Friday, January 29, 2016

Estimate everything?




Mike Cohn on estimating (from his email blasts):

"Because I've written a book on estimating, people seem to think I estimate everything on my product backlog. I don't.

I ask a team to estimate a product backlog item only when having the estimate will lead to actionably different behavior. 

So, for example, I might ask a team for an estimate on a user story so that I can decide if I want that story soon or perhaps not at all. Or I might ask for an estimate so I can make a commitment to a client or partner. But I don’t ask a team to estimate just so I can later yell at them if they’re wrong. I don’t ask a team to estimate just so they feel pressure to meet that estimate.

To make this practical, I looked at the product backlogs for both Mountain Goat Software and Front Row Agile, two websites for which I’m the product owner. For Mountain Goat, only 13 out of 61 (21%) user stories have estimates. This is largely because I am close enough to the development work on that site that I have a very good feel for how long things there will take. For most items, there’s really nothing my team could tell me that would change how I prioritize that work.

Things are a little different right now on Front Row Agile. There we have 18 out of 48 (37%) user stories estimated. But, I’ve also asked the team on that site to estimate 12 of the unestimated stories, meaning 30 of 48 (62%) will be estimated. That’s a much higher percentage than normal. It has to do with some year-end planning and budgeting we’re doing.

Why not estimate everything? 
 Estimating can add a lot of value. It can lead to better decisions. 
For example, I’ll make a better 2016 budget with the estimates I’ve asked for than if I don’t get them. Right now, that’s important to me. But, if an estimate will not lead to an actionably different decision, time spent estimating is wasted. And none of us has enough time that we can afford to waste any if we want to help our teams succeed with agile"



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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What time is the 3 o'clock meeting?


Have you ever been asked: "What time is the 3 o'clock meeting?" 
You're thinking: "This guy is on something; or he's texting while talking!"


We here in the backyard of the seemingly larger-than-life Walt Disney World* pay some attention to the management paradigms coming out of our corporate neighbor.

And, so the Disney response to that question is instructive, as given in this blog post from the Disney Institute, which I sum up as:

'Any interaction provides an opportunity to add value and improve quality of communications'
“What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” On any given day in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort, you might hear Guests asking our Cast Members this seemingly peculiar question. And, while the question appears to have an obvious answer, we also know that frequently the true question lies beyond the obvious.

As our Guests are often excited and distracted ..... So, Cast Members will ask some additional questions to uncover what it is that the Guest really wants to know…such as, “What time will the parade get to me?” “When should I start waiting to get a good viewing spot?” and “Where is the best place to stand?”

Instead of simply repeating the obvious answer—the actual parade start time—back to the Guest, our Cast Members take this opportunity to .... share with the Guest what time the parade will pass by certain locations in the park, offer possible vantage points to view the parade or advise when to leave another area and still arrive at the parade on time.

This is important, because rather than dismissing the “3 o’clock parade?” question as something trivial and offering a blunt response, Cast Members understand that it offers the opportunity to exceed the Guests’ expectations .....
.... the “3 o’clock parade” question is commonly used to help Cast Members understand that their answer can either end the conversation, or it can begin a quest for richer discovery.
....

*Did I mention:7 parks, 29 hotels on property, 40,000 acres, and tens of thousands of "cast members
And, I am an un-paid volunteer for Disney Sports Attractions

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

When it gets complicated


There is no problem so complicated that you can't make it worse - a common phrase in the astronaut business*

* Credit to Glen Alleman

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

About mistakes... oops!



Some say that an enlightened business/agency/enterprise is one that provides the freedom to make mistakes. Quantmleap had a posting on this very topic.

Perhaps... But, I don't agree with the broad idea that we need to allow for and accept mistakes. Mistakes are only tolerated up to some point, then ....

OPM
If you're working your own money, then you're free to make mistakes. But, if you're working with other people's money (OPM) it's all together a different situation.

Take a risk
This idea about mistakes should be more narrowly drawn, to wit: we need the latitude to take risks --some of which may not work out -- that are within the risk tolerance of the enterprise. How do we know what the tolerance limits are? We can ask, or by experience and intuition we learn/know the boundaries.

Here's the tricky part: risk attitude is not stationary: it matters when you look at it. Over time, optimism abates; pessimism rises. And, prospect theory tells us that risk attitude is different if you are facing a choice between bad or worse or between good or better.

