12 questions an agile CIO & leader should ask themselves, weekly

As a CIO, how well do you manage your people and projects? You’re in a unique position to make massive improvements – but only if you have all the puzzle pieces ready.

Even with the general industry businesswoman-617129_640acceptance of agile methods, there is still a lot of misunderstanding about how to apply these methods and how to tailor processes based on specific customer and project needs.  Making sure your agile practices are working and appropriate is crucial to your role as CIO and as a leader.

Ask yourself these questions and see what you could do better next week.

1. How do you keep day to day engineering activities aligned with your long term strategy & overall direction for the company?

Even though every customer and every project is unique, everyone still needs to be moving in the general direction of your vision.  You may be the leader on paper, but are your team members following your lead? Do they even know your vision?

2. How do you involve customers in your projects?

The customer needs to be involved in backlog prioritization.  If your developers simply make unilateral decisions on which features they want to work on, then the customer is unlikely to be a customer for very long.

3. How do you budget and manage the cost of unknowns on your projects?road-sign-63983_1280

With some agile implementations, many teams don’t have clear boundaries and thus prioritization of what actually gets build can quickly turn into chaos.  Or it may be “90%” done and never actually finished.

(supplementary question – How do you measure the productivity of your project managers and software engineers?)

4. What are your teams developing for the customer & will customers be prepared to pay for the product?

Your team members should have a clear understanding of the critical features that are expected.  That way they have context to help prioritize the product backlog.  The product manager needs to provide the situational awareness of where the product is (ultimately) heading.

5. Do you trust the decisions being made by your product managers, project managers and engineering staff? (& do they reciprocate that trust?)

In an agile environment, trust and collaboration are crucial to a productive environment. Project managers and individual engineers need assurance that their decisions are respected and accepted within their scope.

6. How do you justify the problems experienced by customers during involvement in agile-style projects to you CEO, Board of Directors or shareholders?

Every project has issues and everyone has at least one difficult customer. Being prepared for the inevitable ‘why isn’t agile working?’ question will give you the impetus to drive improvements in understanding across your company and beyond.

7. What processes and methods are your staff following?

Remember that agile does *not* mean no process. It’s critical to know that team members are following what was agreed. Everything changes over time and not necessarily for the better.  e.g. the length of your Sprints that you agreed a year ago may now be too long.

8. How do you keep informed of the state of your projects (in real time)?

An end of month report is ok, but ancient history these days.  If you don’t know the state of projects as of the last day or two, you need to drastically improve your information flow.

Take a walk around the office and look at the Info Radiators.  Ask some questions.

9. How do you align and pay for new products to be developed and for improvements to existing products?

You can build in some money for “product development” into every project budget.  That way every time the margin is squeezed, new products can still be funded and benefit existing and future customers.

10. What value do your agile coaches add?

Coaches need to train and support the team, and then leave.  If you have long-term coaches, could they be better employed as project managers?

11. What are your 6 key operational measures?

It’s great to have lots of data, but what you need are the critical few items for you to make informed decisions.  So often CIOs want as much data as possible.  Instead determine the fewest number of measures to gain the best possible understanding.

people-coffee-tea-meeting12. How are you recruiting staff suitable to your company?

Think about whether you trust the hiring decisions being made by your team.  Having a low staff turnover is not necessarily the best outcome – not having to high a turnover.

What can you improve today?

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you sign up for our newsletter: Once a week, I will send you an email about improving your business and delivering value to your company. Every Thursday, receive the Business Matters newsletter where you will learn tools, techniques, and practical actions to help you drive more success in your company. Email me  james@zenkara.com with ‘subscribe’ in the subject line or body of the email.

James Kelly is a highly experienced quality and organizational improvement specialist with practical application of high maturity methods. With more than 25 years in quality and organizational improvement, he brings about significant productivity and quality improvements in engineering and technology intensive companies.book image 2

He is the author of Practical Kaizen: 501 Daily Steps To Improve Your Business.  The book gives you hundreds of simple improvements that can be implemented across your team and company regularly, quickly and cheaply.

Posted in agile, alignment, attitude, Effectiveness & Efficiency, executive, improvement, leadership, manager, method, metrics, organization change, process improvement, productivity, startup, strategy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

8 Questions an Agile Project Manager should ask themselves, constantly

man-479670_1280 As project managers we are bombarded every day with challenges – changes in scope, difficult sponsors, distracted customers, confused team members, cuts in agreed budgets, legislative updates and other changes in our environment.  Some of these are under our control, and others that we just have to grin and bear.

