Projects, Processes, and People

Photo by Marcelo Braga, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Today, I experienced an interesting discussion and later this evening I read three related articles. That all came together more or less incidentally.

At work we are going through a restructure phase and one team had a coffee to discuss what it meant for them. In general, the people were concerned about the lack of detail, what the change meant for them personally and how “it” was going to work.

I don’t actually need to go into the details who the team was and what they currently do, it is immaterial. Not one team member was or is a change agent, not one was able to translate the strategic vision into something tangible.

Later I came across these 2 articles:

First, a blog post from 99U published in April 2014:

he Difference Between Projects and Processes:

Projects create change. Processes resist change.

Wow, so obvious and still – I forgot about it at the discussion. The people are used to work in a particular way, they are used that someone is responsible for this, then another person does that, and finally a third one completes the task. Quite obviously the new structure is meant to break that. Its objective is to create, to force change. That’s not going to happen if processes stay the same. Hence implementing the new structure must be treated as a project.

And that’s where the second article comes in. This one published by the Smashing Magazine in July 2013:

People > Projects > Processes:

Having a process is good, but be careful that it does not overshadow the project itself or the people involved.

Processes are good to get the same quality every time. The ISO 9000 family is designed to do just that.

Projects are meant to create new processes or make existing ones better. And often they rely on processes themselves (PMI or Prince2 anyone?).

And what is the most important asset any organisation has? Its people. What is in the top 5 most important things organisations try to improve on? Employee Engagement. Why do projects fail? In 72% of all cases it is a communication breakdown.

Summary

Coming back to our discussion. Yes, I failed to appreciate the disruptive value of the restructure. But also, uncertainty about mapping the vision to the structure on middle management level means learning by making mistakes in creating new processes for the same business objectives must be acceptable. Disruption to existing support processes and delays in delivering functional projects may also occur. All under the vision of creating a better service in the near future.

You gotta break some eggs to make an omelette.

How a junior staff member can review the work of his senior

Jedi Master and ApprenticeA story

There is a small team of 4 developers. These guys are very different from each other.

John is experienced and worked for more than 15 years with the company in different roles. His mantra is “never change a working approach”. He preservers the status quo.

William has the same level of experience in the company but has developed a love for the latest “best practices”. He is always on the look out how to improve things.

Mary is with the company just for a few years and then fresh from University. Some of the “old stuff” she is dealing with is hurting her sense of “doing it right” albeit she acknowledges it works. Refactoring would make maintenance and support easier but would have no visible benefit for the end user.

Alan joins the team and it is his first job. He likes the solid and calm approach from John, the energy from William who always seem to find a way to make stuff better for the customer, and the quick thinking Mary who knows tech stuff in and out.

The team leader struggles at times to get them working together effectively. 2 pairs emerge initially, William and Mary driving change with John and Alan asking, isn’t it working fine? Both have very valid points and the team leader would love to get more synergy going and not risking confrontation between the pairs.

Several approaches come to his mind and he settles on breaking the pairs up by switching the 2 younger members around. To get the learning going he asks the pairs to review their work. One of the older guys, John, has a problem with that as he feels Mary being “too cocky” about the old and well proven way he does things.

The team leader remembers a story he heard once how an airline handled a similar challenge. He takes John and William for a walk and explains to them the idea. He asks them to purposely insert some mistakes in their code. That way there is no loss of face, even if the younger guys find things that were made accidentally. He also tells the younger guys so they know there is no conflict between reviewing code and not making friends with team mates.

This approach can be refined to address the different ways of coding, create appreciation of a new way of doing things as well as proven methods.

I missed the point …

Papal election result

For years my dear wife is telling me some businesses (companies, government agencies, etc) are just covering their butts. They are not interested in the well being of their staff, customers or populace. In fact they have been taught not to make mistakes. The same time I have been arguing the opposite being true for the majority. There are plenty of examples where innovation, technical or medical break throughs etc take place; there are managers and business owners who have the best interest of their people at heart.

Having worked now in the private and public sector I have changed my mind. It is sad but true, many people work to uphold the rules and regulations. You can call it standards, operating procedures, or even culture “that’s how we do tings around here”. The focus is on compliance, policing and governance.

We are missing what we have set out to do, for example:

  • service to the community or our customer base
  • providing solutions and results for the customer
  • develop and build tools / systems that last and do the job well
  • make and distribute healthy food

The common cause is often cited as the growth syndrom:

  • making money
  • gaining power
  • becoming famous

BUT, is that really the case?

How many dads or mums simply want to provide for their children to have it better (education, house, job, ..)?
How many of us simply would like to go on with their business without thinking about mortgage, tax, bills, regulations, … ?

Albert Camus once said, freedom is the freedom of others.

It took me long time to understand. My freedom to do what I want is impacting on the freedom of my neighbour. And here our governance approach started. Instead of common sense prevailing we rely on some authority who tells us what we can or can’t do. And while they are at it, they make it a rule and apply it across the country so a single instance is solved for eternity.

What a load of rubbish!

