Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Perspective # 35 – Agile Project Management Innovation

Link Agile Innovation : I love blues singer Keb' Mo' song "Keep it simple. Oh! real simple" :) A sweeping innovation wave called ‘Agile’ is shaking up classic Project Management with its 'simplicity' of approach. In fact after many years only lately Project Management had got the respect it was long due - even high schools and colleges teach PM principles as part of regular courses now. Also many management gurus are dumping 'strategy' and jumping to 'execution' bandwagon :) ..and when it was looking good and comfortable, the disruptive force called Agile shows up!! The compelling proposition is its simplicity ..really "keeping it simple" !!.

This revolution is similar to what happened to classic six sigma when lean six-sigma wave came. Traditional six sigma was very rigid and the slimmer and faster lean six sigma is now adopted globally including GE.

Originally we ignored this (I am an old PMP who believes in upfront planning to detail and am a list lover!) as the noise was in the software waterfall arena only – now the sexy agile is everywhere including non IT projects.

It is a well-known fact that most IT projects fail .We don’t need a consultant to tell us the time! But Standish CHAOS Report that comes out every couple of years consistently state the obvious – Over 50% of IT projects fail to deliver. Many of us hate these guys though :) and live in denial mode! For example read the Let’s say “No” to groupthink and stop quoting the Chaos Report “It is amazing how the report managed to become an authority on IT project management, just by continuously showing how much IT is lousy at project management. I don’t blame them. There is apparently a lot of money to be made from this report. I believe the report costs $1000” One can keep denying the fact but like it or not,the fact is most IT projects fail.

More and more surveys confirm the effectiveness of agile approach.Development teams utilizing agile practices were on average 37 percent faster delivering their software to market and increased their teams' productivity by 16 percent, according to QSM Associates (QSMA) study. The report also concluded that agile teams were able to maintain normal defect counts despite significant schedule compression.

Back of the mind we always knew this though – something is wrong with classic Project Management. How many times we landed in crunch as the PM waited for the ‘Project Charter’ to be signed off! How I wished that my customer is my partner in fighting the Triple Constraints – Scope, Time and Cost, instead of the PM fighting the battle alone…How many times we wished the team reads the MPP we created with lots of difficulty! … We knew the perils of decisions made in the beginning (also called project front loading) but kept quiet! And well, you're only as good as your last mistake! Been there done that ..experienced that ..Scars all over :(

Writing on the wall is clear. This disruption is here to stay. Studies from Forester Research, Dr Dobb’s etc. indicate that agile methods are now used more than any other approach for IT projects. With 35% of companies using agile and a further 21% using some kind of iterative approach and only 13% using a waterfall approach. Big companies, Small companies, Medium companies – all are going agile. Original pioneers were Yahoo! And Amazon but now all have embraced it - Over 25% of IBM projects are now agile! That is a big number!

The torchbearer, Project Management Institute (PMI) also is waking up. For example the PMI Agile Community of Practice is the result of a grass-roots initiative between a pioneering group of Agilists and PMI to create a new Agile Community of Practice within the PMI, with the stated purpose "to equip PMI members with Agile knowledge and skills".

There are many forums and training on managing this transition .The Agile PMP: Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks is one good place to start. And trust me on this as I have been through this – it is very very hard! How on earth can one equate ‘flexible’ with ‘scope creep’? Simplicity vs. 500 page PMBOK (PM Book of Knowledge) Unlearning is hard indeed!

Agile Project Management comes in various flavors – SCRUM, Extreme, DSDM etc. The Agile Manifesto sums up the essence “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Working software over comprehensive documentation. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Responding to change over following a plan”

My agile guru Pete Deemer sums it nicely “The traditional approach has strengths and weaknesses. Its great strength is that it is supremely logical –think before you build, write it all down, follow a plan, and keep everything as organized as possible. It has just one great weakness: humans are involved. Humans are not able to predict the future. For example, your competition makes an announcement that was not expected. Unanticipated technical problems crop up that force change in direction. Furthermore, people are particularly bad at planning uncertain things far into the future – guessing today how you will be spending your week eight months from now is something of a fantasy. It has been the downfall of many a carefully constructed Gantt chart.”

