Saturday, April 25, 2015

Our man Juran

Agile people may have had their first real quality thinker and champion almost 70 years ago with Joseph Juran (should I say three score and 10 years ago?)

More in line with Agile thinking, Juran began the quality shift away from W. Edwards Deming’s product focus and toward a customer focus. He -- Juran -- is known for his advocacy of the Juran trilogy:
  • Quality improvement,
  • Planning, and
  • Control.
But, here comes the Agile part:
Juran stressed the quality concept of fitness for use. He believed that meeting a specification is a necessary condition, but insufficient without fitness to use—that is, honoring the customer’s idea of product value and utility. In a word, features are not valuable unless they are everyday useful.

Juran’s ideas are what agile practitioners think of as favoring customer value over following a plan.
Juran defined five parameters that make up fitness to use:
  1. Quality of design, a judgmental parameter with grades of goodness
  2. Conformance to standards and customary expectations of the market
  3. Safety in use
  4. Usability in a customer’s setting
  5. Availability, a consequence of frequency of breakdown and rapidity of  repair
Among tools, Juran popularized the Pareto chart, which he named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto recognized the phenomenon of the 80-20 rule in his study of business activity, though the chart etc came from Juran

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Analysis for the decision maker

I'm always amazed by the quantities of analysis and the collection of data that goes nowhere. Managers and customers all want to get in on the data revolution --- measure this; collect that; report this other thing.

I ask: to what end? If I give you the numbers, what are you going to do with them? Is there a decision you can make because you have the data? And, is the decision material to project objectives?

I am always astonished at the "deer in the headlights" reaction: No answer in many cases. Just data for data's sake. Nonsense. That's not lean, and it's not smart.

If you can't go to a decision maker and say: "This will make a difference", then what's the point?

On the other hand:
A good and talented analyst, paired with a decision maker who knows good input when it's presented, is a formidable pair. Hard to beat.

About that bias:
Ooops, what if the analyst has an agenda? Can the decision maker be duped? And, what if the decision maker has an agenda? Will the analyst go along?

That, ladies and gentleman is corruption. Malcom Gladwell recently opined about what powers a system that works well in spite of relatively few sheriffs (translation: lean governance):
  • Fair to all: the little guy can get a fair hearing. In project terms, this often means either open door policies, flat organizations, or extraordinary transparency in decision making
  • Respectful of opinion: the messenger is safe; and, the message is listened to; and the message could have real leverage in a decision, even from the little guy
  • Trustworthy: the rules don't change to fit the circumstances. In statistical speak: stationary in time and place.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Speaking with persuasion

This month is the 150th anniversary of the end of the American civil war, at least the fighting part, with the surrender of the troops under General Robert E. Lee to General Grant at Appomattox in Virginia.

But, a couple of years ago was the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the end. The beginning of the end came at the battle at Gettysburg, PA. in July, 1863. A few months later, in November, Lincoln gave his celebrated Gettysburg Address

Project managers would do well to look at the address from the point of view of speaking with persuasion:
  • It is set in a narrative context;
  • It begins with facts we can all agree to;
  • It is not narcissistic; "we" and "our" throughout
  • It gives compelling reasons;
  • It is short;
  • It is commonly understandable; and
  • It has stickiness.
Would that everything we say to a decision maker have those qualities.

Do you know the Address? (everyone in my generation had to memorize it)
Tim David explains it all in his posting:

Opening with a narrative we can all agree has facts:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal
Follow-up with compelling reasoning:
Why? “The proposition that all men are created equal.”
Why? “To see whether that nation, or any nation so conceived can long endure.”
Why? “For those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.”
Why? “For us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Why? “[So] that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Of course, persuasion works right along side motivation and self-interests. There's nothing so easy as to persuade someone of something that is also in their self-interest, and it's also self-evident on the face. But in 1863, that was not the case on either side of the question. Fortunately, the Address was masterfully persuasive, motivating, uplifting, and, as I said, put a capstone on the beginning of the end.
(And, I'm a Southerner)

