Agile, Project management, Working practices

How to fight the laws of (not just CMS) projects

Freelance Unbound has some great laws, clearly learned the hard way, about… well, supposedly about website launches with new content management systems. But actually they can be generalised to be laws of almost any kind of big project with a strong technology element. Laws of physics? Laws of the land? Either way, you don’t need to take them lying down. Here are some suggestions about how to fight back…

A successful project1. It only exists when it’s live

The point here is that you can’t get people’s full attention unless it’s actually live. That’s virtually a law of physics. The way to fight this is to deliver early and often: start making it real for people as soon as possible, get something out there quickly so they can use it and feel what it’s like, and then build up.

2. It’s nobody’s fault but yours

This is a law of the land, and you can get a change in legislation. If people work in silos then it’ll be easy to finger-point when things go wrong. If people are brought together from across the organisation and are jointly responsible for the project being a success, then there’s a much better chance of success happening. This is because there is much greater cohesion between people with different expertise, which means more fluid communication and much less loss of understanding. So problems are less likely. And when they do happen then you can expect a much more productive reaction from all involved.

3. No-one has thought about [some critical function]

Again, this is a law that can be changed: find out early who all the stakeholders are, and make sure they’re involved. This is a pain, because it’s much easier to get a project going when there are fewer dependencies or teams involved. But inconveniently projects are judged a success at the end, not at the start. So it’s worth foregoing a bit of pain at start — socialising the ideas, seeing who needs to be involved, involving them, listening to them, changing your thinking accordingly — to avoid a lot of pain at the end.

4. [Team which does unglamorous but critical work] is always the last to know

Yes, it may be easier to involve some people only at arm’s length, but the inconvenience you’re avoiding early on will have to be repaid with interest. As before, discovering and involving all the stakeholders early is key.

5. Things you want to change are always hard-coded — and vice versa

You can’t please all of the people all of the time. But you can choose a small number of people and make the system flexible for them. And then you can extend your system a bit so that it pleases a few more people. And then you can continue to extend and expand, including more and more people, and adding more and more flexibility in just the right places to please them, until… well, hopefully everyone agrees it’s okay to stop.

For this approach to work you do have to make sure you have the capability to adapt your system. If you’ve chosen to buy then you need to know it’s sufficiently flexible for your needs, and where it doesn’t flex (or you’ve chosen not to flex it) then you need to make sure you communicate the limitations to all the relevant people. If you’ve chosen to build then you need to make sure you have the skills to build effectively.

6. Your system will always be out of date

Every project is a response to the wider business environment. And the business environment will never stop changing. So the question to ask is: If this project is a response to business change, and the business environment is changing constantly, what resources do we need to continue to put into this system after the project is complete to ensure it continues to keep pace with the moving target it was aimed at in the first place?

I’d say almost any answer is acceptable, including “We’re happy for it start falling behind the moment it goes live, because that bit of our business isn’t the most important part”. That particular answer will probably upset some staff, but the main thing is it’s a conscious decision. What will lead to problems is not answering the question at all.

Mind you, it’s also possible to get that answer wrong. Or, more likely, to incorrectly predict the pace of business change. If that’s a possibility then acknowledging the risk should help secure additional resources in the future.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “How to fight the laws of (not just CMS) projects

  1. Sadly, in the Clash’s iconic battle with the forces of the law, it was the law what won…

    Posted by Freelance Unbound | 30 October 2010, 11:31 pm
  2. D’oh! I’ll have to stick to subjects closer to home in future. And change that graphic…

    Posted by Nik | 31 October 2010, 12:01 am