In Germany it takes months for some decisions to be made because so many committees and sub committees have a say and need to review all the rules, regulations and bylaws. In New Zealand we are getting closer by the minute to the same situation. The recent “super city” is a great example. And I don’t mention the stalemate in the US where some egocentrics in both big parties blame each other rather than sit together at a table and don’t get up until the issue is solved. The election method of the pope is a better example how to do it right.

None of this means the people working in such organisations are bad, stupid or ignorant. No, most are intelligent, focused and trying their best. But they have been taught – like all of us – in an institution called school that rules and regulations and compliance is what drives this world and keeps the order. Challenging the status quo is hard and in school we have been taught not to do so.

Asking questions in school is a sign of ?

(a) intelligence (because you actually thought about it and didn’t come to the same conclusion)

(b) lack of intelligence (because you should know this [by now] and probably haven’t paid attention)

 

Ask your children. Then wonder why I wrote this post and comment below or use the answer and go back to the start.

Ask the “why” question and find out the reason behind a process, rule or regulation.

Don’t get me wrong, some are necessary, some are good, and some (most ?) are covering exceptions. Those are the ones slowing us down. Shouldn’t we go back to “Use good judgement?”

A Process Guide

Librarian, the Original Search EngineIn the world of Information Management we encounter a lot of different types of data. In order to get the most value an organisation (or individual) would need to know what is perceived as valuable. And also, how the value is realised.

For example, recently Tesla announced making their priced intellectual property available to the public. That is a change in the business thinking of perceived value from keeping the information secret to stay ahead of the pack to sharing the information to innovate faster and create momentum.

My process guide includes these questions:

  • WHAT to document?
    Not everything has value, identify it and exclude it from being treated as such. Simplify the management of non-value items.
  • WHERE to save or publish
    First, understand the difference between a simple “save” = making sure the document is recoverable and a different concept “publish” = making information available for consumption by others. Second, have rules or guidelines where such artefacts are physically located. This can range from your local hard-drive, file servers, dedicated cloud services, to document or record management systems. You decide but spell it out.
  • HOW to document
    This looks like a trivial idea, it is not. The level of detail may make a difference for regulatory information compared to a customer record. One must have certain details to ensure compliance, while the other may be okay with only some meta data relative to the current conversation.
  • HOW to version
    luckily many systems have version control build in – see document management systems in Wikipedia. However, there are still plenty applications that do not. Email is first on that list.
  • HOW to share
    You may ask, what’s the problem? We access the same file on the file server / cloud service / etc. And external people get a copy by email or memory stick. The distribution of uncontrolled copies is enemy no. 1 for Information Management. You will never know who still got the old copy with the incorrect pricing information in chapter 5.
  • HOW to manage access
    Having mastered a better sharing solution, you will find another stepping stones along the way. The best way to manage access. 2 different schools of thought exists – (1) everything is open and only special items are secured. (2) everything is closed and access is granted where needed. Option (1) is common in internal networks and (2) in extranets.
  • WHAT is the change process
    2 core change processes exist. (1) how becomes a saved artefact published? Are there stop gaps, control mechanism, approval workflows, or gatekeepers involved? (2) how is a published artefact updated? And in particular how are stakeholders notified?

I hope those few ideas are helping to get some discussion going!

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Note, the above image is taken from this blog advertising a role as Librarian in 2013. I recommend reading it 🙂

Planning – Doing – Done

agile PMAgile Project Management is one of the buzz words for the past few years. It’s based on the success in agile (software) development and lean management in general. But, does it actually work?

Agile is usually used as a synonym for scrum. You have 5 or so team members in a room or around a whiteboard and discuss / agree on the next deliverable. The standard is 2 or 3 weeks for such a sprint and the effort involved is measured in story points. Assuming you know the amount of story points in the project you can measure how fast you go and depending on the success rate (eg completing the stories in a sprint) the project manager can easily tell if the project is on time. ideally the reports tell the PM much more. He can see which area the shortfall is and mitigate the problem with a targeted approach. During a sprint the team gets together regularly for a short standup and inform each other on progress or hold ups. This allows early intervention. At the end of a sprint the team gets together including the customer and show the deliverable. This also allows early detection if the customer is satisfied and the team delivered on expectations.

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Building – a thought process

In parallel to our land hunt we had some big discussions about the house itself. Susani and I have the same principal ideas but a lot of different opinions in the detail.

(1) The house must be environmentally friendly, cosy, have a character, warm, and beautiful.

(2) It can’t cost an arm and a leg.

(3) we want to use solar hot water and power.

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Data’ism

data'ismA new word turned up in my weekly read of random pages. David Brooks wrote in the NY Times about “The Philosophy of Data“. Instead of the buzz word “Big Data” he used “Data’ism”.

“We now have the ability to gather huge amounts of data. This ability seems to carry with it certain cultural assumptions — that everything that can be measured should be measured; that data is a transparent and reliable lens that allows us to filter out emotionalism and ideology; that data will help us do remarkable things — like foretell the future.” Continue reading