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Team diversity -- a different wrinkle

I've read a lot about teams, and written more than a few words, so it was that I realized Carson Tate has an idea I've not thought much about:
".... differences in work style — or the way in which we think about, organize, and complete tasks.
In any office you will find four basic types of people:
  • Logical, analytical, and data-oriented
  • Organized, plan-focused, and detail-oriented
  • Supportive, expressive, and emotionally oriented
  • Strategic, integrative, and idea-oriented"
Of course, this is nice to know, but what does a PM do about it?

Tate suggests two actions that are available to managers
  1. Organize tasks and parse the work statement according to who is good at what.
  2. Coach performance according to the native capabilities or dispositions
Actually, I think I do something like that routinely. In my words, it would be:
  1. Let the planners do the planning, and keep the blue sky types away from the details
  2. Don't try to push a round peg into a square hole. One size and shape does not fit all, so work assignments are tailored to skills and disposition
Of course, sometimes you have to get the work done. In that case, it's simple:
All hands on deck!

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Uncertainty revisited (again, and again)

How many ways can you spell uncertainty? More than you might imagine. Here are a couple more for the project dictionary from eight2late:
I don't know what I don't know, a.k.a. "State space uncertainty'
The standard view of uncertainty assumes that all possible states are given as a part of the problem definition ...   In real life, however, this is often not the case.

Bradley and Drechsler identify two distinct cases of state space uncertainty. The first one is when we are unaware that we’re missing states and/or consequences. For example, organisations that embark on a restructuring program are so focused on the cost-related consequences that they may overlook factors such as loss of morale and/or loss of talent (and the consequent loss of productivity).

The second, somewhat rarer, case is when we are aware that we might be missing something but we don’t quite know what it is. All one can do here, is make appropriate contingency plans based on  guesses regarding possible consequences.

Did this cause that!?, a.k.a Option uncertainty
The standard approach to tackling uncertainty assumes that the connection between actions and consequences is well defined. This is often not the case, particularly for wicked problems. 

For example, as I have discussed in this post, enterprise transformation programs with well-defined and articulated objectives often end up having a host of unintended consequences. At an even more basic level, in some situations it can be difficult to identify sensible options.

I can't make up my mind, a.k.a Preference uncertainty
An implicit assumption .... is once states and consequences are known, people will be able to figure out their relative preferences for these unambiguously. This assumption is incorrect, as there are at least two situations in which people will not be able to determine their preferences.

Firstly, there may be  a lack of factual information about one or more of the states. Secondly, even when one is able to get the required facts, it is hard to figure out how we would value the consequences.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

The worthless metric: percent complete

Perhaps I've said this before. I certainly intended to. But, percent complete is a worthless metric

Percent complete is not a measure of value; it’s really not even a measure of completeness, even if some things are completed at less than 100%. 
I say this because, as a ratio, both the denominator and numerator are in play. Thus, “percent complete” is a moving baseline.

The ratio is dimensionless, whereas value has a dimension; it can be measured.
In the Agile space, percent complete is replaced entirely with “remaining effort”. In other words, the Agile management focus is on three questions:
  1. How much do I have to do—to wit: backlog for the iteration, release, or project
  2. How much have I done already—backlog burned and done, and
  3. How much do I have left to do? Note: how much left includes the WIP.

Since the backlog is dynamic—some new things added, some things abandoned, some things left over as debt from prior iterations—you can see that percent complete is meaningless.

The backlog at any given moment is the denominator (burned, WIP, and not started); the numerator is the backlog burned. Both numerator and denominator change from moment to moment, rendering the metric useless for management purposes.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Customer success

Is there anything more to say than this about making your customer successful?
If the customer is not satisfied, he may not want to pay for our efforts. If the customer is not successful, he may not be able to pay. If he is not more successful than he al¬ready was, why should he pay?
Niels Malotaux

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