In response to this constant hum of activity, agile project management has become very popular. If you ask a project manager whether they are agile, the answer is invariably ‘yes’. But many find it difficult to apply many of the principles from agile software development to the world of project management.  How does continuous deployment work for non-software projects?  How can we apply practices such as pair programming to the challenges of managing projects?Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 10.50.12 pm

Like many other methods and standards, the underlying principles will work, no matter the industry or domain.  We just need to be careful when interpreting the principles to establish day to day activities.

To help, here are 8 key questions you should ask yourself regularly.

1. How is the customer involved?

Though we often say customers are our number one priority, they are often quarantined after an initial scoping workshop and review.  In an agile world they need to be constantly involved.  Having a customer (be they internal or external) co-located can bring about a much greater understanding for them as well as the development team.  Wherever possible they should be a key member in the team.  Depending on the business culture this is not always possible; sometimes developers don’t want a product owner breathing over their shoulder.  Other times product owners simply have other priorities and ‘just want it built’.  In both cases this is more about education and managing expectations and outcomes than it is about people ‘not getting along’.

Assessing customer satisfaction is often a good proxy for intentions, involvement and ultimately the success (or failure) of the project.  This shouldn’t be a six monthly survey – it should be face to face on a regular basis.  I’ve seen this done daily and at weekly workshops and meetings.  This is extremely effective as misunderstandings can be addressed quickly and expectations reset if needed.

2. What are you and your team doing to build trust and collaboration?boat-606187_640

As the success of a project moves away from enforced compliance to standards and complex processes and more towards collaboration you must be constantly driving attitudes and behaviors of trust and teamwork.  You need everyone on the team to understand their value and how they need to work together in the true (and unforced) sense of the word.

You should use whatever means available to build teamwork and collaboration. This means finding a way of co-locating the project team (or using virtual tools if geographically distributed).  You could also challenge the team to self-organize and prioritize themselves – if you do this make sure you establish boundaries and decision-making scope.

In achieving co-location and people-related changes, make sure that you have the support of the project sponsor or an executive/senior manager.  Not having this is often a BIG demotivator for staff.

3. What does your critical deliverable look like?

Whether you are developing a physical product, a piece of software, a service, or some combination you need to know the critical few functions/elements that the customer absolutely must have.  By understanding the Minimum Viable Product you can ensure something usable can be delivered straight out of the gate.

Remember though that the product/service must be valuable to the customer. So controlling the quality of deliverables is critical.  So make sure you understand what quality means to the customer on a practical level.

4. How do you ensure the intended activities and critical processes are being followed?

Many new agile PMs frequently hear in the press about dropping processes in favor of interactions between customers and project team members.  They see the heavy process frameworks like CMMI and how poorly many of these initiatives have performed. They think ‘Aha! I don’t need to use process now!’

But it is VERY important to understand that the original Agile Manifesto emphasises ‘Individuals and interactions over process and tools’.  It DOESN’T say ‘Individuals instead of process’.   Be selective and focus your efforts on the critical processes.  You are working with thinking human beings, not robots – so we shouldn’t treat them that way.  It’s your responsibility to ensure that everyone understands the critical processes – such as iterations, dealing with problems and how to turn requirements into top quality deliverables that the customer is willing to pay for.

In agile projects it is important that someone is responsible for assessing and monitoring how the processes are performing.  This may seem obvious but it is often overlooked when people are down in the weeds trying to get a working product ready.

A term that is being used more widely and frequently is that of Technical Debt.  It is the “short cuts” that result in work that will need to be done some time in the future – mostly after a project is finished.  What technical debt are you (or your company) being asked to take on by taking shortcuts and making over-expedient decisions?

5. How often in your ‘information radiator’ updated?

Many project teams have a Gantt chart pinned on the wall.  While this might be a good start you can do so much better.  An Information Radiator (coined around 2000 by Alistair Cockburn) is a large and highly visible board to show planning and progress of the team.  It can be handwritten, drawn, printed – I’ve seen some very effective electronic information boards linked dynamically to defect databases, integration stats and many other sources.

Positioning this information radiator centrally – often where Daily Standup meetings are held (you do have regular meetings, don’t you?) ensures everyone has a good understanding of progress.

