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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The Reluctant Blogger

At the end of a client engagement, I like to capture some of the elemental aspects that emerged over the period. I used to keep these in notebooks, but finally, after many many ‘launch failures’ I’m getting into the discipline of committing these to a blog.

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Isaac Newton


Hopefully there’s something here that may offer a different perspective or foster some insight of your own.

Slow Agile Project

I recently delivered my ‘Introduction to Agile’ presentation to a client that is in the process of transforming from a very structured SDLC / Waterfall model to Agile, specifically Scrum.

The presentation is deliberately short; it is intended to spark conversations and questions rather than a detailed workshop on agile practices and processes.

The company in question has had some challenges in transitioning to agile, which is why I got a call to come in and help. I often use the introduction presentation as a tool to explore where there may be challenges. It has the extraordinary effect of opening people up, revealing numerous avenues to be explored.

On this occasion, one of the comments that came up completely took me by surprise.

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Effective Scrum Masters

I make no secret of the fact that I’m a strong agile advocate; I don’t believe software can be developed any other way. In the interests of full disclosure, I should highlight that I said agile, not Scrum, not Kanban, not Crystal Clear in fact not any single process. For true agility in your development process prêt-à-porter is not your friend, you must go bespoke (to use a fashion simile). You build your process based on your business context, and you make sure that it meets your specific business needs and aligns to your business goals.

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