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 July 20 – 26

Ballon PassingNew project management articles published on the web during the week of July 20 – 26. We give you a high-level view so you can read what interests you. Our theme this week is Agile software development. Recommended:

Must read!

  • Johanna Rothman shares a few tips for product owners faced with ranking features in a backlog. This needs to be a checklist!
  • Neil Killick shares a twelve-point decision tree (which only looks like a questionnaire) that will help you determine whether your team is actually developing software using Agile methods. And no, it’s not a twelve-step program – just a coincidence.
  • Aaron Smith interviews Thomas Wise, co-author of the new book, “Agile Readiness: Four Spheres of Lean and Agile Transformation.”

PM Best Practices

  • Elizabeth Harrin: “The biggest challenge facing project management today is that project-related work and jobs are growing too quickly for our approaches to professionalism to keep up.”
  • Adam Shostak points us toward a good, long read at CIO on real lessons learned from the dubious rollout of Healthcare.gov.
  • John Goodpasture quotes John LeCarre (for the second time in a week) on the need for facts to have a credible source.
  • Kailash Awati continues his series introducing us to R, the open source statistical analysis package.
  • Kerry Wills walks us through his analytical process for Issues.
  • Bruce Benson leverages a story in Bloomberg Businessweek to introduce the radical idea of skepticism, as a tool for issue prevention.
  • Kenneth Darter observes that some issues only crop up after the project is (nearly) completed. That doesn’t make them non-issues!
  • Matthew Squair reports on a demonstration of how to take control of a car via the internet. “My new car has Wi-fi!” Far out, Dude …
  • Lynda Bourne covers the elements of stakeholder engagement, including a bit of history.
  • Paul Ritchie addresses a tough recruiting question: how do I interview for soft skills?
  • Nick Pisano looks at the economics of data through the lenses of public sector economic and Moore’s Law.
  • Rex Homlin explains that successful projects are successful on three levels.
  • Ryan Ogilvie covers the basics of software asset management.

Agile Methods

  • Mike Griffiths posts an infographic and some statistics and analysis on a topic we sometimes avoid: the down side of open space office plans.
  • Mike Cohn provides an alternative to user stories, for when your users aren’t really part of the story.
  • Glen Alleman explains why deadlines still matter, even in an Agile world.
  • Bob Tarne explains Lean, from a mountain climber’s perspective.
  • Alhad Akole share best Scrum practices for getting to zero defects.

 

Podcasts and Videos

  • Cesar Abeid interviews the all-around wonderful Dorie Clark, on how to be better and how to be noticed for it. Just 55 minutes, safe for work.
  • Harry Hall shares a short video, where Shane Hastie explains the discipline of business analysis. Three minutes, safe for work.
  • Ruairi O’Donnellan shares a micro-video on issue management using Sharepoint. Less than two minutes, safe for work.

 

Enjoy!

New PM Articles for the Week of July 6 – 12

Balloon SunriseNew project management articles published on the web during the week of July 6 – 12. We give you a high-level view so you can read what interests you. Our theme this week is taking a skeptical look at extraordinary claims. Recommended:

Must read!

  • Kailash Awati takes a critical look at knowledge work and the flimsy basis for claims of expertise.
  • John Goodpasture summarizes a few revolutionary ideas for the 21st century technocrat organization, despite his misgivings.
  • Bruce Benson compares the fault in his GPS that said he ran a four-minute mile with the claims made by methodology advocates.

PM Best Practices

  • Harry Hall reviews some strategies for dealing with the process by which sub-par resources get assigned to our projects.
  • Jim Anderson gives us some pointers on how to take control of a negotiation.
  • Elizabeth Harrin interviews Mark Woeppel on his new book, Visual Project Management.
  • Glen Alleman outlines the three major strategic themes underlying most IT projects.
  • Allen Ruddock suggests that the PMO can have an important role in maintaining stakeholder engagement.
  • Dan Patterson advocates for risk analysis as part of the process of green lighting a new project.
  • Bruce Harpham bullet points the characteristics of a good summer project. The kind you choose for yourself, of course!
  • Margaret Meloni composes an open letter to project team members.
  • Toby Elwin drives home the need to understand the action objective before communicating.
  • Ryan Ogilvie lists a few specious claims to avoid when pitching change. My favorite: “No testing is really needed.” Yup, that’s why we have production …
  • Braden Kelly starts a series on using Six Sigma / DMAIC to drive innovation.

Agile Methods

  • Johanna Rothman has gathered some insights for program-level product owners, and shares three of them with us.
  • Henrico Dolfing shares his lessons learned from using Scrum on an actuarial modeling project.
  • Nada Aldahleh has some suggestions for improving Scrum.

 Podcasts and Videos

  • Cesar Abeid interviews author, podcaster, and strategic business coach Gene Hammett on leaving the corporate world and learning from failure. Just 55 minutes, safe for work.
  • Cornelius Fichtner interviews project management coach and mentor Jeff Furman on his approach. Just 30 minutes, safe for work.
  • William McKnight presents his TED talk on information as the next natural resource. Well, maybe not natural, but definitely a resource. Just 15 minutes, safe for work.

Outside the Lines

  • Peter Saddington shares a two minute video, ”Did I Get the Job?” Funny, not safe for work, but there’s nothing good on TV, so why not?
  • Seth Godin relates an interesting technique for getting an audience involved.
  • Vivek Prakash describes what he claims is, “The only technique that resolves conflicts.”

Enjoy!