Efficient at What?
By Guest Author Roland Cuellar (January, 2017)
I’ve heard the word ‘efficiency’ used a lot over the years in the context of agile product development. The conversations usually go something like this:
“This seems like an inefficient process … we have to do everything multiple times, we often have to do re-work and fixes and it seems really inefficient to me. If we could just take the time to do it right the first time, it would be a lot more efficient.”
What nobody ever explains is this … what is it that they want to be efficient at? There are a multitude of variables involved in software product development and (I am no longer using the word ‘project’ ... I am purposefully trying to remove the word from my lexicon) we can only optimize a few variables at a time. So here is the central question:
“When you say that you want efficiency, what is it exactly that you want to be efficient at? And what are you willing to give up to get those efficiencies?”
Upon digging a little deeper into these conversations, they almost always center on the efficient use of individual people’s time.
“I don’t want to have to do this multiple times. I know that this isn’t complete yet and that there are going to be issues that are going to come back that will force me to spend more time on it. It isn’t an efficient use of my time. I’m too busy for this.”
Now of course, if you were to have this conversation with every person and every function on the team, they would probably all say the same thing. Agile teams move fast, on purpose, and if our goal, the thing that we want to be efficient at, is the use of individual team member’s time, then the thing to do would be to give everyone more time to do their particular thing.
What do you think this would do to our schedule … if we gave everyone more time? Of course, it would grow immensely. Long periods of time would pass before we ever delivered anything. Sound like waterfall? That’s because it is! The traditional approach is to ask each group how long it would take them to do their part with the assumption that they do it once and do it right and that they won’t have to touch it again. Low and behold, we have the 2 year software effort that never actually delivers much of anything!
This is a classic example of ‘local optimization’. It is a strange paradox that when you design a system to make each individual part ‘time efficient’, you end up with an overall system that is highly time inefficient. Years can go by without a delivery. This also turns out to be a very expensive way to work as well. The most efficient use of people’s time results in the most expensive way to deliver. So, in this model, we sacrifice global overall-schedule and budget in exchange for making individual time more efficient. Curious, isn’t it?
What’s to be done? Well, there are many other variables involved in product development. Suppose we try to optimize something other than the individual’s time? Here are just a few variables that we could try to be more ‘efficient’ at:
- Opportunities for Customer Feedback and Adjustment
- Number of chances to build it right (quality)
- Frequency of Delivery
Choosing to become more efficient at any of these will take us down the agile approach of iterative development where we do things multiple times ON PURPOSE.
If we want to optimize opportunities for customer feedback, we would use tools from Lean Product Development to develop MVPs and MMPs in order to put something out that customers can try and respond to so that we can make adjustments (do it again!) based on actual customer feedback.
If we want to optimize the number of chances that we get to build the system right, we would develop many interim versions and subject them to performance testing, usability testing, security testing, etc. so that we can find the issues early and have time to address them. (yes, through rework).
If we want to optimize for frequency of delivery, then we might go down the DevOps path of automating everything possible so that machines can do as much of the constant rework as possible. The machines are always building and re-building, testing and re-testing, etc.
Now, here is the strange thing about all of this. Most of us would probably agree that the more chances you have to get something right, the more likely you are to get it right. And when you optimize for the ‘number of chances to get it right’, you actually get FASTER delivery. Becoming really good at giving yourself multiple chances takes you down the road of quickly doing small bits of work that may be incomplete. But you put those small bits of work out there early and often and get feedback on them quickly so that you can make the necessary adjustments. This usually turns out to take quite a bit less time than trying to get it exactly right in a single pass, which by the way, I’ve never actually seen done in 30 years of software development experience. Agile methods may sacrifice the individual’s efficient use of time in exchange for greatly improved overall speed of delivery. AND we get lots of changes to get it right which is why quality usually goes UP when using agile.
Many firms have reported 30-40% improvements in time-to-market from agile with simultaneous improvements in quality. Not bad for a system that is ‘inefficient’.
PMI Houston Strategic Plan
By PMI Houston Chapter President, Amy Stonesifer
We are entering our 43rd year of serving the Houston area Project Management profession! If you’re not familiar with our history, it’s important to know that in July 1974, PMI Houston became the FIRST PMI chapter ever founded. Today there are 280 chapters internationally. Those who founded this chapter are among some of the founders of PMI. What an amazing history for a Board of Directors to carry forward!
PMI Houston Strategic Plan
The PMI Houston Board of Directors has been entrusted to continue to move this organization forward and has worked to establish a plan for the next 5 years. Looking at where our chapter is today and utilizing feedback from our membership we have defined specific goals and initiatives. These will drive our direction for the organization ensuring we provide value to our membership and are Houston’s resource for project management in the years to come.
Goals (3 to 5 years)
- Grow the Chapter to > 5,000 members
- Provide value to our stakeholders
- Be the trusted advisor
- Operational excellence
- Fiduciary / Board responsibility
Initiatives (1 – 3 years)
- Establish stakeholder plan
- Establish service catalogs for our stakeholders
- Establish engagement program
- Become a leader in PMI community
- Enhance people, process, and technology
- Board of Directors compliance
- 2017 PMIH Conference
These initiatives are further defined into specific annual targets for each committee to achieve in 2017. Each Vice President has worked to define targets to support the initiatives of the chapter.
We have a lot of work ahead of us. As I look at the overall initiatives and talk with members about them, I see this as a period of defining our chapter.
- Does what we offer our members support their needs?
- Are we doing the best we can with the money we spend?
- Are we constantly reinventing the wheel OR do we have defined processes?
I personally feel it’s important we honor our founders by being a leader among leaders, and that we work to be a great chapter and share our knowledge with chapters across the world to grow and support the Project Management profession.
You have opportunities to provide feedback. The Goals and Initiatives we have defined are based on your feedback. We are only as good as the feedback we receive from you. Please take opportunities to share your thoughts and ideas.
- PMI Global Survey - Every year PMI Global sends out a Member survey. Please watch for the PMI Global survey email due out late January, early February.
- Chapter Survey - Last year we sent out a survey to gain more information from our membership on what you want to see from your chapter. Watch for us to repeat this later this year.
- Conference Survey – Every June we host our annual conference. We ask attendees to provide us feedback which we utilize to craft a better conference.
- Board Members – When you see us out and about at PMI events, share your thoughts and ideas with us. You can also find all our emails on our website under the About Us tab
We are a Volunteer organization.Being volunteers may limit how much we can accomplish. Defining a direction provides us focus I believe will allow us to work smarter. If you ever considered being a volunteer leader watch our website for opportunities. Our Directors, Volunteers, and Board members enable us to provide services to our membership. You can share your current skills and learn new skills as a volunteer.
Each Board member is working to ensure PMI Houston supports the Project Management community. Come join us at a PMI Houston event!
See you around Houston