Advantages and Risks of Hit-and-Run Plays

Chad Greenslade is an established Dallas, TX-based IT project management executive who offers solutions-driven consulting services. Passionate about baseball, Chad Greenslade excelled in the sport in high school and continues to play in adult recreational baseball leagues.

One of the foundational offensive strategies with a man on first base is the hit-and-run, which involves the runner on first base breaking toward second as the pitch is delivered. At the same time, the batter swings at the ball and attempts to connect.

With one of the infielders needing to cover second base, an opening is created on the left or right side of the field which can allow a ground ball to pass through to the outfield for a hit. In addition, the chances of a ground out double play is reduced, as the runner has a jump on the action.

There are risks associated with the hit-and-run, including a high likelihood that the runner will be thrown out in cases where the batter fails to connect with the ball. This has to do with the runner not taking as large of a lead off from the base as when stealing.

In addition, the hitter is obligated to try to connect with the ball, even if it is well outside of the strike zone, to protect the runner. This can result in balls that are weakly hit, leading to easy outs.

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 4

Fourth in a Fifteen Part Series
By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the fourth in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 4: Understand Common Environmental Constraints

There are some common organizational environmental constraints that you will encounter when moving to an Agile delivery model.  Each of these must be considered and addressed for your Agile transformation effort to take root and flourish.  Each of these should be considered “difficult” to address and requires ongoing effort to engage key players in the organization and change their perspectives to align with transformation goals.

The first and most common constraint is simply the one of management “style”.  Management style can either be a hindrance or an enabler to the transformation.  If your organization is an older one, especially one that has been around since before the Agile manifesto was published in the early 2000’s, the management “style” is most likely a top-down, “command-and-control” model.  In this model, the methods by which lower-level employees carry out work are dictated by higher-level management personnel.  “Command-and-control” is also frequently used in smaller organizations that may have no knowledge of Agile principles or practices.   Agile requires collaboration.  Collaboration necessitates that decision-making occur at the level where the work is taking place.  Agile believes that the resources performing the work are best equipped to guide their own work and successfully navigate obstacles when they present themselves.  In simple terms, the folks doing the work must be empowered to make decisions about the work.  Since collaboration is a bed-rock principle of the Agile manifesto and “command-and-control” does not foster collaboration, the “command-and-control” management style must be regarded as detrimental to an agile transformation in that it stifles collaboration.  Shifting from a “command-and-control” model can be difficult, especially if the next three constraints are not adequately addressed.

The second constraint to overcome is your organization’s willingness to accept change.  In a “command-and-control” environment, the notion of, “we’ve always done it that way” may be prevalent.  Clearly this won’t work when attempting to institutionalize a culture shift.  In this type of environment, you’ll need to confront unwillingness to change head-on.  You’ll want to tout expected Agile benefits (Lesson 3) and reasons for moving to Agile (Lesson 2) and ensure they are well understood by key leaders, stakeholders, and resources.  You should be looking for the, “let’s give it a try” response to your transformation proposal.  When you lay out the case for Agile and start small, you will be able to build confidence on your successes and get more folks on-board with your vision as your experiment progresses.

A major environmental constraint that exists in many organizations is a “process-heavy” culture.  Process-heavy organizations are those with rigid activities that must be completed in order to progress an effort.  This typically manifests itself with paperwork, and lots of it.  Agile requires lightweight processes.  This means that unnecessary or “non-value add” steps are skipped.  Agile is focused on just enough process to get people what they need to complete the work at exactly the right time.  If you’re in a process-heavy culture, you’ll need to reset management’s expectations relative to the process rigor that will be employed.  It’s not that no process will be used; it’s simply that required process will be employed.  For example, if there’s a process that must be followed to introduce new changes to the production environment, you’ll most likely want to follow it.  However, if the traditional waterfall process dictates that a full-blown detailed technical design be completed before any actual coding begins, this can be problematic and antithetical to Agile’s tenets.  You’ll want to thoughtfully analyze existing process and have a meaningful, collaborative discussion with oversight bodies to gain agreement on exactly which processes will be followed and which will not.  When having these discussions, stress the benefits of “speed-to-market” and reduced costs associated with an Agile effort.  You may also find yourself in the position of re-writing the “rules of the road”, specifically for Agile initiatives.

The last key environmental constraint that you must address is trust.  Trust is an absolutely essential component to Agile.  A key item to keep in mind is that trust is earned over time.  When trust does not exist, management tends to micro-manage the engaged resources.  When trust exists, management will get out of the way and let the workers carry out the work.  Trust is required to start an Agile pilot project, and management, including the Scrum Master, must trust the folks carrying out the Agile project to get the job done with quality.  By starting small and demonstrating value delivery, trust will be gained and increased over time.

