Project Management

How Agile Are Your Phaser Crews?

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What’s Really Being Communicated?

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One of the reasons I prefer episodes of Star Trek (the original series, or TOS) over Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) has to do with the writing of the former. The original series was far more likely to use traditional plot structure, typically including:

  • Introduction to a major and (at least one) minor problem,
  • Rising action,
  • Climactic scene(s) where the major and minor plots are resolved, usually through some sort of conflict, that the protagonists must reach deep into their talents to attain,
  • And a denouement, where we get a sense of what can be expected to happen to the protagonists going forward.

ST:TNG, by contrast, often employed an infuriating plot device which was essentially a derivative of the often (and appropriately)- derided technique of deus ex machina. Deus ex machina is an ancient trope, and gets its name from Greek plays where some “god” would be literally craned onto the stage at the climax, and use their super powers to set everything right. In futuristic iterations these derivative plots depended on the intercession of the goddess “communications,” and were structured so:

  • Introduction to a major and (at least one) minor problem,
  • Rising action,
  • Climactic scene(s) where the major and minor plots are resolved, not through conflict or the protagonists needing to reach deep into their talents, but via the sudden realization that a breakdown in communications had occurred, the antagonists are really good guys, and we just all had a massive misunderstanding.
  • The denouement, where the characters feel really good about themselves for “finding” a resolution to their problems that didn’t involve conflict.

Antiphanes was one of the earliest critics of this plot device, showing that even in 340 BCE the idea was already considered vacuous.

Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…

I’m not sure anyone else has noticed, but one of the central tenets of Agile/Scrum PM directly challenges one of the central tenets of Communications Management, that of whether or not it’s a good idea to engage all stakeholders when discussing project particulars. According to Paradigma, at the daily scrum meeting, the Product Owner, Scrum Master, or “any Stakeholder” may attend, but only as listeners.[i] I had previously criticized the “engage all stakeholders” idea as a poor tactic on the grounds that it’s always at least somewhat likely that, among the set of “stakeholders,” can be expected to be people who are neutral with respect to your project’s success, or even hostile to it. The Agile/Scrum world appears to be resistant to the same tactic, but for different reasons.

Recall that Agile/Scrum came into existence due to the fact that software development projects tend to be so dynamic that the more traditional PM methods for changing the project’s baselines (scope, cost, schedule) would be too slow to adequately respond to the newly-discovered (or realized) elements of the project that would have to be addressed in the short-term. Since scope creep is easily as lethal to Information Technology projects as any other, some form of change control had to be retained, just one that didn’t involve Baseline Change Control Boards meeting once per month, and only then passing, failing, or passing-with-conditions the proposed changes. The novel (and, apparently, successful) approach involved severely restricting specific types of communications, based on the roles of the people making up the stakeholder set.  Indeed, one of the particular reasons that certain members of the stakeholder set are not allowed to speak at the daily scrum meetings is to prevent the Product Owner from controlling the Development Team[ii]. The way I see it, the employment of specific rules regarding who may or may not communicate during daily scrum meetings is a tacit acknowledgement that many (if not most) of the technical difficulties encountered in IT projects have nothing to do with a lack of communication; rather, they represent genuine problems which must be overcome by the Project Team reaching deep into their talents, and overcoming them.

The stage, therefore, is set for GTIM Nation to reach into their accumulated talent and experience base, and overcome the central problem of so-called communications experts having their inane ideas infiltrate the codex of PM techniques and strategies, at least where Agile/Scrum is concerned. Rather than wait for one such expert to explain to me how I am a participant (or even “stakeholder” – get it?) in some massive misunderstanding, I think I’ll just set phasers to “stunningly insightful,” and lock them on target.


[i] Retrieved from on September 14, 2020, at 14:31 MDT.

[ii] Ibid.

Posted on: September 15, 2020 12:09 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Thanks for sharing this Sir,
What a write up with an insightful critic on Communication and Stakeholder management in the light of agile structure

Now, Michael, lest I remind you that these hypengyophobic experts deserve “reasonable accommodation” under GTIM guidelines. So, although stunning them is shockingly desirable, I believe a more compassionate approach to their rehabilitation is to beam them to Antarctica, where they can undergo “exposure therapy,” which will allow them to work virtually in an accommodating environment while receiving treatment – food for thought.

Very interesting, thanks for sharing

Good afternoon, George.
Your profound and insightful comment, while well-taken, does raise a question: what did those penguins ever do to you?

I’m trying to get those penguins to correspond with you, so you can scratch Antarctica off your list as the only continent which hasn’t responded to your writings. I’ll keep working on it, but as you know, they are an obstinate bunch.

Seriously though, I appreciate your humor and just throwing some back at you. I use humor in my writings as well, but your Blog is the only place I feel comfortable “tossing humor back in response to humor.” Also hoping it will make others more comfortable to interact past the platitudinal noise that we all get.

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