Viewing Posts by Christian Bisson
By Christian Bisson, PMP
Machine learning is one of today’s hottest tech topics.
It’s essentially a type of artificial intelligence (AI) in which you give your software the ability to “learn” based on data. For example, you probably notice how YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and many other companies suggests videos or products you should check out. These suggestions are based on your previous online actions, or those of other people deemed “similar” to you.
For some time now I’ve been working on projects that involve this technology. We often have clients who want machine learning even though they do not know if it’s even relevant to them. Since “everyone is doing it,” they want to do it too.
Calibrating a project sponsor’s expectations is often a good idea. While the automated services generated through machine learning may seem magical, getting to that point involves challenges—and a lot of work.
The machine will learn using the data it has being given—that data is the crucial starting point. The data that’s available is what drives how the machine will evolve and what added value machine learning can bring to your project/product. For example, if you are trying to teach the machine to recognize vehicles on images it scans, and all you can teach it with are images of small cars, you are not set up for success. You need a better variety of images.
The machine’s ability to learn is directly tied to the quality of the data it encounters.
Once you have quality data, you need it in high quantities. If you can only provide the machine with the website behaviors of, say, hundreds of users per month, don’t expect it to have enough information to be able to recommend the best products based on user trends. Its sample will be too little to be able to be accurate.
Once you have the necessary data, the journey is not over. The machine may learn on its own, but it’s learning based on how it was built and with the data it’s being fed. There is always room for improvement.
As amazing as machine learning is, it is not cheap. So keep an eye on your project’s budget. Machine learning experts can command high salaries, and there is a lot of effort involved with researching the best approach—creating the models, training them, testing them, etc. Make sure the ROI is worth it.
Have you had a chance to work on a project involving machine learning? What challenges have you faced?
By Christian Bisson, PMP
As most of you know, scrum works in iterations called “sprints” that can vary in duration depending on the product. However, there is some debate about what people call a “Sprint 0”: a sprint used for planning or prework deliverables that will help launch Sprint 1.
There are no one-size-fits-all ways to work, but personally I believe Sprint 0 is necessary in many cases. Here’s why:
One big difference between waterfall and agile is how planning works. Waterfall tends to focus a lot (sometimes too much) on planning, while agile tends to be the opposite. For most projects with lots of unknowns, planning too much will be a waste of time because the project will evolve and most of the work done in advance will be wasted. That’s why you plan as you go in agile.
However, when you start a product from scratch (e.g., a website, software, etc.), there are many decisions that will affect the entire product development — some of which can block developers from coding on day one. For example, what is the best programming language/framework to use? Teams need development environments amongst several other tools. This setup can use up a lot of time and prevents work from gettting done if nothing is available. Sprint 0 becomes crucial to give the team time to prepare so they can code properly from the start.
Sprint 0 helps with that by providing a first iteration that allows the team to plan enough for Sprint 1, whether with analysis, wireframes, designs, etc.
Chances are, the team has never worked together before. The Sprint 0 approach can help the team set up and get to know each other, which will help them at the sprint planning of Sprint 1.
Other factors to consider are estimating tasks, timing of ceremonies, understanding everyone’s role and so on — all important elements that make or break a team’s efficiency.
It’s also a perfect opportunity for the scrum master to get the lay of the land and identify where to focus first to help the team.
Many would argue that value should be delivered at the end of a sprint. And Sprint 0 does not offer that to the stakeholders, which is true. However, not much real value will be delivered from a Sprint 1 that is wasted by the complete lack of preparation!
What are your thoughts on Sprint 0?
by Christian Bisson, PMP
Several years ago, I decided to put my web developer hat behind me and become a project manager (and eventually product owner). At first I wasn’t sure if I would be up to the challenge given that most project managers have different backgrounds.
But several years later, I don’t regret my decision.
Technical project managers are more present — and required — in the digital world, and I have no doubt that will keep rising. Here’s why.
The Rising Digital World
The digital world is taking up more space in our lives. And it doesn’t stop at what people see, there is also a vast world of data happening behind the scenes.
A project manager that can’t comprehend the technical relationship between every piece of a client’s ecosystem will fail to manage it properly. As ecosystems grow, it will become more of a challenge to ensure teams have the right people at the right time so that everything comes together as planned.
Still, many project managers are not even aware of what a development environment (development, staging, user acceptance testing, production) or even deployments are. Project managers today should know about synchronizing websites, apps and other tools together. If one can’t deploy a site, then there is simply no hope.
