Commitment: It’s the Way Business is Done

Empty DesksI’ve recently noticed a trend: a number of Agile software development consultants, coaches, and thought leaders have been writing about commitment, in the context of management wanting them to commit to dates on a quarterly basis. The general consensus among these folks is that commitment should be on a shorter time line, like their bi-weekly sprints. Don’t ask us to commit to more than we can do in the next two weeks, because we don’t estimate well, or we don’t understand exactly what is needed. Like it says in the Agile manifesto. “We value responding to change, over following a plan.

Organizations Communicate Via Plans and Contracts

While that’s certainly a positive value, plans are also necessary. Especially for organizations negotiating contracts with customers and suppliers, transitioning to new lines of business, merging, acquiring, divesting, and doing all of the other outward-facing activities common to businesses. A CIO who greenlights a project to replace an ERP expects to be able to quit paying annual service charges to their legacy vendor on some date. A CEO who negotiated financial incentives for her suppliers, based on their utilization of their supply chain management system, agrees to milestone dates. A CFO who needs to merge two general ledger charts of accounts after an acquisition needs to be able to report financial results for a specific quarter. And when those things don’t happen on time, their ability to negotiate the next deal is hampered, much like your credit score is affected when you miss a mortgage payment. The business suffers, in ways great and small, from stock price dips to the cost of capital, to opportunities and jobs lost. The damage may never be apparent to the software development team, but it’s real.

There are few things less beneficial than perfect, too late. Therefore, mature software development teams set a window for requirements changes, announce it to their stakeholders, and deliver based on their understanding of what is required, at that point in time. Mature, quality-driven software development teams understand their tools, their environment, their architecture, and their limitations. They can sketch out a timeline that has a reasonable ability to manage their schedule risks, and they commit to it. Mature software development teams understand that it’s not about them, and it’s not about their processes; it’s about the needs and aspirations of the organization they serve.

Employers Value Business Acumen

PMI recently announced new continuing certification requirements for the PMP and other credentials that emphasize what surveys have identified as employer-desired skills. As PMI puts it, “Employers need project practitioners with leadership and business intelligence skills to support long-range strategic objectives that contribute to the bottom line. The ideal skill set — the PMI Talent Triangle — is a combination of technical, leadership, and strategic and business management expertise.” One of the key components of this skill set is what is commonly called business acumen: an understanding of the business, the marketplace, and the operating environment. It enables the project manager to interpret the strategy set by the leadership team and apply it to the project, thus improving the likelihood of delivering the benefits sought by the decision makers who approved it. If software development professional organizations are taking similar steps, I haven’t heard about it.

A competitive business environment is not a video game; it’s closer in spirit to a track meet, with multiple teams competing in multiple events. At some level, it’s the Olympics; competition on a global scale. If some portion of the organization can’t compete at the required level, that function eventually gets outsourced. And the decision to undergo that kind of painful, expensive disruption won’t be driven by some pointy-haired boss, but by a bunch of Wallys.

New PM Articles for the Week of August 3 – 9

Irvine ApproachNew project management articles published on the web during the week of August 3 – 9. We give you a high-level view so you can read what interests you. Recommended:

Must read!

  • Suzanne Lucas, the Evil HR Lady, explains the alternatives businesses will face when implementing the Department of Labor’s new overtime rules.
  • Chris Wilder notes that information, intelligence, and the internet of things is driving fundamental changes to the supply chain.
  • Lynda Bourne builds on two earlier articles on stakeholder engagement, with a focus on tools and techniques.

PM Best Practices

  • Glen Alleman debunks a few pronouncements on the differences between Agile and Waterfall.
  • David Cotgreave on getting the right PM assigned to the project: “Outsourcing PMO is a very effective filter against the risk of poor cultural alignment!”
  • Cynthia Zieman notes that the key to standardizing contract management is flexibility.
  • Susanne Madsen defines the four components of building trust
  • John Goodpasture shares some insights on negotiating.
  • Soma Bhattacharya interviews Mark Woeppel, author of “Visual Project Management,” on his model for visual PM, called Viewpoint.
  • Harry Hall lists seven techniques that, taken together, will dramatically improve the quality and reliability of project cost and schedule estimates.
  • Kiron Bondale considers the alternatives to crashing a project schedule.
  • Allen Ruddock identifies common problems with meetings and the ways to prevent them.
  • Michael Wood explains how to become as business-savvy as your management and customers expect you to be.

Agile Methods

  • Johanna Rothman clarifies the differences between product manager and product owner, and why the team’s manager should not also be the product owner.
  • Mike Cohn gets to the flimsy basis for the claim that 64% of software features are rarely or never used.
  • Henny Portman reviews David Scott Bernstein’s new book, “Beyond Legacy Code.” Not just for coders – this sounds interesting for everyone associated with software projects.
  • Bart Gerardi describes the virtuous cycle of action that is Agile.
  • Brian de Haaff starts a list of things developers should stop saying. Especially #11.
  • Mike Griffiths gives us two-sentence overviews of how the DSDM, SAFe, DAD, and LeSS frameworks address strategic alignment.

Podcasts and Videos

  • Cesar Abeid interviews communications diva Jenn Swanson on applying communication skills to a new job (or project). Just 55 minutes, safe for work.
  • Elizabeth Harrin lists a few tips for making virtual meetings work. Less than four minutes, safe for work.
  • Dave Prior interviews Gil Broza at Agile 2015, on why so many organizations are disappointed with their Agile implementations. Just 15 minutes, safe for work.

Working with People

  • Seth Godin notes the prevalence of superstition at work, where stuff is just so complicated.
  • Peter Tarhanidis says that the key to training project managers is to move away from pedagogy, toward adult learning.
  • Bruce Harpham interviews Donald Asher on his new book, “Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why.”


Non-Utilitarian Metrics

My new post at AITS was published this morning. After my usual wise-ass opening, I provide three examples of poor project management metrics and how they were presented, and conclude with a few summary principles for collecting actionable data and presenting it clearly. I’m pretty sure I can squeeze out a few more articles like this, but it would be great to have some input from other project managers and portfolio managers. Leave a comment here or at AITS, and share a story I can repeat. With attribution, of course.