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Category: For Decisionmakers

How to Avoid Being Stalked By Scope Creep: The Project Charter

scope-300Scope Creep. Sometimes it’s politically motivated. Sometimes it’s intentional. Sometimes it’s a misunderstanding. But it’s always painful.

What Drives The Getting Predictable℠ Best Practices?

startIt’s all in the phrase: From the Start. I am frequently asked how the Getting Predictable Best Practices got started.

Getting Predictable℠  best practices cross many subject areas including requirements collection, tracking project progress, facilitation techniques, providing estimates that drive confidence, and so on. With such a wide array of practice areas, you’re probably wondering what binds them together. In other words, is there a common theme or vision that drives current and future best practices and recommendations? The answer is YES – there is indeed a common theme. And, as you guessed, this blog post reveals the vision aligns Getting Predictable℠ in all of its many flavors from discovery to definition through execution.

From the Start

Getting Predictable℠ is a collection of best practices that set teams up for success from the start.

Wow! How profound! (Yes, I am being sarcastic at the moment but there’s truth here as well) For the majority of my career I have been on the client side of consulting relationships. I have heard some pretty big promises and I tend to be very skeptical. As I read my own description of Why Getting Predictable℠ exists, it’s hard not to think how empty it sounds! So let me explain. Let’s pretend we have a project kicking off and we have approximately four weeks to collect the overall requirements so the technical team can begin their planning and staffing of the project. So we e set up meeting with key stakeholders and business users for the first week in March to kick off the requirements gathering. The business is extremely busy and coordinating their schedules is like herding cats. All too frequently, you do not get full traction and commitment from the team during the first few days. In fact, it is possible that you might not get to full throttle until the second week of the four week schedule. Since we didn’t pad our four week plan, this lost time needs to be addressed. It is important for us to be adaptive and stay on schedule despite losing three to five days at the beginning. I want to emphasize that is not a rare situation. Especially when launching a new initiative. Would you agree?

Let’s take a different perspective…

Let me share a different way to view this. It may be a day here or a day there, but if we actually lose four to five days getting up to speed across the four weeks, we have lost 25% of schedule. We are potentially 25% late and over budget for this phase. And we haven’t even started yet! Here is my point: Although most of our leaders and managers would never intentionally handicap or put the team at risk, they are unaware that missing a meeting or pushing a date is actually doing harm to the team. If this story, in one flavor or another, resonates with you, then your success and the success of your project are being put at risk from the very start of your project. Why does this happen?

It’s all about the frog

If you put a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out. It’s way too hot. But if you put a frog in room-temperature water, and very slowly turn up the heat to a simmer, the frog will stay in its comfortable hot tub until it perishes. Ouch! On your project, it may only be a day here or a few folks there, not available, but before you know it, your project is starting to simmer. So let me repeat:

Getting Predictable℠ is a collection of best practices that set teams up for success from the start.

Getting Predictable best practices identify and address the situations, activities and events, that can slowly handicap the teams chances of success before they even get going.

Now You’ve Got My Attention. Tell Me More.

Getting Predictable℠ Best Practices cover the gambit: Discovery, definition, execution, and organizational effectiveness models. In this blog, I focus on the best practices that address defining and launching a project or initiative. I call this set of best practices Getting Predictable℠ Definition. Getting Predictable℠ Definition addresses the three key areas that impact a project right from the start:

  • Alignment: Driving alignment around project success across all stakeholders.
  • Commitment: Developing estimates and plans the team can commit and manage to.
  • Visibility: Having a common view of progress as well as a a common definition of when the team has delivered on the defined project objectives.

In my next posts, I will discuss each of these areas in detail so you can see there is a method to the madness of Setting Teams Up For Success FROM THE START.

The Biggest Management Lie You’ll Ever Hear: “I Won’t Hold You To It”

Wont-Hold-You-To-ItI have to be honest on this one.  Not only have I been on the receiving end of this, but I am guilty of saying these words as well:

“I need a high-level estimate.  I won’t hold you to it. I know you typically need more time to create an estimate, but I am looking for an order-of-magnitude estimate. Can you get me something by tomorrow? Again, I won’t hold you to it. I know you need to do a full estimation process to give me the real number. I’m just looking for a swag.”

