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The Beast Called “Waterfall”

Posted by iammarchhare on 1 May 2009

There seems to be an unofficial theme this week of pointing out some fallible lines of thinking.  I honestly didn’t plan it to come out this way, but sometimes patterns emerge before we become cognizant of them.

This week started off talking about “What is Agile Project Management?”  Basically, describing Agile as a “methodology” doesn’t make much sense.  Rather, it is an umbrella, or better a philosophy, underneath of which are some methodologies (scrum, XP, etc.).

Tuesday, I pointed out some faulty beliefs that point to a lack of proper priorities in “Where Is the Time?

Wednesday’s post was on “Web 3.0, Anyone?”  While the technology is emerging to do some really cool stuff, a lot of it just isn’t here yet.  Somehow, though, I saw job postings for people “experienced in Web 3.0”.

Thursday’s post was about “Don’t Make It Hard!”  This was mainly about how people can make things harder than they need to.  It also scratched the surface of how a team’s reaction can make the problems worse.  Finally, I used the example that bore the topic of implementation and how it isn’t implementation that is hard, but rather it is the sequence of steps and missteps that lead up to it that are hard.

It seems appropriate today to come full circle and examine the waterfall method.  Just like the others this week, I read something that made me go “No!” out loud.

In case you are new around here, let me summarize from my own Associated Content article on “Agile Project Management” just how I feel about the waterfall:

Like a dinosaur, the waterfall methodology is large, cumbersome and slow. If it trips and falls, it makes a very large noise. Unfortunately, the waterfall is not like a dinosaur, as the latter is extinct.

So, what do you think went through my mind when I read that Steve McConnell of all people wrote about a company that “embraced Extreme Programming (XP) as the development approach”.  Yet:

Development went on for about two years. While the team was being highly responsive to customer input, that wasn’t good enough. The cumulative total of its work was not converging to anything resembling a saleable product. Eventually the company concluded that the team was never going to produce a product, at which point most of the 200 people were laid off and the company reported a $50 million loss on the project.

~ McConnell, Steve.  (29 July 2008).  Agile Software: Business Impact and Business Benefits.  Retrieved 29 April 2009, from http://forums.construx.com/blogs/stevemcc/archive/2008/07/29/agile-software-business-impact-and-business-benefits.aspx.

The real tip-off here is that nothing was “converging” to make a “saleable product”.  Say what?

Sometimes life is a lot like Alice in Wonderland (or at least the Disney version).

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don’t much care where–

Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

Alice: –so long as I get somewhere.

Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if you only walk long enough.

On George Dinwiddie’s Blog, Dinwiddie posted an article “Agility and Predictability”, where he addresses the predictability factor.  However, I want to focus on the fact that the product owner in the above example “didn’t have a vision for a salable product.”

I hope many of you got the chance to attend the webinar yesterday on “Agile Requirements (Not an Oxymoron)” by Ellen Gottesdiener of EBG Consulting.  She pointed out you need: A “now-view” at the iteration level, a “pre-view” at the release level and a “big-view” at the product level.  It is debatable if the team even had a release level view in McConnell’s example, but it is certain that they did not have a “big-view” of the end product.

Agile is no excuse for not knowing where you are going.  Agile won’t help you get there if you don’t know the destination.  The methodology cannot help you if you are simply wandering around Wonderland.

In fact, Agile is not a cure-all by any means.  If anything, Agile will tend to uncover organizational and procedural deficiencies much sooner than the waterfall method.  However, regardless of the methodology, if an organization buries its head in the sand, it won’t work out.  One of the main features of Agile is evaluating performance at the end of a sprint.  Like any evaluation, though, individuals and teams can gloss over and politic, or they can admit mistakes and make adjustments.

Waterfall will cover up mistakes until the very end, when suddenly, everyone realizes the project is behind schedule.  It’s almost inevitable on any project of any complexity or of any significant size.  So, yeah, waterfall is more “predictable”.  It is more predictable that it will fail!

When does waterfall work?  Waterfall works when the results and processes to get there are well known.  If you are setting up servers just like the last 20 you did in the last quarter, then the waterfall approach will most likely be suitable.  When the chance of randomness is very low, then it is much easier to project the end.

Waterfall also works when the duration is shorter than 4 weeks (not including project management paperwork).

IOW, waterfall sometimes works when the one iteration is about the same size as recommended for one or two Agile sprints!

When you think about that, you think about how there is no real feedback until the end of the cycle, you think about how little testing is done until the end and you think about “progressive elaboration”, then why would you tie your cart to the waterfall horse?

