Plan or CRASH!

At some point planning for planning needs to give way to planning.  Planning identifies a goal and helps to envision the steps needed to attain that goal. In Agile, the planning event also sends a message about the amount of work a team anticipates delivering in an iteration. While every team faces variations based on context and the work that is in front of them, a basic planning process is encapsulated in the following simple checklist.

Planning Preamble:  

As the team gets settled and before they leap into breaking work down into smaller stories, activities,and tasks the facilitator (e.g. Scrum Master in Scrum) should remind the team of the basics of planning, the ground rules, and expected outcome. The basics include:

___  How long the planning session will last (everything is time-boxed)

___  The time frame the team is planning for (e,g, a day, two weeks or several iterations).s

___  Everybody writes and everybody needs to participate.  

Not using a scribe tends to keep people involved. Also having everyone involved in the recording will help ensure that the records are not the sole responsibility of a single person which is a potential future constraint.

___ Decide on the planning order.

Planning order is often addressed in grooming, by organizational and/or team culture, or up front as part of the chartering. Review  the order and the rationale for it.  The three most prevalent ordering strategies are:
1. Hardest Part First
2. 
Highest Value First
3. Dependency Driven (those that can’t be avoided)

___ Definition of Done

Everyone in the planning should agree what the base components of done mean and whether anything out of the ordinary needs to be kept in mind during planning.  Remind everyone that done is not the same as acceptance criteria.

Business Context:

Providing business context is similar to reviewing the basics.  Business context serves many purposes, including motivation and answering the question of “why?” for the team.  Business context will help the team to make decisions more effectively and efficiently.  Business context items include:

___ Iteration Theme.  

The theme defines the overall goal.

___ Business Constraints

Are there business constraints that should be accounted for during planning?  For example, sometimes functionality is needed on a specific date due to legal mandates or other events.  One client had to plan to deliver a prototype for an industry show.

___ Important Discussion From Grooming

Grooming, like any business conversation, is a data gathering event.  Always share relevant information with the whole team.  

Planning:  

Planning is a process of decomposing work into smaller pieces.  Teams begin with groomed user stories and then break them into tasks.  Breaking the work down allows team members to gain a better understanding of what need to be done and how much work can be accomplished during the iteration.  Breaking work down also allows the work to be spread across the team based on capabilities and so that the team can swarm to the work when there are issues.   Considerations and guidelines include:

___ Take the first cut by breaking stories into big tasks before getting into the details.

This step helps teams not to get frozen into planning paralysis and into specifying the solution early in the process.

___ Target a consistent level of granularity for tasks.  

I recommend all tasks be slightly less than a day’s effort which makes it easy to show progress or to identify roadblocks quickly.

___ Plan out loud.

Planning out loud helps to keep everyone involved, away from silo thinking, and makes sure planning stays reasonable.

___ Plan slightly over capacity.

The team should plan a bit more than their productivity or velocity indicates.  The over plan represents a stretch goal and allows the team to  be positioned to continue moving forward if progress is faster than anticipated.

___ Remember to set aside capacity for maintenance and support (if needed)

Wrap Up:

Running out of time is not a great way to end a planning session.  Two normal steps help to provide  the team with planning closure

___ Review and commit to the plan.

The team should be able to agree that they will accomplish the plan based on the planning exercise.  I suggest testing commitment as planning progresses. However if the team can not commit to the plan, the issue will need to be identified and another planning session convened to address the problem. Note: if the facilitator is testing commitment during the session, this should be a rare event.  When a team will not commit I generally find they have been forced to oover-commitby an external party.

___ Do a retrospective

As a team, identify one thing you can do better and commit to making the fix!

The simple planning session checklist is useful to get a team ready to plan, keep the team on track and to improve the process. I have used the checklist as a training tool and as a tool to help guide new facilitators.  

Next: dealing with common planning variations.    

Woman looking at a guide book.

Your goals can be your roadmap.


We set goals to help channel our energy and filter out the less relevant demands on our time and attention.  Goals should reflect what is important to you now and be sticky enough help keep you on track when things get tough. However, context and circumstances do change, and when they do, goals can change.  For example, one of my neighbors had set a goal of canoeing in the Canadian wilderness in all four seasons in 2015. The goal had to be replaced when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He replaced the original goal with a new more pertinent goal. Given the importance of goals to direct our behavior, allocate our effort and to defend our attention, a simple checklist might be useful when creating resolutions or setting annual goals.
(more…)

A wrapping paper change barbarian

A wrapping-paper-change barbarian

When you begin a change process it is important to remember a few critical points. If you were getting ready for vacation, the checklist might include identifying who is going and who is in charge, deciding on a destination, a map, and hotel reservations. Beginning a process improvement project is not very different. Here is my simple checklist with five of the most critical requirements for preparing to embrace a journey of change. My critical five are:

1. An Identified Goal

2. Proper Sponsorship

3. Sufficient Budget

4. A Communication Strategy and Plan

5. A Tactical Plan

The first item on the checklist is an identified goal. The goal is the definition of where you want to go; the destination in the vacation analogy. A goal provides direction and a filter to understand the potential impact of constraints. Examples of a goal can range from something as simple as, “reduce the cost of projects,” or as complex as “attain CMMI Maturity Level 5.” The goal also sets the table for discussing all of the other items on the checklist, such as the required budget. One piece of advice: make sure your goal can be concisely and simply stated. Simplicity increases the chance the goal will be broadly remembered, which reduces the number of times you will need to explain the goal, which will increase the amount of time available for progress.

