Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

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Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong
Joanna Newman

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Geoff Mattie
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

Recent Posts

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How to Unleash Your Presence as a Leader

3 Tips For Assuming an Existing Project

Project Management for Business Transformation

Debunking 4 Misconceptions About Story Points

Categories: Agile

by Christian Bisson, PMP


Story points, while an essential component of agile, are often misintrepeted.
And that’s a problem, as story points are are a vital unit of measure to help
estimate user stories. And stories, in turn, help teams plan their next sprint.
When they’re misinterpreted, story points lose their effectiveness, and they
can even hurt teams because of how they are used.

For the sake of my examples below, I assume teams use the Fibonacci sequence.
Let’s run through a few common misconceptions:


1. It’s about the complexity.

Some teams will mistakenly focus only on the complexity of the user story,
as measured by the required level of training it takes to complete a given
task. If a task is simple but time-consuming, they will assign it a “1.”
This is misguided because in addition to complexity, story points also take
into account effort and risks.

It’s important to factor in all three of these aspects of user stories to make a
proper estimate.

2. It’s about the business value.

Simply put: no.
When prioritizing their backlogs or even deciding to move forward with a
user story, it’s important for product owners to understand that story points
have nothing to do with business value.


A “13” could bring no value while being costly, and a “1” could be a golden
opportunity (a.k.a. a “quick win”).


Some Product Owners assign a “Business Value” to user stories (for example: A, B, C), although not mandatory, it can be used along with story points to help make key
decisions about priorities.

3. One point is one day of work.

Story points are not days, nor hours—they are a separate unit of measure. If
using “days” to estimate user stories works well for your team, then by all
means keep going, but call them days as opposed to story points to avoid
confusion.


4. Story points can be used to compare teams.

This one is a dangerous trap, especially if used by someone who can
influence people below him or her. It’s important to understand that story
points are relative to each person. Even within a team, it can be a challenge
to align initially until they have a few user stories to compare with.

A “5” can mean something different for Team A than for Team B, so
comparing each team’s velocity gives absolutely no value whatsoever. In
fact, it can mislead you into thinking one team is more efficient than
another, which in turn might result in unjustified negative feedback or
pressure to “have high velocity.”


In Summary

Story points are a tool, and like all tools, they’re only as good as how we use
them. If we fall into common trap, using our story points to plan our sprints
will lead us to disaster. It’s important that every member of the team
understands the concept, and that you also take the time to educate anyone
outside the team who has influence over your work, such as upper
management or customers.


Do you know of any other misconceptions around story points?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: January 26, 2019 01:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

The Traps of Textbook Scrum

Categories: Agile

By Christian Bisson, PMP, PSM

 

The Agile methodology is quickly becoming the standard for IT projects. More specifically, most organizations are using the Scrum framework to bring their software development to the next level. 

But it’s implementation often remains a challenge and that’s because Scrum is not one-size-fits-all, and if you follow the manifesto too rigidly you can fall into a few traps.

Here’s a look at two:

1. Lack of Team Experience

If you’re coaching a team new on Scrum, take baby steps. Imagine if you’re teaching someone to play basketball for the first time. You will most likely teach them how to dribble before you teach them how to dunk a ball.

It’s the same with Scrum. If you throw everything in the Agile Manifesto or Scrum Guide at your team at once, chances are the results will be poor, the team will be confused and ultimately they will not enjoy the methodology.

For example, when assigning complexity, start with T-shirt sizes (small, medium, large) instead of the Fibonacci scale. When the team grasps this concept well, adapt accordingly.

2. Potential Waste of Effort

An active sprint is considered sacred for a team. Its scope must not be modified, and any new requests/requirements should be factored into future sprints.

Be that as it may, sometimes there are extreme circumstances where the sprint must be stopped or modified due to new requirements.

For instance, say an amazing opportunity presents itself three days into the sprint, making the current scope of the sprint obsolete. Fixating on the fact that a sprint cannot change and having the team work for the remainder of the sprint on something confirmed to be useless would be a waste.

If this sudden change creates downtime for the team while the new requirements are written and refined, the team could focus on testing new technologies, or working on a proof of concept that could help with the new requirements.

Or sometimes a project faces issues and due to the importance of the client, those issues must be prioritized. People may be pulled out from one team to help another. That will mean that an active sprint’s committed scope may have to be reduced, which is when you have to put aside the textbook for the sake of the organization, and to help out colleagues in need.

Have you ever had to steer away from initial expectations for a project or team’s benefit? Share your story!

Posted by Christian Bisson on: December 23, 2018 02:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The Advantages of the Hybrid Project Manager

By Conrado Morlan

“Hybrid” is commonly used in biology to designate the offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties. For example, a mule is the hybrid of a donkey and a horse.

But the word has also been adopted in different contexts. Perhaps when you hear “hybrid,” the first thought that comes to your mind is a hybrid vehicle, which relies on two or more distinct types of power to stay in motion.

