Project Management and Scrum

I’m feeling guilty for being a little late on this post.  Went to a class last week and I’m getting ready to go on vacation.  Hang in there with me during June as I will be travelling.

I took a great class on being a Scrum Product Owner from SolutionsIQ in Redmond last week.  I want to share my class experience because it provided a great example of how agile is important to project managers who want to find the other side of risk.  Agile structures your work so you are constantly challenging uncertainty to drive out opportunities.

old-classroom-720695The class content was great, the instructors were engaging and knowledgeable, and the class was run in a way that allowed students to learn from one another.  At the end of the class, I was happy with what I learned.  But, I paged through my class notebook and saw lots of pages we didn’t cover.  They all looked like really interesting ideas.  Was the class a success from a project management perspective?  This is the project manager’s dilemma with agile.  How do we commit to scope, schedule, and budget to meet our client’s expectations?  Let’s look closer.

The class was run as an “agile” class.  We used the agile Scrum process to understand and decide on what we wanted to learn within the curriculum; and how we learned it.

Time and cost were fixed constraints.  We finished on time and the class cost exactly what it was supposed to cost.  We got a book of slides and articles at the start of class – the potential scope, but we didn’t cover all of them.  But, everything in the book seemed important.  Shouldn’t I expect everything in the curriculum to be covered?  Would we be successful if we didn’t cover all the slides made available?   How much scope we could complete within fixed time and budget constraints was an uncertainty.  Sound familiar?  Continue reading

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Virtual Races – A Model for Virtual Projects?

Maybe our projects should be more like virtual races.  In a virtual race, the organizers:

  • Come up with a race idea and a plan to make it happen
  • Set a timeframe and define contributions needed from participants and what they will get in return
  • Invite people to participate and sign up those who want to get involved
  • Give participants lots of flexibility and make it easy for them to contribute on their own terms
  • Track incremental progress, keep participants posted about how things are developing, and make adjustments and provide incentives as things evolve
  • Celebrate what got done and send people medals.

This seems like it could be an efficient way to run a project if you had some flexibility about what could happen.  It would be a virtual project.

Nerd HerdMarcia and I ran (walked) our first virtual race, the “May the Fourth (Be With You) 5K” put on by Nerd Herd Running.  My daughter, Joelle, and her husband, Mike, are two of the founding members of Nerd Herd Running.  The group was formed by runners who love to do Disney races as part of organizations who raise funds to fight cancer and support other good causes.  But, organizing, paying, and preparing for the Disney races is a big deal.  So, Nerd Herd Running leveraged their nerdiness to start a virtual race series with nerdy themes to support Stupidcancer.org.

At first I thought “That’s not a real race.”  I mean, a real race is about a bunch of people getting together, starting at the same time, and finishing at the same place.  Continue reading

Agile and Portfolio Management

puzzle-pieces_blank_cropped_smallIn my new role, we are looking at using agile methods for both project and portfolio management.  We have to look closely at the pieces to put together the puzzle.

To better understand Agile, let’s look at it’s origins.  The Agile Manifesto says:

“Manifesto for Agile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

I write about:

balancing consulting practices with project management to

imagine perfect outcomes and a perfect journey to get there

that leaves the organization and its people better than we found them.

So, when I read the Agile Manifesto, it says to me that:

  • A way to find a perfect journey to a perfect outcome is to focus on the people and how they will work together more than on the processes and tools.  The perfect journey is the interactions that produce ideas and results, not a perfectly followed process.
  • Working software is more important than comprehensive documentation because a team working one step at a time can better express what it understands via a working product than a complete document.  We often complete documents to lock things down and drive out risk.  Opportunities for growth come from trying things and learning from them.  I think documentation is important, it just has to be in step with product building, not way out in front of it.
  • Customer collaboration is more important than contract negotiation because it values seeking what can go right over what can go wrong.  Collaboration leads to a commitment to leave an organization better as a result of our efforts.  The contract focuses on a commitment to do something for consideration from someone.  It protects against risk, but can drive out opportunities it if becomes the focus.  The focus needs to be on how people collaborate to improve the organization.
  • Responding to change is more important than following a plan because the plan is only a tool that helps you know when things are changing.  I think you have to have a plan that covers all the steps in your perfect journey to the perfect outcome.  But, you also have to understand that part of a perfect journey is recognizing its unpredictability and learning to respond to discovery.

I think that Agile will be useful applied to portfolio management as well as software development.  The PMI standard for portfolio management says that ‘portfolio management is a framework that provides the means to translate the organizational strategy into a portfolio of strategic and operational initiatives.  It manages the actualization of those initiatives through the use of organizational resources.’

Agile suggests that the organizational resources are its people.  People pursue the organization’s desired strategic (perfect) outcomes by working together and with its customers to discover the best mix of opportunities for improvement.  These opportunities are pursued incrementally so that each completed step delivers progress toward the objectives and a clearer understanding of the next step.

I like the mix of Agile, portfolio management, and the other side of risk.  Writing about it gets me a little closer to using it productively.  Let me know if you think it all fits together.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2013, Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk”

The IKEA Effect – Projects Made with Love

Maybe the secret ingredient to project success is love.  After all, isn’t anything made with love more special to the maker and the receiver?  Maybe someone should do a study on this.  Wait, someone did!

