Decision requests or just do it?
Categories: Project Management
On traditional projects, a project change management plan is supposed to provide guidance to project teams on the criteria that make a change significant enough to manage through formal change control. On agile projects, change is an inherent component of the project as opposed to an exception condition, and hence such formality is rarely required.
The same degree of certainty cannot be stated about decisions - both agile and traditional projects spawn a variety of decisions, but how does a PM go about deciding what level of formality is required to manage those?
If the project team is aware of the triggers and thresholds that may require formalizing the decision-making process, then there should be alignment in approach. One place to start is to understand the criticality of key requirements for the project - for example, if long term viability of a project deliverable is not necessary, decisions that impact sustainability may not require the same level of formality as those that affect a more critical attribute.
Having a brainstorming session early in the project's lifetime to identify those types of situations that may necessitate formality can help to build some "muscle memory" into the process. Some risk identification techniques could be utilized for this purpose - for example, reviewing the project's WBS to attempt to identify the significant decisions that could emerge related to each key deliverable.
Of course, no approach is perfect, and it should be tuned based on the feedback from key stakeholders - if the stakeholders are pushing back regularly on the necessity of a formal decision request for a given situation, perhaps the thresholds are set too low. On the other hand, a few too many "damage control" issues might teach a PM that a greater degree of formality is called for.
It's also important to ensure the decision making process is scalable. Focus on who needs to be involved in the decision-making process as opposed to the specific mechanics. A triage approach may work:
Having a peer-level support system, a mentor or a PMO could help a PM decide on a situational basis what makes sense.
The two process extremes are equally scary - a complete lack of formality increases the likelihood that critical decisions are made without involving all the right stakeholders and with insufficient analysis and communication whereas too much formality mires the project in unnecessary bureaucracy and reinforces negative perceptions about project management.
One more example of why judgment is one of the key differentiators of a great PM!
(Note: I originally decided to publish this article on kbondale.wordpress.com in March 2012)
I'm midway through Priya Parker's book The Art of Gathering and her insights into how to make an event a meaningful gathering rather than "just another boring meeting" are apropos to ceremonies. A common complaint many team members raise in the early days of an agile journey is that it feels like they are in too many meetings. This shows that they aren't perceiving the value of the ceremonies and, if these concerns aren't addressed quickly, the team members are likely to disengage.
One way to evaluate your ceremonies is to do a W5 assessment on them.
Without a shared understanding of the purpose for the ceremonies, misalignment of expectations and behaviors may emerge. It is critical that a newly formed team understands why each ceremony is needed, but as the team evolves, the purpose of each should be reviewed to ensure it remains relevant. One way to gauge this is to ask each team member to summarize what they believe the purpose of the ceremony to be in three words or less.
Once there is clarity on why, we need to confirm that the outcomes of ceremonies are being realized and are in line with the purpose for conducting the ceremonies. Poll team members on their perception of the effectiveness and efficiency of producing those outcomes.
A common challenge with agile ceremonies and most recurring events is that, over time, you might pick up a number of participants who "just want to observe" or "need to be kept in the loop". If everyone is needed, no one is needed. A self-disciplined, self-managing team will weed out those stakeholders who aren't required but will be equally diligent on ensuring the right participants are at each ceremony. For example, conducting a sprint review without adequate representation from those who will be consuming the outputs of the team is a waste of time. Who is also about the role each participant plays. While new teams might lean on the Scrum Master to facilitate most ceremonies, over time, this can become a shared responsibility, giving each team member a chance to develop their facilitation abilities.
It is a good practice to hold ceremonies at the same day and time but the timing that seemed ideal in earlier sprints may not suit all participants in later ones. It is also worth evaluating the duration of the ceremonies as they should be long enough to meet the purpose and achieve the expected outcomes and no longer. If certain team members are missing certain ceremonies, it is worth confirming whether the timing is still suitable for all participants.
