Saturday, February 9, 2013

Equine allegories

First, please excuse the title  - a cunning attempt at promoting my blog. Anyone (and I mean anyone) who Googles "Equine allegories" is sure to be directed straight here. A winning strategy I think you'll agree.

Now, for those of you not in 'my manor' as it were, there's been a bit of a scandal of late with beef not being beef. Suffice it to say, jokes about Red Rum Steak abound. 

I think this has got some fascinating insights for anyone in the business of change.

Let's talk about quality assurance and product acceptance first. Projects are comfortable in a landscape of customer / supplier. Other approaches exist. I've always adopted a stance that the supplier is accountable for quality assurance. Equally, the customer never divests themselves of the onus for due diligence corresponding to product acceptance. It is too risky to rely wholly upon the supplier's quality assurance.

Now, risk. I've never been comfortable about the whole 'transferral' of risk thing. Mainly, because I don't think you can transfer risk predictably and reliably. I'm minded of a supplier who was responsible for building the new Wembley Stadium and F.A cup finals which were held in Cardiff (Wales) for 2 (3?) years due to delays in construction. And similarly here, while the supermarkets in Britain can point the finger at their suppliers, the fact they've not done their own testing isn't going to sit well with their customers. Particularly when they've almost certainly profited from the whole fiasco..

From a consumer point of view, it seems to me that the consumer demands choice at the lowest  price. Now hold on a minute there, because actually, I don't.. But, it's the line spouted by the business's involved in grocery retail so there may be a grain of truth in it. So, if we only make a purchasing decision predicated upon cost, then we're likely to get a supplying decision predicated wholly around cost with all the consequences it brings.

You'd think governance would play the part of fair, honest and effective broker in all this. I wouldn't. Basel II, Sarbanes Oxley and FSA couldn't avert the biggest banking crisis of a generation. You can try all the tricks in the book to minimise risk, maximise value and ensure the right decisions are made by the right people to the right criteria at the right time. But, if greed, gain and guile are the prevailing cultural themes within an organisation, it won't matter.

But, there is an up. Discovering that stuff has gone wrong today makes you better off than you were yesterday. You can start the job of corrective action, you can learn some lessons and strengthen whatever is needed to prevent re-occurrence. 

Finally, there's something else to take away from all of this. We can read and write all the books we like. Develop the discipline of project management in new and exciting directions. Effective and sound judgement however is something ephemeral, acquired slowly and lost quickly. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Requirements part 5 - a very useful spreadsheet

I think there might actually have been one or two more posts on requirements than 5. No matter the end of the tunnel is in sight.

I've written quite a bit about what not to do with requirements and conversely some useful salves for common problems. What I haven't done (until today) is state clearly my approach to managing requirements (and more besides) or provide the tool to get the job done.

To date, we've talked about MoSCoW analysis (yuk!), pair-wise comparison, cost of compliance / non-compliance, KANO analysis and quite a bit more besides. We've never talked about UML or a bunch of other stuff, but ultimately (as you'll see) that might not matter too much.

Consider the illustration below - a veritable soup of inputs relating to requirements. Equally, a customisable and completely transparent score card that can be constructed and agreed by stakeholders early in the process.

What we're starting to get towards here is an approach to requirements prioritisation and management that can be highly customised to suit any situation. 

Get the stakeholder buy-in right, get the score card right and the rest will follow.

In the example below, I've used the following scoring elements - you however can use what you like.

  • MoSCow - exactly what it says on the tin. MoSCow does have its place albeit do remain cognisant of the limitations previously discussed.
  • Kano - see last post. A quick and easy way of assessing non-monetary value
  • Contribution to the business plan - if it doesn't contribute, should you be doing it?
  • Compliance - do we have to have this to meet regulatory requirements?
  • Senior stakeholder flag - if the the budget holder wants it in taupe, then let's have that right out in the open from the get go.

Your score card might incorporate the elements illustrated above or be something complete different. You might have specific organisational imperatives which mean you incorporate none of the elements above - fine. The approach is no less valid.

So - you've got a score card - what next? Excel that's what. What you're seeing below is the scorecard above incorporated into Excel.

It's not too busy a spreadsheet but it has got a couple of tricks up its sleeve.

First, the fields are 'constrained' and aligned with the scorecard.

And, we've got a a simple but long formula to do the scoring calculation. Note the red highlight. We don't put the scoring in the formula itself - we use a lookup to a table elsewhere. This is important and we'll discuss this more later.

=IF(C2="Must have",Lookups!$B$1,(IF(C2="Should have",Lookups!$B$2,(IF(C2="Could have",Lookups!$B$3,(IF(C2="Won't have",Lookups!$B$4)))))))+IF(D2="Dis-satisfier",Lookups!$D$1,(IF(D2="Satisfier",Lookups!$D$2,(IF(D2="Delighter",Lookups!$D$3)))))+IF(E2="Key",Lookups!$F$1,(IF(E2="Required",Lookups!$F$2,(IF(E2="Aligned",Lookups!$F$3)))))+IF(F2="Yes",Lookups!$H$1,(IF(F2="No",Lookups!$H$2)))+(IF(G2="Yes",Lookups!$J$1,(IF(G2="No",Lookups!$J$2))))

I've uploaded the spread sheet here and you can play to your heart's content.

Some things to bear in mind.

  1. You aren't constrained to 'sum' the scores. Multiplication has its place particularly as it opens up using a zero to effective nullify a requirement
  2. You aren't constrained to using this just for requirements - the same approach works very well for (say) assigning a risk rating to server moves in a data centre migration
  3. I've used significantly larger spreads sheets both in terms of the number of criteria used and the scores which correspond to those criteria. Undoubtedly there's a limit but I haven't found it. If you do (and good luck with that) you can always split the formula in two and sum the output.
  4. Don't limit yourself to linear scoring - in point of fact, you're going to need to justify very carefully the use of linear scoring (i.e 1,2,3,4,5,6 as opposed to 1,3,8,20). Most things (I think) will benefit from a non-linear scoring approach.
  5. Make sure you get your criteria right from the get go, the scoring only needs to be 'about' right as we re-tune that later on.
  6. Weighting - don't think you can't apply a specific weighting to one or more elements on the scorecard - in point of fact this is just another way of playing with the scoring but don't rule it out.
  7. If you're smart enough you can probably use a custom list in SharePoint to do this.
Finally, getting the scoring in the scorecard right from the get go is tough. So tough in fact that I discourage you from trying. Stakeholders can get a bit cagey too as, while they see the merit in the approach, they tend to be less certain about getting tied down by a scorecard that they (quite understandably) can't appreciate the fullest implications of at the outset.

Fine tuning the scoring is the subject of the next post.