Sunday, March 29, 2009

A bit about Governance

Governance and agile methods may seem like an oxymoron. But not so. A means to govern is essential for orderly project functioning.

Without the elements of governance in place, at the moment of need there is only a vacuum which sucks in ad hoc solutions. Agile methodologists would not argue that governance is unnecessary or without value. Agile methodologists have gone so far as to build some governance practices into the process, although the not-Agile COBIT and ITIL programs are a bit over the top for agile projects.

As an example, at the team level, the daily time-boxed stand-up meeting is a governance mechanism. This meeting regulates the daily activity and points resources to problem areas where matters need resolution. And another: once a requirements set drawn from the backlog has been assigned to a team and to a sprint, that requirements set isn't allowed to change. This practice regulates the requirement drivers for the sprint and stabilizes the scope for the duration of the sprint.

When designing a governance program, two principles guide an effective implementation:

--Every process step is lean, meaning it is as efficient of resources as possible and it is as conservative of inventory as practical, inventory being the decisions to be made.

--Each step or activity adds some value to the outcome for both those that govern and those that are governed. Adding value means bringing the decision elements into focus and then deciding.

Consider a couple of points: first, governance can be the vehicle to lift the hand of top-down supervision by conveying rights to make the call to those close to the issues; second, good governance can be the reward system for disciplined behavior, for with discipline trust follows. Trust is an absolutely necessary condition for lean governance. Without a faith in the actions of others, many resources and steps will be added to check and inspect. And think about this: the best leaders are trusted by their followers, and the best teams are trusted by their leaders. Leadership inspires inquisitive minds to question the status quo, to search for a better way, and motivates action to turn opportunity into business and organizational value. A trusting organization is a 'safe' organization. Safety to go about doing really innovative and interesting tasks is a real benefit of trustfulness and discipline.The concept of a safe organization is an important concept in the so-called human powered methodologies called Crystal Methods. Alistair Cockburn has written much about safe organizations. See the link to his material in the link list on this blog site. In the agile space 'safety' translates into more generous boundaries, and this generosity often provides the stimulus to find challenging and competitive returns from opportunity.

Although governance can be the containment mechanics for downside risks, and is very often used just to constrain actions, even going so far as putting risk management somewhat on auto-pilot by means of work flow, having a governing framework in-place and operating does put a tool in the hands of the project manager. This tool, skillfully employed, can be the process to unleash actions to find new and better means to accomplish goals, provide some degree of risk management, and bring orderly and timely decisions to bear on priorities and alternatives.

I've encapsulated some ideas for a governance program in the slideshow below. Take a look

Are you networked on LinkedIn? If so, share this article with your network by clicking on the link.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Wicked Problem

Thinking about the unreasonable problems

I've been thinking about some unreasonable problems. Some call them 'wicked'. The wicked problem is one where the issues interlock and become interdependent, perhaps even circular, as in Catch 22. There's no definitive statement of the problem. In fact, until the problem is resolved, you may not know what the problem is -- it takes hindsight to see --

Some get at this problem with the IBIS, the issue based information system. You can learn more by viewing my slide share below or at

Are you networked on LinkedIn? If so, share this article with your network by clicking on the link.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Value is in the eye of the beholder

Value is in the eye of the beholder

Most projects do not stand apart from the business models of the enterprise that hosts them. The value proposition is always in the eye of the beholder -- stakeholders and customer alike -- meaning that value is bestowed by the beneficiaries. Simply put, projects fill a need not obtainable by other means and that is why the enterprise places a value on the outcomes.

Projects absorb the culture and demands and investment attitudes of the enterprises they benefit. These attributes affect not only means and methods but they affect pace and velocity. The worthiness of the endeavor is often a matter of timeliness, the time-value of benefits, a point well recognized by agile practitioners.

Most organizations pull all this together in a strategic plan. Strategic planning, as commonly practiced, sets goals and objectives and a notion of how to get there. This notion we call strategy: strategy is a linked and ordered set of activities that point unambiguously to a goal. Strategy is a plan for action set in context of culture and attitude, strengths and weaknesses, and threats and opportunities. Projects are a part of the action, an element of strategy and thereby a means to achieve goals.

A project management tip
Strategy is like a vector, possessing direction and magnitude. Strategy provides the linked actionable steps to achieve a goal

Projects with real business value are instruments of strategy
Projects without strategic alignment may provide momentary value but are lacking the sticking power of being on the road map to a beneficial goal

Projects are instruments of strategy, providing the means to execute important steps on the pathway to goals.

Are you networked on LinkedIn? If so, share this article with your network by clicking on the link.