Often the two are compared to Music. Agile projects are like jazz. The players are given a lot of room to improvise inside of an agreed-upon framework. Traditional projects, on the other hand, are more like classical music: well orchestrated, directed and you stick to the score – the conductor (Project Manager) is god!

Aim, Aim, Fire vs. Fire…. Then, redirect the bullet is another analogy :)

The tool vendors also have started singing new songs (traitors) and Microsoft Project Plan leads the way! See this article where they are trying to ‘re position’ good old MPP ... it is mere lip stick , Renaming ‘work breakdown structures’ to ‘feature breakdown structures’ Same old wine :)

There are many myths though (depending on which side are you) - One common myth is that agile is just simple set of principles and guidelines that are not well-defined – I have practiced both traditional and agile – My experience is that though agile is 'simple' it is very structured with a built in sense of urgency. What makes agile tick..the secret sauce, is not just the concept (you can keep changing while executing) but some key cogs like time boxed short subprojects/sprints (during Sprints no changes are allowed) and Standup Meeting (where all team members stands up for 10 mins start of the day and ask three questions - What have you done since yesterday’s meeting? What are you going to get done today?What obstacles do you need to be removed?.. )

So what we do ..Which road to take?

I would recommend an ‘either’ ‘or’ approach. Either use classic Project Management methods – OR use agile Project Management.Also don’t mix the agile approaches – stick to one. By the way SCRUM now leads with a big margin compared to other agile methods.

The argument against this puritan approach is very compelling though :) you can hear knowalls say! “Don’t copy the textbook.Every organization is different – " You should interpret it in the ‘context’ of the business and project 'environment' and the company ‘culture’. You should 'adapt' to your environment" . Arguments using ‘contexts’ and ‘culture’ can justify anything! Though the customization idea is good..let us admit! ..usually we are poor in 'adapting' , we end up bending rules while 'adapting' ..and mess it up! Don't fall into that trap – stick to either agile OR classic.

I have seen a two months agile project extending to over a year due to scope creeps, which was legitimized as we were running so called agile! The original two month MPP was discarded and we adopted agile. The project was done by five partners globally – each followed their own ‘adapted agile’ .Though we delivered well ,certainly we did not gain any benefits attributed to ‘agile’. If we had followed classic, we could have atleast made loads of money on scope change! (remember that ‘change control log’ – usually PMs are loved by management for the rigor in maintaining the change log!)

I have also seen a one-year traditional project shrunk into 3 months as all of us worked together (we called it hothouse) without cabins, ran 'honest agile' and delivered value to client as well as us. The only difference here was ‘following the agile rules’ (may sound like an oxymoron – like 'honest politician' or 'true love' :) but it is not) Remember - god is in structures! We had daily stand-ups and huge whiteboard visuals showing day trends. Last bit of the ‘design’ was done few days before the 'go live'! The only rule we did not follow was late nights – we ended up late nights and weekends but guess what..as the team had ‘visualised the outcome’ , they brainstormed creative ways to get the job done. Building a ‘sense of purpose’ in teams is perhaps the biggest plus of adopting agile project management .Just imagine projects where every team member is ‘engaged’ ..100% engaged project team – are you joking ? another oxymoron eh? No – its possible.

And don’t discount traditional Project Management. Agile works well in highly empowered work cultures but many of us do not have this luxury. Many boring tasks have to be done within a time frame and often scope is very clear. Just deliver.... period! In these cases there is nothing to beat classic project management.Some of the agile principles,for example XP pair programming, are difficult to implement as it depends on 'culture'. The idea is to have two developers work on the same machine and same code. At any given time one is driver and the other navigator. The roles switch either every hour, or whenever really. Two heads instead of one is a great idea but to make this happen is not easy!

Many PMs don’t have time to analyze how to ‘engage’ their team members (which is a prerequisite in Agile) – sometimes all we need is a bunch of disciplined hedgehogs. With a well-planned mistake proofed WBS we can make wonders even with a demotivated workforce (yes!). Remember what Swami Sukbodhananda said :) , “If you don’t get what you love – love what you get”. However hard our pep talk is, many of our projects are not intrinsically inspiring and classic project management fits in well!

