The schedule is not the enemy when used correctly.

The schedule is not the enemy when used correctly.

I recently asked a group of the Software Process and Measurement listeners why they hated schedules. The focus of the question was not on plans, which are documents that provide strategic direction but rather schedules which are more task oriented. The respondents were a mixture of scrum masters, project managers, process improvement leaders and change leaders primarily in software development, enhancement and support. I should note that by being readers of a process blog and/or listeners to process-related podcast the respondents marked themselves as lifelong learners and perhaps a bit outside of the norm (in a good way). However, the top five answers were:

  1. They are generally wrong. Schedules, especially anything over a longer time horizon, establish an expectation. These schedules reflect best guess and best intentions and rarely standup to what as teams wrestle with delivering value. There are all sorts of techniques to try to anticipate schedule drift, like adding padding. These techniques are tacit admissions that the schedules are generally wrong.
  2. Schedules prescribe how a problem is to be solved. A detailed schedule is the embodiment of a solution; listing the tasks that specify what is to be done and when it needs to start and be completed. However, as most projects progress, the solution as it was originally conceived, evolves. This renders a detailed schedule moot.
  3. Schedules are someone else’s idea of what should happen. Project managers or tech/test leaders are often tasked with creating schedules (this even happens on Agile teams when someone else breaks tasks down and assigns the work). Schedules are created with input or buy-in from the team doing the work yielding animosity and stress from the team. Release and iteration planning are Agile’s solutions to these problems.
  4. Schedules reduce team behavior. One attribute of an Agile team is supportive behavior. Teams commit to work and then, when needed, swarm to tasks and features so that the team can meet its commitment. Detailed project schedule commits team members to performing specific tasks in a specific order.  The schedule gets in the way of team members being able to use self-organizing techniques like swarming.
  5. Detailed schedules take a huge amount of upkeep. One respondent suggested that for any project scheduled to take more than a year to complete, one person should be allocated to maintaining the schedule. That included chasing team members for updates, resolving conflicts and in general being a pain. Other respondents were less specific, but indicated that the cost of the schedule was more than the value.

The question generated responses that were oriented detailed project schedules typically found in projects managed using classic project management techniques.  A few respondents pointed out the value of detailed project schedules. Some of the benefits included the ability to distribute and direct work across distributed teams and to facilitate a discussion of when the project would deliver. It should be noted that these responses came from more command and control oriented organizations. Respondents with a background in Agile tended to point out that while they did not feel that a classic project schedule made sense, the combination of product backlog and sprint level task list was a necessity.

 

A map is a plan.

A map is a plan.

All projects should have some sort of plan. Whether that plan is a classic project plan and schedule or a prioritized backlog and a release plan. A plan helps answer stakeholder questions and, perhaps more importantly, it reflects the philosophy of the project. In order for a plan of any type to be helpful, the plan and philosophy must be possible. Bob Ferguson (Listen to SPaMCAST 240) said that there were ways to detect a plan what was not possible. Several of the rules of thumb that Bob suggested (augmented with a few of my own) are:

  1. Difficult work is done late. This is on both of our lists. Teams that avoid addressing difficult or technically complex stories backload risk, which can impact a project’s ability to deliver value. Conceptually this problem should be harder in Agile, assuming stories or features are prioritized in value order and the inter-relationship between features is factored into the value discussion.
  2. Learning is not explicitly planned. Any project that is creating new features or a new product should have prototyping built into the process used to gather requirements and build a backlog. Experiments/prototypes also can and should be used to prove solutions that are complex or cutting edge (at least for the team). This item was on Bob’s list and not on mine; it is now.
  3. Rate of story completion is not feasible. If the plan can’t be completed given the team’s (or teams’) level of velocity or productivity, then it is a bad plan. Plans that specify the amounts of functionality to be delivered, the date of delivery and the budget to be spent have credibility problems, however when they are developed using wishful thinking productivity rates they enter into the impossible range. This one is on my list and not Bob’s (in your face Bob).
  4. Belief that the plan — is THE Plan. A plan, schedule or backlog that does not change for a project of any moderate or large size is wrong or if it actually works is  the reflection of sheer dumb luck (Harry Potter reference – reread Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.). Anyone that falls into the trap of absolute belief that any project deliverable can be created once and referenced forever will find delivering value difficult at best.
  5. Not involving the business. The real product owner(s) must be part of the product to act as an active conduit of business acumen into the team to minimize wait and search time. All too often business stakeholders have been taught treat the boundary between IT and the business as a demilitarized zone where information hand-offs occur on a periodic basis. This behavior makes planning and maintaining any sort of plan difficult at best which slows the project down. IT teams often elect proxy product owners from inside the IT boundary leading to the same result (I heard this termed all of the responsibility and none of the authority). Proxy product owners can’t provide the level of feedback on priorities and the plan that the business can.

