Teach the Process

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Teach The Process

Richard Sheridan Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

For a process to be truly effective there must be a common understanding of the process among all stakeholders. One of the ways we make sure this happens at my organization, is to teach formal classes in our processes to all stakeholders involved in a project. The stakeholders include the project sponsors, perhaps some key users, the project managers, the developers, the designers, and the quality assurance specialists. AND, we teach them the process TOGETHER in the same class setting.

We require our clients to take a class in our process during the course of their project. The reason? We want to ensure that the sponsors of the project understand how to steer the team in an effective manner. We combat unrealistic expectations with a commonly understood agile process that incorporates weekly estimating, planning, and show and tell.

Sponsors are taught our estimating practice so that they know how to treat our estimates (estimates are NOT fixed priced bids). They are taught a simple planning technique that chooses scope based on these estimates and is cross-checked with business value. They actively participate in weekly “Show & Tells” which ensure that misunderstandings are exposed as quickly as possible.

Once, I was teaching a class in our process and I called on two of our developers in the class to explain the rules of accountability around estimating. I stated, “Ted and Kealy, you will NEVER be punished at this company for missing an estimate.” I then turned to our project manager in the class and said, “Lisa, you understand that you are not to pressure or punish our developers if they miss their estimates.” I then faced the paying client in the room and explained, “And Jen, you understand that if we go over our estimate, you will pay more for the work?”.

Of course, at this point, I have two developers who think I’m tricking them and a client who’s ready to cancel the project! I then explain the last “rule” of accountability around estimating. “Kealy, Ted, the one thing I NEED from you both is that as soon as you THINK you are going to blow an estimate, speak up and tell your project manager. And Lisa, as software project manager, you can have a discussion about the task with them to ensure they haven’t changed the scope of the task since the estimate was created. If, in fact, the estimate will be missed, you must then call the client and ask them what they want to do.”

Finally, I turned to our client. “Jen, here’s what you get out of all this. More aggressive estimates, more work in less time since the estimating environment is a trusting one, and dedicated team members who enjoy striving to meet their own estimates. However, you must be willing to accept that every once in a while, we’ll make a mistake. And when we do, we’ll inform you before we’ve spent all the money”.

Teaching the process is a powerful empowerment tool!

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