Darkened Software

Waterfall, ISO 9000, CMM, Agile, Scrum, what fad is coming next

by on Apr.06, 2011, under Development, Lessons

Seems like every 3 years I am asked to learn a new system of project management that ends up being a 98% complete waste of time.  Why have there been so many systems created and thus so many books written about this single topic.

  • Projects are hard to manage because they are often complicated ( Budgets, locations, schedules, resources, cross group coordination, feedback, testing, customer satisfaction, marketing support )
  • People are hard to manage because they are always complicated ( Interests, skills, communication styles, personality, work habits, schedules, needs )

So “Project Management” is thus complicated * complicated = really dam hard.

The first factor is “really dam hard” problems take a lot of time to fully understand, plus even more time to develop a good solution and then several iterations to practice the solutions enough times that one will always get it right.  In terms of large projects this means people are going to fail at some level for many years before they get good at it yet less get it 100% right.  But we humans are not that patient of a species and we tend to treat big problem like small problem in terms of expecting resolution far too quickly.  If we do not get the results we want right away we conclude that the approach must have been wrong and there must be an easier solution.  Very rarely do we do enough research to predict what a reasonable path of improvement milestone would be and even if we do we commonly get sidetrack with just the rumors of someone else getting better results.

The second factor is every tech director’s misguided need to standardize across the company, they wants each group using the same systems so people are transferable within the company and their job of monitoring is easier.  But given that each project is very likely to be somewhat different than the rest of them this will only end in pain as square pegs get forced into round holes.  Still they try and after awhile a each solution fails to work across the entire company so they go looking for the next one instead of trusting their managers to build the solution each project needs.

The third factor is fear, fear that we are getting left behind in terms of process, fear that people will not want to work with use if we are not using the latest and greatest system, fear of not getting it right so covering your butt by taking a name brand solution.  Companies are more than willing to throw away all lessons learned by their teams just for the false hope of that some method will make the scary unpredictability of software development go away.

Thus millions of dollars get spent on books, courses, software consultants and seminars only to have each company end up roughly were it was before the last project management system came along.  Parts of the company will still be doing really well while other parts will still be under performing.  Not surprisingly it will be alone the lines of people have an understanding of the principles that influence development and those that do not.  So stop wasting time forcing processes onto your groups and just ensure they have the base knowledge needed to figure out what should be happening.

Our group just had Scrum shoved on it so each day the good little “scrum masters” we are gather around the whiteboard to update our color coded post it notes with what we are working.  Everyone declares what they got done, are working on next, what changed, and if they blocked on anything.  From this one tiny part of the bigger scrum process we can quickly find issues with trying to apply it to our project.

  1. We only have 8 people and this already takes 45 min – 1 hour ( wasted $’s ).  This is not going to scale well when we are 30 plus people in a year.
  2. Our dev manager and many people are out of the office quite a bit, why are we putting all our important information on a whiteboard were it can only be seen or updated by people standing right in front of it.  Microsoft spends a ton of money to give us great remote access to all our data which we have just rendered useless.
  3. Why is all our important information in paper form so it can not be shared, tracked, have versions or be compared to other groups.  I get it that it is more visible to the management people that might walk by ( also has to be a security risk ), but the price is not worth it.
  4. If anyone on my team waits an entire day to bring up someone that has him blocked I would like him removed, if your blocked there should be an email to the entire team about it instantly.

Seems if we had looked at the principles of communications we would have realized this system of post its would not work with our distributed and multi time zone team.  If we had looked at the principles of project feedback and constant improvement we would have realized that not being able to easily update and trend our data would be a issue on a long term project like ours.

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few.  The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble”.  — Ralph Waldo Emerson  (1803 – 1882)

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