Plans have value only if they are current and only if maintaining plans, schedules, backlogs and the release plans do not become the goal of the project. Planning helps teams to develop a strategy for delivering value, but they must be allowed to change. Change is inevitable because we are learning both personally and about our project everyday. Not using what we learn is silly!

 

For all undertakings (home improvement as well as measurement programs) make sure you have resources, a plan and the right attitude.

For all undertakings (home improvement as well as measurement programs) make sure you have resources, a plan and the right attitude.

Part of the Simple Checklist Series

Beginning or continuing a measurement program is never easy. The simple Measurement Checklist is a tool to help generate a discussion about the attributes that are important to be successful either as you implement a measurement program or when you have shifted into support mode.  The tool has been broken into 3 categories: resources (part 1 and 2), plans, and attitudes.  Each can be scored and leveraged separately. However, using the three components will help you to focus on the big picture.

Scale

The simple checklist can be used as a tool to evaluate how well you have prepared for your measurement journey.  As a reminder, each question in the survey is evaluated as a multiple-choice question.  The scale is high, medium, low and not present (with one exception), and each response is worth a point value (some are negative).  Scoring a question with a response that has a 0 or negative value is usually a sign that your program faces significant issues; in which case, proceed with caution.

Section and Question Weights:

Resources: Forty-two total points. Each component contributes up to 7 points.

Plans: Eighteen total points. Each component contributes up to 6 points.

Attitude: Forty total points. Each component contributes up to 8 points.

Scoring

Sum all of the scores from each of the three categories.

100 – 80  You have a great base. Go live the dream.  Use techniques like continuous process improvements and retrospective to make improvements to your program.

79 – 60   Focus on building your measurement infrastructure.  Use focused improvement projects to target weaknesses in your measurement program.  The changes will be bigger than the changes that are meant to be identified in a retrospective.

59 – 30   Remediate your weaknesses immediately.  If you have not started your measurement program, focus on the problem areas before you begin.  If you have begun implementation or are in support mode, consider putting the program on hold until you fix the most egregious problems.

29 –   0   Run Away! Trying to implement a measurement program will be equivalent to putting your hand in the garbage disposal with it running; avoid it!  In this case consider significant organizational change initiatives.

That's a bad attitude.

That’s a bad attitude.

Part of the Simple Checklist Series 

The simple Measurement Readiness Checklist will be useful for any major measurement initiative, but is tailored toward beginning a measurement program.  The checklist will provide a platform for evaluating and discussing whether you have the resources, plans and organizational attitudes needed to implement a new measurement program or support the program you currently have in place.

I have divided the checklist into three categories: resources (part 1 and 2), plans, and attitudes.  Each can be leveraged separately. However, using the three components will help you to focus on the big picture. Today we address attitude.

Here we continue the checklist with the section on plans and planning.  If you have not read the first three sections of the checklist please take a moment see (Measurement Readiness Checklist: Resources Part 1,  Measurement Readiness Checklist: Resources Part 2 and Measurement Readiness Checklist: Plans).

Attitude

When you talk about attitude it seems personal rather than organizational. But when it comes to large changes (and implementing measurement is a large change), I believe that both the attitude of the overall organization and critical individuals (inside or outside the organization) are important. As you prepare to either implement measurement or keep it running, the onus is on you as a change leader to develop a nuanced understanding of who you need to influence within the organization. This part of the checklist will portray an organizational view; however, you can and should replicate the exercise for specific critical influencers and yourself.

Scale and Scoring

The attitude category of the checklist contributes up to forty total points. Each component contributes up to 8 points (8, 4, 2, 0).

Vision of tomorrow

Is there a belief that tomorrow will be demonstratively better based on the actions that are being taken? The organization needs to have a clear vision that tomorrow will be better than today in order to positively motivate the team to aspire to be better than they are.