6. How do you manage changes in product requirements?arrows-709731_640

Having a lengthy requirements specification or similar document is a big red flag from an agile point of view.

Keep the requirements to bite-sized chunks in a tool that allows for easy prioritizing, review and updating.  User stories provides an effective method for business and operational staff to express themselves in a manner familiar to them.  That way you won’t get caught in interpretation conflicts and other misunderstandings.  It’s better to have a set of effective requirements that aren’t pretty than to have a beautifully presented System Requirements Specification with 10 signatures that is outdated before the ink dries.

7. How are your 5 key metrics trending?

Make sure that you have a clear understanding of how each metric (and hence the team) is performing over time.  Simply having a snapshot is not effective and can lead to wrong short term, knee-jerk decisions being made.

As a PM running an agile project you need to manage estimates and continually monitor the effort and duration of tasks.  As many team members are themselves still improving their knowledge of agile practices they often do not have adequate estimating skills.  They may have not recorded the time they have spend previously nor the magnitude of their development deliverables.

8. What improvements did you complete last week?

Add a question to your weekly review or staff meeting – what have we improved?  Even though everyone understands that we need to constantly improve, they are often too busy with the project and simply assume someone else will improve.  zen-684978_640

With the plethora of improvement methods and techniques available these days, it is easy to be overwhelmed and try to tackle a number of them at once.  The best advice I can give is to “Keep It Simple”.  Streamline activities, meetings, processes, reports – pretty much everything you can whenever you can.

Tomorrow, take 15 minutes to sit down and ask yourself some of these questions.  Are you happy with your answers?  How would your team respond?

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you sign up for our newsletter: Once a week, I will send you an email about improving your business and delivering value to your company. Every Thursday, receive the Business Matters newsletter where you will learn tools, techniques, and practical actions to help you drive more success in your company. Email me atjames@zenkara.com with ‘subscribe’ in the subject line or body of the email.

James Kelly is a highly experienced quality and organizational improvement specialist with practical application of high maturity methods. With more than 25 years in quality and organizational improvement, he brings about significant productivity and quality improvements in engineering and technology intensive companies.book image 2

He is the author of Practical Kaizen: 501 Daily Steps To Improve Your Business.  The book gives you hundreds of simple improvements that can be implemented across your team and company regularly, quickly and cheaply.

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Declutter your meetings and create Minimum Viable Meetings

There’s been a plethora of home and office organizing blogs, TV programs and podcastsScreen Shot 2015-09-21 at 12.52.45 am over the past few years. There are hundreds of podcasts and youtube videos and thousands of books on how to declutter. Decluttering your car to your kitchen, your gym to your office and everything in between seems to have been covered.

But what about your time and how much time you spend in meetings? When was the last time you did a declutter of your meetings – both those you run and those you attend?

How many meetings do you have each week? How long do you spend in them? Do you feel they’re a good use of your time? Decluttering is a fantastic way to get more time to spend on the things that really matter to you and your company.

Free up your time by running Minimum Viable Meetings:

  • Have the absolute minimum number of participants
  • Cover the critical few topics that help you meet your objectives
  • Schedule the fewest meetings possible and as early as possible
  • Have the result and outcome that you are satisfied with

What you’ll need:

  1. Your objectives/KPIs (for your role and/or project)
  2. The list of meetings you run and those in which you participate
  3. Notes from each meeting
  4. Schedule of meetings over the next month

For each meeting you run:

  1. Do you actually need to hold it? What decisions have been made at it or what info has been shared? Could this have been done by an email/presentation or voicemail?
  2. What frequency does it need to be? Do you need to find a better operating rhythm for it?
  3. What is the purpose behind it? Is it:
    1. Gaining buy-in?
    2. Communicating status or something else?
    3. Decision making?
    4. Brainstorming?
  4. What topics can be dropped? Are they all absolutely critical or can some be moved to a one-on-one or email?
  5. Can the meeting time be extended or shortened? Less is best but it depends on your endgame – what are you really trying to achieve?
  6. Who attends the meeting and why? Do some rough calculations and work out what it costs to hold the meeting? Adopt a zero-base approach – you need to understand why you should invite specific people. If you had to pay for each attendee, who would you invite?
  7. How does the meeting achieve each (or any) of your KPIs/objectives?system-571182_1280

For each meeting you attend:

  1. How does each meeting help you attend your KPIs/objectives?
  2. In addition to your input, what is the point of attending the meeting?
    1. Ensuring your team is involved
    2. Organizational engagement or promotion
  3. Are the meetings necessary for your projects?
  4. What value or contributions do you provide?
  5. What was the last piece of useful data or key input that you provided or received?
  6. What would happen if you didn’t attend? Would it:
    1. Impact the success of your team/project/company?
    2. Impact your career at the company
    3. Negatively impact relationships
    4. Impact other’s perception of you?
  7. Can you delegate attendances to one of your reports?
    1. Who could own it?
    2. What succession plan would you need to establish?
  8. If you decide to no longer attend a meeting, how will you keep informed?

