Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Excuse me, but what are you talking about?

You don't even need to watch carefully to discover that often two people that seem to be talking about the same, in fact could not be further from that. "Tell me something new", you might react. And you're right, I'm not telling something new, it happens all the time. And that is the saddest thing in my business, because it costs us all a huge amount of time, money and frustration.

Knowing all this it always amazes me how apathetic we seem to be about it, because it is so easy to do something about it. Try asking people what exactly it is they mean when they tell you something, that's all. Simple enough, wouldn't you say?

The other day I had a conversation with someone about preventing overrun on activities, and he said he was using the time boxing principle for that. But from the rest of the story it became clear that there still was a considerable track record of deadlines not being made. And as always the problem was that the customer kept on adding new requirements during the project and was not able to prioritize them properly, naturally. Now where have I heard that story before?

So I simply asked this guy what he meant with this "time boxing" principle. Well, not exactly like that, I must admit. In practice it is not always as that simple as that because before you know it people get the impression you think they are stupid or something. Or even worse they start to think that you are stupid, and you don't want that, do you? So what I asked instead was how they had implemented this "time boxing" principle. Do you notice how different the question is, but that in principle I ask the same?

And what he told me is that they had divided the functionality into smaller pieces that, on an average, could be implemented in a couple of weeks and that they had set a final delivery date for every piece of functionality to deliver. Plain and simple, right? "So what happens when you find out that something takes more time than anticipated?", I asked. "Well, we have planned for contingency, of course", was the reply. "And what if they customer finds out that the specifications are not complete?". "Well we create a change request for every extra thing they want and see if we can implement it in the time box. Otherwise we postpone it to the next time box or, if they really, really need it, increase the scope and set a new end date. But that will cost them, of course". "Have you ever hear of the MoSCoW principle?", I asked. "Huh?".

So what I found out with this simple question, is that the time boxing principle had been implemented only poorly, because they were not applying a proper prioritizing principle, which coincidentally will make time boxing fail without.

I'm not going to explain here what time boxing and the MoSCoW principle are all about. You can easily find out elsewhere. And I'm also not going to tell you that using them is as easy as it sounds, because it's not. Maybe some other time I will tell you what you can try to do about that. I will also not explain here that normally you don't plan for contingency when you do time boxing and what a waste of time making change request forms is in that case.

But I do hope I gave you an example how asking simple questions can help you in
preventing people from wasting each others and especially your precious time.

12 comments:

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