Friday, 11 December 2009

Project Management Top Trumps

Ever get the feeling that discussions about project management are turning into a game of Top Trumps? You suggest an improvement to the way you might do something and you get the response:
That's the least of our worries
I disagree, THIS is more important
I'm sure this happens all the time, and it's a close cousin to "Escalation" that seems to be talked about in the Agile/Lean blogosphere at the moment. Although it can seem to be quite counter-productive, I've been wondering how to interpret and use such opinions and feelings, because when someone says this to us, they're not lying: it's truly the way they feel and what they believe!

Having thought about it a bit (and I stress "a bit"), here's my thoughts on what we should do when the Top Trumps start:

First of all, think about whether it's a fair point and if it does truly "trump" your original idea. That is, you can't begin on your idea until the suggestion is dealt with. For example, you've suggested doing more TDD, but it's pointed out that you don't have a working test framework: they're right. You'll need that testing framework sorted first if you're to make a go of TDD.

If you aren't "trumped", then there's still the issue of which idea is most important. Unless the counter idea can be just as easily implemented by you (if you intend to do it yourself) or would have a much greater impact to balance the increased cost of doing something you're not familiar with or don't have the resource, responsibility or authority to carry out, then your time is probably best spent on your original idea. Be sure to explain this rough cost-benefit analysis to the person you disagree with, particularly if they're in charge!

If there aren't clear priorities, then think about whether the various topics that have been thrown into the discussion share anything. If you can find common ground, then you have an opportunity to get more done, because of a shared goal. If you can't find common ground, then you'll have to agree to disagree. If someone believes with equal passion in something else, then why not just do both? You do your thing and suggest that they do theirs (rather than expecting you to do it for them). This brings me on to the last point, which is very important if many people have different agendas and that is...

Make sure you're pushing in the right direction! What you suggest must be in line with overall strategy if it's to have a positive impact. Absolutely make sure you're not going against the grain: if you really want to and believe that's the way forward, then you have to obtain some serious buy-in at a higher level, because you wont be thanked for sabotaging existing efforts with your own agenda. Lots of different opinions could be symptomatic of an overall lack of clear strategy - a serious problem - but we're generally a highly opinionated bunch, so we have to learn live with disagreement and confrontation, particularly when the stakes are high.

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