8 – The organization is excited about the changes that are being implemented.  Volunteers to help move the program or to pilot new concepts are numerous.

4 – Most of the organization is excited about most of the changes and their impact on the future.

2 – There is a neutral outlook (or at least undecided).

-5  – There is active disenchantment with or dissension about the future.

Support Note: Measurement organizations often fall into the trap of accepting and ignoring the organization’s overall vision of the future.  While a measurement program typically cannot change how an organization feels about itself, it can be a positive force for change.  Make sure your Organizational Change Plan includes positive marketing and how you will deliver positive messaging.

Minimalist

I once believed that the simplest process change that works was usually the best approach.  I have become much more absolutist in that attitude, demanding that if someone does not take the simplest route that they prove beyond a shadow of doubt that they are correct. Minimalism is important in today’s lean business environment.  Heavy processes are wearing on everyone who uses them and even a process is just right today, entropy will add steps and reviews over time, which may add unneeded weight.  Score this attribute higher if your organization has a policy to apply lean principles as a step in process development and maintenance.

8 – All measurement processes are designed with lean principles formally applied.  Productivity and throughput are monitored to ensure that output isn’t negatively impacted.

4 – All measurement processes are designed with lean principles formally applied; however, they are not monitored quantitatively.

2 – All measurement processes are designed with lean principles informally applied.

-5 – Measures and measurement processes are graded by complexity and the number of steps required with a higher number of steps being better.

Support Note:  In many cases embracing a lean philosophy is more important after the initial implementation of a measurement program as there is a natural tendency to add checks, balances and reviews to your measurement processes as time goes by.  Each step in a process must be evaluated to ensure the effort required adds value to information measurement delivers to the business.

Learner

A learner is someone that understands that they don’t know everything and that mistakes will be made, but is continually broadening their knowledge base. A learner understands that when made, mistakes are to be examined and corrected rather than swept under the carpet. Another attribute of a learner is the knowledge that the synthesis of data and knowledge from other sources is required for growth.  In most organizations an important source of process knowledge and definition are the practitioners — but not the sole source.

8 – New ideas are actively pursued and evaluated on an equal footing with any other idea or concept.

4 – New ideas are actively pursued and evaluated, but those that reflect the way work is currently done are given more weight.

2 – The “not invented here” point of view has a bit of a hold on the organization, making the introduction of new ideas difficult.

0 – There is only one way to do anything and it was invented here sometime early last century.  Introduction of new ideas is considered dangerous.

Note:  The Buddhists call this the beginner’s mind which seeks new knowledge with free eyes.

Goal Driven

The organization needs to have a real need to drive the change and must be used to pursuing longer-term goals. The Process Philosopher of Sherbrooke argues that being goal-driven is required to be serious about change.  In many cases I have observed that a career near-death experience increases the probability of change, because it sharpens focus (assuming it does not create a negative atmosphere). A check-the-box goal rarely provides more than short-term, localized motivation.

 8 – The organization has a well-stated positive goal and that measurement not only supports, but is integral to attaining that goal.

2 – The pursuit of the measurement is about checking a box on a RFP response.

-10 – Measurement is being pursued for no apparent purpose.

Overall Note:  Measurement programs that are not tied directly to supporting organizational direct goals should be stopped and restarted only after making sure of the linkage.

Conviction

Belief in the underlying concepts of the measurement (or other change framework) provides motivation to the organization and individuals. Belief provides a place to fall back upon when implementation or support becomes difficult.  Conviction creates a scenario where constancy of purpose (from Deming’s work) is not an after-thought, but the way things are done. Implementing measurement programs are long-term efforts — generally with levels of excitement cycling through peaks and valleys.  In the valley when despair becomes a powerful force, many times conviction is the thread that keeps things moving forward. Without a critical mass of conviction it will be easy to wander off to focus on the next new idea.

 8 – We believe and have evidence that from the past that we can continue to believe over time.

4 – We believe but this is the first time we’ve attempted something this big!

2 – We believe  . . . mostly.

0 – No Organizational Change Plan has been created.

 

Next up: scoring and deciding what to do with the score.

Plans are your guide to where you want to go.

Plans are your guide to where you want to go.

