Archive - January 2012

09.11 20120

A Tale of Agility

By: michelemuse Categories:Agile

One of my favorite children’s books is called, The Three Questions, based upon a story by Leo Tolstoy.  In the story, a young boy wants to understand the best way to conduct himself and to find a way to always know the right thing to do. The boy wants to be good and seeks to understand (1) When is the best time to do things? (2) Who is the most important one? (3) What is the right thing to do? In the story, the boy first seeks advice from his three close friends, and then, after being given conflicting advice, seeks advice from a wise old friend to answer his three questions about life. The boy’s questions are universal questions, and we can draw parallels of these questions with those we ask ourselves as we go to work each day… how can I meet all my deadlines, who is the most important one to please of all my stakeholders, and how should I conduct myself at work?  There is much debate in the project world about priorities and how to set them for projects--- Should goals reach far into the future or be kept within a short window? Who should we work to please on our projects…management or the customer? How should we accomplish goals…by authoritarian means or with participative styles?  To address these questions, I have adapted this story to the context of the state of project management in companies today.  Here is the story as I tell it… Once there was a Project Manager who wanted to understand the best way to run projects and always do the right thing.  In order to select a methodology to utilize in his career, he decided that he needed answers to three questions:  (1) When is the best time to do things?  (2) Who is the most important one? (3) What is the right thing to do?  To obtain answers to his questions, the Project Manager asked three of his friends for advice.  The first friend was a project manager who relied upon traditional waterfall methodology.  The second friend utilized iterative development processes, and the third friend used scrum methodology. The Project Manager approached his first friend with the question of when is the best time to do things?  The first friend replied that to know the best time, one must plan in advance.  The second friend responded that to know the best time one must watch and pay close attention.  The third friend replied that to know the best time, one is not able to pay attention to everything himself so he needs a pack to keep watch and help decide what to do. For the second question of who is the most important one, the waterfall friend answered that the most important ones are the ones highest up in the organization.  The iterative development friend replied that the most important ones know how to fix problems, and the third scrum friend replied that the most important ones are the customers.  For the third question of what is the right thing to do, the first friend answered that it is meeting baselines; the second answered that it is having fun at work, and the third answered that it is following the rules. After contemplating his friends’ very different world-views, the Project Manager decides to seek the wisdom of a trusted mentor.  When he arrives at the wise mentor’s office, he finds his mentor writing a 4-year project plan for the implementation of a project supporting the long-range revenue objectives of senior management.  Seeing the tremendous amount of work laying in front of his mentor, the Project Manager begins to help his mentor with his work. As the Project Manager and his mentor are working on the project plan, a distressed product owner can be heard talking outside of the office.  The product owner has learned that a customer needs to significantly change the software that is being developed in the 4-year plan; the features being developed do not meet the customer’s needs.  The Project Manager rushes out of the office and gets the details and comes back, saying that the plan will need to change to meet the customer’s new requirements.  The pair immediately begins to work on a new phased development plan to address the customer’s desired changes, with the first phase being completed within the next 12 months. Again, a few hours later, the Project Manager and his mentor are interrupted by a commotion outside the office.  This time the Project Manager learns that the product owner just found out that the customer will not need the software that is being developed any longer; the competition has already built a competing product at a cheaper price.  The Project Manager returns to the office with the product owner and the development team, and the group sits down and develops a new minimum viable product that the group will test with the customer in two weeks. The next morning, the Project Manager was happy that he had helped friends but felt disappointed that he had not gotten the answers to his questions.  The mentor explained to the Project Manager that his questions were answered.  He explained that if the Project Manager had not helped the mentor with his project plan, then he would not have heard the product owner’s distress and not been able to help; therefore, the most important time was the time spent in the mentor’s office; the most important one at that time was the mentor, and the most important thing was to help with the project plan.  Later, when the Project Manager found the distressed product owner, the most important time was the time spent helping the product owner; the most important ones were the product owner and the development team, and the most important thing to do was take care of the customer and give them what they needed. The mentor’s wisdom, along with that of Tolstoy, was that “the most important time is always now; the most important one is always the one that you are with, and the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”  The story illustrates how our priorities must shift based upon the conditions under which we operate.  We must closely examine local conditions and determine what is the immediate need and act upon that need, always looking to be of assistance to those around us.  To achieve success, we must ever strive for goodness and usefulness in the present and adjust our thinking to current conditions.  We must shorten our time frame of thinking so that we can deal with the present conditions, and we must utilize collaborative leadership to serve the team that we are with, verses utilizing authoritarian power to accomplish outdated goals.  When we think in the present and give respect to those we are with, we are able to work to accomplish goodness with and for those around us.        

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