And then, at some point  in the future, management gets the  real estimate. It is almost always higher (sometimes double) and management (myself included) can’t understand how it got that way.   How can you go from $100k to $125 or $150k?   Or from two months to almost four months?

And, inevitably,  the creator of the swag estimate is asked,  “So what would it take to get down to the original estimate?”

So What is Management Really Thinking?

When you are the recipient of the line: “I won’t hold you to it”, the  first question you have to ask yourself is:  What was management thinking?  When management asks us to provide a high-level estimate, what do they really need that number for? It seems they were saying, don’t worry about being inaccurate or way off … I won’t hold it against you! But this isn’t rational.

Management is Trying to Make a Business Decision!

They are going to use that number for decisions. Decisions at their level! Decisions that may determine:

  • Go/no-go on a project, or
  • Do I need to plan for more budget and if so, what kind of dollars are we thinking of, or
  • Do I need to request more staffing or can I give away resources, etc.

These are typically higher-level decisions.  That means the estimates they are asking for are actually as important as any other combination of estimates we provide.

The next question: Does Management really mean it when they say “We won’t hold you to it”?

The truth is, they will hold you accountable for the number they receive.  No one in leadership is going to say: Pull a number out of the air, and wink-wink, we know it’s way off. But no worries, I know you threw a dart at a board of numbers and just gave me the result squared.

What they are really saying is that they need an estimate without going through the typical rigor of process that may take days or weeks.  I am not looking for a plan with milestones and staffing requirements.  I am looking for an overall high-level plan without that detail information. So don’t try and cover yourself on this. I won’t create pain for you.  Just give me the high-level estimate.

They may not understand, that getting them the high-level estimate requires us to build the details.  Only then will the high-level numbers have enough validity so they can make business decisions based on them.

A Best Practice: Communicate Your Concerns! Call Them Out on It

The next time management says I need an estimate but I won’t hold you to it, call them out on it! Ask them what they need the estimate for and what decisions will it be used for.  Are they looking to free up resources?  Are they putting in a budget request? Ask how painful it will be if the estimate is off by x%?   Odds are they may pad the estimate (their budgets) for planning purposes.

Start having a conversation so you can truly help management as best you can, and as a partner.

One thing is for sure, if they are asking you for an estimate, they are using it for business reasons. And, bottom line, you will be the owner of that estimate!

Estimating is a Minefield!

Estimating can be a minefield. Everyone asks for estimates. We ask a child how long a chore will take, or when they’ll be home from a party. We ask a boss when our review will be done.  Marketing has been asking me when will I have this blog article complete? (By the way, they clearly tell me they will hold me to it!)

We need a consistent language around estimating and more importantly, we need consistent expectations around how we estimate and what we “can” and what we “can’t” estimate, repeatedly and predictably.

So the next few articles are going to focus on common obstacles that cause a team estimate to either be order-of-magnitudes incorrect or simply an estimate that does not command everyone’s confidence.

We’ll start next post with about padding estimates and why we should NEVER do it.  I will present you a better alternative.

So, how many times has management asked you for an estimate that you won’t be held to?

Photo Credit: Denise Chan

Credibility: The Key to Quickly and Effectively Building Trust with your Client and Teams

Bridge over smooth water

Building trust bridges relationship gaps. Here’s how to do it.

Have you ever had a difficult encounter with a client and then found it hard to reach out to them? Have you ever been in a client situation where your trust has eroded? How about with a coworker? Don’t be afraid to admit if you have, because it’s a normal part of life and can happen quite frequently. One of the many challenges we have with professional and social engagements is building and keeping trust. I call this the “trust factor”.