So, it matters when the mistake is made (temporal dependency) and matters whether or not a mistake was made trying to avoid a really bad outcome (utility dependency)

We also need the latitude to make tactical errors (mistakes in some cases or calculated risks in others) so long as we don't make a strategic error. That is, we can be wrong tactically so long as we can recover and get back on a track toward the strategic objective. But to make a mistake on the strategic objective is almost always fatal.

Causality
We should also be mindful that -- even with the latitude allowed for these classes of mistakes or errors in assessment or even judgment or risks gone bad -- the cause or causality of the mistake is material. Negligence will never be tolerated; so also duplicity, though innocent ignorance may be ok.  Thus, the same mistake (effect) with different cause may be tolerable, or even thought to be a good bet that didn't work out.

Absolute?
Consequently, as in all 'rights', the right to make a mistake is not absolute;  as a practical matter there are often many constraints to even a liberal degree of latitude.



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Monday, January 18, 2016

Disruptive defined -- again!


I'm not one to obsess over the number of angels on the head of a pin, but a recent posting about what's disruptive and what's not caught my eye -- to wit: an innovation that captures and exploits excess capacity may well be disruptive even it doesn't it the traditional definition that it must come from below from a less capable competitor

The poster child for this idea is the smart phone that exploits the excess capacity in a mobile telephone to do decidedly non-telephonic things. Certainly disruptive! Does anyone have a land line anymore? But it didn't come for a poor below the horizon start-up. Apple was a big dog before the iphone, etc.

For those of us raised on the Theory of Constraints, 'exploiting excess' is certainly a different book. In the ToC world, the idea is all about efficiency: maximize the capacity and capability of the least capable functionality, and then do no more!

But then fostering disruption is not about efficiency; it's about creating and promoting and adopting new effectiveness, even if a bit chaotic. So, if you're out to be disruptive, the button-down is out and the t-shirts are in! The precision of project management is subordinate to eccentric ideas and free thinking. (Does PMI know this?)



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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Managing project value


I'm always appreciative of someone who'll evaluate what I've written, and especially on Amazon about my book -- cover photo below -- re "Managing Project Value". One reader's quote:
"The goal of everyone should be to add more value than they absorb. [The author] applies this notion to projects undertaken in an organizational setting and has written this compact but comprehensive book - a tour de force on all things project and all things organizational.....
The book was quite educational, and rewarding for us old project managers who have been vaguely wondering how all these sources of wisdom we were exposed to over the years all played together to net advantage for project managers, their projects, and their organizations..... "

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Program success dashboard



If you've looked at John Higbee's presentation about "Program Success Probability" you'll notice the neat arrangement of program success divided left and right by internal and external factors.

On page 5 of Higbee's slides, you'll find this image:

This presentation is intended as a dashboard. The colors are dynamic on a Red-Green-Yellow-Gray (not evaluated) scale. The scale has to be defined (calibrated) for each program in order for management to be able to get a proper take-away.

Trends are shown in each block with arrows. Again, trends must be defined for each program, i.e. what is the meaning for an up-pointing arrow?

Of course, Higbee goes on in the presentation with more detail and more examples of dashboard presentations, for example the more-or-less standard presentation of sliding bars to show progress vs plan

Since this presentation is for a government audience, it includes dashboards for contractor performance and even contractor business success

Bottom line: an interesting suggestion for dashboards are in this presentation, along with at least one gov'y's idea of what's important.


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Friday, January 8, 2016

Get people moving



Here's a useful paradigm both for the traditionalist and the agilist from a corner of the PM space not normally the place for such: CriticalUncertainties, a typically conservative blog about critical safety and failure (or fail safe) requirements in complex systems.

But, nonetheless, we get this input from critical systems safety expert Mathew Squair:
When you don’t know what to do, don’t sit down and plan what you don’t know, get people moving, talking, collaborating and making stuff. Then out of that activity you’ll find the information will emerge that will allow you to make decisions.
As Tom Peters points out we need to understand whether our methodologies have an inherent bias for action or a bias for planning, and then whether the situation is complex (but understood and stable) where planning will pay off or uncertain (with high novelty and volatility) where talking, thinking and looking at the small grain issues to build a picture of where we are is what we ought to be doing.


What more on agile? Available now! The second edition .........


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