The world of project management has its own hybrids. New delivery approaches, frameworks and skills can come together in a hybrid form to create something different and valuable.

In different project management forums, I’ve recently participated in discussions about the hybrid project manager. Some proponents were concerned with the technical side of project management, focusing on which method or approach—such as waterfall (predictive) or agile—is better. Others interpreted hybrid as bringing together the best of two worlds to provide results for the organization.

Here are my takeaways from those discussions.

Technical Approach

Some project management practitioners think about the profession in purely technical terms. They have devoted themselves to learning new methods, best practices and frameworks that they consider innovative, trendy and useful to support the needs of the projects in their organization.

But some project managers who approach their work in this way tend to think that the method, best practice or framework they most recently mastered is a "silver bullet," pushing previous knowledge they acquired into obsolescence.

Holistic Approach

Just like any other profession, project management is evolving. There is no escaping the fact that today, many organizations see portfolio, program and project management as the way to link projects with their overall strategy.

Therefore, project practitioners need to consider the heterogeneous elements from the business side of the house to better understand the inextricable link between strategy and execution—regardless of the method, practice or framework. This is how they will deliver unparalleled value to the organization.

This type of practitioner is paying more attention to the PMI Talent Triangle® to identify the skills they will need to be a successful hybrid project manager.

The Hybrid Advantage

Organizations with the right mix of hybrid project managers will:

  • Deliver dramatically higher efficiency in project execution
  • Identify candidates who can be assigned to temporary assignments that will support the achievements of strategic goals
  • Establish a better competitive advantage when the outcome of projects positively impacts the achievement of strategic goals

Do you consider yourself a hybrid project manager? If not, would you accept the challenge of becoming one?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: August 21, 2018 04:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

The Benefits of Sprint 0

Categories: Agile, Project Planning

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:

A Minimum of Planning

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.

Team Orientation 

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?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: April 13, 2018 02:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Project Leaders Are at the Forefront of Today’s Operating Models

By Peter Tarhanidis, M.B.A, Ph.D.

Many organizations are shifting their traditional operating models to include new innovative collaborations and social networks to sustain economic growth. These new operating models, however, challenge the future of leadership.

Most operating models used today were designed in the industrial age. In these models, the division of labor is by specialization, which is hierarchical in nature. This approach has been analyzed and debated by philosophers including Plato and economists such as Adam Smith, whose analysis is incorporated in current organizational designs defining a company’s value chain. The advantage of this approach is that it drives increases in productivity and efficiency by allocating teams by their skillset.

Yet companies are boxed in today. They have become efficient and productive, but are at a disadvantage in sustaining innovation.

Companies are challenged to design and integrate innovative operating models to continue to drive economic growth. Some ways companies are leveraging new operating models to drive innovation include creating internal groups to access and fund startups and sharing resources with external research centers to drive external collaborations that drive new product pipelines.

These innovative operating models challenge leaders to work collaboratively across value chains and external business partners. To meet that challenge, there must be a shift in a leader and team skill sets.

The organizational design shifts from a division of labor and specialization to one that taps into knowledge workers and social networks. This shift—to forge new innovations and operating models—challenges leaders to define new behaviors, styles, skills and professional networks to sustain economic growth.

Project leaders and their teams have been at the forefront of working across these emerging models, navigating both internally as productivity experts, externally as innovation collaborators, and professionally to develop social networks to foster and sustain economic growth.

One’s future as a leader comes down to navigating your development against these current organizational trends. One approach I find helpful is to define personal 360-degree feedbacks. Start with three simple questions to determine where you need to develop and build from, such as:

  1. What do senior leaders want from their leaders to sustain the company?
  2. What do clients and customers want from their partners to build strategic and trusted relationships?
  3. What do teams expect from their leaders to meet strategic initiatives and how can leaders help them succeed professionally?

Having used this personal approach, I learned the following three themes to form my development opportunities:

  1. Senior leaders are expected to communicate in a variety of forums and formats. Leaders should have the courage to ask for help. One should be very knowledgeable about the business and build the professional relationships required to be successful.
  2. Clients and customers expect great experiences with a company’s product and services. They expect leaders to learn their business, marketplace, and challenges. Build trusting relationships and strategic alliances through a successful track record.
  3. Teams want better leaders to sponsor the initiative and provide clear guidance. Align teams to a common shared purpose. Influence members to share in the success of the initiative by linking the initiative to the strategy. Demonstrate how the strategy aligns to the business and how the individual team members help the business meet its goals. Advocate for professional development and provide a mentoring opportunity to advance one’s professional goals.

One must then consider what actions they should commit to developing — whether it is leadership behaviors and styles, business relationships or knowledge — to lead today’s organizations and sustain economic growth and relevance.  

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 08, 2018 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)
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