Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Got to keep moving!

For some, boredom is the great fear. Got to keep moving!
"He had a function, an excuse for activity. For a few hours at least he wouldn’t be bored. ... he drank the coffee, which was still too hot. He reflected that the fear of boredom had driven him the whole of his life."
Ann Cleeves, Novelist

The fear or boredom was a driver ...
Frankly, I know how he feels

Add value
It shouldn't be motion for motion's sake
It should be about the utility of what you are doing
I need an activity plan for every day ... how will this day add value to what I am about?

About utility
Utility is the marginal difference between face value and the value you -- or someone else -- puts on what your are doing or offering. 

If you think about it, almost anyone can offer up face value if they have the skills for that domain, but if you are in constant motion -- avoiding boredom -- then that activity should be directed at more than just face value.

Even if it's just reading a book, the question is: how much better off are you for having engaged in that activity? For me, I read a lot of history because I think there are lessons there to be applied forward that will add value to my endeavors. And, of course, I might avoid a risk I might not otherwise understand.

If you are driven to activity ...
Make it count for something.


Buy them at any online book retailer!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Risking the team

Are you on one of those death march projects about to burn out. Want some time off? Perhaps it's in the plan

Formula  solution
Google among others -- Microsoft, etc -- are well known for the "time off, do what you want toward self improvement and personnel innovation" model; formulas like that lend objectivity to the process (not playing favorites, etc). Note: more on this in the "6x2x1" model discussed last

Productivity drop
Of course, the real issue is one that agile leader Scott Ambler has talked about: the precipitous drop in productivity once you reach about 70% throughput capacity of the team. Up to this point, the pace of output (velocity) is predictably close to team benchmarks; thereafter, it has been observed to fall off a cliff.

Other observers have put it down as a variation on "Brooks Law" named after famed IBM-370 project leader Fred Brooks: "Adding people to a late project makes it later" . In this case, it's too many people on the team with too many interferences. It's been observed that to raise productivity, reduce staff!

Wave bounces
In the physics of wave theory, we see the same phenomenon: when the "load" can not absorb the energy applied, the excess is reflected back, causing interference and setting up standing waves. This occurs in electronic cables, but it also happens on the beach, and in traffic.

Ever wondered why you are stopped in traffic miles from the interference while others up ahead are moving? Answer: traffic load exceeds the highway's ability to absorb the oncoming cars, thereby launching reflections of standing waves that ebb and crest.

So it is in teams: apply energy beyond the team's ability to absorb and you simply get reflected interference. Like I said: the way to speed things up is to reduce the number of teams working and the number of staff applied.

WIP Limits
In agile/lean Kanban theory, this means getting a grip on the WIP limits... you simply can't have too many things in play beyond a certain capacity.

Sometimes the problem arises with sponsors: their answer is universally: Throw more resources in, exactly opposite the correct remedy

6x2x1 model
One of my students said this:
"Daniel Pink  has an excellent book called Drive, the surprising truth about what motivates us. In the book, Pink talks about inspiring high productivity and maintaining a sustainable pace.

One of the techniques is the 6x2x1 iteration model. This says that for every six two week iterations the development team should have a 1 week iteration where they are free to work project related issues of their choice.

You can also run a 3x4x1 model for four week iterations. Proponents of this approach have observed that the development teams will often tackle tough problems, implement significant improvements and generally advance the project during these free play periods. Without the time crunch to complete the story points the team also refreshes itself."

I don't know, but Pink's thesis may have been the genesis of the Google and Microsoft "time off" plans I've already mentioned, or maybe the experience of those plans found their way into Pink's thesis. Either way, time off matters!

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Backlog blocked?

Yikes! My backlog is blocked! How can this be? We're agile... or maybe we've become de-agiled. Can that happen?

Ah yes, we're agile, but perhaps not everything in the portfolio is agile; indeed, perhaps not everything in the project is agile.

In the event, coupling is the culprit.

Coupling is system engineering speak for transferring one effect onto another, or causing an effect by some process or outcome elsewhere. The coupling can be loose or tight.
  • Loose coupling: there is some effect transference, but not a lot. Think of double-pane windows decoupling the exterior environment from the interior
  • Tight coupling: there is almost complete transference of one effect onto another. Think of how a cyclist puts (couples) energy into moving the chain; almost no energy is lost flexing the frame.
In the PM domain, it's coupling of dependencies: we tend to think of strong or weak corresponding roughly to tight or loose.
Managing coupling is a task in risk management because coupling may introduce unwanted risks in the project or the product.

If coupling is a problem, how to solve it?
If coupling is a benefit, how to obtain it?
First, there's buffers to loosen coupling
The buffer -- if large enough -- absorbs the effect. For an excellent treatment of buffers in the PM domain, see Goldratt's  book "Critical Chain Method" for more about decoupling with buffers

Second, there are coupling objects
  • To avoid coupling, buffers may not do the trick.
  • But to enable coupling, we need some connectivity
In either case, think of objects, temporary or permanent, that can effect the coupling. A common example is seam in one fabric joining to another. The seam forms a "rip-stop" which prevents a ripping all down the fabric. 
One system that uses such a rip-stop is the sails on a boat: rip-stops are sewn into the sail fabric to prevent a total failure in the event of damage in one section, and thereby to decouple the damage from one section to another.
Now, move that idea from a sail to a backlog, using object interfaces for isolating one backlog to another (agile-on-agile), or from the agile backlog to structured requirements (agile-on-traditional).

With loose coupling, we get the window pane effect: stuff can go on in "Environment A" without strongly influencing "Environment B". 
Some caution advised: this is sort of a "us vs them" approach, some might say stove piping.

The case for tight coupling
Obviously then, there are some risks with loose coupling in the architecture that bear against the opportunity to keep the backlog moving, to wit: we want to maintain pretty tight coupling on communication among project teams while at the same time we loosen the coupling between their deliverables.

There are two approaches:
  • Invent a temporary object to be a surrogate or stand-in for the partner project/process/object. In other words, we 'stub out' the effect into a temporary effect absorber.
  • Invent a service object (like a window pane) to provide the 'services' to get from one environment to another.
Of course, you might recognize the second approach as a middle layer, or the service operating system of a service-oriented-architecture (SOA), or just an active interface that does transformation and processing (coupling) from one object/process to another.

With all this, you might see the advantages of an architect on the agile team!

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Mentioned in Dispatches

In the British Army of yesteryear, it was an honor to be "mentioned in dispatches" from the front lines to the general HQ and the public at large

And so, I'm honored to be mentioned as one of the 130 top PM "influencers" of 2020 in a posting at the digital project manager site.

I can attest to many of those mentioned, many of whom I follow or subscribe-to myself, many of whom I have quoted in this blog. So, I stand in good company of many accomplished individuals in our field who have contributed to our professionalization. 

I commend to you this listing of PMs you might want to become acquainted with in your project work

Buy them at any online book retailer!