So you have a big product delivery you’re working on. You are slogging along but you have that sneaking suspicion in the back of your mind: are you really getting there? Why can’t you see yourself getting over that finish line?
Maybe you’re just getting started or perhaps you have a product team all set up. Maybe you’re closer to the end but feel stuck? How do you tackle such a potentially overwhelming task as delivering a large, modern software product?
Start with the end in mind
I’m not the first to say this but you have to take the time to envision what you are trying to achieve. Think hard about how you will get there. Write everything down because you’re going to be using this material throughout the project and showing it to a lot of people. I like to work backwards from the goal and graph a dependency tree.
Once you sort this out you have to refer back to this material several times per week to stay on the path.
Define the fundamentals
Without fundamentals, without a base of understanding of the game and understanding of your technique, you have nothing to fall back on when things get tough, when the game gets intense. … Having a great set of fundamentals allows you to play the game at a high level and consistently.
– Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks (http://tinyurl.com/y8dyvkac)
Whether you are a Richard Sherman fan or not – it is hard to argue with his approach. Regardless, this is exactly the kind of KISS approach you are looking for to keep things simple and on track.
Think of this as your operations run-book.
Fundamentals, in our context, means several things:
- The cadence with which you manage your team (daily scrum, team meetings, milestone meetings, lessons learned, etc.)
- Design standards unique to the project
- Coding and engineering standards unique to the project
- Documentation standards unique to the project
It is up to you to LEAD and keep your team breathing this stuff on a regular basis. Do this using images, stories, anecdotes, testimony, cajoling, lunches, cash and anything else you can supply!
Market your goals both up and down the org chart
You’re working with a team of people and you get halfway through the project and you turn around and you realize that nothing’s going the way you envisioned it. The team doesn’t seem to understand you. The metrics you’re using to report on don’t make sense! The team is not even updating the metrics! What’s going on here?
What’s going on is you are suffering from a lack of marketing – YOU have a clear picture in your head of how you want things to be going but you’re not effectively sharing that vision with your team. If they don’t have a clear picture, a clear narrative of what you are after, then how do you hold them accountable for deliverables? It’s not fair on them and your brand will suffer. You have to get on message daily and remind your team at the start of the day (your scrum meeting is a great opportunity for this) to focus on whatever fundamentals you’ve laid out for the project management structure.
It is critical that you change these fundamentals as seldom as possible.
Select a single metric to depict the health and progress of your project that you can pull at any time
Using a modern ALM system you can easily track all kinds of metrics that describe your project state. Most teams use story completion velocity as their main Key Performance Indicator (KPI).
Warning! – it is easy to get carried away here. Your analysts will eat this stuff up and ask for seconds. The fact is, your ALM tooling will do most (or all) of it for you. Try not to get carried away with minutiae in compiling your KPI’s.
Unitize your work into a series of deliverables
Trim your scope down
Think about what you really need. If you break down the majority of products we use, we use them for just a handful of the things that they purport to do. If you can nail those, you may be able to turn that dollar, win that bid or secure that CXO sponsor to take the product to the next level.
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!
I’ve worked with many clients where there is a huge ask funnel and no prioritization. If your leaders aren’t prioritizing then you need to pin them down and get it done. This is no mean task and typically requires considerable soft skills. Ask lots of questions – then let people take the time to chew on it and answer – your clients are never stupid and will arrive, typically, at similar answers to you. If they do not, it may be your turn to listen. They have reasons for doing what they do and you may learn something critical that you did not realize. If you can’t work with the answer you get, wait a while then try again later on adding more data to the question if possible. This is critical to do early in the project lifecycle.