Project Management

Are You Working on Your Problems?

From the Manifesting Business Agility Blog
This blog concerns itself with organizations moving to business agility—the quick realization of value predictably and sustainably, and with high quality. It includes all aspects of this—from the business stakeholders through ops and support. Topics will be far-reaching but will mostly discuss FLEX, Flow, Lean-Thinking, Lean-Management, Theory of Constraints, Systems Thinking, Test-First and Agile.

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There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all. Peter Drucker

For every complex human problemthere is a solution that is neat, simple and wrong. H. L. Mencken

If the brakes of your car were jammed on, you wouldn't try to improve your car's performance by getting a bigger engine. The same should be true for any improvement initiative - look for the real problem and solve that. Not overcome a side effect of the problem.

Unfortunately, with the rise of Agile, we are tending to do just that - solving team problems when our real root cause is elsewhere. While it is true that teams are not working effectively in most large organizations, the main cause of this may not lie with the teams.

Consider these questions to identify the source of your problems:

  • is there was a clear vision for the company and everyone could see why what they were doing contributed to it?
  • is the work being given to the teams formulated in small batches of work that can be built and value realized for or is what is given to the teams larger than necessary (epics) or inappropriate for the job (e.g., MVPs for established products)?
  • is much of the work being worked on not as important as some of the work waiting to be worked on?
  • Do executives interrupt the teams without considering the costs of the interruptions?
  • Are there mostly stable teams working together on one project at a time?
  • Do you have people working on multiple projects when their skills don't truly require that?
  • Are your teams working on too many items?
  • Do product managers and owners talk to the teams prior to the teams starting work so that the teams understand what is needed (i.e., test-first or verification is being used)?
  • Product managers and owners are readily available to the teams 
  • Are people rewarded on the basis of how they contributed to the whole?
  • Is management is focused on improving the environments within which teams worked?
  • Is there was an appreciation by management and executives of code quality and architecture?

Now, consider how much improvement would be made at the team level if you improved how you worked on these. My guess is quite a lot.  Now consider how much fixing the teams without fixing these first will have on these items?

This illustrates a factor for simplicity that actions upstream in a value stream have a direct effect on whatever is further down in the value stream. But that actions downstream have only an influencing effect on actions upstream. 



Posted on: December 07, 2019 08:50 AM | Permalink

Comments (7)

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Dear al
Interesting your reflection
Thanks for sharing

From highlighting questions to identifying the source of problems

Thanks for giving us this approach

Very interesting topic Al, thank you for sharing.

This reminds me of the "Streetlight Effect" metaphor, here it is:

A police officer sees a drunken man intently searching the ground near a lamppost and asks him the goal of his quest. The inebriate replies that he is looking for his car keys, and the officer helps for a few minutes without success then he asks whether the man is certain that he dropped the keys near the lamppost.

“No,” is the reply, “I lost the keys somewhere across the street.” “Why look here?” asks the surprised and irritated officer. “The light is much better here,” the intoxicated man responds with aplomb.


I am sure fixing "real" problems is the way to go!

Agree the problem may not lie with the team per se, but the culture, in that, the team feels constrained by the perceived restrictions or sense of safety, empowerment, autonomy to be innovative and creative.

Sreepathi - thanks for posting this story. i have told this many times.
one other reason I like taking a holistic view.

Andrew - totally agree. I suggest working on those things requires looking outside the team and at the team's needs.

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