Blog 28.12.2017

Project management is dead

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In the software business, the (project) management role is useless. You need a high-level visionary who states the (business) vision. Let’s call her a product owner, and you need a change catalyst who makes the stuff happen. Let’s call her a scrum master. Two levels. No middle-anything. You don’t need middle-level, mid-term planning.
Culture of experimentation, MVP and overall agile principles lead to early value creation and early failure. You don’t have expensive software project failures because they fail early. You have finally learned to manage successful software projects. The only secret is to skip the middle-term planning. Just create a long-term vision and start experimenting.

Men are naïve

Men are driven by the need for certainty. This results in an inflated need for middle-term planning. “What are the 1H2018 features being delivered, their exact schedule and budget?”. Nobody can answer truthfully. You could state honestly “we will aim to fulfil the basic features of vision X during the next 3-6 months with the current team”. Or you can act like a professional project manager and come up with a detailed feature plan and exact estimates. We all know, such a plan is as trustworthy as the six-month detailed weather forecast.
There is no room for old school project management. Project management in a sense of deciding up front what, when, how and how much it will cost. The main reason for project management existing in the current software business is for sales reasons. Fixed price projects are nice to sell and easy to buy. That’s called a pig in a poke.

Reductionism is reductionist

Reductionism means that you can solve a problem by breaking it down into smaller parts, solving the small problems and then putting it all back together again. This works in a simple environment. In a complex environment, the pieces of the system are not the sum of the parts. When you have a complex problem, you need trials. Try and fail until you find a satisfying solution. Small investments can be made into safe-to-fail experiments in a balanced portfolio before we commit more resources. Cynefin explains in detail the different environment types.
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Correlation does not imply causation

The assumption that past practice leads to a future deterministic solution is valid only within an ordered system with common context and stable, known constraints. You must understand the difference between correlation and causality. With enough data, you can find a correlation between anything. “More people drown when they eat more ice cream”. You can use data-driven decision making only in a simple environment where you know the constraints. Problems arise when work is based on wrong assumptions. Don’t ask: Has this worked before? Ask: Is this the right direction to take? This question forces you to stop and reflect on the situation.

Manage high and low

You need some management. There is no such thing as a self-organizing organization. However, you need to choose wisely what and when to manage. You must constantly evaluate the outcome of the latest short-term sprint and keep an eye on the long-term vision. Don’t spend your time planning mid-term roadmaps of how to achieve a near-term vision. At the best such roadmaps are useless and at the worst they are deceptive. No mid-term planning what so ever will help you in the future.
manage high and low

Stop and think

Today, more than ever, proper management is needed. You need to think and reflect on the situation daily. If you allow yourself to get caught up in the bureaucracy to the point where you don’t have time to stop, think and reflect, then you are damaging not just yourself but the whole organization. Being busy is not the same thing as paying attention. Requiring status PowerPoints doesn’t steer the work or create transparency. You cannot create objectivity in a complex environment, your own subjective judgement is required. Requiring simple reports is laziness. Understand the needs of management and acquire the needed information. Preferably through intelligent conversations.
As a manager, you can either spend quality 1-on-1 time with the people in the downstream, or you can wait for things go south. Stop and reflect regularly. Not just when it is a New Year.


Simplicity at the Heart of Agile:

Dave Snowden’s 12 Shibboleths of Christmas:
The Extinction of Agile Coaching:

How Google Sold Its Engineers on Management:

Fixed-Price Failure:


Agile Transformation in Action – Part 1
Agile Transformation in Action – Part 2
What’s the point scaling Agile

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