Set yourself a target to reduce the number of meetings you attend or run by one each week, or reduce the duration of one meeting each week.

Then set yourself a target to reduce the attendees for each and only cover what is absolutely critical to achieve your objectives.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you sign up for our newsletter: Once a week, I will send you an email about improving your business and delivering value to your company. Every Thursday, receive the Business Matters newsletter where you will learn tools, techniques, and practical actions to help you drive more success in your company. Email me atjames@zenkara.com with ‘subscribe’ in the subject line or body of the email.

Likbook image 2e what you see?  Get many more ideas to save time and money in my book  “Practical Kaizen: 501 Daily Steps To Improve Your Business” on amazon.  It contains hundreds of improvements that you can apply in your job and company each and every day.

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Running effective meetings – 70 actions to improve your performance & productivity

Meetings, meetings, meetings… that’s all people seem to do these days.system-571182_1280

If you need to be convinced that things need to change, you’ve come to the wrong place. Instead check out here, here and here.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to read yet another lengthy book on running meetings.

Instead, what follows here are 70 actions to help you improve your meeting effectiveness.
I haven’t spiced it up with graphics or as an infographic that would really detract from the actions.  If you don’t want to take action to improve your meetings then don’t read any further.

Why 70? Because we’re all tired of seeing so many effective meeting blog posts with only a few action items – 7 tips, 10 hints, 8 actions, 5 secrets etc. There’s a lot of overlap between many of them and yet so much is left unsaid. This post is a comprehensive and exhaustive guide to what I’ve learnt over two decades of meetings – it wasn’t long enough for a book but it was perfect for a post.

But enough background. How do we improve meetings?

Planning the meeting

Ask yourself what you really want to get out of the meeting? Do you want to communicate with stakeholders? Do you want better engagement with a particular team? Do you need to repair some collateral damage? Answering the question of what your really want thoughtfully and honestly will help you decide many of the meeting details – the results, participants, structure, flow, follow-up amongst other things.

What type of meeting do you need?

  • Information sharing
  • Problem solving or issue resolution
  • Brainstorming
  • Decision required
  • Planning/strategizing

Do you even need a meeting? Can you get by with an email, phonecall, report or slidepack?

Determine the Minimum Viable Meeting – what do you need to happen at an absolute minimum? Who are the absolute mandatory attendees? This thinking should drive every decision you make about the meeting.

What is the purpose and intended outcome? even though the purpose of many meetings are generally well known (e.g. staff meetings, project kickoffs, status reviews) it is important to communicate their intent to every stakeholder. Some stakeholders may have different ideas about the purpose and likely decisions at each meeting.

Preparing for the meeting

Determine the structure and flow of topics that need to be covered and how long you want to spend on each.

Figure out who needs to be there – what gatekeepers do you need? What project owners or stakeholders need to be involved?

Keep the number of attendees to the absolute minimum possible. Have a great reason for each person to be there. Simply being related to one or more of the topics to discuss is not a good reason to be there. In Ken Segal’s book “Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success” he describes how Steve Jobs was famously ruthless about keeping meetings small and simple.

Create an agenda which is concise and will serve as a template to drive the meeting and enable easy note taking. 

Make sure you put the most important topic/item first and allow it the most time on the agenda. Then put the other topics in order of descending importance (with a descending amount of time). There is a view that you should schedule a few small items to get some quick wins – however this is a false economy as many meeting items often run over leaving almost no time for the most important.

Determine and clarify the meeting objectives – make sure what you want to achieve is doable within the given time and attendees. Don’t try to determine company strategy in a 30 minute meeting with 30 operational staff.

If you or other participants will be using slides, make sure you limit the number of slides to suit to available time. Having 127 slides is excessive and benefits no one.

Provide clear roles and responsibilities to attendees and what is expected of them.

