Craig Brown

Based in Melbourne. Works across SE Asia.

P: +61412406414
T: @Brown_note

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  • Oct 16, 14

    Almost 12 months ago, I wrote a post entitled Installing Scrum, The Hard Way. That post was about the experience of working with a team of people who had accepted the challenge to use an Agile approach to solving a problem of gargantuan proportions, under the most challenging of circumstances. We are now all a year older, many years wiser and have sprinted together 34 times. It is also time for me to say farewell and move on to other opportunities, but before I do there are a few things I would like to put on the record in the form of a thank you note to the team.  

    Dear team,

    Even a year ago, our daily stand ups were still pretty mechanical affairs, our retros were full of uncomfortable silences and presenting our work at review was fraught with anxiety in case something broke. Now we gather each morning to plan the day, we discuss our progress and challenges in full view of the company. Our retros are noisy, robust and result in actionable and actioned outcomes and we present our reviews with confidence; we know nothing will break. Twelve months ago, estimating and planning the sprint was still a 2 day exercise involving spreadsheets and allocating work, now we plan together during the sprint and no one is allocated their work. No one has needed to work back to close a sprint in months and the need to count the hours we will spend is rapidly fading.  We’re in production, delivering shippable product every two weeks and responding to real client feedback in double quick time. 

    This has happened because you have been willing to try to work together in completely new way and to keep trying, no matter what.  You have not stepped, but leapt outside your comfort zone multitudes of times, you never gave up, even when things went horribly wrong.

    Whilst I am sure there are some who could point to our practices and say we’re doing it wrong, that's not Agile, but if any part of Agile is about how people think and work and collaborate to achieve a common goal, I would argue that we’ve done it very very right. The team, the product and the company are unrecognizable when compared to the way things were before.

    Thank you for letting me be part of your amazing story, it has been an honour and a privilege. I have learned so much and have a completely changed view of what is possible. I won’t wish you luck, because it’s not about luck; it’s about effort, commitment and a shared desire to deliver a quality product that has value.    

    I wish you well.

  • Oct 06, 14
    You probably know the "What Motivates Us" video; Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

    In the engineering team we work hard on building on an existing culture of autonomy and mastery. Great people are given the latitude to tackle interesting challenges the way they feel is best. We have an egalitarian culture where everyone is encouraged to challenge the status quo and push for what they think this the best way forward. We support team members with training opportunities, on the job coaching, conferences, regular actives like retrospectives and the engineering debrief.

    Photo by Tim Norris from Flickr

    The product management team can help elevate engagement and, motivation even further, by helping explain the big fucking deal that is our business proposition.

    Of course everyone buys into this, but are challenged by the how. Where do I get the right stories? What are the right stories? How and when should I share them?

    This academic paper on transcendent purpose is great as it gives a background to why thinking about the big picture is useful. It also gives lots of examples of how different stories and different ways of thinking about sometimes boring) work can be elevated in a way that makes us motivated and engaged in the work in front of us.

  • Oct 06, 14

    It's all very well getting your own stuff done well and to target, but how often do we stop and ut our own goals aside to help others?

    When have you helped someone on another team? Share your story below in the comments.
  • Oct 03, 14
    Picture credit: chiarashine at flikr
    A recent article in the Economist provides more evidence that all-the-workforce is destined to be replaced by technology. What parts of your job will be first to go? And will you be happy to say goodbye to it?
  • Sep 18, 14
    Project failure is expensive, embarrassing and alarmingly common. Depending on your estimates - 5%-30% of all projects are successfully completed. Getting to the bottom of project failure is an important way to improve our project performance. If we don't put in the effort to learn, how will we ever make progress?

    Project failure is a problem in every industry and every country. Consider the following statistics.

    I know what you’re thinking. The data above come from surveys that are a few years old. Surely the project management field has made advances. Perhaps new project software and procedures have significantly improved results? Unfortunately, project success remains challenging for most organizations in 2014.

    “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”  - Harry S. Truman, U.S. President

    Recently, I read the PWC report on project management. The PPM 2014 Global Survey draws on the comments from people in 110 countries and more than 3000 respondents – an outstanding global view of project management. Let’s consider the four main failures causes of project failure and what we can do to overcome those problems.

    Poor estimates in the planning phase

    Estimates remain one of the enduring challenges of project management. That makes sense since projects are about change and creating something new. I can estimate travel time in my home city with reasonable accuracy. The first time I visited Lisbon or London, I found it difficult to estimate travel time because it was unfamiliar.

    To improve estimates, the report suggests:
    • Using a multi-step process to validate estimates.
    • Call on the knowledge of subject matter experts (e.g. software developers) to validate estimates

    To those ideas, I would also suggest that project managers should make greater use of their internal network. There is a great deal of project experience that has never been committed to writing. It is up to you to discover this knowledge by building relationships.

    Change(s) in scope mid-project

    In the U.S. Congress, government spending is subject to “pork.” This is the tendency of elected officials to demand additional funds be spent on projects in their areas, even if the projects are of dubious value (e.g. the infamous Gravina Island Bridge “bridge to nowhere” project proposed in Alaska with a +$300 million project).

    At this point, you might be thinking, “oh those foolish politicians.” Think again! How many times have executives, sponsors and other stakeholders undermined a project by adding additional requirements. Unless these requests for additional features are carefully managed, the project will soon collapse under the weight of scope changes.

    PWC’s recommended solution to managing scope creep include the following ideas:

    • Design project plans with flexibility in mind. Built-in flexibility means a change of attitude on scope.
    • Adopt a portfolio approach to projects to discourage tinkering with project scope

    Insufficient resources

    Seeking more responses is the battle cry of many project managers. It is a natural tendency in life to seek out more resources when you feel that you are running out. Unfortunately, organizations are limited in how much budget and staff they can assign to projects. Thoughtful project managers need to find other ways to respond to the challenge of insufficient resources. 
    • Ask other project managers how they solved resource shortages
    • Call in favours from your network, from time to time

    Bio. Bruce Harpham writes about project management training, leadership, productivity and related topics at Project Management Hacks. His project experience includes leading projects in higher education and financial services.

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