(Part of the Simple Checklist Series)

The simple Measurement Readiness Checklist will be useful for any major measurement initiative, but is tailored toward beginning a measurement program.  The checklist will provide a platform for evaluating and discussing whether you have the resources, plans and organizational attitudes needed to implement a new measurement program or support the program you currently have in place.

I have divided the checklist into three categories: resources (part 1 and 2), plans, and attitudes.  Each can be leveraged separately. However, using the three components will help you to focus on the big picture. We will address each component separately over the next several days.

Here we continue the checklist with the section on plans and planning.  If you have not read the first two sections of the checklist please take a moment see (Measurement Readiness Checklist: Resources Part 1 and Measurement Readiness Checklist: Resources Part 2).

Plans

Planning for the implementation or support of a measurement program can take many forms — from classic planning documents, to schedules, Kanban boards or even product backlogs.  The exact structure of the plan is less germane here, rather having an understanding of what needs to be done is most important. There are several plans that are needed when changing an organization. While the term “several” is used, this does not mandate many volumes of paper and schedules, rather that the needs and activities required have been thought through and written down somewhere so everyone can understand what needs to be done. Transparency demands that the program goal is known and that the constraints on the program have been identified (in other words capture the who, what, when, why and how to the level required).

Scale and Scoring

The plans category of the checklist contributes up to eighteen total points. Each component contributes up to 6 points (6, 3, 1, 0).

Organizational Change Plan

The Organizational Change Plan includes information on how the changes required to implement and/or support the measurement program will be communicated, marketed, reported, discussed, supported, trained and, if necessary escalated.  This level of planning needed to include tasks such as:

  • Develop activity/timeline calendar
  • Identify topics newsletter articles
  • Create articles
  • Publish articles
  • Identify topics for education/awareness sessions
  • Schedule sessions
  • Conduct sessions

6 – A full change management plan has been developed, implemented and is being constantly monitored.

3 –An Organizational Change Plan is planned, but is yet to be developed.

1 – When created, the Organizational Change Plan will be referenced occasionally.

0 – No Organizational Change Plan has or will be created.

Support Note: Even when a program reaches the level of on-going support, an overall organizational change and marketing plan is needed.  Adding energy to keep the program moving and evolving is necessary, or entropy will set in.  Any process improvement will tend to lose energy and regress unless they continually have energy added.

Backlog

The backlog records what needs to be changed, listed in prioritized order. The backlog should include all changes, issues and risks. The items in the backlog will be broken down into tasks.  The format needs to match corporate culture and can range from an Agile backlog, a Kanban board to a Microsoft Project Schedule.

6 – A prioritized backlog exists and is constantly maintained.

3 – A prioritized backlog exists and is periodically maintained.

1 – A rough list of tasks and activities is kept on whiteboard (but marked with a handwritten “do not erase” sign).

0 – No backlog or list of tasks exists.

Support Note:  Unless you have reached the level of heat death that entropy suggests will someday exist, there will always be a backlog of new measurement concepts to implement, update and maintain. The backlog needs to be continually reviewed, groomed and prioritized.

Governance

Any measurement program requires resources, perseverance and political capital. In most corporations these types of requirements scream the need for oversight (governance is a friendly code word for the less friendly word oversight). Governance defines who decides which changes will be made, when changes will be made and who will pay for the changes. I strongly recommend that you decide how governance will be handled and write it down. Make sure all of your stakeholders are comfortable with how you will get their advice, counsel, budget and, in some cases, permission.

6 – A full-governance plan has been developed, implemented and is being constantly monitored.

3 –A governance plan is planned, but is yet to be developed. .

1 – When created, the governance plan will be used to keep the process auditors off our back.

0 – Governance . . . who needs it!

Next  . . . Attitude. You have to have one and you have to manage that attitude to successfully lead and participate in organizational change.

A measurement program is like building a wall. Make sure you have all your resources in place.

A measurement program is like building a wall. Make sure you have all your resources in place.

Part of the Simple Checklist Series (Resources Part 1)

Beginning or continuing a measurement program is never easy. Many times measurement programs begin because an organization or individual thinks it necessary for survival or to avoid pain. Measurement can be thought of as a balance between the effort to collect and report measurement data and the value gained from applying what is learned from the measurement data.  Measurement programs targeted only the at gathering and reporting part of the measurement program will languish in the long run. On the other side of the equation, i.e. measures need to be used in order to generate the value needed to eclipse the effort of collection and reporting. Everyone must be educated on how to use measurement data and then continually asked to use the data. Both sides of the equation are necessary. The simple Measurement Readiness Checklist will be useful for any major measurement initiative, but is tailored toward beginning a measurement program.  The checklist will provide a platform for evaluating and discussing whether you have the resources, plans and organizational attitudes needed to implement a new measurement program or support the program you currently have in place.

