Project Management


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Agile versus Waterfall in Software Projects

Collective Knowledge

Last Responsible Moments

Donald Rumsfeld and Project Management

Kaizen or Kaikaku?

Agile versus Waterfall in Software Projects

Agile versus Waterfall in Software Projects

By John Herman   PMP, CQE, MPM

A complete discussion of the pros, cons, and other aspects of using agile, waterfall, or hybrid approaches is too much for a blog column.  Indeed, it might be worthy of a short book!  What follows is a short recap of what I’ve had success with across the past decade.  I’ll concentrate on Agile versus Waterfall and defer discussion of Hybrid methods for a future posting.  

A fairly universal rule of thumb is that the Waterfall method works well when requirements are well defined.  Agile thrives for projects where requirements are not well defined, are expected to change, or evolve based on each iteration such as with R&D activities. 

Agile is usually very good for customer service or customer facing applications, where user feedback contributes to requirement changes, early and often.  In addition, applications that interface with customers often need to rapidly incorporate innovations similar to those being used successfully by competing companies. 

Agile is also great for marketing applications, another area of the business where change is common.  Again, needs to respond flexibly and/or rapidly to changes in the economy and marketplace are a common factor in the marketing and sales functions of the business.

Waterfall is usually the best choice for compliance projects, where requirements are usually firmly based on laws, regulations, policies, or audit findings; both from internal and external sources. In addition, compliance activities are usually constrained by a date by which the compliance should be achieved.

Accounting and finance applications are also suitable for Waterfall.  These business functions usually have exact requirements and face continuing efforts to meet standards for reporting to management, shareholders, and overseeing organizations. 

It has generally been accepted that the choice of methodology for any particular project should be based on that project’s needs.   That said, the above summary reflects some real-world experience with projects across companies of varying size with varied products and services. 

Posted on: January 26, 2019 11:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Last Responsible Moments

Last Responsible Moments

By John Herman   PMP, CQE, MPM

Lean Software Development is an agile software approach based on the lean concepts of Value Streams, and the work of Taiichi Ohno, who is considered the father of the “Toyota Production System” and “Lean Manufacturing”.  Using the lean philosophy, Lean Software Development developed six best practices that continue to influence Agile methodology.  The six are:

  • Optimize the Whole
  • Defer Commitment
  • Deliver Fast
  • Eliminate Waste
  • Build Quality In
  • Empower Team Learning

No doubt today’s Agile methods have seen benefit from Lean Software Development, which originated in the early 2000’s.  The discussion of all six best practices is too much for a single blog posting, but I’d like to draw your attention to the second, “Defer Commitment” for a short lesson in agile risk management, and software project methodologies. 

In an earlier blog entry, I discussed Alexander’s Question, and Last Responsible Moments are generally based on those building blocks.  While Alexander’s Question encourages deferring decisions until certain critical information can be obtained or better understood, the Lean “Defer Commitment” states that the best possible solution can emerge by deferring design until the Last Responsible Moment.

The Last Responsible Moment occurs when any advantages of acquiring additional information are offset by potential risks of delaying a decision any longer. 

Note that there can be several such moments within any project or iteration, with aspects of the design and process in opposition to various risks, with overlap and feedback mechanisms also within consideration.  If it was easy, anyone could do it, right?

Thus the Last Responsible Moments, and the practice of Defer Commitment in general, are dependent on solid risk management.  This point is invaluable in any debate regarding the viability of agile methods when unknowns and risks are running rampant, and especially in defense of agile methods from those who are entrenched in Traditional Waterfall software development methods. 

I urge you to continue to evaluate each software project’s methodology based on the project itself, and without any preconceived notions regarding the best approach, until the Project Management team has gathered as much information about the project as it can.  Which is, of course, a Last Responsible Moment.


