You might consider me outdated, starting again with some old pop song. Okay, I admit having a soft spot for the “can do” attitude of the Swinging Sixties: All these kids, completely redefining the life they were expected to live by taking on the music and attempting to tackle things different than their parents. And remember, they really had to make themselves heard! In the beginning, only pirate radio stations, broadcasting illegally from some small boats offshore, were playing these tunes. All official radio stations were completely ignoring that kind of music.
However, this wasn´t at all the reason for getting electrified when recently listening to the almost forgotten track “Making Time”, the first single of London based Mod band Creation. What knocked me off: Making Time is the perfect claim for today´s IT agenda! Making Time can be understood in several ways. First, getting practical and getting started, second, getting in touch with someone or something. Already fine for IT business, but what really strikes me is the third interpretation:
Making (on) time as meeting the deadline!
According to classical project management theory, a successful project is on time, on quality and on budget. But in reality? Personally, the only time when time was really king was when I started my career more than 15 years ago in fairs and exhibitions: At one point of time the first visitor or guest will show up, whether you are ready or not…. On all other occasions, by and large, quality and results focus was dominating over time aspect. As long as we get exactly what we want, we don´t mind if it would take a little bit longer, right?
Looking on common waterfall project methodology, the reason becomes quite obvious: Successful projects are based on proper preparation and good upfront planning. The better you plan, the better you go. But as we are not able to foresee each and everything, we have to readjust plans, making corrections, almost always missing the original timeline. If delays were the only problem, this might be tolerable. However, traditional waterfall projects very often get in conflict with quality and budget as well. E.g. users are disappointed about the results and if you are going to correct this you have to do a lot of costly rework as well.
Traditionalists would identify poor planning as the root cause, but I am in complete opposition: Waterfall projects are not incremental and iterative, so everything has to be taken into consideration upfront. This leads to ever more exhaustive and time consuming planning. And if things are getting too complex, you need an even more complex plan….
And that is exactly were new agile methods like e.g. Scrum setting in, simply assuming most projects as far too complex for being realized completely based on any kind of consistent upfront plan. Change is accepted as something inevitable or even positive and expected right from the beginning. Scrum is incremental and iterative.
Making (on) time
So while flexible on scope, agile methods are very strict in terms of time management! Complexity is managed by cutting the scope in smaller steps and making progress (and failures!) transparent as early on as possible. Only regular feedback on frequent delivery packages in very short intervals makes speed and flexibility possible. Don’t work on it for years, only in order to find out that you might not meet the customers or users expectations! And during a project, customers can and certainly will change their minds about their requirements. Unlike waterfall projects, agile methods are accepting this iterations in order to achieve a much higher user acceptance in the end.
But of course you can´t let things go for too long in a potentially wrong direction! The earlier you identify a mistake, the cheaper is the cure. This makes time boxing the most important principle of agile methods: A deadline is a deadline, no matter how far the actual progress is!
Agile is a combination of proven concepts and tools. E.g. the benefits of interdisciplinary work for discussing a problem from different angles are already known. In practice however, it proved difficult to keep up target orientation of such a team, especially over a longer period of time. Design Thinking as another example for agile methods overcomes this challenge by establishing common principles and an atmosphere of creativity in order to get to results within a clearly defined time span: “We meet again and see what we have achieved so far”.
Remember making time?
It is also very important in another respect. Usually motivation within the project team is often very high at the beginning. But projects are often losing momentum soon. And this gets even worse, when it takes too long until the first (even intermediate) results are showing up. So making time in a sense of getting things started, showing results as early on as possible, getting feedback is also very important for motivation of the project team!
And on top of this, as stated in the blog “magic carpet ride” as well: Only concrete results like e.g. a prototype are leading to valuable feedback. Just ask anybody experienced in the market research business. It is always “do you like the features or not (and why)” rather than describing the ideal thing and getting nowhere in the end.
So it is no coincidence that Design Thinking has started in product design. Today, it could be used for a broad range of challenges and purposes, e.g. for organizational development. The core question: A solution which meets at the same time desires and requirements of the users and is technologically and financially feasible as well. And you do not have to start with a big project! Agile might not be the first choice for traditional ERP implementations, where you already have tons of experience. But if you are looking for new ways and some quick and good results e.g. within business analytics area, it is my clear recommendation to have a closer look!
So fancy making some time with agile methods?
Get in touch with Design Thinking. Start things now, not striking for the perfect plan, be ready for changes and stay focused on the goal. Get as concrete as possible as early as possible and meet the timelines: Making (on) time is key! Not in the sense of Samuel Beckett: « Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. » but in a clear approach of making time with success in the end!
– written by Klaus-Christoph Mueller, Director Global Business Solutions, itelligence AG –