No. Some things add more value than others. I’ve often said that I don’t like to do anything unless there are multiple good reasons to do it. However, not all activities add the same level of value.
Not everything we do adds the same value to a project
Planning is a good example. We need to plan everything up front, right? Ideally … maybe. Some of my best project successes came from just diving in and doing it — learning as we go. That learning by doing was much more valuable than what we would have come up with in planning without the benefit of first doing.
But we now have a great project management process. Everything is well managed. The quality assurance team says we are following our process with integrity. Nothing can go wrong … until it does.
We will have a crisis in our project
Now, for example, we need to fix a problem at our customer’s site. Our normal process for making a defect fix and delivering a rock solid update to the customer takes weeks. Oops, that is way too long. They are dead in the water, right now. What do we do? Free the engineers to hack away at our customer’s site until it works? No, that is equally scary. The resulting “fix” can be so fragile that as soon as they restart their system, it falls over again (been there, done that). This hacking away is at best a great way to demonstrate herculean efforts and give folks opportunities to work around the clock and show their dedication! But that is about it. It is amazing how many managers and customers, after we’ve done something chaotic like this, sang our praises, and forgot the silly things we did to get us into the situation in the first place. But I digress.
We want to do something smart when dealing with a crisis
Instead, we should handle any situation with a high awareness of what we do well and why, and then employ those insights in a crisis. In another tough situation, I had the programmers focus on code quality first. If they changed a line of code, it should work. While we also had steps for planning, analysis, quality assurance and documentation, these we went light on (i.e., did them only when we thought they would help) in order to get things done quickly. We went from buggy to rock solid code, fast, by focusing on what we were best at, which was writing code.
Smart is understanding what it is we do that adds the most value
So, on the occasion where things do go bad, and we have to react swiftly, knowing what makes a difference in our team allows us to gracefully degrade the process — skip steps or spend less time on them than we usually do — and make progress faster. I’ve had some folks argue, that if we really do this, then those other process steps were not really needed. I’ve not seen that being the case. Often, I will see that the team is relieved to get back to using these other steps. This is one of the better indicators that a process step is seen to add value.
We go back to the full process when the crisis is over
Once the crisis is under control we then go back to our full process. It is important again to repeat that this kind of dynamic works best in an organization that knows how they do business. Degrading the process, is no more different than improving the process or making any other process change. It is done with awareness of what it means. If our organization is a CMMI level 1 (or other measure indicating low process maturity) than this idea of degrading the process has little real meaning. This because such an organization may not have the insight to make these kind of decisions in an effective way. Of course, they still have to make some kind of decision when things go bad, but it can be almost akin to randomness (e.g., “Try this. No, try that. What are they doing? Who told them to do that?”)
Degrading a process uses the same discipline as improving it
Degrading our established project management process is often necessary when a true crisis is encountered. Degrading it gracefully, based upon our knowledge of what adds the most value and what can be temporarily suspended can make a huge difference in quickly resolving a major problem. Not every process step adds the same value, so understanding and smartly suspending such steps can give us the extra time and resources needed to overcome the current crisis and complete our project successfully.
Can you identify process steps that could be reasonably suspended to save time or free up resources in a project crisis?