first to acknowledge the message lacks the clarity, simplicity or sex-appeal of a single, silver-bullet solution.

People want a “Paleo”, or “South Beach”, or “Atkins”, “Mediterranean”, “Keto”, “Raw”, or “<Whatever>” solution to follow. I can yell, “Stop being lazy sheep and think for yourself”, but the majority of people want recipes and ready-meals, not to learn nutrition and cooking skills.

 

 

Benefits, not Popular Fads / Staying On Track

Staying On TrackThat is OK, I would rather be genuine than popular. I truly believe we are most successful when agnostically taking the most suitable approaches for our circumstances. Then, ruthlessly reviewing, morphing and pruning these approaches as our teams evolve.

We need to focus on the output, the business value, not the process. If wearing purple hats produced better results than agile then I would be all for purple hats and ditching agile. This is one reason I named my company as LeadingAnswers and not a name with the word “Agile” in it. I am focussed on solutions and outcomes, not a single approach. I still believe Agile is our best starting point, but I am always hopeful we will create something better.

As 2019 starts, I am doubling down on my “Yes, and…” commitment. I realize the message lacks the clarity of a single, sexy, (sub-optimal) solution and so it will never be widely adopted. However, my last 25 years has taught me that there are enough people who see the benefit of a balanced, evolving approach.

So, I hope you stick with me as I explore being successful by focussing on delivering business value regardless of approach. I think there is merit in traditional processes in the right circumstances. There are also many underemployed benefits from leadership, emotional intelligence, and industry specific practices that get used in pockets that we could all learn from.

Here’s to another 25 years of delivering the most business value we can through situationally specific approaches.


DIPMF 2018

Dubai SkylineI have just returned from the 2018 Dubai International Project Management Forum (DIPMF). It was my second year presenting there and this year I hosted a session called “Agile: Not New, but Now Necessary”. It traced several techniques back through history and explained how lean, agile, and design thinking approaches share common guidance for building high performing teams.

During the conference, I mainly attended the agile and artificial intelligence (AI) sessions. Having written about AI augmented project management previously I was interested to learn more about Microsoft’s PMOtto assistant that uses Azure Machine Learning Studio. PMOtto has a chat-bot interface that uses their LUIS (Language Understanding) machine learning based natural language system to understand questions. It integrates with Office 365 tools, a cognitive services model for learning about projects, and business intelligence tools for analysis. Like having a project assistant who is always getting smarter, PMOtto will track, trend, and answer questions for project managers and PMOs.

TED speaker and child prodigy Tanmay Bakshi gave an inspiring keynote on AI. His main theme was it is more like Augmented Intelligence rather than true Artificial Intelligence. He profiled some of his work including helping those with Rett Syndrome "speak" through the detection and interpretation of EEG signals analyzed by cognitive systems.

PMI’s Murat Bicak, senior VP strategy, also gave an interesting talk on AI as Augmented Intelligence. He profiled some AI generated artwork that used machine learning to identify pleasing images. Interestingly, when control groups were asked to try and identify images as either human generated or computer generated, people rated the computer-generated images as human 75% of the time compared to human-generated art only 48% of the time.

There were also great keynotes by Yancey Strickler, co-founder of Kickstarter on building socially responsible companies and Lisa Bodell, founder of Futurethink on why simplicity wins.

The whole event was really well hosted and it was great to see a massive display wall featuring a Project Management History Timeline. It showed PM developments and local Dubai mega-projects since 1917 from the Gantt chart all the way up to the present. The early years showed the creation of the Critical Path Method, the building of the Dubai airport, formation of the PMI, and creation of the PMP certification.

Timeline 00

The middle years celebrate events like building of the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, and breaking ground on the world’s largest solar energy facility. The chart seemingly culminates in the grand finale, the Agile Practice Guide. Having worked on the guide with many other people, it was great to see it profiled. It was a fantastic conference and I hope to be invited again next year.

Timeline 2


What’s in your backlog?

Let’s explore what you do and do not put in a backlog. How do these sound?

  • Features and non-functional requirements – Absolutely
  • Bug fixes and change requests – Yes, probably
  • Risk avoidance and risk reduction activities – Sure, maybe
  • Opportunity exploitation activities and marketing ideas – Now you’re just getting weird!
  • Team building and social events – Erm, no!

Yet, if it’s all just stuff for the team to do, then why not put it in the backlog? Maybe because the customer has not asked for it and the product owner has to own and order it, but let’s look further.

If we used a backlog metaphor for prioritizing backlog work items. It may look like this.

Backlog of Backlog Items

I am not suggesting these are the correct elements for including in a backlog, I am just showing the common ones. However, I am probably getting too abstract too quickly. Let’s start at the beginning.

A Backlog Primer

For agile teams, backlogs represent their To-Do list of work. All the things they need to complete before the product or project is done. Now, there may be interim releases. In fact, there should be interim releases delivering valuable functionality as soon as possible. However, there typically remains a list of remaining work. For long-lived products this list may never be emptied by the team, instead it is refreshed and reordered based on the latest priorities.

