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Caution: Agile Surface May be Hot

Organizational Change Management: The Most Critical Requirement of All!

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Caution: Agile Surface May be Hot

Most people are familiar with the Agile Manifesto and its Principles developed in 2001 by seventeen people engaged in the IT (software) industry. Requirements take the form of a Vision Statement, Epics, Features and User Stories. Agile is much loved by those who like simplicity (does that include you?), high user involvement, high visibility of work to be done and work in progress, continuous team collaboration, self-managed teams, minimal documentation, face to face communication and very fast turnaround of deliverables in pre-planned, fixed iterations, creating a project cadence that raises expectations for frequent showcasing of completed work.

You may concur that sixteen years is a very long time in the software industry. I suspect Agile approaches are already baked into many methods. There has been talk and action for a few years now to make Agile scalable to deal with large projects, and hybrid methodologies have appeared that take advantage of the best of Agile and the best of traditional and iterative approaches. I believe there is wisdom in this thinking - something about not throwing out the baby with the bath water.

But Agile was clearly meant for software projects. Can it be used in non-IT projects?

A recent rather unscientific poll I added here seems to prove that one of the Agile frameworks, Scrum, is sufficiently pliable that it can be used outside the software industry. About 1/3 of the respondents (OK - only 21 responded, but you can change that), said they had used it on non-IT projects already and another third said they were planning to do so.  And there are plenty of industry posts about this. One of which I am particularly fond is by InfoQ, where they highlight some of the challenges with using Scrum on non-IT projects and provide some clues about how to convert from technical software terms to business terms.

I believe any project can benefit from Scrum methods. Who would not want to reap the benefits of high visibility of work to be done, progress being made, frequent communication, an engaged team and client, and work being presented in weeks instead of months or years? Wouldn't everyone want work to be broken down into chewable chunks when it is possible to do so? Remember what our friend Albert said: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Maybe it is time to create an Agile Manifesto for non-IT business projects. What might it look like? I'll go out on a limb here to take a stab at it:

  • Individuals and interactions over complicated methods and software tools
  • Completed deliverables over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Okay - so what changed? Not a lot, really. I changed "processes" to "complicated methods" and "tools" to "software tools" in the first line; "software" to "deliverables" in the second line; and I didn't change the last two at all.

I chose the word deliverables since it is generic and could represent a process, a document, a change in the thinking of a group of people, a new product line - you get it - a business-focused item.

So we might think much of the change would be in the Agile Principles. As they say, the devil is in the detail, which is what the principles start to address. Let's take a shot at modifying those to be more business-focused and less software-focused:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of usable deliverables.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in deliverable development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
  • Produce deliverables frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people, subject matter experts and deliverable-producers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals.  Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a project team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Credible and usable deliverables are the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote a sustainable pace. The business people and the team should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to excellence and good deliverable design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.
  • The best work emerges from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Once again, not a lot has changed. Software becomes deliverables and some of the more technical terms are converted to more business-friendly terms.

Have you used Scrum on non-IT projects? How did it work for you? Did your business users embrace it? Was the high visibility too much for them? Did the team manage themselves? How was the business user interaction? And perhaps most importantly, were business requirements satisfied?

Weigh in with your thoughts!

Posted on: May 25, 2017 10:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Everything is a Project, and Every Project Has Requirements

Did you ever have trouble meeting a goal or deadline, or manage to get something done on time, but it was, well… shall we say less than desirable quality? Ask yourself - did you know what you had to produce every step of the way to be successful? Did you know what success should look like? Maybe it was as simple as doing some maintenance around your house, or planning your family vacation. Or maybe it was something as complex as implementing new processes to meet strategic goals at your company.

When you boil it all down to the essentials, anything that you want to do that is not an ongoing operation, anything that has a defined start and end and a desired result, is a project, or can at least be treated as one. Can you relate it to a goal? Can you describe what needs to be produced each step of the way? Have you identified which person or other resource (like a shovel or a drill, or some materials) will be needed for each one? If you've been nodding your head up and down while reading this paragraph and it's not a result of falling asleep, chances are pretty good you are dealing with a project.

