My Next Speaking Gig

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I just got back Thursday night from my appearance at the AtTask Work Managment Summit 2011 (WorkOut2011).  I had an amazing time. I had an opportunity to be on a panel and be part of one of the Keynotes (YouTube videos are coming).  But, the post about the AtTask conference is still to come.  Until then, I’m happy to announce that my talk has been accepted at the Great Lakes Software Excellence Conference (GLSEC).  I will be presenting my talk Breaking the Law of Bureaucracy, April 16.For the last few years, I’ve been advising a Federal PMO. I know, old news.  But, something has been eating away at me that I just couldn’t put a finger on.  It’s the amazing level of tolerated bureaucracy. See, in the Federal Government, I think the Law of Bureaucracy can be stronger than the Law of Gravity!  Sometimes (not always) people don’t care what the primary goals of the project are.  They put their own goals ahead of the project.  As an example of egoism, they impede progress or the delivery of value, while furthering their own agendas.

I feel life has to be more than just opportunities to complain about things.  It’s a series of opportunities to help people and make thing better than how you’ve found them.  So, I started work on an article for PM Network magazine, with a proposal of ways to break this Law. As part of the process, I started to package my idea in a presentable “talk” format.  So, before I left for Salt Lake City, I submitted my proposal.

I actually was unsure how it would be received.  But, while I was at WorkOut 2011, I saw Donna Fitzerald of Garter unknowingly mentioned details of my talk as part of her presentation (Embracing Agile Leadership: Making Better, Faster, Cheaper a Reality).  That’s justification enough for me, to believe I was on the right track.

So, though finishing my zombie book is still at the top of my list, I’m really looking forward to standing in front of a room and giving this talk.


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2011 Resolutions WIP

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2011 Resolution Kanban

2011 Resolution KanbanLast night I submitted my speaking proposal for the Great Lakes Software Excellence 2011 conference.  The title of my talk is Breaking the Law of Bureaucracy.

A little back-story:  One of my “Epic” stories (Resolutions) for 2011 was: As an agile proponent, I want to articulate the values, principles, and methods of the agile community to the traditional project management community, so there will be more mainstream adoption of agile.

What’s my acceptance criteria for this Epic?  I must appear (speak) at no less than 4 conferences.  I must write at least 1 article to appear in a trade publication. I must publish my book (Zombie Project Management).

As you would expect, I broke the epic down to multiple (actionable) stories and prioritized them.  The GLSEC is number 2 of my 4 conferences.

Below is the abstract I submitted as part of my proposal.

Abstract – Breaking the Law of Bureaucracy

The law of bureaucracy exists in all organizations.  The larger the organization, the stronger the law. Examples of this law, in a business organization, would be those who work and sacrifice to bring value to the customer, versus those who work to protect policy, process, and procedures (regardless of use or value). The Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

Top-down organizations are suffering from the worst case of egoism: When each person acts to create the greatest good for himself or herself.  When the organization and its employees make decisions merely to achieve individual goals (at the expense of others), they lose sight of the original organizational vision or goals.  The law of bureaucracy can be broken, through team empowerment and altruism: From this perspective, one may be called on to act in the interests of others, even when it runs contrary to his or her own self-interests.

This talk will introduce ten characteristics of servant-leadership, to help those who currently manage others, to break the law of bureaucracy.

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Practical Wisdom of Agile

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What is practical wisdom?

Have the moral will to make right by people.
Have the moral skill to figure out what doing right means.

Aristotle distinguished between two intellectual virtues (1):

[1] The ability to think well about the nature of the world, to discern why the world is the way it is; it involves deliberation concerning universal truths.  (Wisdom)

[2] The capability to consider the mode of action to deliver change, especially to enhance the quality of life.  Aristotle said it’s not simply a skill, however, as it involves not only the ability to decide how to achieve a certain end, but also the ability to reflect upon and determine that end.

If you combine these two virtues, you get practical wisdom.

What we as patrons of Agile need to do is have the moral will to make right by people and have the moral skill to figure out what doing right means.

A wise person knows when to make “the exception to every rule”.

A wise person knows when and how to improvise.

A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in pursuit of the right aims.  To serve other people, not to manipulate them.

A wise person is made not born. (2)

Next time you look at the bureaucracy of your organization or procesures,
ask yourself if there is a better way.
Ask yourself if it’s time to make that exception or to improvise.
Ask yourself if you’re ready for the practical wisdom of Agile.

(1) Wikipedia
(2) Barry Schwart, author of The Battle for Human Nature

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Categories: Agile, Project Management Tags: Tags: ,

The Larger Goal

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One of the things I find really interesting, when working within different organizations, is how everyone feels they are the true center of the universe.  If they are in Security, they see things one way.  If they are in Program Control, they see it another.  Regardless of the silo, plug in the functional area name and there will be different processes to follow.  They each have a different agenda that motivates them.  Even those considered as project/program overhead (Human Resources) will have their own way of doing things.

Do I see something wrong with this scenario?

Do I think the organization could deliver more value if it were more goal driven and less process driven?

The answers? Yes and Yes

What’s missing?  I think it’s knowing where within the organization structure everyone is and how each can work together to reach the larger goals.