Do you need to prewire some or all of the attendees? Always make sure there are no (or few) surprises. By doing some preparatory work you can improve the odds of success for your meeting.

In addition to the attendees, who else will be affected by the outcome of the meeting? Keep your eventual audience in mind and how they may interpret the meeting results.

If the meeting is a standard review or something similar, reuse checklists to save you time and ensure nothing is left out.

Ensure attendees (especially gatekeepers and other sponsors) know they must attend and the default decision for non-attendance is agreement.

Make sure that you make it clear how decisions will be made even if attendees are absent. Determine whether decisions will be made by voting or general consensus.

Manage the expectations of attendees. They need to prepare as there should be no last minute reading at the meeting. I’ve seen many meetings take MUCH longer than they needed to simply because someone was reading during the meeting and couldn’t effectively participate.

Make sure that the effort you put into preparing is commensurate with the significance of the meeting. Ensuring you avoid meeting organization overkill demonstrates that you respect your and the attendees’ time.

Don’t forget to include the ground rules as part of the agenda and draw everyone’s attention to them. This will be important when you go to start the meeting.

Email the agenda 24-48 hours prior to ensure everyone has time to read and review the issues. Larger meetings require longer notice so put yourself in your attendees’ shoes to estimate the amount of notice required.

Ensure that you ask everyone to be on time and that you will commence discussion of your most important topic at the very start of the meeting.

Provide needed materials or references to attendees prior to the meeting. Ensure that the data and information to be discussed are not a mystery to the attendees. Anything to reduce surprises is valuable. Dumping a report on participants during the meeting will only antagonize and frustrate people.

Immediately prior to the meeting

Email or call participants an hour before the meeting and remind them it’s still happening, that they are needed and that they need to have prepared.

Sort out the logistics, even though it may sound obvious many meetings suffer from a lack of chairs, pens, etc:

  • tables and chairs organized
  • AV equipment tested, twice
  • Other aids (paper, Sharpies etc) are ready
  • Tele/video conference equipment tested
  • skype, gotomeeting, webex etc are logged in at both/all ends
  • Water ready

Running the meeting

Make sure the person running the meeting arrives in time to set up. This might also sound obvious but we’ve all seen meeting times come and go without a meeting convener and is never a good sign.

Start on time even with absences. Even when participants are late, don’t bring them “up to speed”. This ruins the flow of the meeting and wastes the time of everyone who has been punctual. While you need to be political aware, most senior managers and executives who may attend late are happy to be brought up to speed after the meeting. Now, you did prewire them didn’t you?

Skip the small talk. It isn’t needed. If it’s a meeting with new stakeholders, introductions should be built into the meeting schedule.

Reiterate the ground rules – these should have been included in the agenda and it’s always useful to remind everyone of these.

If the meeting is a review, decision point or gate, ensure everyone understands the meeting process, structure and flow.

Have a standard process for integrating new participants into regular meetings. Preferably do this before the meeting so you don’t waste the other participants’ time.

Have a standard process for handing over actions and decision-making when participants leave. It happens in every company, yet most are not prepared when it does.

Agree on terms of reference and what progress needs to be made to deliver the expected outcome/deliverable for stakeholders and attendees.

Record decisions and important issues discussed – handwritten notes are fine – just take a photo of it once the meeting is finished and email it to everyone.

Stick to the schedule – both the start and finish times for each topic.

Have a parking lot to record off-topic discussions. Keep the tangential discussions to a minimum.

Keep focused on the agenda and make it visible by having a flipchart or hardcopy to hand out.

Ask early in each discussion for objections. If you have time, discuss them more fully. Otherwise just put them in the parking lot and move on.

Ensure that everyone participates – do a round robin or tick list to gather everyone’s views and opinions.

Ensure the meeting facilitator encourages discussion but always drives for closure.

Accept that differences can and will occur and that you won’t always achieve consensus. Design your meetings to minimize the need for absolute consensus. Always respect the alternative views even if the meeting participants agree something else.

Release participants from the meeting after their topics have been discussed. Don’t bore people with topics in which they have no interest. If you run the meeting according to the schedule, this becomes a lot easier and people appreciate when you give them back time.

Managing Attendee Behavior

Stop participants emailing, texting, tweeting during meetings – so ban laptops, tablets and smartphones. We’ve all seen people with laptops doing email, with their phones beneath the desk sending emails (what, seriously do they really think we don’t know what they’re doing?) They are simply not focused on your meeting and need to switch off the devices.

