What's the Culture on Your Project?

Now that the election is over, we have an opportunity to reflect on some of the project management and hiring practices. I’m going to blog here and over at Hiring Technical People because the bits are just too juicy to leave untouched.

If you read nothing else, read Inside Orca: How the Romney Campaign Suppressed Its Own Vote. There are other very interesting articles about Orca, such as The Romney Campaign was a Consultant Con Job.

Here’s what stood out for me:

  1. The lack of a project dashboard. With no data about the project as the project was built, there was no way to know what was going on at all. No information radiators, no nothing. No evidence, no data at all. It doesn’t matter what lifecycle you use, no data is a no-no.
  2. No deliverable-based planning. Again, it doesn’t matter what lifecycle you use, without deliverables, you are up against the immovable election date. No one is going to move the election date just because you haven’t tested or tested enough.
  3. Insufficient risk management. If this was the app to save the Republican party, why did they outsource it to consultants who didn’t care and didn’t do (any) risk management? This is beyond me.
  4. If they realized in June they had a problem, they still had time to do something different. But they didn’t. They kept charging along.

You should read all the comments, too. Or, as many as you can stand. But what this says is this was a project where there was no openness about the potential risks. That is a very dangerous project culture. Makes me wonder what would have happened if Romney had won the election.

Remember, the three major pieces of culture are:

  1. What can we talk about?
  2. How do we treat each other?
  3. What’s rewarded?

Think about those three questions and then think about the culture on your project. And, if you are trying to go agile, and you can’t talk about things such as risk, don’t be surprised if you can’t go agile. That’s why. Agile requires openness.

See, the problem is a project dashboard prevents some of the post-project blame. And, it helps you manage some of the project schedule games, such as Happy Date.  Release criteria can help you see if you are making progress towards your release. But if you don’t track anything, you don’t know anything. If you have a program, it’s worse.

Was it the consultants? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t ask people with no vested interest in my future to develop something for me without some form of tracking their progress. I say this as someone who uses help all the time in her small business. My vendors tell me about their progress. We have agreed-upon deliverables at regular intervals, so we both gauge our progress. If someone gets stuck, or we need more testing, we have early warning indicators. We can act.

You can change the culture on your project by posting information about the project–what you can talk about. Then you can consider changing how you treat each other: do you blame or placate each other? Finally, how do you reward each other? See my hiring thoughts over on Project Culture Reflects Management Culture.

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