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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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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Building High Performance Development Teams

There are countless processes published that purport to deliver maximum effectiveness from a development team. What they really mean is that the process will maximise the effectiveness of the team as it currently exists. As the old adage goes:

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

The foundations for high performance teams are laid long before we overlay a development process. Technology organisations as it turns out are generally good at hiring top talent, but unlike other high-performance teams and organisations we are not good at sustaining that performance.

What’s the difference then between a high performance technical team and say a top-flight sports team? Well there are a few. Coincidentally we tend to start from the same place, but the approaches diverge as the process continues.

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Agile and the Agile Mindset

When dealing with companies moving towards Agile as a process, occasionally I will deliver a presentation offering an overview of Agile to set a context for the future conversation. The presentation itself is not an in depth treatise on Agile processes; in fact it’s pretty lightweight as these things go, but it does serve as a catalyst for conversations and offers a forum for questions, which is the real purpose.

As organisations begin to change their processes, there is a natural tendency for people to resist that change because change takes us outside of our comfort zone. Resistance then is often cry for ‘help’ or maybe a cry for ‘bring me with you’. It’s easy to get a blinkered view on Agile, to assume that not only does everyone recognise the benefits, but also to assume that everyone knows what exactly Agile is.

The presentation, which I’ll post somewhere soon to let you see what I’m talking about, offers a whistle-stop tour of the Agile Manifesto to set the stage followed by a review of the shopping list of different Agile / Lean / XP processes / methodologies  / approaches (I’m going to call them systems from now on) that all refer back to that manifesto. Just a note that currently there’s 15 systems listed in the presentation, and that’s trimmed back.

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Why are we doing this?

I spend a lot of time with organizations of various sizes helping them transition from their current state to their desired future state.

In practice this offers a wide variety of challenges from one organisation to another. Some have great developers but poor processes, others have strong processes, but lack support systems, some are just struggling to understand what their goals are. Inevitably there is some level of confusion, frustration and a sense of someone else ‘just not getting it’.

I’ve increasingly taken on a mission with all of these organisations, a personal mission that I believe goes to the very heart of the malaise that I see in the IT industry over and over again.

That mission is to help everyone remember that once upon a time, not so long ago, this used to be fun.

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