The Trust Factor

The trust factor is strengthened by many different behaviors: Following through on commitments, walking the walk, being true to yourself, evoking transparency, and maintaining accountability. Time, of course, is also a crucial influence on the trust factor. The time it takes to build trust with any one person can take days, weeks, or even years. But in business, we all know that we must make effective use of our time to build trust as quickly as possible.

Trust Factor

Building trust takes time and requires focus on doing what you say you’re going to do.

In order to successfully and effectively build trust in your professional relationships, you’ll need the help of your peers, team, and clients. Once this is accomplished, a cohesive bond can be formed between teams, which will ultimately foster productivity and results. In order to have trust, one must establish a strong sense of credibility. This can be achieved by:

  1. Establishing clarity around roles and responsibilities which builds a foundation that supports credibility
  2. Reinforcing credibility by holding yourself and your team accountable
  3. Sustaining credibility by working together to make and honor commitments

Step 1: Build a Foundation that Supports Credibility

Establishing Clarity around Roles and Responsibilities


Think of it this way: You want your house to have solid foundation when it’s built, right? It serves as your house’s main support. The same theory applies to your trust factor. A poor or weak foundation to your house results in costly, ongoing problems. Having poor credibility and lack of role clarity supporting your trust factor, well, you can imagine.

The first step in establishing a foundation for your trust factor is to clarify team roles and responsibilities. To do this, your team has to be able to answer the question: “What is my purpose on this team?” Their answers to this question will gauge your team’s understanding around their roles and give them an opportunity to establish their credibility. Everyone’s trust factor will be firmly supported once credibility has been established.

Many organizations have a lack of clarity around roles and accountabilities. This becomes a caveat to project collaboration, credibility, and success. The slightest miscommunication or misunderstanding can damage an entire team’s credibility and momentum. Without a clear vision of established roles, a team will scramble when a new idea or problem presents itself. In addition to creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and a lack of predictability and credibility, missed opportunities, rework and delays will surely emerge.

Trust Factor and Knowing Your Role

Know your role and you will better know the expectations others have of you.

Step 2:  Reinforce Newly Enforced Credibility

Hold Yourself and Your Team Accountable to Meet Client Expectations

The first thing you need to do here is eliminate mediocrity. It is our responsibility to call people out for under-performing and encourage improvement. Imagine the implications to a team when more than one person is picking up extra slack. Feels counterproductive, stressful, and hurts the team’s morale, doesn’t it? By being accountable, tasks will not fall through the cracks. As a result, your progress will remain strong. If you see an area in need of improvement, be vocal about it. Be true to yourself and your peers (Read: being at face value) while maintaining a high level of transparency. This  will reinforce a sense of trust within your environment. Accountability greatly evolves your trust factor and will take it to the next level.

Trust Factor, Knowing Your Role and Accountability

Hold accountable both yourself and those around you.

Step 3:  Sustain Credibility

Working Together to Make and Honor Commitments

Finally, work together with your peers and clients. Keep metrics that add value and make sure that everyone understands the purpose, goals and format of the metrics. This will add visibility on what each member of the team has committed to accomplish and will stimulate accountability. It is at this moment that trust is mutual with you and your client or peers. Throughout the project, the synergy  created from mutual trust will make your team run on all cylinders.

Teams that work together to build trust are more likely to succeed at it.


Be transparent with your team to maintain credibility. By following through on your commitments, you will continue to grow trust with those around you. Sustaining a mutual trust between your client and peers will remove crippling roadblocks, allow you and your peers to see goals clearly, and induce a high performance environment.

Get Started. Build Trust Today.

Can trust be achieved in a short amount of time? If mistrust exists, can it be eradicated? This, of course, is the million dollar question. By simply treating your team as your true teammates and allowing a more fluid, open channel of communication, trust will begin to develop and results can easily be obtained.  Work on obtaining clarity and agreement from everyone at the beginning and watch your team go into overdrive. Amazing things happen when everyone is on the same page, working toward the same goal, and sharing a dedication for excellence.

Do you always hold your team mates accountable? Can you think of a time when you could have been more transparent with your client or team?

