Do Not Erase



I can still hear the panicked conversation from down hall “I came in this morning and the plan we worked on all day yesterday is gone.” There were other words but I would like to keep this  business friendly. We have all probably had something like this happen. Early in my career as a consultant I got some great advice, “always have a backup”. Unfortunately you tend to get that kind of great advice right after something really bad happens. If you have not experienced the cleaned blackboard or presentation file that won’t open yet take this advice to heart.

Having a backup does not have to be a big deal. Keep a copy of your presentation on paper or thumb drive. If you have spent the day noodling on a black or white board use your cell phone to take a picture or go old school and copy everything down. I have always wondered if the cure for cancer has been made only to be erased overnight when someone misses the “please keep” sign.


The word ‘plan’ evokes many emotions, not all of them pleasant.  The root of the problem is a nearly racial memory (I have been reading Jung again) of an intricate project schedule developed before the first requirement was ever collected.  The plan even went so far as to promise a delivery date.  The knee jerk reaction to what is perceived as over-planning has always been to avoid planning altogether and to trust that feedback loops will guide you to the goal.

The problem is that, without even the most rudimentary planning, when you are just reacting you are guilty of tampering. Paraphrasing a bit, tampering is defined by Dr. W. Edward Deming as changing the system based on feedback, without at least some knowledge of the path you want to take and the capacity of the system. Deming’s Funnel Experiment, where changes are made to the system based on a single outcome observation, proves that tampering with a system without a bigger picture will cause greater variance than if you do nothing at all. And we know how well that works. Having enough of a plan, for example a release plan in Agile, can provide the context needed to reduce variability, or at least saving the variability for the real surprises.

Our goal in any project is to deliver value as fast and as well as possible.  The right kind of plan and feedback will help stop you from wandering aimlessly.

Value Vs Calendar

Which is more important, meeting the date or delivering a solution that thrills the customer? The answer is never as straight forward as we would like. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take all of the time needed to build the perfect process?  Of course there are deadlines and promises to deliver that might place constraints on your improvement project.

Agile techniques such as short time-boxed deliveries provide an avenue for letting your stakeholders see the value that is being built and delivered.  Demonstrations and iteration planning sessions gives the product owner and other stakeholders a feedback loop to keep the process improvement team focused on what is valuable to them and by proxy, the entire organization.

The goal is value but if you promise to deliver on Tuesday you need to make sure you have something to show on Tuesday.

Data and Data Analysis:

The relationship between data and analysis can be described using soccer as an analogy. Data describes where the ball is now; analysis helps predict where it will be next. Value is derived from having foreknowledge of where the soccer ball will be later.  Conclusion:  If you really want to add value, learn how to apply quantitative analysis tools (more than just graphs).

Using Approximations:

Using an approximation as an absolute is a risk that can be mitigated. The process of decision-making many times needs to use approximations because waiting for certainty may be a lengthy proposition. Because absolutes are typically rare or take too long, approximations are a necessity. I suggest adding risk mitigation in the form of a feedback loop to all decision making processes. Feedback loops will allow you to refine the original decision based on data when needed. Feedback solves a number of common management problems (including some which aren’t related to decisions based on an approximation like changes to the environment).  Conclusion:  A decision-making process with out a feedback mechanism is  . . . just silly.