I had a choice of just treating the symptom (taking a pill, but still living on Buffalo chicken wings) or embracing a larger change of better eating habit and exercise (I ran my first ½ marathon in May 2014).

I had a choice of just treating the symptom (taking a pill, but still living on Buffalo chicken wings) or embracing a larger change of better eating habit and exercise (I ran my first ½ marathon in May 2014).

All projects begin as just a gleam in their sponsor’s eye. During the gleam stage anything is possible. However as soon as the project begin to move forward decisions are made. Each decision changes the potential path of the project. The sum of all of those decisions can result in a project that is wonderful or one that will make you go OMG. In the Mythical Man Month, Fred Brooks wrote, “How does a project get to be a year late? … One day at a time.” [1] So, how do projects fail? One decision at a time. Projects run into trouble for a variety of reasons. A list of problems harvested from the famous Chaos report and other literature sources include the following categories:

  • Requirements problems
  • Lack of support
  • Technical mistakes
  • Lack of resources
  • Unrealistic expectations

These categories are not exhaustive, however in most surveys these categories are used to describe the root cause of the majority of projects that lead to challenged or failed projects. The symptoms of these problems are being behind schedule, over-budget, having poor quality, scope creep or lots of yelling and screaming. While highly observable, these are symptoms not causes. A few years ago I found that my cholesterol was higher than was acceptable. I had a choice of just treating the symptom (taking a pill, but still living on Buffalo chicken wings) or embracing a larger change of better eating habit and exercise (I ran my first ½ marathon in May 2014). The bigger change required not only new techniques, but a change in philosophy. Just like in medicine, just treating the symptom of a challenged project may not save the patient in the long run.

Why can Agile be used to save a challenged project? Projects can improve by implementing Agile techniques (or more coaching on previously implemented Agile techniques) because they can improve communication and help teams focus on what is important. The bigger improvement comes by when teams not only do Agile, but become Agile. Agile is both a set of techniques and a philosophy espoused in the twelve principles documented in the Agile Manifesto. Being Agile requires some combination of knowing specific techniques and embracing a set of organizational principles. Working based on the Agile principles yields results.

“Agile projects are successful three times more often than non-agile projects” – 2011 CHAOS Report from the Standish Group

When applied, Agile principles create an environment of involvement, strong change control, self-organization and short feedback loops. Agile reflects the application of an empirical process model.

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In simple terms, a cycle of inspection facilitated by transparency followed by adaptation helps drive self-correction. Another example of an empirical model is the Shewart Cycle of Plan-Do-Check-Act, popularized as the Deming Wheel. These types of models are at the heart of all project rescues.

 

[1] Mythical Man-Month Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition), 1995, Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-83595-9 Page 153

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