Project Management

Choice is Good: Isn't Having Choices More Complex?

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Choice is Good: Isn't Having Choices More Complex?

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Morning coffee

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Quick answer:

On the surface yes, but in practice no.

Detailed answer:

Here are some observations that I suggest you consider:

1. Choices exist, like it or not. In about 99.9% of situations, there are multiple ways to do things.  Consider ways that you can go about making coffee. You could add instant coffee crystals to hot water, you could percolate your coffee, you could do a pour over using a mug filter, you could use a french press, you could use a Keurig machine, or many other options.  But I bet that you have one or two ways of making coffee in your household at most, likely to keep things simple. Fair enough. Now step back and observe how you've gotten to this point.  At some point in the past you narrowed down the myriad of choices to the one(s) that work well for you given your situation.  Perhaps you simply do what you were taught by your parents, perhaps a friend introduced you to a new technique which you then experimented with and eventually adopted, or perhaps you investigated your options and choose what made the most sense to you.  My point is that options always exist, whether you're aware of them or not, and that in some manner you will make the best choice that you can.

2. Disciplined Agile (DA) makes the choices explicit. This can be confusing at first, particularly if you still believe in the idea of best practices that describe the one "right way" to perform an activity.  But the "right way" depends on your situation.  Once again, consider making coffee.  Some people will tell you the best way is to use an expensive espresso machine that are used in cafes. Although I've had baristas make me incredible coffees with such machines it's not the best way for me because I don't have that level of skill (right now, maybe one day though).  But I can make a pretty mean coffee with a French press, so that's my preferred approach.  But the fact is that most days I use a simple one-cup coffee machine because that's easier.  Different situations motivate me to follow different strategies, but I can only choose the current "right way" if I know what options I have available to me and the skills and tools to adopt those strategies. Because I find myself in different situations, some mornings I have a lot of time so a French press strategy is viable, some mornings the power is out so I have to use a percolator pot on my gas range, sometimes I use my one-cup machine, and maybe one day I'll learn to use the fancy machine that we have sitting in the closet right now.  My point is that one approach isn't going to fit all situations, that to be effective you're going to want to choose the most appropriate strategy for your current context.  Concepts such as the goal diagram below, which captures many of the planning options available to you, can be daunting at first.  We get that.  But as I said earlier, these options exist whether you like it or not, and if something straightforward such as making a cup of coffee requires you to make choices then certainly you will also need to choose wisely in your work setting.

Figure 1. The Plan the Release process goal.

Plan the Release process goal

3. DA suggests potential starting points to potentially simplify your decision process.  When you're new to making coffee, you don't want to be presented with twenty different options to do so.  Instead you want to be shown one way of making coffee, likely a simple one at first that reflects your current level of skill. You need a starting point from which to get going.  So we do that in DA.  As you can see in Figure 1, some of the options are highlighted.  That's an indication that those techniques are a good starting point for any team that is reasonably small and in a reasonably straightforward situation.  These highlighted choices are based on what we've seen agile project teams do in practice over the years, once they've struggled through making a method like Scrum actually work for them. By starting with the highlighted options, rather than going through the harder work of figuring things out on their own, teams starting with DA are much further ahead of the game because DA covers the full range of challenges faced by agile teams.  In my experience is a much simpler approach.  But of course, if your team isn't in a relatively straightforward situation then you'll need to apply the tool kit to choose your own way of working (WoW).

4. Choosing a fit-for-purpose approach is simpler. I fully understand why people like defined frameworks - when you're new to something, such as learning how to work in a more agile manner, it's comforting to be told what to do.  But what if the framework, or the highlighted strategies I described above, really isn't that good a fit for you?  What if someone else in your organization decides to inflict their "best practices" on your team, such as your finance department insisting that you provide a detailed up-front estimate before they'll fund your project, which really doesn't mess well with an agile WoW? When you adopt a WoW, or have one forced on you, that isn't appropriate for your situation that's a lot of unnecessary work and frustration that you just don't need.  It might be a simple decision for you to make, but it's not a simple way for you to execute. 

5. What works today might not work tomorrow. Even when a framework is a good fit, or the highlighted DA options are, your situation will eventually change and there will no longer be a good fit.  For example, I currently have room on my kitchen counter for a coffee maker.  But what if we buy a new kitchen gadget that requires counter space, which we don't have any to spare. The coffee machine might need to go, which means I need to resort to my French press (granted, not such a hardship) or instant coffee (that's not going to happen).  Changes in my context require changes to my morning coffee process.  Similarly, your agile teams were forced to change their WoW in early 2020 when COVID-19 forced people to work from home.  Many teams had to scramble to figure things out, DA teams could look over the options for coordinating between locations called out by the coordinate activities process goal.

6. You can do this, it really isn't that hard.  It clearly takes a bit more skill and knowledge to choose your own way of working (WoW) compared with just following a defined framework. Luckily, you can easily gain these skills by earning PMI's Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM) and Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master (DASSM) certifications. After a bit of learning you can easily apply these skills to improve your WoW for many years to come.  You've got this.   



Posted on: October 23, 2020 10:58 AM | Permalink

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