Book Cover

And welcome back!  For those who are interested, The Frederick Half Marathon last weekend was great.  I met my goal; I crossed the finish line, collected my medal and got to hang out with my family in Frederick.  This week, we begin Part Two of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015.  Part Two is titled Evolution At Play: Practicing Holacracy.  In my opinion, Part Two provides readers with the nuts and bolts needed to use Holacracy.  Chapter 4, Governance, takes all of the building blocks from previous chapters and starts to weave them together. (more…)

XP Explained

This week we tackle teams in XP and why XP works based on the Theory of Constraints in Extreme Programing Explained, Second Edition (2005). The two chapters are linked by the idea that work is delivered most effectively when  teams or organizations achieve a consistent flow. (more…)

Sponsors champion a vision for the project!

Sponsors champion a vision for the project!


The role of a project sponsor (or sponsors) is discussed less often than project and program managers, Scrum masters, developers or even coaches. Even in its simplest form the role of a sponsor is not only important, but also critical. Good sponsors provide funding and resources, vision and political support.

A sponsor typically provides the funding for the project or program. He or she that owns the project checkbook will in the end own the decisions that affect the overall budget. The budget is then translated into the people, tools and software needed to deliver value to the business by the sponsor’s lieutenants. Lieutenants can include project and program managers, the product owner, Scrum masters or technical leads. Control of the budget is also an indication that the sponsor is ultimately responsible for delivering an amount of value to the overall business. They are often judged by whether the money spent on projects delivers a return on investment. Therefore sponsors will be interested in how their money is being spent.

If sponsors are responsible for both the funding for a project and then the value the project delivers, they must also be the champions of the project’s vision. The vision represents the purpose or motivation for the project. Until delivered, a vision is the picture that anyone involved with the project should be able to describe. I often liken the project vision as the flag on top of the mountain that acts as a rallying point. While a sponsor does not have to conceive of every project vision, they must act as a cheerleader motivating the organization to support the team or teams.

I can’t conceive of an organizational environment outside of a single proprietorship in which the day-to-day pressures of delivery put pressure on project personnel and resources to focus their time more urgent tasks (urgent and important are not the same thing).  The general level of noise and jockeying for people and resources can lead to a loss of focus or worse yet a premature change in direction. One of the most fundamental roles that a project sponsor has is to act as bulwark to shield the project from pressures that could delay or pull the project apart. Standing up against the pressure that even mundane day-to-day operations can create requires the use of the sponsor’s political capital within the organization. Political capital is generated from where the sponsor is in the organization hierarchy, how critical the project is to the organizations mission, the perceived ROI of the project and the sponsor’s ability to deliver winners. 

Project sponsors are generally senior figures in most companies. Sponsors are called on to champion the projects vision and then to back words with funding and political capital. All of the assets a sponsor brings to the table are perishable therefore sponsors will always be every interested in the work being done in their name.

IT workers are highly specialized, like the pika is for his habitat.

IT workers are highly specialized, like the pika is for his habitat.

One of the key features of Scrum is the small number of named roles.  According to Capers Jones, the information technology field has more named specialties than any other profession. In practice this means that individuals are spread across more project teams so they can practice their specialty.  This degree of overspecialization leads to complexity by making the logistics of planning and delivering work more difficult.  Just making sure a the correct specialists are available at the right time can be a nightmare.

The roles of the core team called out by Scrum are:

  1. The product owner who represents the voice of the business,
  2. The development team that transforms ideas into functionality and
  3. The Scrum Master who facilitates the team and process.

Scrum teams work when they have the following common features.

  1. Cross-functional teams: the team includes the disciplines needed to accomplish the agreed upon functions.
  2. Self-organizing teams: the team decides who does what and how they do it.
  3. Self-managing teams: the team uses peer pressure, group consensus and discussion to make sure the work gets done.
  4. Business representation: the team includes the business representative.  The business representative acts as the voice of the customer, and even more importantly, the voice of change.
  5. Backlog-driven: work is selected from the backlog by the product owner. Sprints build to releases rather than being driven by brittle schedules.

These attributes help teams form boundaries, develop the relationships needed for trust and then to succeed in delivering real business value, forming a virtuous cycle that reinforces team cohesion.

The one role not explicitly identified in Scrum that causes the greatest concern is the project manager.   The common roles of the traditional project manager are:

  1. Measurement – How are we doing?
  2. Tracking status – Where are we?
  3. Reporting – Telling others how things are going.
  4. Communication – Are the right people are talking to each other, internally and externally?
  5. Risk management – What are the risks and what is to be done if they happen?
  6. Process compliance – Are the processes are being followed?

In the Scrum framework all six of these common project management tasks are absorbed by the core team, under the auspices of self-organization and self-management.

IT specialties developed because the knowledge required to perform certain tasks were needed.  Whether that task was development, testing, business analysis or project management, the education and knowledge to perform these tasks are needed by the team.  Specialization that stops team members cross functional creates bottlenecks that reduce productivity and flow.

4-7 2013weird art

Exuberance is a passion for life and for work.  Exuberance plays a role in creative and scientific explorations  by providing the impetus to move forward. What gets you out of bed in the morning? If you can’t answer that question in a way that excites you, stop everything and find an answer.  Exuberance is something that can be part of everyone’s life, even if sometimes you have to look for it!