While the team works from the backlog, it is typically prioritized by a product owner / business representative / ambassador user that sequences the work. This product owner manages the backlog, keeping things up to date with the latest product decisions. They also flesh-out items prior to work starting on them. Product Owners also answers questions about the work from the team, etc.

Here’s a typical backlog showing a combination of features, change requests, bug fixes and a couple of risk reduction activities.

Backlog example

Types not Granularity

This post discusses the types of things in a backlog, not the names we give different levels of granularity. Big chunks of work might be grouped into releases and then divided into themes, or features, epics, user stories and tasks as they get smaller and smaller. There is not an agreed to hierarchy at the large end of the spectrum, often teams miss out one or two of the theme / feature / epic options. However, most teams use the user stories and tasks as work gets smaller.

Nevertheless, this post is about types of work, regardless of their size or what we call them.

Scrum Product Backlogs and Sprint Backlogs

Your view of a backlog may be different from mine. Most people I meet these days were introduced to backlogs through Scrum.

The Scrum Guide describes the product backlog as an ordered list of everything that is known to be needed in the product. It is also the single source of requirements for any changes to be made to the product. The guide goes on to describe the sprint backlog as the set of product backlog items selected for the sprint, plus a plan for delivering the product Increment and realizing the sprint goal.

My backlog history goes like this…

“It’s All Just Work We Have to Do”

I was first exposed to backlogs of work in the early 1990s. Working as a developer at Data Sciences Ltd in the UK I wrote a program to manage our work tasks on a government project. My project manager saw it one day and two interesting things happened.

  1. He did not chastise me for working on a side project of developing a visual work tracker rather than working on the client project.
  2. He asked why it did not contain all our bug fixes and change requests? I did not have a good answer, other than those are different buckets of work we should track separately. He dismissed this explanation and told me to add a flag if I wanted to track work types separately, and said “It’s all just work we have to do” and walked off, but his insight stuck with me. The class of work is secondary – all this stuff needs to get done.

My visual work tracker was quite limited and I abandoned it. The database connection from Easel (a language better suited to building graphical UIs for mainframe systems) did not support concurrent users well. Yet, a couple of years later when we started creating DSDM I knew the backlog was “Just work we have to do”. The backlog is the input-hopper for team work. The product owner is the input-hopper custodian, often subject matter expert, and settler of priority and compromise disputes / negotiations.

 

Risks in the Backlog

I have been keen on proactively addressing risks for many years. Just as features deliver value, risks in the form of threats to the project cost money and cause delays - if they occur. As such, these threats are potentials for anti-value. Like bank deposits and bank-fees, the act of adding value and avoiding losses go hand-in-hand to maximize value.

In the late 1990s I used RUP with some clients and was impressed by the Elaboration phase’s goal of tackling risks early in the project lifecycle. I corresponded with Philippe Kruchten, co-author of RUP, about how to illustrate the good work done on risk reduction during Elaboration that often did not have a lot to demo or show for it. I ended up creating Risk Burn Down graphs for my projects. I wrote about these ideas when I started blogging in 2006 as Risk Profile Graphs. By this time I’d been using them for 4-5 years and knew they were well received by sponsors and executives.

Later in 2006, I wrote about risk adjusted backlogs and Agile Risk Management explaining how to insert risk avoidance and risk reduction activities in the backlog. In 2012 I presented some Collaborative Games for Risk Management at the Agile 2012 Conference and PMI Global Conference. 

When members of the project management community read these posts and papers they correctly criticized my ignorance around proper risk management terminology. Risks, of course, can be positive (opportunities) or negative (threats). I was only talking about negative, potentially harmful risks (threats) when I talked about inserting risks based activities in the backlog. A real risk-adjusted backlog has both threat avoidance and reduction steps, as well as opportunity exploitation and opportunity enhancement actions.

This is how we got to risk avoidance and opportunity exploitation activities in the backlog.  One aims to avoid costs, the other aims to generate new value. Risk management techniques like Expected Monetary Value converts probabilistic events into financial values. For instance, if we have a 50% risk of incurring a $400,000 loss then this event’s expected monetary value is 50% x $400,000 = $200,000.

Likewise, we can assess opportunities too. If the average profit for new customers is $20,000 per annum, then we can determine if inviting qualified applicants on a factory tour with product demos and giveaways that costs us $500 per head is worth it at a 5% conversion rate. Here $20,000 x 0.05 = $1,000, so yes, it appears worth offering factory tours and giveaways for qualified leads.

Multiplying guessed benefits or losses by guessed probabilities is an inexact science. However, it is one that the insurance industry has spent centuries trying to master. So they err in their favor and often price based on what the market will bear. Yet it happens throughout all forms of business and is the basis for taking an economic view of production that underpins all the return on investment and prioritization schemes such as Weighted Shortest Job First. We are constantly looking to maximize value.

So, if a team building lunch is important for boosting performance or reducing the likelihood of conflict and delay, why not put it in the backlog? If it would be helpful for someone to walk the VP of sales through the latest product demo, put it in the backlog.

The Product Owner remains the custodian of the backlog, but with some discussions around threats and opportunities, they often see the advantages of adding these other work types to the backlog. Taking an economic view of work allows us to decide “Where is the next best dollar spent’. That may well be on Feature X or a site visit to help build relationships and increase motivation.