Most project teams perform well day-to-day and survive, but with a few new practices life could be better. “Better” might mean less rework, less chaos, less overtime or better customer satisfaction. Newer practices already exist in published standards and frameworks.
When people refer to published standards and frameworks they often refer to them as “top-down” or “heavy.” This opinion is usually based on a lack of knowledge of the material or hearing about a terrible implementation. This is analogous to standing at the door of a large home improvement store and deciding to forego a needed home repair because a friend-of-a-friend had a bad experience with a pair of wire cutters 10 years ago!
An approach to getting better team results is to systematically identify and fix team workflow issues and reduce rework. Treat published frameworks and standards as toolboxes containing tools you haven’t considered or benefited from yet.
Many people discover and get certified in various methodologies (e.g., ITIL, CMQ, CQE, CSQE, CQA, PMP, DFSS, SSBB, CSM, ABC, DEF) but either do not use the knowledge or are not proficient in the skills to be able to use them. The certificates then become resume fillers at best.
Realize the opportunity
To get started, identify a few chronic challenges that your team or organization faces routinely. The examples below include challenges related to requirements writing and supplier management.
After you have identified what to address, have a mindset that for every one hour invested in fixing it, you will get at least two hours back on the first or second use. This is not hard to achieve and provides you with a context that improvement can consistently pay back. The benefits then continue while the new practice is used.
With your list of challenges in mind, search published frameworks for practices that help. Examples are PMBOK, CMMI, ITIL, ASQ, Amazon and Wikipedia. These resources, when treated pragmatically, offer collections of wisdom you can use almost for free.
You are looking for two to five practices that can help you address your challenges in the short-term. The goal is not to elegantly adopt any framework wholesale. (If you did that, life would be too productive and your organization might wither from a lack of chaos and struggle!)
Below are two simple examples of how new practices can be used to improve performance. The calculations are approximate and are there for illustration.
Example 1: Requirements
How the project used to be
- A business analyst (BA) takes 5 days to write 10 pages of requirements describing in a roundabout way what a system is supposed to do. It contains many ambiguous paragraphs, 4 fluffy requirements and some random notes. [Effort: 1 person x 5 days = 5 person-days.]
- The developer receives the description and has no idea what it means or where to start. The BA and developer meet for a half-day to sort something out. [Effort: 2 people x 0.5 days = 1 person-day.]
- The developer codes something and gives it to the tester.
- The tester doesn’t know what to test for and has a half-day meeting with the BA and developer. [Effort: 3 people x 0.5 days = 1.5 person-days.]
- Total effort writing and getting the developer and tester to understand the requirements = 5 + 1 + 1.5 = 7.5 person-days.
- They invest 1 day to learn how to elicit, write and peer-review requirements. [Effort: 3 people x 1 day = 3 person-days.]
How it is now
- The BA, developer and tester spend 1/2 day together writing the next 4 requirements using their new requirements skills. [Effort: 3 people x 0.5 days = 1.5 person-days.]
- Effort invested in improving: 3 person-days
- Effort saved: 7.5 days (old way) – 1.5 days (new way) = 6 person-days
- Ratio of investment to savings = 3:6 or 1:2
The benefit will obviously vary given the complexity of the requirement and code. However, with the right skills, you never lose productivity.
Example 2: Supplier management
How the project used to be
- The development team uses a supplier for a 3-month project.
- After 2 months the supplier admits problems. You (the project manager) notice that the supplier’s work is buggy and their developers don’t understand your domain.
- It is also discovered that the only criteria used in the selection of the supplier was their labor rate. Their skill level and productivity were not part of the selection process.
- You also learn that there is no contract in place, no penalty clause and no delivery criteria established. At best you find a Tweet to the supplier that says, “Do it.”
- You add 1 month to the schedule and have the supplier redo the work. Their time allocation is now 4 months. After that, you decide to do the work yourself since the supplier has no idea what to do.
- Total effort to get work done = 4 months x 5-person team (supplier) + 3 months x 5-person team (your team) = 7 team-months (or 7 months x 4 weeks x 5 days x 5 people = 700 person-days.)
- You, along with your technical lead, spend time to learn how to select vendors, assess vendor risk, write agreements and manage vendors. [Effort: 2 people x 2 days = 4 person-days.]
- Vendors are selected and simple contracts are written. [Effort 2 people x 10 days = 20 person-days.]
How it is now
- Most vendors perform correctly on time since their skill set is verified and delivery expectations are clear.
- The team is aware after the first week when a new vendor is having problems. This provides seven weeks more than before to react to the problems.
- Effort invested in improving: 24 person-days.
- Effort saved by not wasting time with poorly qualified vendors: 700 days (old way) – 300 days (new way) = 400 person-days.
- Ratio of investment to savings = 24:400 or 1:16
The benefit will obviously vary given the complexity of the work, the skill of the vendor and how early project problems are detected. The benefits multiply rapidly over time.
In all the examples, the savings stated are typical observations. These are also the initial savings after the first few events. When the practices are maintained, the savings continue.
The value of published frameworks and standards
In each example, the team learned a new set of practices to address their challenges. These practices already exist in published frameworks and standards and did not have to be created from scratch. To use the new practices wisely, a team might need assistance based on their current skill and knowledge level.
Are published frameworks and standards heavyweight?
No. It all comes down to how one uses them. New practices can be grouped together and defined in 1-2 pages, or each defined separately in a 50-page tome with the title, “Beginners Guide to the Planet.” Heavy or light implementation is a choice.
Don’t we have to implement ALL of a standard?
No. Treat each one as a toolbox to choose tools from, unless you plan on being appraised or audited where the expectation is full coverage.
Your team or organization might be operating pretty well today, but I would hazard a guess that you could easily accomplish 20 percent more work with a sharper saw (a. k. a., better practices). The practices you need are out there. If you saved 1 hour for every 1 hour expended, what could you achieve in 1, 3, 6 or 12 months?
If you would like help in taking the next step, please contact us for a complimentary 45-minute chat or contact us.
Forward this email to your boss! Subject: Here’s a cool tip for you Quick Link
Thanks to Pat and Linda for their review and insight.