Tag Archives: project

Plan The Work But Don’t Work The Plan

I tweeted yesterday something that I had overheard to which a friend of mine, Toby then responded. As Toby then went on to suggest, the five tweets that I responded back with were a great analogy for why batching should be avoided (it had nothing to do with the 140 character limit, it was intentional, honestly.)

I thought that a blog post would allow me to better justify why I tweeted what I had overheard. My primary concern with the statement that was made is that in my opinion, batching all the requested items together to avoid somebody having to rework a plan multiple times slows down the delivery of the highest priority item the effect of which is to deliver value back to the person(s) that requested the work later.

Tying the team up on a larger bodies of work has further affects though. Firstly I think it means that it is less likely that a shorter feedback loop would exist which in turn, would mean that it would be easier for both the team and the person(s) requesting the work to not consider the smallest piece of functionality that could be delivered to meet the requirement. It starves the person responsible for prioritising the work of options to change, it asks for a commitment to deliver all requested items well in advance of their actual start date. Lean and Real Options would suggest deferring your commitment to the last responsible moment and as the InfoQ article I link to, I think this is at the core of being agile.

Working in very small batches isn’t without complication though; the concerns that I am suggesting in the above statements are born out of a bias towards a project based delivery mentality, the alternate to which is a product based one. In the environments that I have worked within it has always been difficult to group products in a meaningful way which in my experience has often lead to product owner groups all of whom need to compete to get their work done which has often ended up leading to frustration. From an engineering perspective, working in smaller increments also increases the need for two things: automated test suites that provide early visibility of breaking changes and also remove the strain on those people that fulfil a testing role in respect of doing the need to do full regression testing. Secondly, an automated release process is needed so that time spent doing releases is reduced.

I should be clear in all of this that I am not suggesting that planning does not add value. The value it brings though is in support of the actual delivery of the requested work. It’s biggest benefit is from a communication perspective and in that respect, it should be something that is recognised as being constantly out of date and therefore that it has a cost associated with it in keeping it up to date.

I mentioned flow specifically in one of my responses and that is point is worthy of expansion. If you imagine a magnet being passed above a bed of iron filings, a weak magnet would have less of an affect on the filings than a magnet with a stronger field would. Similarly small features individually passing through a team’s pipeline have less probability of causing a disruption. In relation to batching, Little’s Law suggests that the more items in a pipeline at any given time has the net effect of slowing (or to use the analogy, disrupting) the other items also in that pipeline. Finally, when you focus on individual features it makes it much easier in my opinion to understand where the bottlenecks are in your system Having the knowledge and then understanding why they exist is the first step in being able to focus efforts on  setting your pipeline up to work as effectively as possible with those bottlenecks.

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    Agile: Like Fingernails On A Chalkboard

    This is a post that I’ve had in my drafts for some time now, mainly because I’ve been trying to temper it’s message somewhat, having posted Agile Adoption – Just Say No the other day though I thought it was worth posting as a follow up as it relates to the last of the 3 points that I made.

    Handling Polystyrene, somebody running their fingers down a chalkboard, two things that have always made me cringe. Well, you can now add the word Agile to that.

    It seems that in my haste to see Agile adopted, I’ve not taken the time to clearly state to people why I see it as a worthwhile pursuit. After our recent reorganisation there’s even more talk of a move to Agile, we’ve got our own Agile Consultant, there’s even some people working on defining an Agile process. All good stuff.

    Or perhaps not. There are some things to be really concerned about here, to desire to have, or to create an Agile process misses the point somewhat I think, there are plenty of good books out there which will help with a vanilla implementation such as Agile Project Management with SCRUM (Microsoft Professional)*, more importantly though let’s not pit Agile against Waterfall (for that is what is implied) – let’s not suggest that one is better than the other because there isn’t an argument there.

    So what can we be doing, if not Agile, what should we be aiming for?

    Well in my head it’s simple (some people might take the opportunity here to say that most things are…), we should be aiming to do the best job for our customers that we can. That’s a pretty vague and unsubstantial statement, to be more specific, if we’re considering delivering projects / products at an enterprise level, I think you need the following two things:

    1. A Clear Governance Model

    This serves two purposes, it ensures that the customer is getting sufficient visibility of the progress being made on a project, it commits them to the project in some way, it is a vehicle for communication with them. Secondly, it gives the team some parameters to work within, consider the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing group development model which suggests that during the forming stage a team will meet and understand the opportunity and challenges that they are presented with. If we focus on the typical challenges faced by project managers I think it’s fair to say that attempting to work within the classic Time, Scope and Budgetary constraints is one of those challenges but we should also recognise that there’s always some movement on those and that in that the challenge is to operate within a set of parameters and in my opinion those parameters should be mandated by the governance model both from a tolerance perspective and a communication / escalation perspective. My point here being that how the team is delivering is not important to the customer nor in fact to the team initially, they should set out a set of principles by which they want to be driven (perhaps during the storming and norming phases) in each instance based on their knowledge of their environment and allow the practices that they use to evolve as their landscape changes around them.

    2. A Culture In Which It Is OK To Make Mistakes

    This may make some of you think, that would never work in an organisation but let’s face it (and be honest) we all make mistakes on a daily basis, it’s what you do about those mistakes that define you and your organisation. Now granted, you don’t create a culture, you build relationships and trust but as well as that, I think you need to build an environment of learning, one where you’re looking to continually evolve and that everybody’s committed to furthering themselves and others around them. All very easy to write about, a lot harder to actually implement and live by.

    * I don’t necessarily subscribe to the opinion that Scrum is sufficient as an agile process in itself, I agree wholeheartedly with my colleague Matt Wynne that Scrum is a vehicle for introducing a change culture at an organisational level and like the stabilisers on a kids bike for a team – see the full post here.

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