Getting Status at the End of a (non-Agile) Project

Here's a common scenario I was discussing with a colleague last night: They're at the end of a project. They used some combination of a serial lifecycle, becoming more incremental as they proceed through the project. But they still have a ton of open defects, and a few not-quite-finished features. My colleague was complaining about the hour-long (!) sit-down status meetings they have (the whole team, not just managers) every afternoon. Could I suggest something?

Yes, of course 🙂 First, separate the team problems from the management problems. The managers get to triage the defects separately from the entire project team. Maybe a technical lead meets with them, but don't involve the entire team.

Next, separate the work into one-week timeboxes, starting in the middle of the week. The project team has some idea about how many defects they can fix in a week, and how many features they can fix. Set up each week as a timebox, saying, “We'll fix 38 defects and finish 3 features each week from now until the release date. We'll decide on Tuesday afternoon which defects we'll choose for the timebox starting Wednesday morning. If we have a show stopper problem, we'll move that one to the top of the list and move whatever is lowest on the list out.” Notice what this timebox does: it makes it possible to see if people are working overtime on the weekend (a Bad Idea), it helps the team predict what done means for a specific time period, and it focuses people on the work to finish before the release. It also makes the managers rank the defects, so the project team works on the most important ones first.

Now, it's time to address the status issue. With these inch-pebbles, it's possible to have a 15-minute standup meeting every day. Note: If I was the PM, I would abolish the daily hour-long meetings anyway–the team gains no benefit from those meetings. If necessary, I would make a daily 2-minute appointment with each person. But a 15-minute standup meeting is even better. But if you, like my colleague, works in a place where people love their hour-long meetings, and never finish the meeting early, go to daily written status reports. (I have a template for status reports, too.)

Once the team has done this for a week, the PM can assess how close their time estimates are (how many defects they can fix and how many features they can finish in a week), as well as how many new defects are arriving each week. It might be time to “slow” down the defect fixing by adding reviews of the fixes, if the fixes aren't actually being fixed. (I discussed this in my most recent Pragmatic Manager email newsletter. I haven't posted that issue yet, but here's one you might find useful, too.)

If everyone, including the project manager and the other managers are willing to be pragmatic, they have many options at the end of the project. But it's clear to me it's time to pull apart the problems and work on one at a time. Stop with the serial status meetings and let the project team get back to work!

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