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:
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:
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!
You have all heard disaster stories of computer systems going into production that are over budget, over time, and deliver less than the expected scope. And we have all heard of the new mantra: Business Value/Benefits, Benefits Management, Benefits Realization. This is all good and a step in the right direction to carry us forward from the days of the Iron Triangle of Time, Scope and Cost that some of us may feel is like the fabled albatross hanging round our necks.
BUT - what about new systems, whether those are automated or manual, that when implemented actually damage the business? You can probably think of some and if you do, please comment. This is a situation where something is implemented and everything goes to that hot place in a hand basket, costing sometimes more than the original system cost to repair.
Let's consider the recent implementation of a payroll system in a large organization in a somewhat cold country - the warming of which should not be from the heat generated by systems crashing and burning. The system went in, and it didn't even cover the core functionality of the packaged solution. What was that core functionality? Well, to grossly trivialize it, the system was meant to pay people. What does that mean? In most situations there are categories of people you pay, for example employees (Gross Pay - multiple, sometimes complex deduction = Net Pay) and contractors (Hours claimed X hourly rate from timesheets or invoices = Gross Pay - Deductions = Net Pay). As I said, this is a gross simplification, but I often find this approach serves to raise the real issues to the surface.
What I am really trying to say here is that the technical part of this implementation was, if not a piece of cake, at least very understandable and relatively easy to implement. I mean, really, have we ever paid people before? Have there been payroll and benefits systems flogged by vendors for more than a few weeks? Well, of course! When were computers invented? And before computers, haven't we been paying employees for hundreds of years? This is not rocket science or virgin territory. It takes me back to when managed the implementation of upgrades to the MSA Payroll system at Nova Corporation in Calgary decades ago. I think we can all agree that the technical solution is quite simple.
So what caused all the issues? Aside from the obvious questions we won't get into (but someone should) like "Was there a parallel run?" and "Was there a backout plan in case it didn't work?", one has to delve deeper into the underlying issues.
First of all, how was the contracting managed for this job? Was it competitive such that the job went to the lowest bidder? To that I say "You get what you pay for". Was there an algorithm for selection that put the important things at a higher priority over price, such as "Turn Key solution.", "Includes comprehensive training.", "Guarantees the system will not be implemented until it is proven to work across the organization both technically and organizationally."? These sorts of questions seem to be common sense, yet we all know the rarity of that type of sense, despite its description.
And what type of contract was it? Fixed Price? If so, was everything known at the time of the bid so that vendors can make a reasonable financial proposal? Or did they have to load their proposal down with change order ready assumptions because they didn't know enough to provide a fixed price bid?
Or was the procurement based upon the reputation of the vendor with some sort of executive order to hand them the work based on how they had performed in the past, and based perhaps on possibly unfounded assertions that it had to be done this way to avoid a lengthy procurement cycle in a "burning platform" situation?
And where did responsibility lie for successful implementation?
Now we get to the crux of the matter. IT vendors are usually very good at the technical solutions, but not so good at the human side of things - organization and process, fear of job loss, future expectation for advancement and so on. Often this is shuffled off to the client. Ever hear of the "Train the trainer" solution? You see it in so many proposals, once might say it has become a standard approach.
So far we have talked about the ease of implementing a technical solution and the methods used by large organizations to choose vendors. Now let's talk about the real subject of this article - Organizational Change Management (OCM).
There are many models for change expressed by organizations like ACMP, PMI and Prosci, and from authors like John Kotter and Jeffrey Hiatt. And these are all excellent approaches to OCM, but I have to ask: Are IT companies reading them? Are they putting deliverables and activities into their proposals to account for the steps required to manage change? Or are they weaseling out of it and transferring the responsibility to budget strapped naive clients? And are clients reading these well-founded missives of change management? If so, are they making them an integral part of a bid request? More to the point, are they willing to pay for it?