Always emphasize to participants to stay on topic, be brief and concise and always be driving to achieve the meeting objectives. That way they can also have a productive meeting.

As the meeting leader, keep things civil. If all else fails, establish a method to deal with conflicts, non-verbal behavior and difficult behavior. Be sure to enforce it. If things get out of hand, stop the meeting, address the issue and reconvene the meeting for another time.

Make sure there are no side discussions. Meetings exist for a number of reasons, not the least of which is communication and exchange of ideas. Having side discussions makes for unproductive meetings are best. At worst they are insulting to the other meeting participants.

Don’t try to please everyone. Look at the bigger picture to see how everyone can best contribute to achieving your objectives.

When making a decision, be sure there are no ‘invisible’ criteria – they must be explicit and understood by the meeting participants.

When a decision must be made be clear about the outcome: OK, Provisional OK with dated actions and owners, Reject, Place on hold, Cancel

The Meeting Killers and Monsters

Everyone needs to know the “Meeting Killers” (from the WSJ) and “Meeting Monsters”, and how to effectively deal with them. With each of these you need to either deal with them individually or “collectively” to the meeting. You need to assess the level of reaction/compliance and what politics is occurring.

Attacker – someone who attacks the person and not the idea can be very destructive and demoralizing for participants – especially the intended victim. Emphasize in the ground rules that the ideas are for discussion, not those who proposed them. Take them to task privately and then reiterate this during the meeting.

Dominator/Monopolizer – like the attacker this type of meeting participant can destroy the effectiveness of a meeting. Giving everyone an equal amount of time is often effective – as is getting their input prior to the meeting (with a prewire).

Tangent talker – this is why the parking lot is so important – let them get their point across and then put it in the parking lot. Giving everyone an equal amount of time can often shorten their tangents.

Talkaholic – if this is a frequent behavior allow a brief amount of time from each person and get input from them in the day prior to the meeting. This enables you to prewire them and reduce their incessant talking during the meeting

Jokester – let them know everyone loves a good laugh. This only becomes a problem if this is a recurring problem. Let them know privately that it’s starting to impact meeting effectiveness, and that you need their valued contributions.

Silent assassin/sleeper – let them know silence means agreement. They need to have a chance to raise objections early so these can be addressed.

Yes-man/Brown noser – if they are saying Yes to everything why are they needed? Simply allow them to give their proxy to the chairperson or another participant.

Devil’s Advocate/Cynic/Dr No – allow them to provide their solutions or options. If they don’t have alternatives and it’s a recurring behavior, then address it individually with them letting them know if they need to provide options.

Ping pong master/ buck passer – try a pre-wire or get their input prior to the meeting. If they have a reputation for doing this, look at alternatives to their participation.

Nit picker – acknowledge their contributions and get them to focus on the larger picture. If they can’t then just involve them separately so that the other meeting participants can work on the meeting objectives.

Staller and Fence sitter – manage everyone’s expectations so that they know a decision will be made (where relevant) by the end of the meeting. This is where a pre-wire becomes critically important.

Back in mid 2012, @ManagerTools podcast had some great material on the Meeting Killers.  Check it out on iTunes or on their site manager-tools.com.

Closing the meeting & Follow-up

Schedule some time at the end of the meeting to summarize decisions and actions. By summing up you can set expectations of next actions for participants and other stakeholders.

Close the meeting on a positive note wherever possible. Most meetings are not too controversial and it’s always motivating to the participants to end on a note of agreement. If things didn’t go so well, try and find something.

By making a record of the key points, decisions and actions during the meeting, you can distribute them straight after the meeting. Ensure meeting notes are distributed no later than 24 hours after the meeting.

You should send reminder emails to actionees to ensure they understand their responsibilities don’t stop after the meeting has ended.

Be sure to communicate openly and effectively. Rarely are meetings conducting in isolation. The wider staff, project team and/or stakeholders need to be informed immediately of the meeting outcome.

Collect data on review performance. Make sure you take the time to reflect on the meeting performance and what can be improved. Do this as soon as possible after the meeting to keep it as fresh as possible.

What’s your next action? When was the last time you made an improvement to one of your meetings?

Something I didn’t mention was the use of tools. When used correctly these can help make meetings even more productive. But effective meetings start with forethought and effective behavior. Without the people side of things, cool tools will not fill the gap.

