The Frayed Ends of Sanity

Complexity assessment graph Schwaber, Ken (2009-11-30). Agile Project Management with Scrum (Microsoft Professional) (Kindle Location 243). Microsoft Press. Kindle Edition.

Complexity assessment graph (Ken Schwaber 2009)

A complex project with a rapidly changing dynamic ecosystem is basically borderline chaotic. As a PM, how do you measure progress in this ‘complex’ area?

The graph I’ve posted is from Ken Schwaber’s book on Agile Project Management and is a variation of Ralph Stacey’s Agreement and Certainty Matrix. Although this graph is often used in ways that Stacey may not agree with, I think for complex software or IT implementations he wouldn’t object.

Back to the initial problem: How do you measure progress once in the Complex area? Historically, this is where Waterfall was shown as deficient and Agile came to the fore with it’s focus on “empirical measurements“.

My initial thoughts are:

  1. This is highly reactive as you need to measure after the fact, and
  2. What we are essentially doing is stopping every so often to survey the carnage and count the bodies.

Larman covered the empirical approach and described it as follows:

In general, agile methods promote empirical rather than defined processes, a categorization used by industrial process experts. A defined process (also known as a prescriptive process) has many predefined and ordered activities to be followed during development. Defined processes are suitable for predictable manufacturing domains. Empirical processes are used for high-change and unstable domains; rather than many sequenced activities, they are based on frequent measurement and dynamic response to variable events.

(See Agile and Iterative Development: A Manager’s Guide)

At the beginning, I struggled with how to even get started in this area, which is why I invested in Mike Cohn’s book on Agile Planning. Even after reading this book, the idea of having to plan and commit up-front is nerve-wracking. People in general and managers in particular have a habit of hearing what they want to hear, even with all the caveats and ranges we give. A habit that has driven me to distraction in the past on several occasions.

Until Agile is established in an organization, the managers will always seek that (often false) sense of security that comes with a detailed plan with clear milestones and a fixed delivery date.

Having made the decision to transition to Agile, we should be aware that this is going to cause some stress to management and we also need to be sensitive that, at least initially, Agile planning gives senior management the heebie jeebies.

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