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 3

Third in a Fifteen Part Series
By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the third in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 3: Understand Expected Agile Benefits

Agile implementations produce benefits for both the team members executing agile and the managers of agile teams.  These benefits, however, can only be realized when company management commits to making the changes necessary to realize them.  Further lessons will expand upon the changes and buy-in required, but for now, understand that teams that adopt agile practices must move away from traditional “command-and-control” and “wishful-thinking” (a.k.a. “predictive”) management philosophies.  Agile can appear to be simple, but key concepts such as self-organization and continual inspection and adaptation have subtle implications that require a change to management’s status-quo approach.

Industry studies show that approximately half of software features developed are never used.  These studies indicate that required features can be developed in half the time by avoiding unnecessary work and waste.  Via continuous prioritization of development requests, agile teams avoid building features that will never be used and focus only on delivering those with the highest business value.  Prioritization is further extended to impediments (a.k.a. “roadblocks”) that surface during daily meetings.  Discovered roadblocks are prioritized and removed resulting in a further increase in quality and productivity.

Agile is known to improve the quality of life for the team members executing it through elimination of the pressures inflicted on the team by management personnel.  A sense of autonomy is instilled when teams are allowed to select their own work and then self-organize around the best way to complete the work.  This fosters the development of innovation within the team, produces higher team productivity, and delivers higher customer and team satisfaction levels.  Allowing the team to deliver a functional and effective product that achieves the market and financial goals of the company produces team spirit, ownership, and results in increased employee retention.

Finally, agile is known to improve the profitability of the company by affecting components of the profit margin.  These include customer retention, innovation, timely and accurate delivery, and workforce motivation.  Customers are retained when they are cared for and provide critical referrals necessary to grow the business.  Accurate and timely delivery of exactly what customers need, when they need it, enhances customer satisfaction and revenue streams.  Innovation ensures synchronization with market trends and anticipation of future customer requirements.  A motivated workforce is a productive workforce and one that provides an edge over the competition.

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 2

Second in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

 

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations. Below is the second in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices. I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

 

Lesson 2: Understand Common Reasons for Moving to Agile

 

I believe there are three (3) common reasons for moving to an agile delivery methodology. These reasons have nothing to do with IT specifically, but rather align themselves more generally with the common goals of product delivery. These are timely delivery, resolving quality deficiencies, and speed to market.

 

In the traditional waterfall model, an IT project could have a duration of several months or years and not produce anything of value for the business, if it produces anything at all. A common stakeholder complaint is that they rarely, if ever, know when anything will be delivered. Sponsors and stakeholders become reluctant to allow the project to continue when there is no end date or discernible deliverables in sight. An obvious and common risk is that a new opportunity or project will present itself resulting in the original project being cancelled, ending the work before anything of value is delivered. An agile delivery methodology alleviates concerns related to timely delivery by producing incremental product units on a pre-defined timescale.

 

Today’s business environment is constantly changing. Whether it’s new products being developed, old products being retired, competitors being acquired, divestitures, market expansions, new legislation or regulations, the only constant is change. This has an overwhelming and obvious effect on the information needs of the organization required to make accurate business decisions. Furthermore, a business is often willing to invest in building a solution to meet these information needs before all of the needs are fully known or understood. The traditional waterfall model is not conducive to the ebbs and flows of today’s business environment. It creates a situation in which a project team attempts to collect all requirements at the beginning of the software development effort, even though they may be unknown at the time of collection. The project team then takes the requirements as defined (or undefined) and attempts to build the solution over the course of months or years while discouraging changes to the requirements during the development process. This invariably breeds an environment in which the product delivered not only fails to meet the initial requirements, but also fails to address the changes in business conditions that occurred since the original requirements were collected. Stakeholders regard these as quality deficiencies even though the system may be coded exactly as the requirements specified. An agile delivery methodology alleviates quality concerns by continuously engaging the consumers of the information system throughout the development lifecycle and embracing the inherent changing requirements of today’s business environment.

 

A key theme of a successful business is continuous innovation. A common complaint from an executive whose business is failing to innovate could be, “our competitors are consistently beating us to market with new products or features.” An agile delivery methodology keeps the organization focused on product release milestones via the inherent cadence that accompanies the methodology. It also seeks to discontinue the use of non-value add activities such as unnecessary documentation or process which further refines the focus of the product delivery team.

