Wednesday 21 November 2012

Certainty or innovation - what will your stakeholders opt for?

Despite having all the right badges and certificates for methodologies, and despite producing (at least) my fair share of PIDs, PDDs, Communication Strategies etc. etc. I remain unconvinced that they will ever lead to innovation and excellence.

This "project bureaucracy" leads stakeholders to expect - and demand - certainty, which roughly translates as "safe". Nothing great was ever achieved by taking the safe route, and it almost invariably leads to disappointment because certainty cannot be guaranteed on day 1.

We've all heard the cliches - "A project plan is only 100% accurate the day after the project completes" and "Projects never go over budget, they are under-estimated in the first place".

I have seen too many times organisations where the primary outputs of a project are the governance artefacts; woe betide anyone who is late updating the RAID Log - it's far more important than making sure the REAL project products are the best they can be.

Similarly, some organisations, most notably public sector ones, who tend to be the most risk averse, hide behind governance as an excuse when projects fail; how often have you seen a civil servant bemoaning (yet another) large failed project by saying "We followed all the processes and procedures..."?

Yes, I'm sure their governance documentation is a joy to behold but it won't cut much mustard with taxpayers who just wanted a good [insert whatever you like here... health records system, passport system, border control mechanism - you get the idea]

I think this is why I am more and more drawn to agile development. Project bureaucracy leads almost inevitably into a waterfall development, where each "gate" provides certainty before the project moves on to the next phase.

Real life isn't like that. The average person, faced with, say, a project to landscape a garden with the help of some friends doesn't create a set-in-stone project plan including quality reviews and reports to their spouse. They choose a bit to tackle, complete it and move on to the next bit until the garden is complete.

You can almost picture them standing at the edge of the garden on the first weekend saying "Let's tackle x first" (Hmm - sounds a bit like a sprint plan to me) then on day two discussing where they got to and what's next (scrum, anyone?).

When I picture this, I also picture a group of people self-organising and working as a team. No bureaucracy, no over-burdening control but plenty of ambition, fun and progress.

OK, people making the financial investment need some kind of reassurance that they will receive value for money, but this does not mean they need a library's-worth of governance documentation generating.

Far better to keep them informed along the way. Prototype, demonstrate, inform, but above all, be inspired.