An interview with Jeff Sutherland and Hank de Velde brings up some important notions in program and project management.
- The planning horizon is short
- Plans must adapt to emerging situations
- Goals are maintained
But there are some critically important aspects here that if ignored will lead to utter failure.
Both Jeff and Hank
- Are highly experienced, very seasoned, experts in their fields. Both sailing the open ocean, flying the F-4, managing Scrum projects.
- Have past performance to draw on when the plan encounters a change.
- Have alternatives in mind at all times. A Plan B, a Plan C, and maybe even a Plan D.
- Can call on external help when needed.
During a short email conversation with Jeff to determine if we were in country at the same time in the late 60's and early 70's in Vietnam - we weren't - we confirmed that our training, supervision, experiences, and learning opportunities have informed our separate paths. Jeff's with Scrum, mine less famous with our Integrated Master Planning and Performance Based Management, share one critical thing...
Management in the presence of uncertainty - a matter the domain - requires past experience to avoid failure.
This concept is many times lost in the zeal of deploying agile development or any version of lite.
There is a saying in the military flying business
There are bold pilots and old pilots, but there are rarely old bold pilots
Past performance informs future behavior. Jeff didn't drive around the skies of Vietnam without first having extensive training, the inherent skills to put that training to work, and the seat of the pants experience in the log book to know when to take risks and when to play it safe, or when to stick to the plan and when to come up with a new plan real quick, because an unplanned event just appear in the windshield.
While there are many quotes about planning and plans not surviving the first encounter with the enemy, never is that planning process abandoned in the presence of a disruptive event. It goes like this from actual cockpit experience.
- The morning brief (0500) has us departing Phu Bai 0600 to get fuel and pick up the first of the many loads for the day to carry from the ammunition dump to Fire Support Base Bastogne.
- Everyone is briefed, read and understood is the response to the Operations chief, when the plan of the day is pocketed, KY28, codes set and the cheat sheet put in your left arm pocket. All crew on board - let's go fly.
- Fuel on board, load picked up, headed to Bastogne. Radio traffic shows clear LZ for the morning. 40 minutes, the situation starts to turn south, small arms fire being taken from the perimeter of the Fire Base. No problem, everything under control.
- 15 minutes out all clear, proceed is the called from the pathfinders on the ground (Air Traffic Control).
- 3 minutes out hot LZ is the call from the Path Finders. So much for the Plan of the Day.
The Agile Manifesto and Planning in the presence of reality
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Process drives everything. Rouge individuals doing their own thing usually don't get to far.
- Scrum is a highly disciplined process, with clear and concise step-by-step activities to reach success.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Working products are what the customer bought.
- Documents may be part of that - the Dash-1 says how to fly the aircraft. It's just as important as a working aircraft.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- The contract read and understood in the morning brief is the mutual agreement between the planners of the mission, the receivers of the mission, and the deliverers of the mission.
- When we don't follow those agreed mission goals, there will be disappointment all around
- Responding to change over following the plan
- This is the biggest red herring in agile.
- The Plan is the strategy for increasing the probability of success for the mission.
- Accomplishing the mission will require changes in plan.
- Abandoning the mission requires higher level authority and a new plan.
What This Means in the End
- The mission is the starting point for the Plan - be that a resupply mission, sailing around the world mission, or delivering the software system.
- The mission is a contract between the development or delivery team and the receiver of the outcomes of that effort.
- Changing that mission requires a change in the contract.
- Without the contract there is no mechanism for implementing the team - a group of individuals who hold each other accountable for a shared outcome
- Customers are always in the loop, they have to be, only they have the real understanding of the mission.
- Change happens. Managing in the presence of change is mandatory.
- The Plan is a strategy for success.
- The Plan can change, but only inside the bounds of the mission, without permission to abandon the mission.