Hope Is Our Most Important Strategy

A few years ago, a senior manager called me and said, "We have a project in trouble. We started off hopeful, but now it looks impossible." I asked a few questions and discovered they had never done a project like this before. The project was bigger, in a different programming language, on a new platform, and with a shorter schedule than any they had ever done before.

The entire future of their company depended on a successful completion of this project that was bigger and more demanding than any they had tackled in the past. Their only strategy was Hope (see Figure 6.2, on the following page).

They hadn't arranged for any training in the product domain or in the language or for the new operating system. They had never managed to release any substantial project in the time frame they were hoping they could for this project.

Hope is not enough to deliver a successful project.1 Here's what a pragmatic project manager can do:

• Recognize and write down where you have risks. You might have technical risks (new language, new platform), schedule risks (shorter schedule, too few people), or, most likely, both.

• Choose any life cycle other than waterfall. Why? Because you don't have any data that would allow you to be successful with the upfront planning that waterfall requires. If you've never done anything like this before, iterate on some prototypes, or iterate on a few features, to see where your work takes you.

1. I first heard of this game from Esther Derby.

Figure 6.2: Hope is our most important strategy

• Consider a Hudson Bay Start (see Section 4.2, Hudson Bay Start, on page 67) to see whether you can create anything. This is especially good when you have new technology such as a language, operating system, database, and the like. A Hudson Bay Start will show you what you're hoping for and will expose some of the currently unknown risks.

• Make sure that people have the technical functional skills and solution-space domain expertise [Rot04b]. If necessary, train people. It's cheaper to train everyone on the project in a new language than waste time.

• Plan to iterate on everything, especially planning and scheduling.

• Solicit help and information in areas where you might lack experience or expertise. Check with the project team about how to make their status visible.

• Develop milestone criteria (your milestones can be iterations). Review those criteria at management review meetings. Even if management or your sponsors don't want management reviews, you can conduct those meetings. Reviewing your progress regularly against milestones will help if you aren't sure how to make this project work.

Hoping for a good outcome is not enough.

As a PM, your job is to plan, replan, and work to make the best outcome occur. One way to do that is to adopt these practices:

• Use timeboxed iterations so you and everyone else can see project progress.

• Chart the project's progress in a velocity chart. You want to make the progress (or lack thereof) as clear to everyone as possible. That way, especially if you think you need to ask for help, you have data to use.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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