The Brandeis GPS blog

Insights on online learning, tips for finding balance, and news and updates from Brandeis GPS

Tag: Virtual Management

Are You Running from Problems or Solving Them?

By: Johanna Rothman

Originally from: http://www.jrothman.com/blog/mpd/2014/05/are-you-running-from-problems-or-solving-them.html

Back when I was a manager inside organizations, I had many days that looked like this:

  • Meetings at 9am, 10am, 11am.
  • Working meeting through lunch (noon-1pm)
  • Meetings at 1pm, 2pm, 3pm.

I finally got a chance to check my email at 4pm. That’s when I discovered the world had blown up earlier in the day! (This is before cell phones. Yes, there was a time before cell phones.)

resource-schedulingI then ran around like a chicken with my head cut off until I left work at 5:30pm, because, yes, I had a family, and, yes, I had to leave at 5:30pm. I either made dinner or picked up children, depending on my agreement with Mark.

We did the family stuff until 8pm, and when the kids went to sleep, I went back to work.

No wonder I was exhausted. My decision-making sometimes suffered, too. No surprise there.

Luckily, I had some days that did not look like this. I could solve the problems I encountered. And, some of these meetings were problem-solving meetings.

However, I had jobs where my senior managers did not manage their project portfolios, and we had many crises du jour. My VP would try to catch me on the way to my next meeting, and attempt to get me to “commit” to when a patch would be available or when we would start, or finish a project.

I swear, one of my VP’s used to know when I went to the ladies’ room. He did yell at me through the door, just as in this management myth.

I finally put my foot down, and said I was no longer going to meetings that weren’t problem solving meetings. Have you read the chapter about meetings in Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management? I wrote it for project managers and for ProjectManagement_03managers who run around like the proverbial chickens. I wrote Manage Your Project Portfolio for managers like me who had well-meaning senior managers who had trouble making decisions about which projects to do.

This management myth is something I see often in organizations. This one is the one where people are running around so often they don’t actually solve problems.

Many problems are a combination of several problems. You might have to separate the problems and attack them in sequence. But, you might have to see the whole first, because there might be delays. The overarching problem is this: if you don’t give yourself enough time as a problem solving team, you can’t tell what the problem is. If you can’t tell what the problem is, you can’t solve it.

Problem solving tends to go through the process of:

  • Problem definition: What do we think the problem is?
  • Problem discussion: Let’s get all the divergent ideas on the table. Brainstorm, whatever we need to do.
  • Select a solution: Converge on a solution, trying out the ideas, understanding the results of each potential solution
  • Determine an action plan, with dates and people’s names associated with each step

Your problem solving might vary from this a bit, but that’s the general idea.

If you never give yourself enough time to solve problems because you’re always running around, how can you solve problems? It’s a problem. (Like the recursion there?)

That’s this month’s management myth, I Can Concentrate on the Run. Maybe your myth is that you can concentrate in a 10-minute standup. Maybe your myth is that you can concentrate on your drive into work. You might be able to, for some problems. Complex management problems require more than one person to solve them. They require more than a few minutes thought.

How do you solve complex problems in your organization? Do the problems run around the organization for a while? Or, do you solve them?

Johanna Rothman

Design Your Agile Project, Part 1

by: Johanna Rothman

Find the original post here: http://www.jrothman.com/blog/mpd/2014/03/design-your-agile-project-part-1-2.html

The more I see teams transition to agile, the more I am convinced that each team is unique. Each project is unique. Each organizational context is unique. Why would you take an off-the-shelf solution that does not fit your context? (I wrote Manage It! because I believe in a context-driven approach to project management in general.)

One of the nice things about Scrum is the inspect-and-adapt approach to it. Unfortunately, most people do not marry the XP engineering practices with Scrum, which means they don’t understand why their transition to agile fails. In fact, they think that Scrum alone,without the engineering practices, is agile. How many times do you hear “Scrum/Agile”? (I hear it too many times. Way too many.)

I like kanban, because you can see where the work is. “We have a lot of features in process.” Or, “Our testers never get to done.” (I hate when I hear that. Hate it! That’s an example of people not working as a cross-functional team to get to done. Makes me nuts. But that’s a symptom, not a cause.) A kanban board often provides more data than a Scrum board does.

Can there be guidelines for people transitioning to agile? Or guidelines for projects in a program? There can be principles. Let’s explore them.

The first one is to start by knowing how your product releases, starting with the end in mind. I’m a fan of continuous delivery of code into the code base. Can you deliver your product that way? Maybe.

How Does Your Product Release?

I wish there were just two kinds of products: those that released continuously, as in Software as a Service, and those with hardware, that released infrequently. The infrequent releases release that way because of the cost to release. But, there’s a continuum of release frequency:

Potential Release Frequency

How expensive is it to release your product? The expense of release will change your business decision about when to release your product.