A website used to consist of images and text, so not understanding how it worked didn’t matter much if you had the team to compensate.
Today, however, a lot of websites use advanced technologies to provide users with what they want, like powerful search engines or features using machine learning.
Machine learning in particular is becoming the toy every kid wants. It’s also within everyone’s grasp—whether it’s with advanced machine learning expertise or with tools made available by Google, for example. Project managers need to understand this technology in order to bring out its full potential within the projects they manage, otherwise it becomes a trend word that brings nothing to the table.
Everyone knows that communication is key to running any team smoothly. If a project manager can’t understand what the team is communicating, then he or she can’t properly manage the project.
Furthermore, clients are becoming more techy and often have a better understanding of how things work. So if project managers don’t understand the tech behind the project, they can’t have proper conversations with the client. It helps in key project decisions to actually understand what is going on.
What are your thoughts on technical project managers? As the world becomes more digital, are they becoming essential?
by Christian Bisson, PMP
We’ve all encountered them on a project or two: stakeholders that want everything right away.
The result of this rush is often lots of money invested, a tight schedule, negative impact on the quality and frustrated people. But, carefully planned iterations of a project can help avoid the negativities of rushed efforts.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
A well thought out MVP is the first iteration of your project. It means planning for the smallest scope possible, keeping in mind that it still needs to bring business value.
Let’s say you’re building a website. In this scenario, you’d identify the main features your website should have — based on goals — and focus on those instead of spreading the effort on all the features that might seem great to have.
There are many advantages to the MVP approach:
Room to Adjust
Since you haven’t spent all the budget on the entire scope — and you now have precious data gathered from various sources — you can plan based on facts rather than hypotheses.
For example, after the MVP is deployed, you might have planned to work on a new feature. However, if new data suggests that the main feature of your project is not quite user friendly and needs adjustments, you can prioritize the adjustment and quickly add more value to your project compared to adding a new feature that might be less important.
Deploy When Ready
The MVP is only the first of many iterations. Do not fall back into the trap of building everything before you deploy your first update. Using the example above, if the first feature is actively affecting the quality of your project, adjust it and deploy right away. That way you will gain the added value of your improvement right away.
Some might argue that deployments cost money so you shouldn’t deploy all the time, and it’s a fair point. But keep in mind that the cost of those well-planned deployments are negligible compared to all the budget you can waste on a misfocused effort or a wrong hypothesis.
Taking a step-by-step approach to project management is crucial to the long-term success of projects. How do you manage the iterative or MVP approach?
by Christian Bisson, PMP
A scrum master is an essential part of an agile team. However, it seems their role is often underestimated or misunderstood. In this article I’m hoping I can shed some light on the value they bring.
How People See Them
Here’s what I’ve heard over time:
Elves of happiness
Since scrum masters want teams to perform well, they want to make sure team members are happy. That sometimes makes others think that all scrum masters are trying to do is to make everyone happy without an actual purpose behind it.
Since scrum masters often talk to the team and gather information about the status of a project, they are often mistaken for coordinators—people tasked with giving a status report to the product owner or taking notes during meetings.
Some people simply have no clue what scrum masters do, thinking they are an overhead that could be removed without any impact because they don’t actually “produce” anything.
What They Actually Do
Help teams grow
One of the scrum master’s main tasks is to educate the team with agile principles, but also to help the team become self-sufficient. In a way, their main duty is to actually become useless as the team becomes more mature.
Scrum masters can do so by sharing agile knowledge and by coaching teams as they go through retrospectives where the team is motivated to talk about how they can improve.
There are so many different roadblocks that can reduce a team’s efficiency—whether it’s poorly defined requirements, inefficient meetings, lack of documentation or communication, or conflicts. A scrum master can help tackle anything that might slow down the team.
Keep the focus on the right place
Not being hands-on in projects allows scrum masters to have a different point of view that allows them to re-focus teams when needed. Whether it’s toward the developers and their commitment to the sprint, or product owners and their focus on a product’s vision, scrum masters make sure to remind everyone where their effort should go.
It can be hard to quantify a scrum master’s usefulness since they do not actually produce deliverables. But having experienced an agile project both with and without a scrum master, I can vouch for their role. They bring so much on a day-to-day basis to the teams they work with, which in turn brings quality products to clients.
Have you experienced working with scrum masters? What do you think is most important about their roles?