Have you found other improvements for your meetings?

exclamation-point-507768_640If you enjoyed this post, make sure you sign up for our newsletter: Once a week, I will send you an email about improving your business and delivering value to your company. Every Thursday, receive the Business Matters newsletter where you will learn tools, techniques, and practical actions to help you drive more success in your company. Email me at james@zenkara.com with ‘subscribe’ in the subject line or body of the email.

James Kelly is a highly experienced quality and organizational improvement specialist with practical application of high maturity methods. With more than 25 years in quality and organizational improvement, he brings about significant productivity and quality improvements in engineering and technology intensive companies.book image 2

He is the author of Practical Kaizen: 501 Daily Steps To Improve Your Business.  The book gives you hundreds of simple improvements that can be implemented across your team and company regularly, quickly and cheaply.

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Successful project delivery using Quality Management Plans (QMP) – and happy customers!

We’re often asked by project managers about the purpose of Quality Management Plans and what benefits (if any) they may have on projects.Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 11.55.27 am

The short answer is that when used correctly they can be essential to project success.

Firstly what is a Quality Management Plan (QMP) for a project? (they’re often also called Project Quality Plan)

We’ve provided a QMP  you can use here.

Just as a Project Management Plan (PMP)* describes the project objectives, strategy, activities, mechanisms, constraints and resources for a project, a QMP is a document which describes the:

  • quality objectives
  • strategy
  • methods,
  • standards and
  • assurance activities

to deliver an agreed level of quality for the project.

*the QMP/PQP can (and often is) included as a chapter or section within a project’s PMP

Quality Objectives
These seem to cause the most angst for project managers.  These are just the specific goals and targets for the project deliverables. eg. Zero software defects, <5 non-critical external asset material problems, zero Health/Safety/Environment issues.

Once the objectives have been defined, a strategy to achieve those objectives needs to be described – what is the overall QC/QA/method to be applied? Lots of upfront design reviews? Daily walkthroughs? Inspections scheduled throughout the project?

Quality Controls
The Quality Control for each phase and each deliverable (or type of deliverable at the very least) needs to be described in sufficient detail so that the project stakeholders have a reasonable understanding of what is being undertaken.

Testing & Defect Management
If there is no separate test strategy, you need to describe how defects, problem reports, and other non-conformances are to be managed on the project. So the process/mechanism for:
• Identifying defects
• Prioritizing defects
• Reporting defects; and
• Resolving them
needs to be described. Of course if there is a test strategy which describes this then it doesn’t need to be repeated.

Process Non-conformance
The QMP should also include processes for addressing process non-conformances. What happens if team members don’t follow the agreed process for the project? How will this be identified? (see the next section) What impact will it have on the quality of deliverables (products and services)?

Process & standards compliance (audits)
The review of compliance to required processes and standards needs to be described. Process assessments enable a reasonable level of transparency and visibility are available to the sponsor and project stakeholders in a timely manner. After all, getting details of poor design practices once manufacturing has commenced is a wasted opportunity.

Some indication of which process reviews or audits are to be undertaken needs to be described. The questions of what will be reviewed, why and when should be answered.

Project-specific processes
Unless described elsewhere (and it often isn’t) the QMP should include all project-specific processes. On many contracts there are specific processes which are unique and need to be followed, so it’s important to inform project team members of any special requirements.

Customer Complaints and Feedback
Customer complaints are often seen by project managers are the bane of their existence. If customers would only stop complaining the project team could get some real work done.

However if you broaden the term to include both positive as well as negative feedback you’ll tend to get a much more positive response from the project team and customer. But in doing eliciting comments and feedback from customers and partners, you must provide a mechanism to ensure positive comments are actually collected.

  • What needs to be described?
  • How will feedback be collected? Surveys? Email?
  • How often will feedback be collected? Monthly? Quarterly? Find a balance.
  • Who gets to see the raw data? Everyone thinks they want the raw truth – until they see in the light of day.
  • Get gets to see the results
  • What actions will be undertaken to address the feedback?
  • Who is responsible for each action?
  • How will corrective actions be communicated back to customers, partners and stakeholders?

Quality Gates and Acceptance Criteria
For a project to progress through differing phases, most projects conduct project quality gates (also called quality review points, checkpoints, etc). These gates ensure mandatory activities/criteria are satisfied prior to subsequent phases occurring. They are also the best mechanism to examine the progress and performance of a project to assess whether it should continue or whether some action is required.

