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Archive for May, 2017

Every project has a certain level of complexity in it. When we say a project is simple, we actually mean that its degree of complexity is very less or can be considered as negligible, but nevertheless, it does exist even if in a minute magnitude. Project management methods deal with project complexities depending upon how flexible they are, and what kind of provisions they offer to deal with them. Tradition management methods such as Waterfall are often rigid owing to their staged working processes, which are also often irreversible. Using pre 1990 era methods, one can try to address the complexity in a project to a lesser or greater degree of success, but typically such management methods do not make it possible to reduce or minify the actual level of difficult in executing the project and neither its complexity. This is not necessarily true in case of Agile. With Agile we can actually try to control the level of complexity in a project provided we have the correct level of experience in implementing Agile principles and techniques.

What is “Complexity” in a project?

Broadly speaking the term ‘complexity’ can be best understood as difficult or complicated conditions arising due to the availability of multiple options, or options which make us simultaneously focus upon different directions at a given time, and which result in a multi-dimensional scenario that is hard to understand and resolve. Complexities can be of different types in a project. Business level complexities arise due to uncertain market conditions, technological advancements, and other such factors which affect the business logic contained in the project. The project level complexities can be of two types: Project complexity and Requirements complexity.

Project complexity

Project related complexity can be different for different types of organizations. Several factors contribute to it; however, the most important ones are uniqueness, limiting factors, and uncertainty.

Uniqueness: Every project is unique and has its own attributes and requirements. As the project commences it gains maturity over time and benefits through the learning process. This is most significant when the organization is running a project which is the first of its kind, or if it has no prior experience dealing with projects.

Limiting factors: Projects are subjected to certain factors which can affect its execution or commencement such as budget constraints, the technical knowhow of the team, working schedule, and at times even cultural differences.

Uncertainty: Uncertainty in a project can be due to external or internal factors. External factors may include government imposed rules and regulations, uncertain market changes, and fluctuating economic climate. Internal factors may comprise of the levels of management’s participation in the project, constantly changing company policies, stakeholder’s involvement in the project, etc. All these factors affect the scope of the project.

It is a known fact that a project’s complexity affects its success. The manner in which a business anticipates, fully understands, and addresses the complexity determines whether a project is going to be successful or not.

Requirements complexity

Requirement analysis is the journey to discover the ‘unknowns’. It is an understanding of the business problem, needs and what it takes to address them. Requirements complexity is defined by two key factors: The level of ‘unknowns’ and Volatility.

The level of ‘unknowns’: At the start of the project, how much is ‘known’ about the problem statement? How much is known about the business processes? The level of ‘unknown’ must be assessed at a very granular level, particularly pertaining to business rules, systems, functions etc.

Volatility: What is the expected level of requirements volatility once the project is launched? ‘Volatility’ in requirements emerges due to frequent changes, starting from the design phase all the way through implementation. Project management methodologies often assume that, when requirements move onto the design phase, they stand ‘complete’ and are not subject to change. However, that is not always the case as there is always some level of uncertainty and unpredictability. Requirements volatility leads to significant risk and its consequent uncertainty.

Can Agile reduce complexity?

In traditional project management methods, the complexity in a project is often managed by investing a certain amount of time in the analysis phase with the sole objective of analyzing the levels of complexity and making plans to deal with it. It is based upon the assumption that the time invested in the analysis activity will help to reduce complexity and increase the chances of developing a successful project by using various methods and processes. The investment in time should be considered worthwhile since the analysis can help managements to make informed decisions.

Unlike traditional project management methods, in Agile there are no special stages to deal with project complexity. The product owner who is responsible and who oversees the entire project tries to address the complexity levels based upon his or her experience in the subject, in addition to what the team can contribute in terms of efforts and suggestion to deal with complexity. However, there is a big plus point in how the Agile process works and how the inherent product incremental model makes it possible to reduce project complexity to a great level.

In Agile we don’t work with the entire project at any given time rather we select a few important features and develop them in short bursts of activity known as sprints. The time spent in developing the features varies from team to team depending upon the team’s level of maturity and its hold over the technology used for developing the project. A project may appear to be complex when its overall complexity is considered, but in Agile since we don’t have to deal with the entire project during the sprints, the levels of complexity can be easily addressed to by estimating the levels of difficulty in the features and developing them individually. That way we only encounter a fraction of the actual complexity, which can be easily tackled by the team.

Project complexity is inevitable and should be acknowledged to enhance the team’s ability to respond and adapt to change while staying focused on the end objective. Agile practices and methodology promote the capability to drive and manage change through an understanding of the inherent complexity in projects.

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It is pretty incredible how often we complain about our best employees leaving, and we really do have something to complain about — few things are as costly and disruptive as good people walking out the door.

We tend to blame our turnover problems on everything under the sun while ignoring the crux of the matter: People do not leave jobs; they leave their managers.

Here manager does not mean only the boss or the owner. For a junior developer it can be his senior one. For a senior developer it can be lead developer. For a lead developer it can be development manager. For a development manager it can be scrum master or product owner.

The sad thing is that this can easily be avoided. All that is required is a new perspective and some extra effort on both ends.

Let us discuss few things that send good people packing:

Overwork: Nothing burns good employees out quite like overworking them. It is so tempting to work your best people hard that we frequently fall into this trap. Overworking good employees is perplexing; it makes them feel as if they are being punished for great performance. Overworking employees is also counterproductive.

New research from Stanford shows that productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50 hours, and productivity drops off so much after 55 hours that you do not get anything out of working more.

If we must increase how much work our talented employees are doing, we better increase their status as well. Talented employees will take on a bigger workload, but they would not stay if their job suffocates them in the process. Raises, promotions, and title-changes are all acceptable ways to increase workload.

If we simply increase workload because people are talented, without changing a thing, they will seek another job that gives them what they deserve.

Not recognize contributions and not reward good work: It is easy to underestimate the power of a pat on the back, especially with top performers who are intrinsically motivated. Everyone likes kudos, none more so than those who work hard and give their all.

We need to communicate with our people to find out what makes them feel good (for some, it is a raise; for others, it is public recognition) and then to reward them for a job well done.

Not care about employees: Study shows that more than half of people who leave their jobs do so because of their relationship with their boss. We need to balance being professional with being human.

We should celebrate an employee’s success; empathize with those going through hard times, and challenge people, even when it hurts. If we fail to really care then we will always have high turnover rates. It is impossible to work for someone nine-plus hours a day, five days a week, fifty two weeks a year when we are not personally involved with each other and do not care about anything other than your production yield.

Not let people pursue their passions: Talented employees are passionate. Providing opportunities for them to pursue their passions improves their productivity and job satisfaction. But sometimes we want people to work within a little box. Sometimes we think that productivity will decline if we let people expand their focus and pursue their passions. This fear is unfounded. Studies show that people who are able to pursue their passions at work experience flow, a euphoric state of mind that is five times more productive than the norm.

Fail to develop people’s skill: Management may have a beginning, but it certainly has no end. When we have a talented employee, it is up to us to keep finding areas in which they can improve to expand their skill set. The most talented employees want feedback — more so than the less talented ones — and it is our job to keep it coming. If we do not, our best people will grow bored and complacent.

Finally, I want to use one line to summarize the whole discussion: We want to create such a team that everyone wants to join.

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