I have divided the checklist into three categories: resources, plans, and attitudes.  Each can be leveraged separately. However, using the three components will help you to focus on the big picture. We will address each component separately over the next several days.

Scoring

This checklist can be used as a tool to evaluate how well you have prepared for your measurement journey. The following questions are the evaluation criteria.  To use the checklist, answer each question with high, medium, low and not present (with one exception). Each question will contribute points toward the total.

Section and Question Weights:

Resources: Forty-two total points. Each component contributes up to 7 points (7, 3, 1, 0).

Plans: Eighteen total points. Each component contributes up to 6 points (6, 3, 1, 0).

Attitude: Forty total points. Each component contributes up to 8 points (8, 4, 2, 0).

Note that where support and implementation projects would need to take a different angle we will point out any possible nuances.

Resources

Resources are the raw materials that you will consume on your measurement journey.  As with any journey having both the correct resources and correct amount of resources will make the journey easier.  Just think of trying to canoe from New York to London for a meeting; the wrong resources can make the trip difficult.

Management Support: When initially implementing a measurement program, support from management is the most critical resource.  This is the time when measurement seems to be all effort, cost and bother.  Later, as value is derived, support can be less visible.  Note that the more management support you have across the whole IT structure, the easier it is to get a measurement program on its feet and keep it there.

Scoring

7 – Senior management is actively involved in guiding which measures and metrics are collected and how they are used.  Senior managers stop people in the hall to discuss progress in collecting and using measurement data. Discussion of progress is an agenda item at all management-staff meetings.

3 – Senior and middle managers attend formal measurement informational meetings and talk about the need to support the measurement initiative.

1 – A senior manager or two attended the kick-off meeting, then relocated en mass to Aruba, leaving the middle managers in charge.

0 – The measurement initiative is a grass-roots effort.

Support Note:  Whether you are answering from a support or implementation perspective does not matter.  Management support is important.

Change Specialist: Measurement is a form of organizational change that typically requires skills that are not generally found in an IT department. The skills needed to start and perpetuate a measurement program include sales, marketing and communication.

7 – An organizational change specialist has been assigned as a full time resource for the project.

3 – An organizational change specialist is available within the organization and works on many projects simultaneously. The specialist may or may not have experience with IT change programs.

1 – Someone on the team has helped craft an organizational change plan in the past.

0 – Organizational change websites are blocked and your best bet is buying a book on Amazon using your own cash.

 Support Note: A change specialist is needed for ALL change programs regardless of whether we are discussing implementation or generating ongoing support.

Expertise: A deep understanding of measurement will be needed in a dynamic IT environment.  Experience is generally hard won. “Doing” it once generally does not provide enough expertise to allow the level of tailoring needed to deploy a measurement program in more than one environment. Do not be afraid to get a coach or mentor if this is a weakness.

7 – The leaders and team members working to implement and/or support the measurement program have been intimately involved in successfully implementing measurement in different environments.

3 –At least two team members have had substantial involvement in implementing a measurement program in the past, in a similar environment.

1 – Only one SME has been involved in a measurement program and that was in another environment.

0 – All of the team members have taken basic measurement classes and can spell measurement, assuming they can buy a vowel.

 Support Note:  You can never have a measurement program without someone with (or without access to) measurement knowledge.

We will finish the resource part of the checklist tomorrow.

3-27 2013 Birthday Cake-s

Every project has a birthday, whether it is every two weeks or every month. It is an opportunity to remember that we are one step closer to our final goal. The calendar is the most important measuring stick used to gauge progress on any project.  Regardless of whether it is really the most important measure, it is the measure everyone understands and can keep track of.

Pay attention to the markers that show that time is passing (sprint reviews, demonstrations or milestones), and let everyone know what has been accomplished since the last important date. Everyone likes a celebration whether it is because of  a piece of cake or the demonstration of some tasty bit of promised functionality.