Picture of the book cover


Today we conclude our read of Commitment – Novel about Managing Project Risk with a few highlights.   

The novel Commitment presents Rose’s evolution from an adjunct of a traditional project manager into an Agile leader. Rose is ripped out of her safe place and presented with an adventure she is reticent to take.  The project she is thrust into leading is failing and Rose can either take the fall or change. Real options and Agile techniques are introduced as a path forward for both Rose and the team. In the novel, Agile concepts such as self-organization are at odds with how things are done.  When a change is introduced that clashes with how we do things, it generates cognitive dissonance. Coaching and mentoring are methods for sorting out the problems caused when dissonance disrupts and organization.

One the hardest changes Rose has to address during the novel is that the job is not really done until the work is delivered to the customer. And as we find out later in the story, the job is not done until the customer uses what has been delivered. Many software projects fall prey to this problem because developers and testers are incentivized to complete their portion of the work so they can begin the next project. In many cases as soon as work is thrown over the wall it disappears from short-term memory. Throwing work over the wall breaks or delays the feedback cycle which makes rework more costly.  In the novel we see this problem occur twice, once between development and testing and later between the whole team and the customer who was afraid to implement the code every two weeks. Completing work and generating feedback are critical to making decisions

The novel’s explanation of staff liquidity was excellent. The process of staff liquidity begins by allocating the people with the least options (the fewest things they can do or most specialized) to work.  In self-managing teams, this requires that team members have a good deal of team and self-knowledge (see Johari’s Window). Those with more options fill in the gaps in capability after the first wave of allocation and are available to react when things happen. Allocating personnel with the most options last provides the team with the most flexibility. It should be noted that just because someone has a large amount of experience, that might not translate to options. Expertise and experience in one capability (for example, a senior person that can only test) has very few options, and therefore, have to be allocated early. Steven Adams connotes staff liquidity to T-shaped people. T-shaped people have a depth of expertise in one or few areas but have shallower expertise outside his or her specialty.  A T-shaped person enjoys learning and will have a good handle on their learning lead time. A team of T-shaped people and the use of staff liquidity increases the number of options a team has to deal with problems and changes as they are recognized.

In the epilogue of Commitment – Novel about Managing Project Risk everyone lives happily ever after.  At the end of the novel, I am left both with a better handle on a number of Agile and  lean techniques and perhaps more importantly with the need to see the options possible so that we can discern the difference between making a commitment and when we actually have choices. In the end, options allow us to maximize the value we deliver as we navigate the world full of changing context.

Thanks to Steven Adams who recommended Commitment.  Steven re-read the book and provided great comments week in and week out (Steven’s blog). His comments filled in gaps and drew my eye to ideas that I had not put together.  

Next week we begin the re-read of be Kent Beck’s xP Explained, Second Edition.

Previous Installments:

Part 1 (Chapters 1 and 2)

Part 2 (Chapter 3)

Part 3 (Chapter 4)

Part 4 (Chapter 5)

Part 5(Chapter 6)

Part 6 (Chapter 7)