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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Logistics - Deciding a common location for all document sharing

Some of these posts can seem very logical and obvious, but in reality, many of these items have come up based on experience learned from various projects, shortcomings and feedback provided by the teams with whom I have been working. And they can be very important, even though they may not seem much.
When you have a number of different teams working on the same set of tasks, there are a number of documents, instructions, examples, demos, and other artifacts that need to be shared between these different teams, shared real time and with the required access available to all these different teams and their team members.
And it was one such case that caused a delay of around a week in the actual schedule of one such task that was being coordinated between different teams. A delay of any kind has a ripple effect on the entire schedule, and when schedules are less than a year, a delay of a week in any such related task can cause significant problems to the schedule and lead to some fire-fighting in the team management. In this current case, we eventually ran into an issue where a rights / security caused a blockage, and the person tasked to ensure the coordination did not even know about this security problem.
During the course of a project, the project / program manager cannot take on each and every area, and in one particular case, the coordination between a team located in the main geography, another team located in a different geography and a vendor team located in another geography. The vendor team was new to the product and had to be brought up to speed on the processes and technical knowledge of the product. In the light of some of this coordination effort, a team lead with experience of some of the relevant functional area of the product was put in charge of the coordination effort, reporting every week to the overall manager of the product about the status.
The lead started out well, using previous experiences to set out some of the required documentation. However, when an outsider vendor is needed for the product work, they need to be granted permission for the documentation area, And this permission cannot be granted by the team, but by a central IT unit which is responsible for all server access.
The problem turned out in this case was that part of the documentation was placed in a server that was off-limits to any outside vendor (there were some specific security protocols for some of the more important servers, especially those where code is resident on the server); but this information was not known to the project lead responsible for the coordination. The project manager knew this information, but the multiple tasks being done by the manager and the leads ensured that a proper discussion did not happen for the next 4-5 days, at the end of which a meeting resulted in the lead learning this security information, It took another 2 days to make changes to the documentation location, and then get the required permission. This entire stand-off did need to some changes being made on some parts of the schedule, not something that the project manager welcomes.
What the learning from this was that we did not do the required leg-work before starting this part of the phase, especially about a common location for sharing of documents and the permissions for these.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Emotional stability - Somebody's got to remain in control during a heated discussion

This was a painful episode when seen in highlight, and something that has stayed with me the rest of my career and even intruded into my personal life. I did not do something outrageous, but the concept of making your way down a path where there is no easy way back has remained with me ever since, and everytime I get into a situation where it could become problematic, I recall the incident to see that I am not boxing myself into a corner.
The exact incident could vary, but the scenario is the same. You are Project Manager / Program Manager of a team with colleagues who have different roles, and their emphasis at different parts of the schedule is different. At a particular point in the schedule, even though both Development, Usability and Testing are supposed to be on the same wavelength, their focus and push could be different, and that is very natural. In this particular case, the situation happened at the time of the schedule when we were supposed to stop all new feature work, from that point on, all the focus would be on resolving defects in the features already implemented.
This is a critical moment for the testing team, since they essentially consider this the time when the entire product comes together, with all features working to some degree or the other (one is really considering a development process that is not ideal scrum). The integration testing happens more critically from this point onwards, and it can take a lot of time from this point in the schedule to thrash through most of the defects and make the product stable (of course, you cannot find all the defects in the product). The testing team is expected to not welcome any addition of new features from this point onwards.
This was a critical time. Some of the members of the development team had come in mid-cycle, so there was already some instability in the team, and it did take them some time to understand the product code and understand the team dynamics and work together as a team. At this time, the Product Management came in with a critical new feature (that had been introduced by the competition) which was expected to take another 2 weeks to develop, with the remaining testing time being around 1.5 months. Now, this was not an easy situation. The testing team was well justified in terms of not agreeing to take this feature, since in the end, it was their responsibility to ensure that the product was stable and had the least number of defects possible. The product manager was quite serious in terms of the need for this feature, and was pushing for it. The development team was ready to implement it.
The first meeting to discuss this was a disaster, with these stated positions being discussed, and getting heated. For me, unfortunately, being the Program Manager, it was my responsibility to ensure that the discussion remained in reasonable limits of discussion, without getting heated, and nobody getting into an inflexible position. However, in this case, at some point, the discussion went into a thread of policy and schedules, and it turned out that I started taking a more inflexible position, whereby such a change would not be possible. The discussion terminated soon after, and it got escalated, and during the midst of a discussion with my manager, I realized my mistake (while I was being chewed out). In every discussion, typically the managers need to ensure that discussions need to remain on a civil level, discussions can get heated, but nobody should reach a point where they get into a position from there was no roll-back, and certainly not the Project Manager / Program Manager. 

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