Proper sponsorship is next on the list. Sponsorship is important because it is provides the basis for the authority needed to propel change. There are many different types and levels of sponsorship. The word “proper” is used in this line item to remind you that there is no one type of sponsorship that fits all events and organizational culture. One example is the “barbarian.” The barbarian is the type that will lead the charge, but typically is less collaborative and more a command-driven personality. Barbarians tend to be viewed as zealots who harness their belief structure to provide single minded energy towards the goal they are focused on. Having a barbarian as a sponsor can infuse change projects with an enormous amount of power. The bookend to the barbarian type of sponsorship is the “bureaucrat”. Sponsorship from a bureaucrat is very different. Instead of leading the charge, bureaucrats tend to organize and control the charge. They may provide guidance, but they rarely get directly involved in the fray. The examples show two different varieties of sponsorship each that will fit in different organizations. In a life or death situation, I would like to have a barbarian for a sponsor. However if I was affecting incremental changes in a command and control organization, the bureaucrat would make more sense. Remember sponsorship is important because sponsorship give you access to power.

Budget is next on the checklist. The term budget can cover a wide range of ground ranging from money to availably of human resources (effort). The budget will answer the question “how much of the organization’s formal resources can you apply?” The budget that ends up being identified to support change is always less than what seems to be needed. Use this constraint as a tool to motivate your team to find innovations on the way to attaining the goal rather and a reason to rein in your goal.

The first plan I recommend building is an organizational change management plan (OCMP). The OCMP is frames how your project is going to transform the future state of the organization. It will integrate the project roles and responsibilities with the requirements for communication, training, oversight, reporting and the strategies to address resistance, and reinforcement activities. The OCMP is a mixture of a high-level map and how-to document that is critical to ensure you are as focused on how you are change the organization as to tasks required to define and implement specific processes.

Finally you will need a tactical plan that lays out the tasks you need to accomplish and the order the tasks need to be done. The focus and breadth of the tactical plan you use will be different depending on the project management technique that you use. For example, if you use a time boxed technique like SCRUM your tactical plan will focus on identifying tasks for the current sprint based on the backlog of items required to reach your goal. Regardless of the planning technique used you must have a tactical plan or risk falling into random activity. Use the technique that conforms to your project’s needs and your organization’s culture. The bottom line is that you will you need to understand the activities and order they occur in to get to your goal.

Change is difficult to accomplish in the best of times, and almost impossible if you fail to start properly. This simple checklist for change readiness was developed and compiled to help you focus on a set of topics that need to be considered when beginning any process improvement project. Are there other areas that should be on the list? Can each topic area be deconstructed into finer levels of granularity? I believe the answer is certainly yes, and I would urge you to augment and deconstruct the list and further to share your results. In any case a checklist that focuses you on getting your sponsorship, goals, budget and plans in order can help you start well.

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.

Resources include the tools of the trade and every trade has tools.

Resources include the tools of the trade and every trade has tools.

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.

Here we continue the resources portion of the checklist:

Cash

Change costs money. Costs can include consultants, training, travel and an odd late-night pizza or two.

7 – A reasonable budget has been established and the implementation team can draw from the budget for planned expenditures.  Emergency funding can be attained to handle issues as they arise.

3 – A reasonable budget has been established and approved; however, access must be requested and justified for all expenditures.

1 – Any time that money is required funding must be requested and approved.

0 – Donations are sought in the organization’s lunchroom on a periodic basis (consider a PayPal donation button on your measurement team’s homepage).

Support Note:  Having the cash to support programs is just as important as having the cash to implement a measurement program.  Where the cash gets spent might be different for a support program.

Effort

Even if you have bales of cash, developing and implementing measurement processes will require effort. Effort will be required from many constituencies including the process-improvement team, management and from the teams being measured, just to name a few.

7 – A reasonable staffing plan has been established and the measurement program is the only project the assigned resources have been committed to.  Dedicated teams make sense for process improvement in software development.

4 – A reasonable staffing plan has been established and the measurement initiative is the highest priority for the assigned resources.

1 – All resources are matrixed to the measurement initiative and they are also assigned to other high priority projects.

0 – The program has access to all the effort needed after 5 PM and before 8 AM and during company holidays.

Support Note:  Dedicated resources might be more important for a program in support mode than even for an implementation project.  The issue is that we (us humans) tend to be distracted by new projects which means paying less attention to the projects in support mode.

Projects

Measurement requires having something to measure and then something to influence.  The organization needs to have a consistent flow of projects so that measurement becomes about the trends rather than about specific projects.

7 – Projects are constantly beginning and ending which will provide a platform for generating a continuous flow of information.

3 – There are numerous projects in the organization; however they typically begin early in the year and end late in the year or on some other periodic basis that makes data collection and reporting erratic.

1 – The organization does only a small number of projects every year making trending difficult.

0 – The organization only does one large project every year.

Support Note:  Like dedicated teams, access to projects to measure is really important to ongoing measurement programs.  Being able to continually generate reports and presentations on the data will help keep the interest stoked.

Calendar Time

Calendar time is a resource that is as important as any other resource. Severe calendar constraints can lead to irrational or bet-the-farm behaviors, which increase risk. This is especially true in big bang implementations (which is a strong reason to avoid such implementations).

7 – The schedule for implementing the measurement is in line with industry norms and includes time for tweaking the required processes before appraising.

3 – The schedule is realistic, but bare bones. Any problems could cause delay.

1 – Expectations have been set that will require a compressed schedule; however, delay will only be career limiting rather than a critical impact on the business.

0 – The measurement program implementation is critical for the organization’s survival and is required on an extremely compressed schedule.

Support Note:  If you are using the checklist to find areas to improve the support of your measurement program, I would drop this question.

Further Note: Also if you have rated this items a ‘0’ I would suggest that you have a very serious issue and should seek consulting support.

Next planning questions . . .