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Webinar: PMBOK Guide 4th Edition Changes

Posted by iammarchhare on 15 April 2009

I don’t remember where I found the link, but PMCentersUSA and ConsultUSA are putting on free joint webinars on “What’s New in the PMBOK® Guide Fourth Edition“.  The next webinar is 12 May, but sign up now to ensure you aren’t shut out!

Disclaimer: I have no connection with either PMCentersUSA or ConsultUSA other than attending the webinar, and everything here is my opinion and not necessarily theirs unless stated otherwise.

Last week, I posted an article pondering whether or not it was worth it to purchase the new PMBOK.  While the cost isn’t that high, these days a person needs to think about building up emergency funds and paying down debt, after all.  Even if you have a full-time job, you really are a contractor in today’s economy.  You are hired “at will”, and PMs can be easy targets for layoffs.  People are lucky to do 20 years at one place, let alone get a gold watch out of the deal.  However, there is good news.  If you are a member of Project Management Institute (PMI), you can access the PMBOK online now.  If this was available for the 3rd edition, it wasn’t obvious to me, but this is a welcome discovery!

The answer?  A guarded “Yes”.  I say “guarded” because the conclusion of the matter of “What has changed?” is “Not much”.  People studying for the exam could probably attend this webinar on top of what they would otherwise study and get by.  Just for passing the exam, then, it might not be worth it.  However, enough has changed that I believe I can now justify purchasing it for the day-to-day reference it provides.

So, what has changed?  I’m going to state a few highlights of the webinar, but if you want details, I encourage you to attend it.  You get the slide presentation for reference after attendance as well, so even if you miss something, you have the slides to refer back to.  I’m not going to regurgitate the entire webinar, and obviously it wouldn’t be proper for me to distribute their slides without permission.

The organization of the PMBOK has not changed.  The sections and chapters are arranged as they were in the 3rd edition.  The main changes were put into effect to enhance consistency and clarity.

Specifically, they fixed the inconsistencies for naming processes by changing them all to verb-noun type of names.  The process descriptions were rewritten to be consistent throughout the various chapters of the PMBOK.

PMI also attempted to clarify project phases.  They not only added wording to to distinguish them from project management process groups, but also took the diagram found on p 19 of a single phased project and edited it for a multi-phased project published on p 21.

One criticism I have of the changes is that one of the “clarity” items was a change to the data flow diagrams.  There are now little bullets along the flow lines, and it just looks confusingly cluttered.

Corrective action, preventative action, defect repair and requested changes are now grouped under “change requests”.  This is a welcome change, IMO.

There are some difference in process organization.  Instead of 44, there now are 42.  2 were added, 2 were deleted, and 6 were reorganized into 4.

There is now an Appendix G on People Skills.  You know, the soft skills I’ve been harping on.  And no, I don’t recall being told that this was a change in the PMBOK previously, so I pat myself on the back.

I do have a nit about it, though.  It lists “leadership”, “motivation” and “influencing” as separate skills.  I have a military background, and for me the definition of leadership is the ability to influence others to do thus-and-such.  Furthermore, a leader has to motivate people to pursue the same goals.  Why these are separate is puzzling to me, but maybe I should wait until I get my own copy to pass judgement.

PMI is doing a phased rollout for the exams.  Changes to the PMP exam occur 30 June.  The CAPM changes 31 July.  The rest are 31 August.

PMI takes the stance that the PMBOK is only one source for the exam and for project management in general.  They believe that the change in the exam will not be a jolt to the system.  We will see, of course, as some of you may recall that the last change was somewhat painful.

All in all, I think it might be worth it for those who are not members of PMI to purchase the newer edition sooner rather than later.  However, if you are not a member, you really should reconsider that decision overall.  There are free webinars and other online materials available to members, and members usually get discounts at seminars and other events.

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PMBOK 4, Anyone?

Posted by iammarchhare on 7 April 2009

Well, I have had to live frugally lately, and, looking at some of the economic statistics, I’m certainly not alone.  So, I have to think hard about purchases a lot more than I used to.  This includes even membership in the Project Management Institute (PMI).  Frankly, I hesitated, but then I went ahead and did it.

So, has anyone who is already PMP certified purchased the new PMBOK?  I have heard PMI expanded the ethics section and changed the triple constraint so its no longer a triangle.  Any other worthwhile changes?

Normally, I wouldn’t even ask; I would just run over to pmi.org and buy it and see for myself.  However, I’m interested in what you have to say about it.  So, project managers, let’s discuss:

  1. Have you bought the new PMBOK?
  2. Why or why not?
  3. If you did, was it worth it?  Why or why not?

If you are PMP certified, then let us know your reasoning.  If you are not a PMP, would you have bought it if it didn’t mean a change in the test?

Mind you, I’m not interested in criticizing anyone’s decision, but let others hear your thoughts.

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