Re: The non-learning organization?

Subject: Re: The non-learning organization?
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- westnet -dot- com -dot- au>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com, rjstevenson -at- sprynet -dot- com
Date: Sat, 14 Jan 2006 00:17:15 +0800

**Easy--just start drawing DFDs and all your problems will be solved!

But seriously...

I worked for a company with some of the same problems, though not as bad, from the sound of it. They had excellent technical staff, though not enough of them to cover all the technical work that needed doing (develop new features, fix bugs, handle support calls, support pre-sales and customer trials, work trade shows and conferences, support distributors, ...). The result was a lot of churn and delays.

They brought on someone to be a project manager. I don't know if that was her official title but that's what she did--managed the people so that the right things got done in the right order so that most projects got done mostly on schedule.

You might think that you'd need an experienced software development manager to make this work, but in fact she had no software development experience and not much technical background.Yes, we were a software company with technical products and technical challenges that needed technical solutions, but there were technical people to deal with those. This company's main problems weren't technical, and I expect that's true of most software development companies.

The problem was coordination. Fran just made sure there was a plan for each project, including what people and equipment were needed for each phase. She made sure that at any given time it still looked feasible for all the projects to be completed according to the plan. If it no longer looked feasible for some reason--
- let's add this cool feature!
- let's write our own browser! in Java!
- Bill needs the stacker for a demo in Sydney next week but Ben needs it in Perth for testing!
... then something would have to change--either what was promised, or when it was promised, or how the plan said we'd get there. She did this without cattle prods or 36-hour coding marathons.

This might sound like either basic project management or pie-in-the-sky, depending on where you work, but in my experience this basic stuff is often what's lacking in smaller software development orgs. Have plans that make sense, then each week check that they still make sense in light of what happened last week. In that company, we outsourced (insourced?) most of our project management to one person.

I think what made it work was that she didn't have any other axes to grind, wasn't interested in technical holy wars, wasn't pining to get back to 'real work', didn't have her own projects to compete with other projects. She just made sure that the company made promises it could keep and kept the promises that it made.

Is there any chance this would work in your place, Rebecca? You'd need the right person, management to be on side, and reasonable good will or pragmatism from the existing project leaders.



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