Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Lessons learnt

Mistakes are made all the time when we manage projects—at least I have made a few. In this section I will list only some of them. They are the most relevant or the most confessable ones, depending on your point of view. I’ve messed up in many other ways, but this chapter had to have a limit. So, here they are:
First the problem, then the solution
This is the order: first you identify a problem, and then you come up with a solution. Never the other way round. It is quite common to hear about a modern solution that we apply to the project with enthusiasm. No matter whether there was a problem to solve or not. What is the use of deploying the new and sophisticated software for Test Driven Development in our daily work, if your problem with that project is way more basic? Or if you don’t have a tight grip on the version control system?
Counting the steps instead of looking at the road
We all know that in some projects the number of hours spent tends to go through the roof. Only rarely do the predicted number of hours and the actual ones coincide. Our first reaction is normally to double-check every hour registered. Then we draft complex graphs that show us how well we’re doing versus the estimate…. But does this actually help us finish the project on time?
Imagine that someone hired us to carry a heavy load from point A to point B. We estimated that it would take 10,000 steps. What is the use of knowing that we’ve walked 5,000 steps already? Do we know where we are, or if we’ve been going in circles? Wouldn’t it be better to raise our head to see whether we are on the right path? Maybe double check that the road leads from A to B, or see whether there is an easier way to get there?
Phantom requirements
Sometimes we ask our team members to change what they’ve already done because “the client won’t accept it like that.” Or because we think the product should work in some other way. Our colleague had already finished a proposal that took time and effort. It’s better to see whether the client likes it. The client will decide whether it’s right or wrong. Investing time in unsolicited corrections will only delay delivery. Careful, though —this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t review or check our work for quality before showing it to the client. All I’m saying is: “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.
Spreading the need to rush
Project Managers normally work on several projects at the same time. This implies that they juggle several clients, with their needs and deadlines, and thus accumulate tension and stress. Personally I try not to spread the stress to other members of the work team and to supply all the serenity I can. Of course, every team member must be aware of our delivery deadlines and needs to know which job we should finish for each client. Adding the need to rush to the daily routine only brings quality problems in the final product. Or creates things that are only half solved and that you will have to solve for good later on. This will also make us spend double the amount of time that those tasks would have required in the first place.
Could you make it easier?

One of the first mistakes in a project is to start every task as soon as possible without stopping and planning which steps should be part of it, and without determining whether they are truly necessary or whether we could simplify them somehow. I mean not only implementing it in the easiest possible way, but also simplifying the task in itself. Some examples: For this complex system that interconnects several computers…. Isn’t there already some sort of pre-defined standard? Should this parser be able to solve third-order equations? The best way to spend your time is reducing the complexity of the work to be done.



You can find texts like this and many other about how to manage agile projects in my book Agile 101: Practical Project Management (available on Amazon).

Book on Scrum: Agile 101, Practical Project Management
Agile 101 - Practical Project Management
Translation by Begoña Martínez. You can also find her on her LinkedIn profile. Proofreading by David Nesbitt.

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