If you are building a Taj Mahal – it is better to get the requirement right at the beginning and brutally execute over 20 years. Don’t let the fickle minded kings change it often! And why not? - it is nice to be a command and control PM rather than a facilitative servant agile PM :)

I would agree with Wikipedia “It does not offer any advantage over waterfall when it comes to classical projects where requirements are nearly always constant and unknowns are rare, such as construction projects”.This is more or less the ‘situational leadership’ theory .. You do what the situation calls for instead of sticking to one approach always.

Keb' Mo' also sang “She said ain’t nothing wrong with Texas...But I’d really love to go to France” :) Repeating ..either do honest agile or do classic project management. Don't try to create France in Texas :)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Perspective # 34 – Indian Telecom Innovations

Indian Telecom Innovations: India crosses 600 Million Mobile Users!! The recent Industry report says India will cross 1 Billion by the end of 2013, making it the world’s largest mobile market beating China.If you look at the TRAI numbers we will hit the Billion mark as early as 2012. This means India will have more than 100% teledensity by 2012 from the current teledensity of 54.10% – means, more mobile connections than number of people living in India!

This blog story is thought provoking."Years ago in 1992, at a Paris telecom conference the CFO of VSNL was worried about his $90 per diem (including lodging, boarding and transportation) and the poor chap did not have enough money to cover his Paris hotel bill!!! And now in 2010 ITW conference, about a hundred TATA/VSNL Communications employees wined and dined more than a thousand guests at the Museum of Fine Arts in Washington, DC."

How the world has changed! And it is not only Indian consumers who are winning,this growth sector will generate employment opportunities for
10 million people by 2012! That is lots of jobs – more than the population of Sweden. Arun Sarin who was on verge of getting ousted earlier was given $33 million as salary and perks during 2007 for India performance.. and that is classic win win :)

The revolution is helping the cops too! Recently the absconding Swami Nithyananda who was hiding in a remote village was caught as his cell phone ditched him – trapped by waves from heaven :) :)

No wonder that though most Telco’s have heavy debts, the recent 3G license led to jaw dropping 100000 crores to govt kitty out of thin air… Let us dig into the innovations that led to the great Indian telecom revolution.

Recently Prof.
Vijay Govindarajan wrote in HBR about reverse innovation success in Indian Telecoms with the Bharti example "Bharti has innovated a management model — the virtual corporation — that has enabled the company to manage an enormous subscriber base and still grow cost effectively. Mittal and his top management team came up with the revolutionary idea of completely handing over to vendors the responsibility for building up and managing the company's telecom and IT network.

"When the proposal was originally put on the table," said Mittal, "most of our board members jaws dropped, and they thought we had gone crazy."

Bharti Airtel now offers mobile telecom service at $.01 to $.05 per minute, perhaps the lowest in the world. Despite very low prices, Bharti has enjoyed compounded annual growth in sales revenues of 120 percent and growth in net profits of 282 percent per year between 2003 and 2010. Also by transforming the telecom infrastructure, Bharti was able to offer additional value-added services on the mobile platform. For instance, its Music Bharti is now the largest music company in India."

The famous 1994 outsource of
percieved core’ of Bharti to Ericsson and IBM is a case study worldwide.As Bharti did not have any telecom legacy the writing in the wall was clear! Yes,the 'network' is an important 'hygiene' factor - but not the core. Period. Dig this profound interview - "The network has moved from a delight factor to a dissatisfaction factor because expectations have increased. Second, look at impact scores relative to customer satisfaction. A few years ago network might have been 70 per cent of the impact score, then you’d have service, sales and marketing, billing all below that. Today the impact of network has reduced and the others have come up. Customers are more concerned that their bills are accurate, they’re on the best plan, customer services answers the phone and quickly and resolve the problem. Network is still the most important factor, but relative to the others it has less impact today."

