Re-read of the book
“Commitment Novel About Project Risk” (1st edition) by Olav Maassen, Chris Matts, Chris Geary (a.k.a., Options Expire)

Responses to Thomas Cagley’s re-read Saturday blog posting series.
I am posting my responses here, before leaving a reply over there (chapter by chapter)

This book is a graphic business novel with some blog like writing sprinkled in.  So this book reads fast.

Chapter 1 and 2:  a traditional Project Manager is replaced by Rose.

Rose takes up where David leaves off, since that is the only way of running a project she knows, and is heading down the same, no-win path.  The project plan is rejected again at the end of chapter 2.

The sketch of the project team facing their newly appointed (and unpopular) project manager (Rose) is classic — nobody is happy

Rose has been and is overworking, and her younger sister Lilly points out she is heading down the path of being a “moany old maid soon”.

The team is not happy with being asked to work extra hours to make this project happen with the current plan.  A plan the team was handed and did not help create.

And the only thing that will make these stakeholders happy is profit, and this project is at-risk.

Chapter 3:  Rose learns a different way to think about project management.

Jon:  “So they can co-ordinate their activity.”
Rose:  “But I do that.”

I like the idea a Host Leadership, rather than Servant Leadership, see “I’m Not a Servant – I’m a Host! A New Metaphor for Leadership in Agile? ”  Pierluigi Pugliese (other have said this too)

Notes from chapter 3

  1. Intro to flow principles, Kanban — and away from directive leadership.
  2. Avoid committing to early.  That is, avoid those big, detail plans upfront when things are likely to change (e.g., software development projects).
  3. Blog about technical debt (“dirty dishes”)

Chapter 4:  Rose practices a new style of project management, based on kanban, agile, and lean …

We  now see

  1. Planning collaboration with the team
  2. Visualization of work
  3. Stop starting and start finishing
  4. A reminder:
  5. Staff liquidity … people breaking out of their silos to break through the project bottlenecks.
  6. Probing on the project bottleneck to see what the problem is.  In this story it was “the specifications do not have enough detail for us to test”
  7. Deliver value to the customer in small value, so adjustments can be made along the way, and not risking getting way off track and not delivering what the customer values.
  8. Value analogy:  ordering a cup of tea, rather than ordering a tea-bag.
  9. Feature Injection is added to the story line.  Figure-out the value by starting at the end — ask “why” questions to figure-out what the customer is really after or really values.  [And then test you hypothesis] … “Hunt for Value” [and then verify you found it]

Chapter 5:  Rose explains “staff liquidity” to a skeptical execute.
This is like T-shaped skills.  And fortunately, most people are curious, enjoy learning and developing new skills.

Chapter 6:  the plot thickens, as Rose’s project is under scrutiny.
But first a little explanation of Game Theory and how it applies to group dynamics.

People’s tendencies are to avoid uncertainty, even if that means to make a decision too early.  Rose is managing the project under “real options”, or deferring the key decisions until that last practical moment, introducing more uncertainty and fostering collaboration.

There is blog post in chapter 6 to tell us not to go too crazy with real options and only consider options for the key decisions.  Plus, introducing too much uncertainty is bad for team dynamics, “choice overload” or “decision paralysis”.

Perhaps “choice overload” affects team performance and perhaps not, see “More Is More: Why the Paradox of Choice Might Be a Myth“.  The situation and the end results will help you and the team make that call.

An aside:  in the last re-read, How To Measure Anything by Douglas Hubbard, in the last chapter, discusses real options also.  I think both this book and Hubbard are saying similar things about real options, you can’t put a financial value using the Black-Scholes formula for business decisions.  Evaluating the probability value for the formula is the difficult task that does not translate well outside of the financial markets.

One last note:  I applaud the authors often subtle references of exercise to manage stress.  Rose, after an emotional setback, has a great workout in chapter 6.

Chapter 7:  Rose finds out that the project sponsor is pulling out; option planning, starting with brain storming the possible scenarios.

And for each scenario, a plan of action to either lessen the blow or be in position to take advantage of a possible opportunity.

Rose ushers out the elephant in the room (people may lose their jobs very soon), by helping the team put their personal scenarios in-place, before tackling the scenarios for the project.

This chapter’s blog title is “Increasing your psychic odds with Scenario Planning”.  Now Rose has the team thinking on their feet to come with options to save the project.

Chapter 8:  Rose becomes the hero.  She is totally prepared for the customer meeting by taking the customer’s perspective and knowing several options.  Rose is very confident and poised during the customer meeting, which impresses her managers.

Final Thoughts:  I totally misestimated the time this re-read would take.  I re-read this book in 2-3 hours in the first week.  Mainly because this book is such a great read with engaging pictures.  But slowing down the re-read pace did help me learn more about what was behind Rose’s growth and success.

End of the re-read of “Commitment …” blog entry