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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Agile or Traditional - Productivity Management still has basic roots

Having managed a number of initiatives in both agile and traditional setting, I often find people thinking the agile culture enhances productivity many times over the traditional thinking. The principles of collaboration, limiting work in progress, lean thinking over scope, and focus on value generation may lead one to think that agile is much better than traditional. Still traditional approaches to management doesn't mean that these processes should be avoided to sow the seeds of productivity. Agility is in the end is only a mindset to managing productivity towards value generation. In my experience, I have found a few techniques that are have withstood the test of time to produce predictable productivity in any team.

1. Manage meetings
There is a lot of practical literature around how to run effective meetings. Instead of going into microscopic details on meeting management, can we not focus on ensuring that every meeting has a clear outcome to accomplish at the end of the meeting? Whether it is 15 min or a day long meeting, having a clear outline of planned outcome will establish evaluating the necessity of the meeting in the first place. Not having a meeting unnecessarily or accomplishing meeting objectives earlier releases so much time that could be used for other productive tasks.

This is where agile thrives because it timeboxes all ceremonies and avoids meetings not necessary. Project and Program Management can also apply the same techniques.

2. Correct your course
Whether it is running meeting or managing the client, things don't always go the way you plan! So, plan for course correction? What's the point in all these "Failing to plan means planning to fail" when we fail to apply it in principle! When a meeting goes on a tangent, correct your course by bringing attention to your outline. When customer requests come out that emphasize lack of understanding or you get a project where you don't know the underpinning the technology, make course corrections yourself by taking an initiative to learn the technology!

In the world of Khan academy, Plural Sites, Course Era, Open2Study, Bright Talk, and so many other MOOC - not to mention YouTube or Vimeo - there is plenty of information available already for people to gather information! So, correcting your own course is totally on you and not doing so is actually taking the team's time away!

Here is also an approach from Agile where there is retrospective at the end of every iteration! Did traditional approaches ask not to have frequent lessons learned sessions? Absolutely not! It is a restriction that project management forced themselves on and the management failed to react to it. In other words, they chose to learn from the lessons and hence succumb to failure!

3. Focus on Training on "Done" criteria
Having a constant baggage on the trunk actually creates so much drag in an automobile which slows the automobile and burns unnecessary fuel! That's why we don't drive - at least technically - with unnecessary baggage, right! Doesn't that principle teach us to focus on getting tasks completed! Coming from lean management philosophy, it is a principle of waste in over-engineering anything to the point that it is not getting done! So, project management can extend these principles to apply simple heuristics in managing their WBS or have user stories that apply the INVEST principle.

In my experience, I have always applied the golden rule of no task having a duration longer than the risk that I can live with the task completing. Most often, no tasks are longer than 40 days and some work package is always getting delivered every two weeks. So, milestones are not 3 months apart! Such thinking still applies earned value principles to make course corrections if a project slips!

Here is where the INVEST principle from agile comes to help where every user story is independent, negotiable, valuable, estimable, small, and testable! So, don't add tasks just for the sake of adding and use the hammock tasks productively.

4. Establish Stretch goals
No matter how much one knows, there is always room for improvement! This is one of the reasons change management principles advocate continuous improvement. The self-organizing theme behind teams in agile setting really ensures that team members are adequately skilled cross-functionally to pick up other people's task to support the sprint commitment! In a traditional setting, we create unnecessary layers. Every team in a traditional setting should have a stretch goal to learn another team's work and practice. Not only does this avoid central dependency on another, it also helps appreciate the tricks of trade and appreciate the service level agreements and standard operating procedure enhancing adherence to protocols. It also lets creative juices flow as one challenges the status quo to do things differently! Only by learning more does an individual become part of a group and evolve to be a self-organized team.

5. Use the tools of communication effectively
Although we all appreciate a wrench and hammer have their distinct purposes, we also realize overly abusing the tools for the wrong purposes damages what we are trying to accomplish more than the tool itself. The same analogy goes with the tools. I wish we can monitor the use of the "Reply to all" button that creates so much email for an organization. People reviewing the emails out of sequence, replying to them in random order understanding parts of pieces, and eventually ignoring it will only cause so much productivity loss - time that can be used for other productive tasks. So, learn to manage by walking around, collaborating using better tools, and avoiding creating so much electronic dialogue that provides no clear documented decision making.

In my experience, these simple techniques have helped build constant productivity regardless of the approach. In the end, what matters is only the results.