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Category: Team Performance

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.

Stop Padding Your Estimates! There’s A Better Way…

When you pad an estimate, you typically increase your estimated effort/cost due to fear. I call this estimating from a place of weakness. You are afraid of the unexpected event, so hopefully padding it will cover it.

When asked why you think something might take 50% longer or cost more than expectations, it leads to an awkward uncomfortable conversation. And almost always, it creates distrust. How do I know you haven’t padded everything?

A Better Way: Contingency

Instead of padding out of fear or worry, add contingency instead. Let me clarify what I mean.

An example of padding an estimate: Your estimate is for 2 weeks to finish a straight forward project. Because you know stuff happens, you decide to say it will take 3 weeks. That gives you a full week to recover from delays or fix any defects.

How do you know a week is enough padding? You don’t. But you believe you can get away with it easily enough. Saying 4 weeks would be pushing your luck.

Instead, here’s the same example using contingency: You provide your estimate as being 2 weeks. You also explain that typically, there are delays of source material, and defects that need to be addressed before we are all done. So you are adding one week of contingency time, just in case.

You are sharing your estimate and “contingency” from a place of strength and confidence. You show it’s in everyone’s best interest to include the contingency. It builds confidence and trust.

It’s not uncommon for one of my full project plans to have contingency tasks added throughout the plan. If the customer wants to push back, here’s how the conversation goes:

Customer: “I see every time you are working with the API team, you show a task for 3 days, but you add a contingency task of 3 days as well. Can you explain what that’s for?”

Our team: “Typically, 3 days is enough time to integrate the APIs and move on to the next task. However, in the past, this API team is always overwhelmed with work, and some of the APIs are new and complex. So the contingency time is based on history and allows us to plan for those delays. If they can actually reduce turn around time and hit the 3 day mark, we’ll be ahead of plan and deliver early. After all, there are 5 API tasks and 5 contingency tasks.”

Customer: “I’m not sure I am comfortable with this approach. I think we should remove the contingency tasks.”

Our team: “We can do that. However, if in fact those teams don’t hit their tasks, we are going to say ‘We Told You So’ and you can’t hold us to the dates!”

And no we don’t say it this way – but that’s the message.

At this point, I can’t remember a time when the customer didn’t agree to keep the contingency in the plan. After all, they want to be successful too.

In summary…

Don’t pad your estimates. Clarify why you are padding by adding contingency and sharing the risk. Hope this helps you with your estimates. Would love to hear your experiences as well.

What Projects and Airplane Flights Have In Common: Turbulence

I love this metaphor to help leadership, management and project teams all see the forest for the trees. Here are the key points I share:

Nobody will remember the turbulence, if the plane arrives on time and in the right city!

I used to fly quite often. One of my frequent destinations was New York. Depending on weather and other factors, it wasn’t unheard of having a flight to Kennedy re-routed to Laguardia or even Newark. In those days, it happened. But the one flight I remember best was one returning home to Chicago.

I remember one bad storm that caused our plan to circle O’Hare for what seemed like 2 hours. That delay, by itself, wasn’t out of the ordinary. The reason I remember this one trip is because when we landed, I found myself in Cleveland.

I’ve had my share of turbulent, strap-yourself-in and hold your breath, flights, that landed late. I don’t remember any specific ones. But, you better believe I remember when they re-routed us and we landed in Cleveland. I rented a car and drove ½ the night to make it to Chicago by the end of the day.

So What Did Success Look Like for My Many Trips?

  1. At a minimum: Land safely!
  2. It’s better if we land in the right city.
  3. It’s even better if we land in the right city at the right airport.
  4. I consider it a successful trip if we land within 60 minutes of our planned arrival time, in the right city in the right airport.
  5. It’s almost too good to be true if they had my preferred meal, I got a great view of a sunrise or sunset, and there was little turbulence.

And this is exactly how our stakeholders feel about our projects

  1. At a minimum, deliver “something of value”, even if late, without cancelling it due to budget and delays.
  2. If I can get all the functionality needed for the market, we’re doing better. Even with some bugs, I can work with that.
  3. And if it’s on schedule (or close to schedule) and budget, we’ll be celebrating!

But the one thing the teams should remember. Most flights have turbulence, and they run out of your preferred meals, and there’s unexpected weather and other challenges. In a year, no one will remember those details.