Change has to come in a package. First we start with the reason for the change strategically. Why are we making the change? What is the change exactly? Who will support the change at various levels (including the top) in the organization? Who be involved in making the change? Who will be impacted by the change? Who will see change on the receiving end? Who will be "right sized" out of a job as a result? Who will be given completely new activities to do in their job and what level of expertise will be required? How will they gain that expertise? How will you know if they have actually gained it? How will the change be woven into the fabric of the organization so that it becomes an integral part of it? How will organization structures be altered as a result of this change? Will there be support for the organizational change? Is a distributed function being centralized? Will there be resistance? How will compliance be achieved? Where will the change be implemented? How will it be implemented? Why? Who? Where? Why? What? How? Kipling and his serving men come to mind.
If you ask questions like these, you will be led down the road of good Organizational Change Management, and you will take into account all of the human factors involved in such a change. Choose the right projects, consider how you will enlighten the organization about what is coming, how you will persuade all levels of the organization to take part, how you will instruct them in the change and confirm that there was a positive effect, how you will weave it into the organization so it becomes an expected part of organizational life. And above all, how you will ensure the benefits you so diligently defined when you started all this have been or will be realized.
So, if you think of your next big contract going a vendor to make a substantial change within your organization, what forces do you have to muster? Organizational support from the top, filtering down through all parts of the organization that are impacted. Clear definition of business benefits. How communication will take place throughout the organization. How quality of the result will be ensured. How the PEOPLE in your organization will want to take part in the change to help you succeed.
Think of your next big change as a package. Strategic planning resulting in the right change being implemented. Selecting vendors who know about the technical machinations required to make your vision a reality, but are also keenly aware of the people side of things and will be there to help you through it if they are not going to do it for you. If your vendor shies away from discussions of communication, awareness, training, checking and operational institutionalization.... run in the opposite direction!
Make sure that the entire picture has been painted before you try to make your vision, your change, a successful reality.
Mike Frenette, PMP, I.S.P., CMC, SMC is a very experienced project manager who likes to post on controversial topics. For his paid job, he teaches Agile and PMP certification courses through his company, CorvoProjectManagement.com.
It might seem a little odd to write a blog item about a webinar on this same web site, but I thought those who don't know about it might gain by watching it. Besides, I'm proud that a colleague, Jordan Kyriakidis, from my home town, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and his firm, QRA Corp, have been so innovative in coming up with such a fascinating automated method of assessing requirements.
That it is being used in the aerospace industry is just "icing on the cake"!
According to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession, “When projects do not meet their original goals and project objectives, inaccurate business analysis/requirements management is cited as the primary cause 47% of the time.” And the increasing scale and complexity of projects is making it extremely difficult to assess and verify the project requirements. As a result - many critical errors in project and systems development arise in the initial concept & design stages.
The webinar focuses on how harnessing automated computational tools utilizing Natural Language Processing can help project managers ensure their requirements are consistently clear to ensure poorly written requirements do not infiltrate later project stages. Why not reduce stress and increase the probability of project success?
Take and hour or so to listen to Jordan Kyriakidis (and me to some extent). Judging by all the positive comments already recorded there, you'll be glad you did!
Here's a link to the webinar:
Ever been on a project where your client has already chosen a package solution? How many times has it been based on a solid set of business requirements, complete with all those great models you can read about in PMI’s Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide?
In my experience, and I won’t mention any names or locations to protect the innocent and avoid shining a light on the guilty, business requirements for packages can be very sketchy, often based on a document listing many unsorted and uncategorized sentences meant to represent requirements. In the worst cases business requirements can even be overlooked entirely.
Why do you suppose people feel that because it is a package, it will have all the necessary functionality for a business, and that if it does not, the business can adapt? Or that the package can be modified to meet requirements at little cost?
Familiar with the famous term “fit gap”? This is where requirements, however they are documented, are compared to package functionality, and the package with the highest score wins. Sadly, such analysis is often performed at far too high a level. And worse still, the number of requirements that cannot be met are often presented as the inverse of “percent fit”.
Sadly, the cost of changing a packaged solution to meet the 10% of requirements it doesn’t meet can often be greater than the cost of developing something to meet all requirements from scratch. Or, the 10% some other package didn’t meet could possibly be met at a much lower cost, or even eliminated altogether if they were a low priority.