The Ikea Effect says “labor enhances affection for its results.”  A recent study at Harvard written about by Michael Norton in Harvard Business Review found that people undervalue products that they don’t contribute to, and tend to overvalue – fall in love with – those on which they have labored. This study builds on marketing research from the 1950’s on cake mixes.  Housewives resisted instant cake mixes because they were too easy.  They were concerned that their labor to make the cake would be undervalued.  On the other hand, when the cake mixes were changed slightly requiring the cook to add an egg, adoption rose dramatically.  More labor = more love.ikea cake

The more recent study looked at IKEA furniture and Build-a-Bears.  Laypeople assemblers of bookcases and teddy bears tended to value the products of their labor higher than they valued more expertly crafted versions.

Another finding, to temper the thought that labor leads unconditionally to love, was that the work had to be completed for the IKEA Effect to take hold.  Partially finished work was not valued the same way.  You have to be able to step back from what you did, look proudly at it, and say “I did that.”  Kind of like I do when I finish each blog post.

There must be a lesson in here for our projects.  Continue reading

Happy Families, Happy Projects

For the past several years I’ve encouraged all my clients, and now my co-workers, to adopt agile methods on their projects.  I also encourage it for any work, like software maintenance work, that can be organized as well-defined sets of tasks that are completed in a time period.  In my experience, all work groups that use a good agile methodology as it’s meant to be used end up more productive and happier, too.  My inspiration to write about agile today, though, comes from a different place that further proves what a good practice it is.

A new book by Bruce Feiler, “The Secrets of Happy Families,” encourages families to adopt an Agile Family Strategy.  Bruce got this idea talking with a software engineer in Idaho, David Starr, who moved his family from dysfunctional to functional by bringing home his agile software development practices.  Bruce tried the same agile techniques as well as lots of other good ideas for happy families and also had great success.  Both Bruce and David found that what worked for software developers and their clients worked for families with kids, too.  Agile’s simple consistent practices focused the family members on helping each other, being accountable, planning things to do in realistic chunks and getting them done, and involving everyone in setting rules and making decisions.  Everyone was happier, more productive, and appreciated one another.  This is what we want at home and at work.

agile boardThe first chapter of Bruce’s book is the Agile Family Strategy.  Bruce thoughtfully cited a paper published by David and Eleanor Starr – “Agile Practices for Families” – which I found on the Internet.  I read the preview chapters of Bruce’s book on Amazon and ordered it for my son’s family.  Russ and Kellie do a great job with their three young daughters.  I saw this book as affirming and expanding their family practices.  Being a software development person, I especially liked the Starr’s paper.  It clearly linked agile methods (derived from the Toyota Production System or “lean”) to a realistic set of practices to engage family members in a fun way to make the pressures of everyday life with kids a little less stressful.

Continue reading

Consulting and Project Management

As a project manager you often have a lot in common with a consultant.  Understanding how consultants contribute to organizational change and use influence to lead teams is valuable to us as project managers.  I talked about this a while back in “Split Personality” because I often fill both roles on different projects at the same time.   Dan Rockwell’s “Leadership Freak” post today brings me back to the topic.

I think there are two primary reasons a project manager should also be a skilled consultant.  First, as a project often changes its organization, a skilled consultant will find ways to engage people and build on their strengths to help bring about the change.  Consulting skills help us see opportunities beyond the stated scope of the project, and balance the strong project management focus on the triple constraints and risk mitigation, in order to achieve project objectives.  In “Split Personality” I covered this aspect of the project manager consultant overlap and offered some consulting approaches that can help project managers achieve a balance.

The second reason a project manager should have an understanding of consulting skills is that both roles often lead from behind.  As a project manager, you may have limited influence over your organization; or even over your team.  Your success depends more on your ability to influence than on your positional authority.  No other role depends more on the need to influence than that of consultant.  As consultants, we want to bring about positive change, but by definition we have to do so without authority.  Consultants have to influence their teams and their organizations because they can’t control them.  So, project managers and consultants share leadership challenges and depend on their ability to influence.  What skills help us get better at influence? Continue reading

Situational Collaboration

Sometimes idealism runs rampant.  At least in my brain.  My last post wrapped up with the comment: “we project managers need first to be collaborators through and through.”  Just the phrasing makes me think that I was deeply engaged in idealistic self indulgence.  Not a bad thing.  But, all things need balance.

Dan Rockwell’s “Leadership Freak” comes through again with a relevant reinforcement; and this time a counterpoint to balance my rant.  Today’s Leadership Freak post “When Collaboration Doesn’t Work” does a wonderful job helping us deal with the situation where we want to collaborate but it isn’t working.  Collaboration, at least the ideal of collaboration, isn’t always the right answer to getting where we need to go.

Read Dan’s post and then think about what it’s saying about collaboration.  I think it’s saying that collaboration, like leadership, is situational.  There is always an opportunity for collaboration, it just presents itself in different ways and calls for different approaches and levels.  Sometimes we collaborate fully when the parties share values, bring diverse perspectives and expertise, and are seeking a strategy for a long term solution.  Sometimes we are at odds in many ways but still need to get something done.  Here we may collaborate minimally, or hold at bay those who would use feigned collaboration as a weapon against progress.

I really like Dan’s post as it give us insight into how to temper an idealistic view of collaboration with the realities of the situation.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk” 2012