Make sure the project lands safely, with the appropriate functionality. Because everyone will remember the project that crashed landed.

I have another post that compares the PMO to Air Traffic Controllers. It shares best practices that helps you put in practice the lessons shared in this article. Stay tuned.

Stay Inside the Lines to Manage Projects Effectively

Throughout the Getting Predictable blog, I talk about alignment. For many, the word “alignment” is a bit vague. Does it mean we agree? Does it mean I actively support you? If I don’t actively support you, but I don’t block you either, am I “aligned” with you?

As it relates to projects, doesn’t alignment simply mean we agree on what is in scope? Why are there so many books written on alignment, and why do they sound like “consultant speak?”

alignment

The cost of mis-alignment

Alignment is important because when a project team is not aligned, it can not only derail a project, but, in a very subtle manner, prevent the project from ever getting back on the rails.

Sometimes, keeping projects inside the lines can be challenging. In fact, it can be a lot like looking at a roadmap when you’re lost. You’re the driver, you have a navigator next to you, and GPS, and each one is doing something different. You’re not in sync, and it’s difficult to figure out where you’re going. In the confusion, you end up getting even more lost, and it takes you twice as long to get to your destination.

This example illustrates how bad alignment can steer a project – or a car trip – right off of a cliff. The concept of alignment is often a bit of a no man’s land – people don’t understand just how harmful bad alignment can be to a project.

Silence is not agreement; Don’t let others hold their breath

speakup2It’s not often, but I believe we have all experienced the meeting that goes too smoothly.

There’s anywhere from four to eight people, trapped with each other for an hour, around our favorite conference table.

The 3 Great Interrupters: Meetings, Management and Drive-Bys

interruptors-300x199Recently, we’ve introduced Commitment Based Estimation  to a couple of our software teams. Typically, this helps a team provide highly-accurate estimates. These teams go on to deliver successfully by meeting these estimates.

Delivering Successfully is like the Matrix: It’s All In Your Head

matrix-300x269

In this blog I usually  write about best practices that help set teams up for success. That is really what Getting Predictable is about.

Project Retrospectives: When looking forward makes more sense than looking backward

iStock_000016701854SmallRecently a consultant asked me if I encourage teams to do a project postmortem or retrospective once a project is done.  The goal is to review what worked well and what didn’t.

Make Meetings More Effective: Stop Chasing Squirrels

Make-Meetings-More-EffectiveDISTRACTIONS!

I would like to discuss the challenge of distractions.  So many times we’ll be in a meeting when somebody says something that completely moves the discussion off topic.

For example, I’m in a meeting where the goal is to figure out how you’re going to schedule QA testing for a project and when you’ll need the users for User Acceptance Testing.  Then, all of a sudden, we digress. Now we’re talking about how our automated testing tools haven’t been effective and, before we know it, we start talking about evaluating a new automated testing tool suite.

That is the squirrel effect

If you want to understand what I mean by the squirrel effect, go ahead and watch this short, funny clip from the movie Up.

http://youtu.be/bBWrMQVsuak

In this video, you get a glimpse into the minds of dogs.  Dogs are with their masters, or with other dogs, and they’re doing what dogs do: Sniff, eat and dig at dirt.  All of a sudden, there’s a squirrel and the dogs forget everything else.  They look to the right, they look to the left, and they digress.

I was recently in a meeting where a totally off-topic detour occurred, and out of nowhere a colleague shouted “Squirrel!”

I looked at him like, “What the heck was that?”

He shared the video above and explained that meetings distractions are squirrels to dogs.

I decided that every time somebody went off topic in an ineffective use of our time, we would use that as our keyword to remind everyone to get back on track. Very quickly, this has caught on and allows our team to stay remarkably focused.

My Challenge To You

My suggestions for teams to be more effective in meetings:

  1. Everybody should learn what the word “squirrel” means.  Get them to read this blog post and/or watch the video. Discuss and understand the concept.
  2. When you start a meeting, write the objective of the meeting up on a whiteboard where everybody can see it.  Then when somebody gets off topic, point to the whiteboard and literally say the word “squirrel.”

This will help people stay focused on the objective, stop chasing squirrels, and make meetings far more effective.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Photo credit: Pete Birkinshaw

Winning with “Project SD”

Winning-with-Project-SDEvery team needs a process they can embrace because they know that process will get them to the desired result.