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 1

First in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the first in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 1: Identify the Agile Sponsor & Champion

Before you start your Agile journey, you must identify a Sponsor or a “champion” from the ranks of the executive team.  The Sponsor will be similar to the captain of a ship.  You will work with this person to define the destination and ensure the “ship” (the Agile transformation effort) is on the right course.  The sponsor will keep the larger executive team up-to-date on a regular basis.

In order to identify a Sponsor, you’ll want to find someone that is involved in several high-profile, important initiatives within the company.  You’ll want someone who is approachable and understands the importance of relationship building.  You’ll also want someone who is familiar with, and has influence over, gaining the funding you need to make the transformation.  Finally, you’ll want someone who identifies the fact that the transformation you seek won’t happen without training the folks involved in the transformation and is willing to throw his / her support behind an Agile education initiative.  Your Sponsor will be tasked with selling the need for proper training for both the teams executing the Agile practice and the executives consuming the Agile product.

Your Sponsor will be the organization’s representative for the transformation effort.  You’ll want to work with this person to establish tenets of the transformation vision and clearly articulate why the organization is undertaking the initiative.  The development of “talking points” and “elevator speeches” will be critical to effectively allay concerns of folks involved with, and affected by, the initiative.

The Sponsor will be the person that removes the “roadblocks” encountered during your journey.  For this reason, it’s important to select a person who is comfortable with people at all levels of the organization.  The Agile transformation team must be comfortable with sharing honest and open feedback with the Sponsor and requesting his or her assistance in accomplishing their objectives.  Like any good leader, your Sponsor must possess active listening and follow-through skills in order for team members to feel heard.  The Sponsor does not have to be a “technical” person but they should have a firm grasp of the delivery process.  The Sponsor should be universally regarded as a leader throughout the organization and someone who has the influence, not necessarily the power, to get things done.

Lastly, it’s critical that the Sponsor have a firm grasp of the “big picture” and understand the cultural mindset shift that must occur.  Prior organizational rewards mechanisms may need to be changed in order to properly incentivize people to make the changes necessary.  It will be important to measure the transformation effort against established success criteria and publish successes, or setbacks, as required via development of necessary publication materials.  Open recognition and publication of successes is critical to boosting team morale and enforcing the change that you need in order of the transformation effort to be successful.

Driving Adoption of Project & Program Methodologies, Templates, & Standards

Gaining the Buy-In You Need to be Successful

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked how I have been able to drive adoption of project management methodologies, tools, and templates.  Below is a high-level strategy that you may find useful.

How were you able to drive adoption of a project / program methodology templates & standards?

This is the whole stick and carrot analogy of getting folks to change behaviors.  In general, I have found that most folks buy into the concept of a uniform delivery methodology for projects and programs.  The key items that drive folks away from following a uniform delivery methodology is if they perceive or witness the methodology either (1) not being followed by their peers, or (2) not adding value, or not being valued by management, when followed.

When presenting the case for following the methodology, for the carrot portion of the analogy, I have started with the top-down view and began the discussion with, “this is what will give ‘Executive Smith’ the most insight into the project investments being made across the organization.”  I start with a high level dashboard, and explain to the project leaders how the various reporting elements are changed as the project progresses through the methodology lifecycle.  The next item that I stress is the tailoring options for the project.  No two projects are 100% identical and the ability of the project leaders to tailor the methodology based on project complexity places the rigor decision squarely with the team executing the project.  Tailoring allows the skipping of templates that provide no value (given appropriate justification) while allowing the overall project to remain compliant to the methodology.

Finally, related to the “stick” aspect of the analogy, I emphasize the audit aspects of the methodology.  Ideally, you will have either an internal or external auditor conduct an audit of completed projects.  I have wrapped incentive items (recognition awards, small prizes, etc.) around successful completion of each of the items above, especially when initially getting the process started and institutionalized.  I have also incorporated completion of these items into project manager performance evaluations.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Bonus Lesson

Bonus Lesson in a Ten Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

Given the points made in the ten lessons learned, you may be wondering what my strategy recommendation would be for launching a new ITSM platform.  Well, as I mentioned, each organization is different and will have differing levels of ITSM knowledge within it.  Similarly, you may have IT executives who don’t see the value of defining services and CIs prior to launching the platform.  ITSM platforms can be expensive and executives are eager to show value for money as quickly as possible.  This will most likely translate in a directive to get “Incident”, “Problem”, and “Change” launched ASAP.  There may be no change management system currently in place and the organization’s viability depends on getting a handle on changes in the IT environment.  You’ll need to tailor your approach to the organizational dynamics at play, but give deference to the items I’ve mentioned above.  If you’re being forced into the market without a properly defined service catalog or configuration management database (CMDB), setup your service management processes to allow for the eventual introduction of these pieces.  Keep in mind that a new ITSM platform can be relegated to simply a “ticketing” system if services and configuration items are not defined.  The true power of the ITSM platform is “Service” management, not Incident or Change Management.