Posted on: January 24, 2017 03:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Donald Rumsfeld and Project Management

Donald Rumsfeld and Project Management

By John Herman   PMP, CQE, MPM

Donald Rumsfeld graduated from Princeton University and was an active participant at high levels in both corporate and government organizations.   He was both the 13th (1975-77) and 21st (2001-06) Secretary of Defense of The United States.  Today’s focus is on a statement he made at a Department of Defense news briefing on February 12, 2002. 

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.

This jumble of words actually has considerable worth during project planning.   The “known knowns” are our scope and constraints.  We plan for these aspects because they are known.   The “known unknowns” are assumptions and risks.  We know about these aspects, but we don’t know about their degree of truth (assumptions), or how likely they are to occur or their severity (risks).  The “known unknowns” ties well to a previous entry in this blog titled “Alexander’s Question”.

But what about the “unknown unknowns”?   Can we simply ignore what we don’t know?  The answer is, of course, no.  But how can we plan for what we don’t know?   These “unknown unknowns” factor into the contingency buffers for scope, budget, and schedule.  The experienced project manager incorporates budget and schedule contingency buffers (also known as management reserve) within the project to accommodate the unforeseen.

Rumsfeld’s quote, along with some other gems that he’s given us, show that planning and risk management have application even at the highest levels of corporations and governments.  In closing, here’s another Rumsfeld quote that correlates well to measuring success, but we’ll have to save the discussion of this quote for another day. 

“Congress, the press, and the bureaucracy too often focus on how much money or effort is spent, rather than whether the money or effort actually achieves the announced goal. “  - From "Rumsfeld's Rules", January 12, 1974

Posted on: January 07, 2016 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Business Justification – a Root-Cause Analysis

By John Herman   PMP, CQE, MPM. 


There are many excellent articles and templates for demonstrating Business Justification, but a root-cause analysis reveals a very basic lesson in business acumen.   There are only four major reasons for undertaking any business process or project. 


Increase revenue:   Obviously, increased revenue is expected to lead to increased profits, and may also lead to increased market share, brand recognition, and other favorable results. 

Reduce costs:  Reducing costs will also impact the bottom line.  However, costs can’t be reduced below zero, so there are more limitations associated with reducing costs than with increasing revenue.

Improve quality:  Although sometimes difficult to measure, improvements in the quality of products and services impact customer satisfaction and growth of the brand.

Attain or maintain compliance:   Government regulations must be addressed or the business could be forced to close, or suffer irreparable damage to the brand.  Some aspects in the compliance area include taxes, safety, and privacy.


And, of course, projects can cross boundaries and have more than one business justification.

It’s always a good idea to inform the project team why any particular project is being done.  Not only is it good top-down communication, it will improve the team’s business acumen. 

Posted on: October 28, 2015 01:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Alexander's Question

By John Herman   PMP, CQE, MPM

About 40 years ago, a new strain of flu hit in New Jersey.  During the analysis of that flu outbreak, critical thinking took a big step forward via questions asked by Dr. Russell Alexander, although no one probably realized the impact at that time.  Alexander’s Question, as a management tool, was probably refined and documented for the first time by Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May in their book, “Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers”.

In a nutshell, Alexander’s Question can be summed up like this: 

“What information, if we had it, would make us change our decision?”

Follow-up activities are focused on obtaining that information so that the decision can be based on better information, and thus likely have better results. 

The goal of Alexander's Question is to uncover assumptions and perspectives that may be clouding one’s judgment. By asking what information would be needed to change your mind, faulty reasoning can be intercepted and the decision can be based on more objective data.  Alexander’s Question can also identify which facts should be researched before committing to a course of action.

Another, more detailed variation of Alexander’s Question focuses on Project Management aspects like risk, schedule, and quality management :

What new information would change your estimation? When would you need this information? Why would it change your estimation?

Regardless of how Alexander’s Question is written, the underlying principle is the same:   Identifying information that would make the decision more firmly rooted in facts, and less based on subjective opinions.  

Posted on: October 23, 2015 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

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