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Planning Balance

Planning BalanceLife is all about balance, live too conservatively and you run the risk of missing out on life’s adventures and opportunities. Live too wildly and you run the risk of misfortune and regret, we have to walk a fine line guided by our personal view of where that correct boundary is.

Planning is similar; the adages of “Look before you leap” and “Cross that bridge when we come to it” speak to the differing views towards project planning. However, instead of being guided by some moral compass, we should be guided by the quality of our planning inputs and likelihood of changes.

To some people a mentality of “Cross that bridge when we come to it” strikes them as the irresponsible abandonment of project management rigor and fiscal responsibility trusted to them by project sponsors. Why would you not always do as much planning as possible before starting a project? Surely, that is only right and proper! Well, not if doing so would be harmful, it all depends on the quality of that input data. When the input data is good, we can reliably plan, when the input data is bad, or the project’s final destination is likely to change then we need to get better data and keep evolving the plans.

When aiming at a fixed target it is appropriate to aim, aim, and aim some more and then fire. In the project world this is akin to plan, plan, and plan some more and then execute. However, when trying to hit a moving target this approach is ineffective. Where do you aim? Where the target is right now, where you think it might be next, where you hope it might be at completion time? Instead a different approach is needed; something more like a guided missile that makes many mid-course adjustments to hit a moving target.

When we know our project requirements may change, or there is technological uncertainty, or market volatility from competing products, we need to equip the projects with the abilities to make multiple mid-course adjustments. Instead of plan, plan, plan we point the team in the right direction, get them started and give them the tools and authority to make these mid-course adjustments through build feedback cycles to hit that moving target.

Jim Highsmith says it best, there are times when “You cannot plan away uncertainty; you have to execute away uncertainty”. It is not really in the best interests of the sponsor to consume project time and budget trying to plan something with incomplete or erroneous data. It would be more prudent to get closer to the problem, try a few things and then come up with a better plan now we have more information.

Yet this idea of doing less upfront planning presents a large obstacle to many stakeholders because the words we often use to describe exploratory information gathering are poor. For a start we don’t often call it “exploratory information gathering” instead using phrases like “we will build a small portion”, “start coding”, or “do a spike”. To people not familiar with why we are doing this work it seems counter intuitive and rash. So, we can do ourselves a favour and use words like “more data gathering”, “proof of concepts” and “options exploration” instead of “development” to explain the goal of this work.

Another tool we can use to convince the skeptics that less upfront planning is sometimes better value is the planning-risk graphs developed by Barry Boehm. The first risk presented by Boehm is the obvious risk of not doing enough planning and running into problems of people not knowing what they are doing, duplicating work, and building poor solutions that need to be corrected.

Planning Balance 1

From the graph above, we can see that as more time is invested in planning, the risks due to inadequate plans reduce. While these risks are intuitive, there exists another set of risks that are less intuitive or obvious; the risks of doing too much upfront planning. 

Planning Balance 2

This second, red line denotes how the risks of creating very detailed, brittle plans that do not survive contact with reality increase as we spend more time planning. So too do the risks of delaying the project and getting a late Return On Investment (ROI) because the project spent too long in the planning phase.

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Summer Slowdown

Apologies for the slow rate of articles here at recently, but I moved to Canada to enjoy the outdoors and it is prime hiking and biking season. Normal posting frequency (which is still not that frequent) will return after our all too short summer.

Meanwhile I will repost some articles I wrote for to fill the void. First a couple of pictures from last weekend’s 24 Hours of Adrenaline bike race in Canmore.

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Mike Griffiths to Present at PMI Global Congress in New Orleans

PMI Global Congress 2013I will be presenting a paper at the PMI Global Congress in New Orleans, October 27-29. Entitled “21st Century Risk Management: Supporting Mathematical Analysis with Social Influence” it is about bringing the local influence of people and persuasion to the analytical world of risk management.

All too often risk management is treated as a dispassionate science of probabilities. However projects are people oriented with risks (and opportunities in particular) being greatly influenced by behaviour. Experiments made in moving risks and opportunities from the methodical risk analysts and project managers to social “project charmers” have shown great results in risk reduction and opportunity exploitation. This partnership between math and social influence seems to be a winning combination and the presentation explains some case studies where this has been applied with great success.

I hope to be presenting the session with Dennis Stevens who shares many of my views on agile risk management. I have worked with Dennis on a number of initiatives including the PMI-ACP certification and the Software Extension to the PMBOK Guide. I enjoy Dennis’ sense of humor and depth of knowledge. I am really looking forward to the event.

Shown below is the outline description for the paper:

21st Century Risk Management: Supporting Mathematical Analysis with Social Influence

Today’s complex projects need proactive risk management to stand any chance of executing successfully. Yet, all the steps of: identifying, classifying, analyzing and prioritizing in the world are for nothing if the risks cannot be effectively avoided, transferred, or reduced. These risk avoidance and reduction steps are largely human led activities with success criteria closely linked to social influence, communications and campaigning. 

While the project manager is critical to project co-ordination and success, they are rarely the domain experts on modern projects and instead bring subject matter experts (SMEs) together to collaborate on novel solutions. These knowledge worker projects require a whole team approach to not only risk finding, but also risk resolving.

This session explains the need for proactive risk management through an examination of the “Flaw of Averages”, it walks through the risk management process examining traditional and lean/agile based processes. Then the importance of social influence in risk mitigation is explored. Using case studies, a shared team approach to risk management is described. Through collaborative games, new risk visualization techniques, and empowered teams, examples of risk avoidance and risk mitigation actions are examined.

21st Century risk management should be a whole team activity facilitated by the project manger or risk analyst. Not only is relying on a single person to identify and analyze risks and opportunities inadequate, it also represents an unacceptable risk of its own.  Also, often there is a mismatch in personalities between the people best able to analyze risks and those best able to influence them. A new framework that leverages people’s strengths while optimizing the whole value stream is presented.