Sharing the stakeholders’ mindset

A few years back I was talking to a team leader about their delivery schedule. Some of her stakeholders were keen on a planning to have two milestones every quarter—that is, one every six or seven weeks. The team leader didn’t like this—she was keen on delivering continuously. What did I think, she asked, about isolating the two cadences, so that engineers just thought about continuous delivery and were hidden from the slower-paced business milestones?

I was very happy that she was driving for continuous delivery. It maximises the flexibility and responsiveness of the team. But at the same time I recommended not isolating the team from the longer timescales, because it’s important to give stakeholders and people on the ground as much of the same mindset as possible. This way we have a much better chance of our delivery teams making the best day-to-day micro-decisions and steering their work for the best possible outcome.

I can think of two other situations where sharing the stakeholders’ mindset is valuable.

One is the benefit brought about by having a value statement. This is where the value we’re delivering is not only agreed by everyone, but is also quantified and expressed in a simple statement, and that everyone agrees on that, too. This ensures there is no ambiguity about the purpose of our work, at any level. When projects I’m working on have clear value statements so many questions evaporate because everyone knows what the answers are.

Another example is domain driven design, in which the concepts in stakeholders’ heads are written verbatim into software. This not only helps ensure the software works in the way stakeholders expect, but it also ensures stakeholders understand—and predict—when a new idea is trivial or expensive.

Both these practices are very effective at making software projects more successful, and they do so by bringing stakeholders and the people on the ground together.

And so it is with planning and delivery cadences. So my answer to the team leader was that it would be unhelpful to hide the longer cadence from the team, even though long deliveries suggest it might reduce focus. Instead she needed to ensure there is sufficient structure so that the longer cadence was real and meaningful to the team, just as it was for the stakeholders, while still ensuring continuous delivery. Having a strong connection with the stakeholders is just too important to lose.

Photo by Ryan Roberts