You want to separate the business decision of releasing your product from making your software releasable.

That is, the more to the left of the continuum you are, the more you can marry your releases to your iterations or your features, if you want. Your project portfolio decisions are easier to make, and they can occur as often as you want, as long as you get to done, every feature or iteration.

The more to the right of the continuum you are, the more you need to separate the business decision of releasing from finishing features or iterations. The more to the right of the continuum, the more important it is to be able to get to done on a regular basis, so you can make good project portfolio decisions. Why? Because you often have money tied up in long-lead item expenses. You have to make decisions early for committing to hardware or Non Recurring Engineering expenses.

How Complex is Your Product?

Let’s look at the Cynefin model to see if it has suggestions for how we should think about our projects:

CynefinI’ll talk more about you might want to use the Cynefin model to analyze your project or program in a later post. Sorry, it’s a system, and I can’t do it all justice in one post.

In the meantime, take a look at the Cynefin model, and see where you think you might fall in the model.

Do you have one collocated cross-functional team who wants to transition to agile? You are in the “known knowns” situation for agile. As for your product, you are likely in the “known unknowns” situation. Are you willing to use the engineering practices and work in one- or two-week iterations? Almost anything in the agile or lean community will work for you.

As soon as you have more than one or two teams, or you have geographically distributed teams, or you are on the right hand side of the “Potential for Release Frequency” chart above, do you see how you are no longer in the “Complicated” or “Obvious” side of the Cynefin model? You have too many unknowns.

Where Are We Now?

Here are my principles:

  1. Separate the business decision for product release from the software being releasable all the time. Whatever you have for a product, you want the software to be releasable.
  2. Understand what kind of a product you have. The closer you are to the right side of the product release frequency, the more you need a program, and the more you need a kanban to see where everything is in your organization, so you can choose to do something about them.
  3. Make sure your batch size is as small as you can make it, program or project. The smaller your features, the more you will see your throughput. The shorter your iteration, the more feedback you will obtain from your product owner and “the business.” You want the feedback so you can learn, and so your management can manage the project portfolio.
  4. Use the engineering practices. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you do not keep your stories small so that you can develop automated unit tests, automated system tests, use continuous integration, swarm around stories or pair, and use the XP practices in general, you will not have the safety net that agile provides you to practice at a sustainable pace. You will start wondering why you are always breathless, putting in overtime, never able to do what you want to do.

If you have technical debt, start to pay it down a little at a time, as you implement features. You didn’t accumulate it all at once. Pay it off a little at a time. Or, decide that you need a project to prevent the cost of delay for release. If you are a technical team, you have a choice to be professional. No one is asking you to estimate without providing your own safety net. Do not do so.

This post is for the easier transitions, the people who want to transition, the people who are collocated, the people who have more knowns than unknowns. The next post is for the people who have fewer knowns. Stay tuned.

Johanna Rothman

Just Announced: Eric Siegel as GPS Commencement Speaker

eric_med_3Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies is pleased to announce our 2014 Commencement speaker for the Rabb School of Continuing Studies Diploma Ceremony, Eric Siegel, PhD.

Eric completed his undergraduate degree from Brandeis University in 1991, and subsequently earned his PhD from Columbia University. Eric is the founder of Predictive Analytics World and Text Analytics World. He is the Executive Editor of the Predictive Analytics Times, and he makes the how and why of predictive analytics understandable and captivating. Eric is the author of Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die and a former Columbia University professor who used to sing to his students. He is a renowned speaker, educator, and leader in the field. He has appeared on Bloomberg TV and Radio, Fox News, BNN (Canada), Israel National Radio, Radio National (Australia), The Street, Newsmax TV, and NPR affiliates. Eric and his book have been featured in Businessweek, CBS MoneyWatch, The Financial Times, Forbes, Forrester, Fortune, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and WSJ MarketWatch.

 

My Journey as an “Adult” Student

adult-studentOk so here I am, I was told at work that I need to take a course for professional development…really? I already have my master’s degree, I thought I was done with school. Although I did always think that I would be one of those people that was a lifelong student. It has been 10, 11, 12 years maybe since I last took a “real” course. You know what happens, life….marriage, kids, house, etc. etc. all the excuses, I mean, reasons why I haven’t taken any courses since my master’s degree. I must admit this pit in my stomach may be fear or is it excitement? How can I fit a 10-week, 3-graduate credits, minimum 3 posting a week course into my 2 kids (4yr old and 1 yr old), husband, house, full-time job, 2+ hour commute schedule? As I sit hear waiting for fall registration to open, I think the pit in my stomach is excitement and not fear. I’m going to learn again.

Blog CTA main

Protected by Akismet
Blog with WordPress

Welcome Guest | Login (Brandeis Members Only)