Business/IT Alignment: 4 Ways to Win Admiration and Respect

handshake-300x158Business/IT Alignment: How does an IT shop with talented individuals, the latest technology, millions of dollars in payroll, and a history of developing business centric applications become so disconnected from the business that they disappoint the very teams who depend on them? What can be done to close this gap and turn this relationship into a trusted partnership? While there are many ideas on how to address this difficult situation, in my experience there are three key approaches IT can use to rebuild burnt bridges and stop unconsciously undermining their business partner relationships.

Learn to speak a common language

In order for Business/IT alignment to occur, IT must adopt the same terminology and language of its business users. (A claim is a claim – not a bill or a statement). IT also needs to be aware that a complex project plan does not communicate meaningful information to the business. Deliverables need to demonstrate real business functionality, QA-passed and ready for review. The more often progress is shown the more involved your business partner gets. If communication is the basis of a good partnership, then a common view of success is the necessary foundation for delivering on business expectations.

Create a common view of success

One of the most disruptive events we can have when working with a partner is discovering you’re not working towards the same goals. Both IT and the business problem owner must work together to establish common success criteria for a project and eliminate assumptions.

Creating a common vision is a process that includes the problem statement down to a detailed description of the individual items to be produced for the solution. In many cases lengthy documents and general conversations are not enough. Pictures are worth a thousand words when developing product descriptions … even for the “simple” reports.

Spending time to develop the detailed components of a solution requires a time commitment from your business partner to get involved. This is the only way to reduce surprises that lead to project disappointment and rework in the development phases. The common view of success needs to capture the results of this cooperative effort in a manner comprehensive enough to help determine project scope, sizing and estimating. Once this process is perfected, it can be accomplished in as little as three weeks for projects up to a year in length.

Allow your business partner to manage change

In order for the project plan to not interfere with business decisions, individual items in the plan must include all costs and efforts. This gives the business the ability to effectively react to change and unexpected events. For example, if three months into a project a business is acquired or sold, the business partner should be able to easily substitute new objectives with the same cost and effort for the original ones.

Negotiate the plan with your business partner. Once the time and effort required to deliver each scenario is understood, the option to manipulate plan elements like building blocks allows the business to determine priorities and set the scope for the project.

Be open and demonstrate your integrity

No Business/IT partnership can survive ongoing disruptive surprises. Rather than trying to make up for problems or delays, communicate them and share options to schedule, resource or scope issues when they happen.

If accurate sizing and estimating best practices are not in place and original estimations are incorrect, IT needs to inform the business as soon as possible and reforecast the release plan. IT cannot afford to jeopardize its ability to deliver business value by hiding information or trying to take drastic measures to make up for project execution problems.

Utilizing these practices can help IT predictably deliver measurable business value and help make Business/IT alignment a reality. While this is not something done overnight, your commitment to building a true partnership with your business partners will go a long way in bringing predictability to a process plagued with missed expectations and cost overruns.

What practices have worked best for you to to enhance your relationship with the business?

feature photo credit: dotbenjamin
post photo credit: Aidan Jones

10 Ways to Create a Culture Where People Feel Valued (part 2)

10-2-300x162Last week we looked at maintaining consistency between your mission statement and daily execution; dealing with unexpected changes in your business; the importance of transparency; and the need for each employee to uphold corporate values. This week, we’ll look at six more culture building practices:

  1. Hold management accountable: Empower everyone to protect your corporate culture. Create an environment that is safe for employees to raise concerns, voice opinions and challenge threats to your strategy. Test management’s ability to withstand challenges and put away the egos. Common vision means we all want the same thing: To maintain corporate culture and insure the ongoing success of the company.  The best decisions are made through open dialogue and exploration of diverse ideas.
  2. Set yourself up for success: In every project, business commitment, or customer engagement, set yourself up for success. If you don’t believe you can take on the work without compromising your corporate values and quality of outcome, then restructure the project, the approach, or turndown the business. Strive to make death marches a thing of the past. Nothing is more demoralizing then being set-up to lose.
  3. Be willing to make hard decisions: You’ve found the perfect candidate from a skills and experience perspective. You’ve been looking to fill this position for months but the candidate is not a cultural fit. Do you hire them? Alternatively, the deal-of-a-lifetime has presented itself. You can take on the work but an aggressive “go-live” date means you will have to burn-out several key contributors and maybe even sacrifice some quality on delivery. Do you take on the business? Every time you make a decision that doesn’t support your culture and values you widen the gap.
  4. Raise the bar: Never settle for “Good-Enough.” Whether it’s you products, your people, solutions, service, or corporate strategy, set the expectation and demand excellence. Every individual in the company should be empowered to expose and eliminate mediocrity.
  5. Create awareness: From the individual to the board of directors, being aware of how actions, interactions, and decisions impact people and culture is key to success.  Make awareness habitual; remind yourself and your organization to ask repeatedly, “How does this impact our peers and employees, the quality of our products and services, or our reputation with our customers or market place? Do the decisions and actions we make support our corporate culture and values?”
  6. Don’t panic: There are many things that can force an individual or organization to panic: Changing economic times, a set-back on a project, a challenging customer, or the everyday demands of the business. It’s in the midst of these pressures that people most often panic and revert to their old bad habits. Don’t panic. Take a step back. Look at the problem in the context of your corporate culture and values and take action accordingly.

People and Principles Come First

Valuing your corporate culture has to be systemic. It has to be a strategic objective and it has to be reinforced with people and systems that insure culture is preserved. Both the company and the people need to invest in and commit to maintaining the culture.  Will you be challenged to break old habits? Sure. Will you have to be reminded from time to where your cultural “true north” is? Absolutely, but building culture into the way you do business means you have checks and balances that allow people to correct course before it damages what you value most…your People.

Does your organization “walk the walk” when it comes to corporate culture?  What practices have worked best for your company?

Photo Credit: thomas nicot

10 Ways to Create a Culture Where People Feel Valued

I have always rankled at the much over-used corporate phase, “People are our greatest assets.” I’ve heard the words pass the lips of senior executives in both large and small companies, across industries and geographic boundaries, yet  time and again I witness that quiet sigh of contempt and disbelief from the listeners.

Is This Obstacle Real? A 4-Step Process to Deal with Obstacles.

This is the second in a two-part series: “Obstacles”

Last week I introduced my approach to increasing a team’s RPM and predictability by identifying and removing obstacles.

Now, let’s go further and look at a four-step approach to help a team effectively deal with the obstacles they uncover.

As a member of a team, you probably see obstacles all the time. You complain and then ask for help. However, when you ask for help, you have to sell others on why this issue should be dealt with. You may very likely be told to “work around it”.

Air Cav infantry Soldiers compete in company challengeSo, once you identify an obstacle, first and foremost:

1. Get a clear consensus that this is truly an OBSTACLE.
Obstacles and issues are different things. Obstacles aren’t risks either. So what is an OBSTACLE? A detriment to success. Something that prevents you from being effective at delivering on a commitment.

Make OBSTACLE a reserved word. Use it only to identify key challenges that need management support in order to remove.

2. Next, clearly identify what the obstacle is.
Is it a procedure that unmistakably interrupts the team’s performance and rhythm? Is it a tool that requires you to do all sorts of work-arounds and forces you to spend eight out of every 40 hours working around it? Is there a person being disruptive because he/she isn’t working on the same problem as the rest of the team?

These are all issues and risks. What makes it uniquely an obstacle, is that you are “working around” these issues and risks and creating unpredictable results. These issues and risks shouldn’t be here. It is reasonable to ask your organization for help in eliminating them so you don’t spend any time on them.

3. Clearly identify what the difference would be if the obstacle is removed.
If the difference is “your day will be better”, you probably did NOT find an obstacle. But, if removing the obstacle allows you to deliver a proof-of-concept two weeks early, then this is tangible and of common value.