The QMP should include as much criteria as possible for each of the quality gates. Preferably include the actual quality gate checklists that will be used (with the understanding that they may be tailored/adjusted prior to the gate occurring once more information is known about the project). This will ensure that no “unknown unknowns” are raised at a meeting surprising everyone and frustrating the project manager.

Supplier/Partner Quality
The QMP should also include how the quality of deliverables from suppliers, subcontractors and partners will be managed.

Although often included in contract terms and conditions, they are often not described in sufficient detail to be useful.

  • Who is responsible for QA/QA?
  • When will it be conducted?
  • How will multi-supplier conflicts be managed?
  • Who will pay for defect rectification prior and post delivery to the customer?

Agreeing these mechanisms jointly with your suppliers and partners will ensure everyone’s expectations are aligned (or at least known).

Standards
Finally the standards which need to be followed must be specified. This can be in the form of an appendix or end section. It’s interesting to note that this is often left out of QMPs and contract documents. Or it’s included in a brief clause stating that “appropriate” standards will be complied with. This can be a major source of conflict due to inferences drawn from poorly specified standards requirements.

Summing up
The QMP should be approved at the same time as the PMP to ensure both documents are aligned. (which will definitely happen if the QMP is a section of the PMP)

Once approved, the QMP contents should be communicated to project team members and all appropriate stakeholders to ensure a consistent view of quality expectations for the project.

Just like the PMP, the QMP should be updated at appropriate junctures throughout the project. And just like the PMP, the QMP often isn’t.

Agile and the QMP
While many people believe the PMP (and hence QMP) to be anathema to agile development, the QMP can be a powerful force for agile development projects.
But that’s for the next post.

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Criteria for selecting a development method – Agile, Waterfall, Agifall hybrid

Why did you choose the method you’re using right now?

We’ve all been in the scenario where the old way of developing has become stale. Productivity is down, defect rates are rising, and team morale is low.  Things may have been chaotic recently and work practice quality has slipped and shortcuts taken.

Before throwing out the old method and simply choosing the latest Agile method, you need to take the time to define your selection criteria carefully.  Just choosing whichever method is currently making the social media rounds is not always your best approach. Deployments of new development methods often fail because they are just not suitable for the team/project/technology/customer.

Before investigating and choosing a method, define your critical criteria. What should the criteria look like?

  • Size of the team (and the company)
  • Geographical colocation or spread out across offices and countries
  • Average experience of the developers
  • Average tenure of the developers working together in a team
  • Stability and visibility of requirements
  • Level of customer involvement/engagement
  • Need to predicting/estimating cost, effort
  • Importance of milestones and gate reviews to the customer and contract
  • Time to market needed for a minimum viable product
  • Effectiveness of comms
  • Level of developer interest in the new method

Each of these can have a significant impact on the success of your method deployment. Getting them right (or at least good enough) must the first priority for your development change effort.  It can mean the difference between success and bankruptcy.

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10 questions for effective Retrospectives/Post Implementation Reviews

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 10.41.13 pmIf you run retrospectives and don’t find them valuable, then read on…

Any organisation that has existing for more than a few years will have run a number of projects and (hopefully) retrospectives/post implementation reviews. The effectiveness of these activities tend to flatline after a while. How can you measure their usefulness? How can you get more value from them?

Ask yourself the following:

  1. Are retrospectives normally conducted? Or are they reserved for projects that fail badly?
  2. Is the purpose of each retrospective known? Or are they perceived very differently between stakeholders?
  3. What result do they bring about? Is this in line with the established purpose(s)?
  4. Do the same issues get raised again and again?
  5. Are most of the suggestions from one person? Do the suggestions come from everyone or just management?
  6. Are the issues and hence positive and negative issues addressed in actions? Who follows them up? Or are the reports shelved?
  7. Are the sessions a talk fest? or do they focus on specific, relevant issues?
  8. Do participants come prepared with examples and data? or do they simply offer opinions?
  9. Do the sessions suffer from presenteeism?
  10. Can you list 5 improvements undertaken in the last 3 months that originated in retrospectives/PIRs?

Why are these questions important? Because retrospectives/PIRs are one of the major sources of improvements an organization has. If they aren’t effective, you are likely missing out on significant improvements to your bottom line.

You can’t improve everything at once across a company, so prioritize a project improvement mechanism – the retrospective.

For ideas on how to solve these problems and improve your retrospectives/PIRs, see my previous posts here and here.

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