How does Kanplexity integrate into a traditional project management environment?
I used to be a project manager in a traditional organization, I was one for about 15 years so I’ve witnessed the evolution in project management as well as the rise and wide-spread adoption of Agile as an alternative to product development.
There are a lot of challenges with managing and delivering projects, and I’ll briefly outline some of those challenges that are associated with fixed dates.
Project Management Fixed Dates
A lot of people sometimes conflate projects with fixed dates.
In my experience, you can have a project without a fixed date and in many applications, it can work better if you don’t assign fixed dates to projects or project teams.
Regardless of whether you are embracing agility or not, fixed dates cause several problems.
The Tuckman Model – Developing an effective team
The first issue you experience with fixed dates in project management or product development is revealed through the application of the Tuckman model.
In 1965, Dr Bruce Tuckman wrote a paper on the stages of development that people undergo when a team is formed, or a group of people come together to work on a project or product.
In terms of validity, the Oxford Review group reviewed the Tuckman Model and declared that is wasn’t an invalid model for assessing team development.
The first phase of the Tuckman model is forming. It’s a bit like the honeymoon phase of any new relationship or team development.
This is where friction occurs. This is the phase where the honeymoon phase is over, and we are now dealing with the reality of behaviours, habits, and practices within the team dynamic. Some are good whilst others rub people up the wrong way.
If there is healthy conflict where teams are exploring different ideas, concepts, or lines of reasoning, this can be extremely beneficial to the development and growth of a team.
This is where we find our feet as a team and begin to accept the validity and value of other people’s ideas, lines of reasoning, and ways of working. We begin to find a rhythm that works and we develop social bonds that are resilient, productive, and useful.
This is the final stage where the team begin to achieve outcomes and objectives that way exceed what any one individual on the team could achieve. The sum of the group is greater than it’s individual parts and we see exponentially greater results from the team than we witness in a simple collection of people working on something together.
It’s no longer a group of people, it is actively a team and the teamwork and cooperation of every person in the team contributes to significant performances and achievements.
In my experience, it takes a normal team approximately two (2) months to move through to the Norming phase of these four (4) stages of development. A navy seal could integrate within a team within a couple of hours because they are actively taught how to build teams, but the average person would take about two (2) months to effectively integrate into, and positively contribute toward, a team environment.
It would take approximately four (4) months for a team to evolve into the Performing phase.
Now, if you have a project and the deadline is in six (6) months, you’re barely going to get to the point of team performance before the project is over. You’re not going to be able to invest in actively developing the team and achieving great team performances because your focus is on delivery right off the bat.
That’s one of the first problems of a fixed date project deadline.
The J Curve AKA the Change Curve
Let’s say your team’s performance is mediocre and somebody in the organization wants to accelerate that performance whilst adopting a new framework like LEAN, Xtreme Programming, or Scrum, you’re going to come up with several challenges.
If you have a good or great team and you introduce a change in how they work, you see a noticeable dip in performance rather than an acceleration of improvement. That dip depends on how difficult the change is, or how difficult it is to adopt the new practices, and so a team requires time to absorb the change and learn how to master the new practices, habits, or behaviours.
If you manage that change well, it’s a little dip, but if you don’t manage it well, it is a big dip.
It could well take a few months for the team to recover to their previous levels of performance and then a few more months before the team start to deliver improved performances.
Again, if you have the fixed date ahead of you, the team are distracted by the looming deadline whilst trying to manage the change, which leads to poor performance.
The team simply don’t have time to improve their performance, deliver against demanding project deadlines, and adapt to the change that has been imposed on them.
This is where the organization proves to be the impediment.
Everybody knows that the problem exists, and everybody is aware that the problem won’t go away nor will it be effectively addressed. It may an organizational policy or a faulty system. It could be several things rather than just one impediment, but it blocks progress at every turn and frustrates teams to the point where teamwork is affected, loss of morale, and all the things that generally lead to poor performance and apathy.
If the will existed to fix the problem, it could months, maybe even years, to resolve.
And so, your new team, confronted with the reality of the Tuckman Model, compounded by the J curve of adopting change, now bump into the organizational roadblocks that further impede progress and affect performance.
The fixed date looms soon and your team are managing all these dynamics, working around the organizational challenges, and attempting to deliver something ‘good enough’ within the predetermined time frames that have been chosen without any thought of the challenges the team will encounter and need to overcome.
The organizational problem simply never gets resolved because the team and leadership don’t have the appetite to tackle such a big problem, especially when it’s going to take 6 months to deliver the project whilst the organizational impediment may take a year or more to resolve.
I put it to you that the organization has zero appetite to fix the problem because they are focused on fixed deadlines rather than creating an agile, high-performing organization with hyper-collaborative, creative and effective teams.
Increasing the number of dedicated Project Teams
The fourth and final problem of fixed project management dates is that executives and leadership teams imagine that spinning up dedicated project teams allows them to create and deliver more projects within a define period.
Its numbers game rather than a people and skills development game.
We aren’t focused on creating collaborative, effective and high-performing teams that can solve compelling problems or create valuable solutions for our customers. We are instead focused on musical chairs in the hope that by shifting ‘assets’ around, we can deliver more projects.
Quantity over quality.
Management teams believe they can achieve infinite scale simply by multiplying the number of dedicated project teams that are created, yet this causes significantly more problems than it solves and very, very seldom results in great outcomes that are valuable to the customer and organization.
The primary problem with attempting to scale with this is that the organizational bottlenecks never disappear and as they are overwhelmed by greater demands from teams across the organization, the dependency creates problems for a far greater number of teams and results in significant drops in performance, per team, across the entire organization.
We become less effective, and we are delivering poor quality outcomes.
So, these are the 4 primary challenges organizations face when they think in terms of fixed date projects and dedicated project teams that disband after each project is completed.
So, I prefer projects or initiatives to be delivered through existing, strong teams.
Yes, there is the problem of context switching – where we lose a percentage of productivity because we are shifting from a singular focus to multiple areas of focus – but you are still achieving a far higher quality of performance and significantly quicker delivery times.
When you have long-term teams that have moved through the Tuckman phases and are now a high-performance team, and they have mastered change as well as the optimal style of working, you now have a high-performance environment that can deliver great work, consistently, and within far shorter time frames than a single dedicated project team can.
The long-term teams also have a greater appetite for fixing the organizational problems because their intention is to continuously improve and remove any performance barriers.
Most importantly, we don’t encourage the illusion of infinite scale because we now have a deeper understanding of how to build effective teams, and we can project future performance based on past and current performance.
We know what our capacity is, we know how many projects we can deliver, and we know how to build effective teams over the long-term. We know that it takes time, and we know that to preserve the quality of work we are producing, we need to invest in long-term initiatives rather than attempting to sale too quickly.
I’m not saying that you can’t have pockets of dedicated project teams, I’m just explaining that there are downsides and that you need to balance the long-term agility and effectiveness of the organization against the need to deliver a project or product quickly.
Kanplexity facilitates this kind of high-performance organization and empowers teams to work in traditional project management environments whilst embracing valuable elements and tools of agility.
About John Coleman
John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #organizationalagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.
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