It’s a bit of a conundrum, isn’t it? Do you spend time and money defining your business requirements in advance of making a build or buy decision when you know quite well that you are going buy a package regardless of what requirements are discovered? Are you just going through the motions? Or maybe you think your organization can adapt to the business model upon which a package was built, thinking that the package represents best practices in the associated business.
I believe no matter the route you are choosing, eliciting business requirements from the beginning and defining and managing the detailed requirements will bode well for any organization so that they can measure the success of whatever decision they make to achieve their business goals. After all, if you don’t ask the questions, you will never know the answers!
What has been your experience with the installation of packages that have been installed to satisfy specific needs? What about ERPs? Have your clients/users been satisfied with the result? Were requirements sufficiently defined prior to package purchase and installation so that a baseline comparison could even be done?
Meetings, bloody meetings! We all remember the video John Cleese created many years back (well, some of us do, anyway), and the recent video "“Conference Call in Real Life” that is great for some big yuks. But how do you run effective virtual meetings?
I felt prompted to write this article when I saw the many comments after a colleague posted a link to the “Conference Call in Real Life”. I thought this demonstrated that there may be a need to provide a few guidelines on how to conduct virtual meetings effectively. Professional behavior in virtual (and, of course, in-person) meetings is the key to success.
Collecting requirements virtually is becoming more and more common as organizations try to keep costs low. So it is more important than ever to use virtual meeting tools effectively. But it isn't all about tools. As is so often the case, it is more about the people who use the tools. After all, a wise man once said that a fool with a tool is still a fool.
So, let’s get on with it, shall we?
Tips for Meeting Chairs
So, you need to have a virtual meeting. Well, guess what? Just a like an in-person meeting, you need an agenda. Send it out ahead of time and ask that people prepare. Be clear about the meeting purpose and objectives. If it is a recurring meeting, allow people to make agenda suggestions in advance in case there are burning issues they feel need addressing that you didn’t think or know to include.
When you communicate the agenda, lay out the ground rules for the upcoming meeting. You can probably derive some ground rules from the following tips designed to help you engineer a successful meeting:
As mentioned above, you need to share decisions made and action items to which attendees commit during the meeting with the group. I find most virtual whiteboard tools are cumbersome, so I usually share a document using a word processor like Word or Google Docs.
If you are an ambidextrous cranial sort who can take notes while thinking, chairing and talking, you can do this yourself. Otherwise, ask a colleague in advance to take on that responsibility. But watch what is being typed, because it has to be accurate and reflective of what everyone agreed.
Make note only of important items and action items that have been agreed, including who is responsible and when the item is due. You can send these notes to meeting participants directly after the meeting. No more creating minutes after the fact and having people disagree with what was written since they will already have seen what was recorded during the meeting.
Highly visible decision logs and active action item lists on your collaboration site are priceless.
Noise can render a virtual meeting ineffective. Be sure extraneous noise is addressed politely and firmly. If you have to, force mute. Occasionally, people are interrupted and don’t control the situation well, talking with the intruder and failing to go on mute. You can mute them and decide to continue the meeting or not. You may need to use alternate means like their cell phone to communicate with them so they know they have committed a virtual meeting sin. This is the same as if someone gets up from an in-person meeting and leaves the room. Should you continue the meeting? Your call… maybe ask the person or the attendees as appropriate.
Having trouble getting some people to contribute? Try doing a round table about a specific issue, suggesting that each person talk for no more than a minute or two and that if they have nothing to say, just “pass”. Some people are too shy to interject, but are happy if they have time to think about what they want say and know they will receive the “talking stick” eventually. Start with someone you know won’t mind talking to give the more introverted a chance to collect their thoughts.
Tips for meeting participants:
There is a certain degree of flexibility with virtual meetings that can save time and money, and you can take advantage of easy to use features (like record and share screen) that are sometimes more difficult to do in an in-person meeting.
Virtual meetings don’t need to be like the Virtual Meeting in Real Life video, as humorous as it is since it is so very close to the reality of those in first-time virtual meetings. Let common sense, respect and preparedness rule the meeting, and success will be yours – and your team’s.