Thursday, 27 November 2008

Project evaluation a la carte

    I work as support administrator in huge outsourcing company. Team is big and dynamically growing and pretended to be big and happy family.
    I'm not very ambitions in career, indeed some of my mates are already occupy very prestigious management positions. Normally, I'm trying to avoid responsibility I can't control. I believe that most of people in top management NEVER control things, they are responsible for. But believe that I can do better then they is really phenomenal.
    Story begins in that nasty autumn day when manager said that we supposed to keep all tasks estimated planned for release in order to improve our proximity.
    Looks pretty simple for project you might have been working on, but I would like to bring your attention to terms marked in italics.
    Keep estimated doesn't mean to estimate just once: it means everyday estimations should be file.
    Release means not just single iteration, but all bunch of tasks from all iterations we planned or even didn't yet planned.
    Proximity? I actually didn't catch what the hell is that ...

    My answer was very rational, but disappointed manager quite hard: he told that I should elaborate way to define alternative approaches and insisted to have meeting dedicated to my response where I should have explained situation to the team leads. Actually my first response provided certain kind of workarounds for this: we can make releases shorter or we can make full estimation just once and then concentrate on support tasks. Otherwise we spend more than 20 hours a day just for estimations.
    I have conducted the meeting, but and made the same conclusions about situation, all other team didn't have so many issues, they were incoherent and releases where much oftener, but they supported my points and we closed the meeting.

    I was very surprised when suddenly I saw meeting invitation regarding proximity in my calender scheduled to 6 PM. Oh, God, did you forget how much time I spent on this?

    The meeting was eye-opener for me about how projects within our corporations are evaluated by customer. You know once per quarter we have so called evaluation questionnaires, where customer put marks from 1 to 5 to 8 different nominations. Proximity is one of those nominations and we get awful mark (2) for it. 2 means less then expected, so our proximity was expected to be better then it is.

    Team was very curious about this issue (in fact we had no other choice) and kindly asked departments head who also attended this meeting what is going on and how do we measure proximity?

    Well, we were explained that main goal of our meeting is to collect ideas how to improve it and our manager has already requested from customer explanation why proximity is was estimated so poor. Here is the letter:
Dear Donnie,
    Thank you a lot for filling evaluation form of our NTSR project!
    Could you please give us explanation what is proximity and what team is responsible for reducing proximity ...

    If you give us more extensive information we will put our efforts to find out why proximity is so poor and elaborate plans how to improve it.

Respectfully Yours,
    Julius Eiche,
    PM of NTSR project

    Ok, people, so what we can do with it? Donnie's reply was quite obscure, so it doesn't help us very much. Let us thing about this.
    Well proximity in Wikipedia gives us certain answer: proximity is ...
    Wait, wait, wait, wait! Do we really have no perception what the proximity is? Evaluation form is standard for all project in our organization! And it's not a first time it was introduced to the customer! Actually our customer put marks for proximity already several times ...

    Our manager was on top: he used so peculiar phrases to explain how important and difficult his job is. But, how about the result? We have no information about thing that has major influence on our project! We have nothing else that has such significant effect on the project destiny.

    Suddenly I realize that anyone can be not worse manager for our project than Julius: he has the same idea about evaluation as we all. Only difference is that he new about them and finding out how those measurements have been performed is primary task for any manager.
    Now I don't believe in managers and believe that if we got mark for any other nomination (tolerance, productivity, proactivity and so on) the reply would be the same: Dear Donnie, we are to stupid to understand what a hell that is. Teach us and hope that we will do better next 3 month.

    Meeting show me how deep problem was. In fact I'm quite anxious about 2 things:
- getting me to find out what are all those values in evaluation table
- requesting what else our managers have concealed that can be strike us so badly.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Corporate ethics. The guideline or the attribute?

Since I have moved from European company to American one, I never experience any cultural shift between two organization. In fact I didn't believe in so called "corporate culture". I'd rather believe in "corporate superstition" meaning by that usual way how people there used to get things done. Only thing that was changed for me was using rather American English than British. So now I write "color" instead of "colour" and try too update my written text and speech accordingly to American traditions.
In the aspect of team behavior nothing was going to be changed: Our team was planned as very agile and egalitarian: no managers, no subordination, no strict policies. We were pretending to the team of well-motivated professionals. And what I had seen there had indeed impressed me: team leaned to be unique within large organization. So I made my final choice voting rather to the team and people there than to organization as a whole.
Soon after my start I was told that our company is well-organized, modern and has some set of things that recognizes it as something special. I didn't pay much attention to this again: all things pretended to be informal, of course any company wants to recognize itself. "We are unique, we are the best". But they look like too isolated from each other.

