Why ‘Why’?

I’m a fan of Simon Sinek. Mostly this stems from the degree to which the ideas he champions resonate with me on so many levels. I’m cautious not to say that we’re aligned; we’ve never met, but regardless of this minor inconvenience, I like to think we are generally pointing in the same direction.

One of his most popular books is ‘Start with Why’. I like the approach he discusses in its pages as it implicitly advocates individual respect particularly in relation to leading people. Blind obedience should not be expected from anybody; at a minimum leaders should feel an obligation to articulate why they are pointing people in a particular direction and by extension why those people should follow them.

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Killing Your Darlings

And why having to is probably down to you

American Writer and Nobel Prize laureate William Falkner originally proposed that ‘in writing you must kill all your darlings’. A simple enough line that has been subjected to much analysis. Falkner’s line is taken to mean that a writer must let go of the elements of their work that they love, but are clinging to due to emotional attachment and not because they are progressing the narrative in any way. Those ‘darlings’ may have suited at their conception but as the story progressed it is plain that they no longer fit.

This same concept has morphed into many leadership articles as you can see here, here, here and most recently trending here.

The rationale is sound, and in many cases these articles emphasise the need for a strong or courageous manager to fire their ‘best’ people, but they often fail to mention where that same manager may be complicit in bringing about the conditions where such radical action is required.

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Diversity, Inclusion and Equality

There are so many monikers now being used to capture a very simple concept. That concept is at its very heart old, somewhat staid and lacking the current pizzazz and fanfare that seems so necessary to capture clicks in the highly connected social media world. The concept is respect. We can dress the idea up in new clothes, such as dignity, diversity, equality, equity, inclusion and so on, but in the end we arrive back to the same place – respect.

Without feelings of respect what is there to distinguish men from beasts?

Confucius
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How we’ve always done it

How many times have you sat in a meeting where the final answer to why something is being done a particular way is ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’? Every time I hear this statement I’m reminded of a story that was related to me some time ago.

A number of monkeys are put in an enclosure by a group of scientists. In the centre of the cage, attached to the roof by a rope, hangs a banana. Looking ripe and delicious, it’s too much for the monkeys to resist. As soon as the first monkey reaches for it, all five are sprayed with freezing cold water causing them to rapidly retreat. Each time one of them approaches the banana, all five are subjected to the same drenching. Very quickly the group learns not to reach for the banana.

After some time, the scientists replace one of the monkeys with a new monkey. The new entrant, unaware of the consequences starts to move towards the banana. It is immediately attacked by the other four, and continues to be attacked until it two no longer approaches the banana.

Over time, the scientists continue to replace the monkeys one at a time until eventually all of the monkeys have been replaced. Each new monkey coming into the enclosure sees the banana, each time they make a move towards it, each time the other monkeys attack until it too learns not to approach the banana.

Whilst the attacks continue for every new monkey, none of the original monkeys remain in the enclosure; none of the current group have ever been hosed down and none actually know why they need to attack when the banana is approached.

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Blockers and Priority

One particularly large client I recently dealt with was struggling to get their teams to meet their delivery commitments. It appeared that in every sprint they lost significant time to blockers, in some cases causing them to miss a commitment by as much as 50%.

This was a large project spanning multiple teams, of the order of about 800 people in total across development, test, product owners etc., with an estimated duration of more than two years. The impact of a consistent 50% delivery rate would literally break the budget, the customer, my client and probably the project.

A little analysis identified the problem to be rooted in the silos into which the teams were organised. In this instance, the silos were pretty rigid with poor communications between the teams. That lack of communication fostered an environment where blockers could emerge and live for extended periods of time.

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Fixed Bid Projects and Estimation – Part 2

If managed not to slumber through Part 1 on estimation, then you find yourself waiting with bated breath for the dramatic climax of our tale of estimation and fixed bid projects.

For the sake of this discussion, a fixed bid project is a project that has a fixed price based on a defined timeline. Of the fixed bid projects that I’ve seen, the timeline often has a 10%-15% leeway on the timeline. The cost almost never does – so you can be late, but you’re going to swallow the cost. Also common, just to twist the knife a little bit more, is the penalty clause. If you miss the date, not only are you going to pay for the additional time and resources, but you’re also going to have to pay the customer for the privilege.

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Fixed Bid Projects and Estimation – Part 1

I promised I’d post something on the curious case of agile and fixed bid projects. These two concepts don’t often find themselves sitting side by side, which is a bit of a curiosity to me.

As I wrote this post, it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to make it in one post. Technically, it would fit in a single post, but you’d lose the will to live before you finished, so you’ll find a part 1 and part 2 to this topic (this is part 1 if you’re not paying attention). This post will deal with the estimation factor, the next will deal with Fixed Bid projects.

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