There were other radical innovations at play which helped India win the
telecom race .. read on …

The concept of ‘
satisfice’. Satisficing describes the situation where people settle with a solution to a problem that is ‘good enough’ - Herbert Simon who invented this won a Nobel Prize.I had worked with Cable & Wireless for over seven years – one of the oldest Telecom operators which was founded in 1860s. We always strived for ‘Telco Grade’ – the mental model which told us that telecom systems should be ‘mission critical’ (read over engineering, expensive) – and we ‘knew better’ as we were in 150+ countries over 100 years! Bite this - When Reliance India Mobile launched the disruptive Rs. 500 deal, they did not have a proper billing system in place (these are sacrilege in telecom world obsessed with Five 9 reliability) but who cares – for 500 bucks you get a handset and connection..you want six sigma quality billing system also? C’mon :) In other words Reliance satisficed the masses.The challenge for marketers in India is to meet the psychological price-point 'no 5' ! The 50 paise candy,Rs 5 chocolates- Gems, Kit-Kat, 5 Star etc., Rs 5,000 refrigerators are examples. The innovation called satisficing is the only option left! Chocolate puritans may say that the 5 Rs Kit Kat taste like chalk,but at 11 cents how can someone sell a quality chocolate sir? You should be kidding :).Also note that in these killing fields - we cant position them as loss leaders .. as nothing in the backyard can be sold as 'premium' later in this age of commoditisation.

I recall those days in C&W... We were happy with the 60% vendor discount we managed, flaunting our global purchase and muscle power :) ask any vendor here in India - the discounts start at 80% ,are made to sit late nights (yes!) and still they lose competing with chinese gear and open source!!! Bharti's famous 'I will pay you only if I make money' - the pay as you grow model was the most innovative concept ever!

Many telecom pundits are baffled
.. India has the lowest ARPU for mobile users in the world but they make phenomenal profit.. Hozzat? Indian telecom firms have no ‘ARPU mental models’ to struggle with – they focus on good old principles – ‘cost’ and ‘utilization’ and won! KPIs and Metrics sometimes mislead you..Beware..

The speed of execution can beat the
movie speed! Recently Reliance launched their 10,000-crore GSM project within a year six months ahead of schedule after they were awarded spectrum. Superman feats like these are not achieved by good old 'hardwork' - they had global brains on the job looking at innovative ways to get the job done. This also is a great example of ‘learning cycle’ – Note that earlier working at breakneck speed, from 1999 to 2002 Reliance had built the 60,000 kilometres of fibre optic backbone, crisscrossing the entire country.Truly agree with what Chaudhary said “We completed the GSM project in 15 months what other operators have taken 15 years to do” ..and this is no exaggeration.mind it!

Tower sharing was another disruptive innovation. Recently
Etisalat signed a 10-year 10,000 crore tower deal which helps Etisalat leapfrog to the game which in turn helps Reliance cut prices further!

Tata DoCoMo fired another crazy innovation salvo. The industry billing globally is on a 60s pulse, which means that even for a 1 second call,the user is charged for the entire minute. Tata DoCoMo started the 1 second pulse and a 1p per second tariff revolution and rest of Industry followed.

As we hit the Billion mark three questions are worth pondering .....

1. How to leverage the
telecom miracle to help other sectors?

One of the answers lies in the
interview of K.V. Kamath of ICICI “Agriculture is a growth opportunity. We have been talking about it for about three years and I must admit that this is one area where growth has not been as quick as I thought it would be. Taking a viable banking proposition to 600 million people is a challenge and it has still not been successfully met. The challenge can be met through technology but (for this) the technology has to evolve. What is giving us hope now that we could do it in next 18 to 24 months is the advent of cell phones. Now cell phones are there in almost every village in India. Along with this, if we can bring in quasi-branches, which Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has allowed, we will have the ability to service this sector.”

2. India’s Broadband penetration is low with only 1% people in India having broadband connections.

It is now proven that Broadband growth is
directly proportional to GDP growth . Yes Broadband is truly the road to 21st century economic growth – thanks to societal ‘killer apps’ including tele-education, tele-medicine, e-governance etc. However this area where we are weak may change – Mukesh Ambani has bagged the Wi-Max broadband wireless auction and secured 20 MHz of spectrum in every single one of India’s 22 telecom circles. Expect miracles from Reliance soon!

3. How can we learn and replicate the miracle in other sectors which badly needs rejuvenation?... Like
Healthcare and Primary education? No answers yet….. :( :( :(