And indeed it lasted like this about 3 month. Then things started to get changed gradually but steady: now we have at least 2 "pure managers" (who refuse to do any technical tasks) and 2 semi-managers (who supposed to do lesser technical tasks, but essential part of efforts are going to be spent on some sort of management).
I used to overtake some management tasks even at my first job, considering those tasks as inevitable expenses in order too keep whole team free from such routines. And eventually I can see that I'm pretty much successful in that: here I became one of those two semi-manager and unstoppable power pushes me to be even more distant from technical tasks.
Concentrating on management tasks, which include large amount of inbox and outbox items I began to suffer from lack of understanding the corporate principles.
Today the manner how I hold negotiations had been condemned by my boss. , but for me they were to trivial comparatively to things that was done in team by local managers. I was warned to not use informal lexis to not see and was informed about how it is had to be done within organization (oh, God, they spend so much time and efforts to create presentation for newcommers how to do such trivial things like sending mail). I agree with all pointhere, but anyway there are few points that make me furious about what's happening in our team
* They are breaking moral rules that seems reasonable for me: for instance, it's considered to be correct if higher manager sets responsibility upon lower even if it's not agreed with the latter.
* Those people are to idle to get things done. They will rather delegate to you creating reports even if they can do it more efficiently and faster
* They consider watching somebody meeting rules and sending important mail as attribute of their power.
In my professional life it was more critical to be honest with people and be direct rather to be polite. It doesn't mean to be not polite at all, but there was necessary to be so anxious about that.
Unfortunately my resources are exhausted to change the hierarchy of management that was raised here, I have missed already chance to keep team agile, and only thing to do is too keep Otto von Bismark principle:
Be polite. Even when you are declaring war.
That makes sense. So I believe in my talent of automation and self-learning: in a week or two I'll be polite, tactful, friendly and gentle ... at least in outbox :)

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Thoughts about fixed-priced projects

Negotiating is domain area, which for most people is much more complicated to deal with, then even the most challenging technical task.
Once during one of our Agile club we have discussed fixed-priced contracts and applying agile methodologies to them.

This was quite hot topic: audience consisted of mainly agile adepts, but the projects they were involved indeed where fixed-prices.

In generally that discussion is not worth to retell it entirely, but there were some thoughts that may be very much valuable for me.

1. Above all, fixed-priced projects are normally more expensive and that means they are potentially more lucrative for executor (for IT company or team that works on them). It's a high price for professionalism. If I were millionaire I would rather have 100% service for 100% price:
I don't need analysts, testers, QA, IT department from my side to support YOUR development. I don't care if it's 400% more expensive: just give me entire calculation and risks and I will put your proposal under consideration.

So team has a good opportunity to provide product owner from their side and to make fair product for good price.

2. Commit or not commit that the question.
And all risks should be calculated before project is started

Here I have exposed one more thought: can we reuse that approaches that is used by venture capitalist when they do their business in IT
Unfortunately not: normally venture capitalists' approach is to be aware and to be acquainted with people: but they have money to take over risk, we don't :(

3. Fixed price project can be conducted as agile projects, but all necessary infrastructure should be provided by executor.

One of my colleagues proposed idea to specify if customer is opened or not. So if he ready for communication that better if he is not.

I also had thought about that: but I'd rather just exclude projects that depend on single non-responsive person as not good for me.
Just make me happy and don't ask any questions.

If your customer is large organization it's not a big problem if they are remote and not responsive. I've seen so many times when customer's representative not provided enough analyst or information about their product or requirements. But I have never seen customer that forbade their coworkers to speak with our coworkers.
Even in the worst case you anyway can talk with them, have discussions, drink bear or date their office managers.
You do have chance take information about how to make them happy (unless your customer is not Jesuits Order).
The costs of all this is a different thing. But since account management has word "presentation costs" normal business used to work with them, so IT business also have to.
So, viva forever! :)