4. Finally, directly identify how to successfully eliminate the obstacle.
For example, if this means you no longer need to use the tool – and you can “write your own” – then be clear: We can delete the tool and I do it myself.

If you are the manager of a team that is identifying obstacles, then use the above four steps to clearly test: Is this a real obstacle? Are the benefits of removing the obstacle worth it? How do I support my team?

Let the team deliver for you.
Management’s role is to remove obstacles — not to micro-manage the team. If you don’t support your team in removing the obstacles that prevent it from delivering, you are setting your team up for inefficient and unpredictable results.

And that is exactly what this blog is about — sharing the different best practices and thought leadership around improving your team’s RPM, helping them become more efficient, and, eventually, more predictable.

I’m excited to participate in a blog devoted to my lifelong passion — making software development predictable. How do you identify, understand and remove obstacles? Do you have results to share? Add your comments below. I’ll be keeping an eye out and look forward to everyone’s contributions and the discussions that follow.

Dealing With Obstacles That Slow Down Team Performance

This is the first in a two-part series: “Obstacles”

Welcome IT Leaders and Teams. Getting Predictable is a blog devoted to helping leaders and teams jointly develop a no-surprise partnership. We do that with best practices that help us identify, understand and overcome the obstacles that prevent teams from being predictable. This is the first of a two-part introduction about the spirit and mission behind this blog.

3639604882_b2b2ef6fc6_mAre You Being Set Up?

Imagine the reaction if you told your CEO the reason your team was late and over budget on his project was because the team was “set up for failure” … that they didn’t have a reasonable chance of being successful.

In my career, I’ve experienced this dreaded feeling more than I care to admit. In fact, I’ve worked with teams that are continually frustrated because they truly, legitimately feel they are being set up for failure. We’ve all been there. Leadership frustration rises because their teams are always missing schedules or are over budget.  To them, the only thing consistent (or predictable) is the team’s lack of predictability and a steady stream of unwelcomed surprises.

Throughout my career, I’ve heard this question from my peers, direct reports and senior executives:  What (or who)  can we change to fix our team?

Get Set Up for Success

I’ve dedicated most of my career to answering this question … to finding ways to help teams get set up for success rather than failure and to achieve a “no surprise” approach to delivering business value.

The truth is, technology teams are very tired of being told they’re late, spending too much money, or missing the boat when it comes to getting the business want it really needs. When something outside of their control changes, they’re tired of fighting physics and trying to stuff 10lbs of work into a 5lb work-week.  You may have a highly talented team that feels like they are in a no-win situation. What a loss of talent!

Many of us have a passion to find these best practices.  Our drive in this area has yielded some very powerful best practices and rich peer-to-peer discussions that have been truly rewarding for me,  my network and my co-workers.  Now, it’s time these practices are shared and some new ones are learned. Along with other contributors, it’s time to engage in conversation as a technology community … hence, this blog. A blog  devoted to identifying and fixing  the obstacles that prevent our teams from producing their very best.

For starters, let’s paint a picture of obstacles.

Suppose you neglected to change the oil in your car. The oil will get thick and sludgy, right? It affects the performance of the car.  At one point, you determine the problem and you change the oil.

In other words,  you effectively remove the obstacle that is holding back the performance of the car. And by simply removing the obstacle, the entire car, and all its parts now hum at a higher RPM.

Identify the Obstacles

This is what we, as leaders, need to do with our teams. We need to identify obstacles. To do that, we need to listen carefully to the obstacles our teams are pointing out. Then, using best practices, we need to help remove the obstacles, ultimately raising the RPM of our teams.

In my next post, I’ll share a way for a team to identify and communicate obstacles. And I’ll share one way I’ve worked with leadership to remove these obstacles and improve overall team performance and success.

Until next week, I’ll leave you with this:


Let the team deliver for you.

One of Management’s most critical roles is to remove obstacles.  If you don’t support your team in removing the obstacles that prevent it from delivering, you are setting your team up for inefficient and unpredictable results.

What about you? Can you think of any obstacles you wish your leadership would remove from your personal day to day processes?