If you’re allowed the time and the money to “do it right” from the beginning, here’s my recommendation:

Phase 1: Discovery, CMDB, & Asset Management.  Many ITSM platforms will perform a network scan of your environment and automatically discover configuration items (CIs).  When you first turn this on, it will be like drinking from a fire hose.  There will be a lot of data that will need to be sifted through.  Many data points of a CI will be pre-populated, but these will need to be reviewed for accuracy against underpinning contracts.  You may see duplicate CI entries.  For example, duplicate entries may be the result of scanning a Windows domain controller that may not be properly configured or up-to-date.  There will most likely be components that cannot be scanned, or components that can only be scanned upon completion of appropriate troubleshooting.  Some scanning will require credentials whereas others may be discoverable without them.  There may be add-on components that you can purchase to make discovery easier.  You’ll want regular scanning to be enabled so that when new devices are found, appropriate action can be taken.  Using the underpinning contracts, you’ll want to populate warranty, maintenance, and depreciation information.  A properly setup CMDB and asset management practice will serve as a solid foundation from which to build your service catalog.

Phase 2: Service Catalog, Self-Service Request Fulfillment.  Once you have all of your IT assets properly defined, you’re now able to use them in the construction of services to be consumed by your customers.   The “menu” by which a customer can order a service is the “Service Catalog”.  Some services are running all the time and need not be ordered, and some may need to be ordered only once.  The key thing to keep in mind is that IT assets are used in delivering services, so the underlying principle to developing a service is the mapping of configuration items to business outcomes.  For example, a service could be “Messaging”, which could entail email, mobile phone, desktop telephone, and instant messaging.  A number of configuration items are responsible for delivering the “Messaging” service.  Development of the Service Catalog involves mapping these CIs to the “Messaging” service.  Keep in mind that a single CI can be mapped to more than one service.  Once the service is defined, Request Fulfillment entails the definition of one or many service requests that can be logged against the defined service.  A Service Requests differs from an Incident in that a Service Request is a request from a customer to run a service as it’s designed, versus an Incident entails a service being degraded or broken.  An example of a service request for the “Messaging” service would be creation of a new user mailbox.

Phase 3: Incident, Problem, Change, and Release.  Only after Services & CIs are properly defined can true service management occur.  As mentioned, you may experience pressure from executive to skip straight to this step in the deployment of your ITSM tool.  If this is the case, you’ll want to make room in your process for the eventual introduction of the items in phases 1 and 2.  The proper configuration of Category, Sub-Category, & Item as discussed in Lessons 2 & 6 becomes even more important if you’re not allowed to complete phases 1 & 2 first.  Again, the goal of this exercise is to implement “service” management and not simply a “ticketing” system.  You’ll want to ensure that you have process models created for Incident, Problem, Change, and Release.  ITIL foundations will provide you with basic models that can be tailored to your organization.

Phase 4: Project Management (Waterfall & Agile).  With a solid ITIL operating platform established via the first three phases of your rollout, you are now ready to “bolt-on” project management modules.  In most organizations, the management of an IT project will culminate in the raising of one or more Requests for Change (RFCs) to implement one or more releases into the production environment.  Project management modules will assist you in managing these efforts.  Having project management as a part of your ITSM platform will also facilitate integrated resource management across all work types within IT.  The ideal situation is one in which an IT resource can access a single application (e.g. the ITSM tool) and see all of their work items.  Whether it’s a trouble ticket (Incident), a Service Request, a Problem, a task associated with a Change or Release, or a task associated with a project, your ITSM platform is intended to be the one-stop-shop for all work within IT.  Integrated time tracking will also facilitate labor capitalization for qualifying work.

Subsequent Phases: Service Level Management, Reporting, Governance, Risk, Compliance, Cost Management, Knowledge & Content Management, and User Survey. With each of the subsequent phases, you are “tightening the screws” on your ITSM platform.  Increasing service availability and IT operational efficiency are the overarching themes while managing risk, enforcing compliance, collecting knowledge, publishing content, and polling users for satisfaction.

The approach above is intended to be comprehensive and is the ideal scenario.  Rarely do we get to implement exactly how we want.  Don’t let perfection get in the way of being good enough.  In general, modules are flexible and your implementation can be tailored to your specific organization’s dynamics.