The larger the institution or project, commonly, the larger the bureaucracy that accompanies it.  We have our Executive bureaucracies, Director bureaucracies, and Manager bureaucracies.  Each step down the organizational chart, there is layer upon layer of bureaucracy.  Rather than the people at the top thinking more strategic and people toward the bottom thinking more tactical, there are just different shades of bureaucracy.  And you think that’s bad, each (functional) branch of the organization has its own bureaucracy.

Commonly, people become too focused on their key subject matter in their functional area and forget the goals of the project or organization.   I see motivations shift to support the process itself instead of the product or service to be delivered.  When asked to do something that may directly apply to the highest goals of the organization, like “Deliver the product to the customer by this date”, they act like their individual job is more important than getting the overall job done.  Instead of asking themselves what they can do to help the organization be successful, they may instead argue some point about how you didn’t submit the request in the correct format, to the correct person, at the correct time.

But this post is not about being pessimistic about bureaucracies.  I’m not saying we don’t need structure or processes.  This short story helps articulate what I’m trying to explain.

Perhaps you have heard the story of Christopher Wren, one of the greatest of English architects, who walked one day unrecognized among the men who were at work upon the building of St. Paul’s cathedral in London which he had designed. “What are you doing?” he inquired of one of the workmen, and the man replied, “I am cutting a piece of stone.” As he went on he put the same question to another man, and the man replied, “I am earning five shillings twopence a day.” And to a third man he addressed the same inquiry and the man answered, “I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build a beautiful cathedral.” That man had vision. He could see beyond the cutting of the stone, beyond the earning of his daily wage, to the creation of a work of art- the building of a great cathedral.

And in your organization or on your project, it is important for you to strive to attain a vision of the larger goal.

Like the images?  Find them at Pictofigo


Categories: Agile, Project Management Tags: Tags: , ,

The Iron Law of Bureaucracy versus ICAgile

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AgileI was listening to This Week in Tech #264  and one of the guests was Jerry Pournelle. Though it’s not necessary to go into the details of the NetCast, Jerry said something that had me scrambling for the rewind button.  He referred to his Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

(Jerry) Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. One example in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, versus union representatives who work to protect any teacher (including the most incompetent). The Iron Law states that in ALL cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

I then watched a Ted Talk titled The Child-Driven Education.  There were three statements by Sugata Mitra that I want to reference.

  1. Self-organizing system: Is where the system structure appears without explicit intervention from outside the system.
  2. Emergence: The appearance of a property not previously observed as a functional characteristic of the system.
  3. Speculation: Education is a self-organizing system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon.

So, what does this have to do with Project Management?  The organizational machine that is the Project Management certification ecosystem has become that second group Jerry Pournelle identifies.  There is now an entire industry dedicated to certifying people and keeping them certified, including the most incompetent. There is no focus on educating people in best practices, delivering value to customers, or increasing project success rates.

On the other end of the spectrum are the visionaries, the mentors, and coaches.  This is where I make my speculation.

Keep your eyes on the International Consortium of Agile (ICAgile).  At ICAgile, the certification path is divided into three main phases; a Fundamentals Phase, a Focus Track Phase, and a Certification Phase.  It’s not all about getting certifications.  It’s about educating and learning.  In the Fundamentals Phase, the goal is to educate the attendee with the values, principles and basic practices of Agile.  Having garnered the fundamentals of agile in the first phase, The Focus Track Development phase will have different tracks to choose from.  This will allow people to focus being educated in different functional areas like Project Management, Business Analysis, and Testing. Only after completing the courses in a focus track, will the applicant is eligible for the ICAgile “Professional” certificate.

I’m very bullish on ICAgile educating and people learning.

Being Agile is self-organizing by nature, does ICAgile have the unique opportunity to prove the Iron Law of Bureaucracy wrong?

Graphic: Pictofigo

Creating Unnecessary Bureaucracy

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I’ve rewritten this post several times now.  The catalyst for this toned-down rant was the company-wide distribution of a new dress code policy.  As background to this story, I was hired by a small business to support a Federal Government contract.  If you want bureaucracy, the Federal Government is certainly where you’ll find it.  Where I don’t expect to find it is with a small business.  I’ve worked for both large and small businesses.  The bigger they get, the more layers of bureaucracy there is.    It doesn’t have to be that way.  I think some small businesses think you have to add a lot of crap to processes, in the hope someone will think there is value.  Draconian policies do not translate to value!  As I read the new policy, I became more and more incensed.   I come  from a military background, so if someone has anything to say about my appearance, they should say it to my face.

This dress code policy was not necessarily directed to me.  That is where the problem rests.   When you feel the need to communicate TO and not communicate WITH your people, you have a problem. This situation could have been easily avoided by a superior and a subordinate having a conversation.   Instead, we get a vague policy that runs the gambit of  “no shaggy hair” to “hair color should be kept within the family of traditional hair colors”.

Give me a break.   This is a failure of both communication and of leadership.  It doesn’t matter if we’re talking corporate, project management, or communication processes.  Take a big step back and ask yourself if writing that process makes sense.  Action and communication is what will become culture.  Processes just become a pain in the ass that slow things down.

Image from kailash.balnac.com