So what isn't a project? Officially, anything that is an ongoing operation is not. But, what if you bound an ongoing operation with start and end dates that reflect the fiscal year, or the calendar month and list the what is required to be delivered in that timeframe? Is it then a project? There is a body of thought that would say yes, and that in fact an operation could perhaps be managed more effectively if those involved in it had clearer deliverables, activities and timelines to follow.

If you do want to treat something as a project, what is a simple way to go about it? Try following the steps below.

Charter the project - Define the reason you are doing this in the first place – the “business” reason, or the personal reason, the main objectives and generally who will need to be involved. Make sure everyone understands this and is willing to do what needs to be done and define what the end game looks like – what will be in place to gain agreement that the project is finished?

Make the plan - Define the requirements and what needs to be produced (the “deliverables”) as well as the activities required to produce each item. Consider the sequence of deliverables, what needs to be produced when, and for each deliverable, the sequence of the activities required to produce it. Consider who will decide whether a quality deliverable has been produced. Define who will execute each activity and make sure you have the required resources for each one (people, equipment, materials, and so on). Consider the cost of people and materials to create an expected cost, or project budget.

Start the project and work to the plan. Periodically take time to consider how you are doing according to plan and adjust it if necessary. Engage those who will decide whether a quality product has been produced. Let everyone on the project and other stakeholders know how things are going, including changes to the plan caused by changing requirements. Will you do more, or maybe even less? Has the timeline and budget been adjusted appropriately to account for this?

Finish the project. Go back full circle. Did you accomplish what you set out to accomplish? Have you reached the goals and does everyone agree the project has delivered on the requirements you collected from the project's stakeholders? Did you learn anything that will help you perform better next time? Did you record it? Did you deliver everything on time, within budget and, more to the point, did it or does it deliver the expected value?

It doesn't matter what you are doing, if you follow simple steps like these to give some forethought up front, plan the work based on solid requirements, then work the plan, you stand a much greater chance of being successful.

Would you agree?

Posted on: October 02, 2014 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

WBS - breaking down tasks? Or breaking down deliverables?

There appears to be a bit of split in the use of terminology in defining the scope of a project through the creation of the Work Breakdown Structure.  Some seem to take an activities-based view, as evidenced by the template on this site called Project Work Breakdown Structure Guidelines, while others seem to take a deliverables-based approach, as found in PMI's Guidleine to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, which says that creating a WBS is the process of  "... subdividing project deliverables and project work into smaller, more manageable components".  Still others take a hap-hazard approach - don't worry - we won't talk about that here. 

I have long held that a deliverables-based approach to project planning, executing and, most importantly, progress tracking and reporting is key to creating a mindset on a project that focuses not on what you have done (the "activity"), but on what you have produced (the "deliverable").  Have you seen status reports that focus on activities done last period, and activities planned for next period?  Are they effective?  How about status reports that delve into what was produced last period and what is planned to be produced next period?  See the difference?  One pulls you down into the whirlpool of things people did, often with no relation to why they did these things and what they hoped to accomplish. The other is much more concrete - what you produced in relation to the project WBS.  You can even get very black and white about these things using the done/not done approach - a given deliverable is done, or it is not done - 0% Complete or 100% Complete.  Of course, this doesn't work very well with ill-formed project schedules where a  deliverable can consume many months or even years of effort.  But if deliverables are concise, well defined and restricted to maximum effort levels, it works very well.  Or you can consider breaking large deliverables into work products, the "done/not done" of which determine an overall %Complete, and track your deliverables that way.

If you consider a deliverable to be the output of an activity, why not flip it around and relegate activities to those things you must do to produce a deliverable?  You can structure your project schedule around deliverables, and you can measure your progress based on the deliverables you have produced, or the portion of a deliverable you have produced.  This ties in very nicely to Earned Value Management, but that is another topic.

How do you define the scope of your project?  Are you an Activities-based or a Deliverables-based thinker?  Do you measure progress based on what your team did for a period of time?  Or on what they produced?

Posted on: September 17, 2014 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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