Not that! Avoid chasing fantasies!

I, umm, slipped?

Earlier today I had the opportunity to decline to make an offer, and I took it.

It felt pretty good, actually… since I have not always done that in my career.

With a lifetime as a consultant, I have felt an obligation to learn ahead of my client and to make quick assessments of my ability to take on more than I have handled in the past.

For a long stretch of my career, that has included teaching technical subjects through formal instructor-led training.

I often had the opportunity to study and play with technologies in ways my clients could not… if only because they had “day jobs” that consumed their available time.

Being a full-time traveling instructor gave me a lot of hotel time, flight time and time in-between classes to study, invent, test things out and learn in the process. Now, I should add that my first company was a training company, and we often looked for marketable courses that would be unique and drive premiums.

Oh, and I was younger then, and the choice of technologies was one of a few client/server platforms, one of a few databases… and the Internet was not enabling advancements as quickly or in quite the same way as it is today.

Anyway, there was an opening for me to make a training offer today, and rather than jump at it I referred my client to another company that provides formal training on the topic instead.

My team could give on-the-job training, or even an ad hoc session or two… we may still do that, but in my past firm we might have jumped right into developing formal courseware and offering open enrollment courses as a result of this kind of “opportunity”.

One of these guys needs a barber less than the others.

In my thinking, an opportunity is a situation with a real structure and real properties to take care of my concerns. So:

  1. A barber is not an opportunity for me because I have very little hair (no concern)
  2. My fairy godmother is not an opportunity for me… well, because I don’t have one (no real properties)
  3. The lottery is not an opportunity for me because I don’t play it (no structure to produce the outcome)

Back to my current situation… we don’t have the courseware, we don’t have years in the classroom teaching this material, and we have no intention (strategic coherence) to begin offering training at this time.

So you can sometimes see “opportunities” right in front of you, but it is critical to make assessments of their strategic coherence to your plans and offers, as well as your ability to make them real and exploit them for your success.

If you don’t, you will waste a lot of time, energy, money and lost “real” opportunities chasing after fantasies that can never help you succeed.

Have you chased after “false opportunities” before? How can you recognize them? What ways can you see that you might take a situation like that and create a different kind of opportunity from it?


A fourth rule for agile project managers

Sincerity, reliability and competence to hold promises

The “Top Three Rules for an Agile Project Manager“, according to Terry Bunio (bornagainagilist), are:

  1. Team velocity
  2. Client interaction
  3. Deliver something personally

…I see that as a great list, as long as the client is ready to accept delivery of the product when the release is ready.

Now, maybe it’s different for software companies that have made a commitment to agile practices. When professional services teams shift from one client to another, though, accepting delivery can’t be taken for granted.

That a client accepts delivery of the product is a matter of trust, like so many other aspects of trust that show up within and among members of the agile team.

There are at least two common themes I have seen when clients hesitate to accept a product that has otherwise satisfied releases requirements:

  1. Sometimes early in a release cycle, or even after a couple releases, a deeply ingrained history of unmet expectations from earlier software projects can make a client less willing to simply accept the product.
  2. In addition, it can seem to some clients who are concerned to continue getting new features in the future that they need to have everything crammed into the current release.

In both cases, the psychology of the customer could be oriented around either threats of undiscovered defects or of losing potential opportunities.

Declining product delivery is a trade-off weighed against the potential that these threats could materialize.

The agile project manager can preempt the trade-off by acknowledging which potential threat may exist and working in advance to mitigate the risk.

The good news is that it turns out the key to mitigating both of these threats is also a form of trust: in the first case, it is trust in the quality of the release… and in the second case it is trust in the iterative nature of release planning.

No surprises, no panic

Throughout the first release, the agile project manager works through iteration planning meetings, retrospectives, stand-ups, and other forms of status and communications to reinforce the close relationship between the development team and the product under development.

There are zero if any surprises, and when executed strategically there are many opportunities to show and build trust with your customer throughout the release cycle.

Each opportunity to build trust is highlighted and emphasized so that everyone knows we are sincere, competent and reliable to keep the promises we make (or make amends quickly and effectively).

In addition, while the project manager must keep everyone directed and focused on the features of the release, s/he cannot lose track of the place this release plays as a tactic within the customer’s larger goals. If we do not expect this is a final release, then it always fits into an ongoing story with each release achieving one strategic objective or another.

We ship early, we ship often, we ship quality, we ship value. It’s a good life.

What strategies or tactics do you use (or could you envision) for helping a customer accept delivery of a release if they show signals of reluctance? Can you anticipate reasons other than the two I outlined, and how might you address them?