Whether it is physical meeting rooms or virtual video conferences or collaboration environments, it is important to ensure that the location supports the purpose and approach and doesn't detract from it. In physical settings, this could be as simple as the arrangement of chairs around a table and the availability of white board space for spontaneous collaborative activity. Consider alternative environments for physical ceremonies. Could it be possible to conduct some in a more dynamic manner - perhaps as a walking meeting? In virtual sessions, this means ensuring that the tools provided (e.g. polls, whiteboards) are functional and everyone knows how to use them in advance of the ceremony.
How frequently ceremony reviews should take place will vary and one trigger for a health check might be to have team members vote every few weeks or every couple of sprints on how valuable they feel each ceremony is.
To paraphrase Chris Fussell "If your team is trying to be more agile, stop and think, 'Are my ceremonies actually productive, or are we merely having ceremonies for ceremonies' sake?'"
There is no single recipe for how to best manage a project.
Culture (organization & team) and enterprise environmental factors all influence how a project gets managed but personal style and approach also plays a critical role. Within the constraints of the previous factors a project might be managed successfully but the degree of efficiency can vary widely between project managers.
It might not be advisable to invest a lot of effort in analyzing how we are adapting and executing each of the PMBOK processes, but we can lean (pun fully intended) on process excellence to help us identify common sources of project management waste.
Is your approach to managing projects as efficient as it could be, or are you stuck in a WORMPIIT?
(Note: this lean & mean article was originally published in October 2015 on kbondale.wordpress.com)
I was asked to facilitate a lessons learned session for a program team using a retrospective format. After the team had brainstormed, prioritized and discussed most of the challenges they had faced, it became clear to them that there were only a couple of root causes for most of the main pain points they had identified. Neither of those root causes was a true learning but rather they were just simple reminders of good practices to follow for large, complex programs. I then asked them the somewhat rhetorical question: "Remembering now what should have been done then, how will you ensure that this doesn't happen on a future program?"
A project team I've been working with has struggled with judging how many work items they can successfully complete within a sprint. In the retrospective for their last sprint, they identified a number of simple, effective ideas for resolving this chronic concern. Again, I challenged them with the same question: "You've come up with a great list of ideas, but how will you ensure that you actually act on those the next time you are sprint planning?"
Both of these experiences reminded me of how difficult it is to break habits.
In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg has written about the three part neurological loop governing habits which was discovered by MIT researchers: a cue, a routine and a reward.
In the project team's case, the routine has been to accept more work items than they can complete in a sprint even when historical evidence shows this tactic hasn't worked out well. The cue is that moment in the sprint planning ceremony when the team makes their sprint forecast. It's hard to say what the reward has been but perhaps it's the temporary high which comes when we take on a significant challenge as a team.
To break habits, we need to find a way to substitute a different routine for the old one and soliciting the help of a close, trusted colleague might be one way to do this.
The team could designate a single individual to come to the sprint planning ceremony with a stuffed pig or some other visual gag which represents gluttony. Then, when the team is about to forecast how much they will accept in the sprint, that team member could hold up the pig and say "Oink! Oink!" to remind all of them to be a little more conservative. While the team might not bask in the short term glow of having accepted a bloated sprint forecast, they will enjoy the much more rewarding experience during their sprint review when the product owner and other stakeholders congratulate them for improving their predictability.
Breaking habits is hard to do but by identifying cues and implementing good routines to swap in for the old ones, we can prevail.
Most organizations regardless of their size or project management maturity will initiate a proverbial “800-pound gorilla” project at least once. Mega-projects can torpedo a company, but they are often critical to their long term sustainability or strategy. For the “lucky” program or project manager that is asked to manage one of these, it can either be a career-limiting death spiral or a priceless differentiator for their portfolios.
Failing to plan is planning to fail – this is the mantra of mega-projects. Organizations that were historically able to successfully complete small to mid-sized projects in spite of themselves will discover that heroics that worked in the past will not work on a mega-project.
To plagiarize Jeff Foxworthy, here are some ways of identifying mega-projects:
What are a few ways of coping once you’ve identified the fact that you are the proud owner of an 800-pound gorilla?
Tackling a mega-project can sometimes feel overwhelming, but remember that even King Kong was laid low by a combination of fighter planes and gravity!
(Note: Neither King Kong nor Donkey Kong was involved in the publishing of this article back in November 2010 on kbondale.wordpress.com)