Thinking beyond the project

Focus on business, people, customers and then technology, in that order #HoskWisdom

when we focus on a delivering the project, we miss the goal of the project. Think beyond the project, focus on the helping the business be successful and use technology to help.

Project

Projects involve people, time and expense, they take time and effort. The measurement of success becomes delivering the project and this becomes the focus of the project. Everyone focuses on delivering the project, forgetting the real goal of a project. Our focus becomes narrow that we miss the goal and are unprepared for the real problems that occur after.

Old tactics

In the book Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War talking about how the marines focus on creating a beachhead.

“Once, while the groups wrestled with how to put a landing force on the shores of Iran, Boyd realized the Marines were placing inordinate emphasis on how to establish a beachhead. “That beachhead is looming bigger and bigger,” he said. “You guys are paying too much attention to terrain. The focus should be on the enemy. Fight the enemy, not the terrain.””

A beach head is temporary line created and then reinforced quickly with numbers, the attacking force can push on and take the beach. This is a world war 1 tactic where most battles were head on and wars of attrition.

John Boyd refers to this “Hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle”

The goal isn’t creating a beachhead, the focus shouldn’t be on the terrain, the goal is to attack the enemy, beat the enemy and landing a beachhead is small part of the plan.

These are world war 1 tactics, they didn’t take into account the change in weapons, communications, the enemy or the situation. How many times do people try to run a project, just like the previous project.

In the article — Thinking beyond the beachhead it has this quote

“The main lesson at Normandy, I think, is relevant to the point that I am trying to make. Planners went into the operation focusing on getting on the beach, a task that they anticipated would be the major problem. As it turned out, the problem was getting off the beach!”

When we focus on the wrong area, we focus are thinking to that area. We need to step back and see the larger goal and how it all fits into a larger system.

Tactics should be tailored to the situation, not just pushing the strategy used in the previous war against a different opponent.

What happens on projects?

The goal of a project should be to help the business become more efficient, solve their problems. Technology should be one of part of the improvements, aligned with the business processes, the people and business goals.

Design thinking starts looking at the how the business works, their problems and goals. It looks at the pain points with the current ways of working and how to improve customer service. The initial work looks at the business holistically and on creative solutions.

In many projects the focus is on replacing the existing systems and new technology..

The focus is on

  • The existing legacy system
  • Technology
  • Delivering the project on time

The focus is on the technology and the project , we focus on the beachhead and not the enemy.

Unique

Every customer, business and project are unique, there isn’t a template that delivers a successful project. You need to observe the environment, requirements, problems, people, industry, company and ways of working, use this to create a unique approach.

The environment changes, the approach needs to reflect this, you cannot use a static approach too every project because it sometimes it will work and sometimes it won’t.

Change

A plan and approach will be created at the start of the project, this will quickly be wrong because the information on the project changes. Your plan needs to be based on reality, you need to make decisions with the latest information.

Conclusion

Think beyond the project, focus on the business, people, customers and technology, in that order. There isn’t a standard template, you have to focus on the goals and problems of the business. Understand the business first and creation the solution second.

Are people on the project waving or drowning?

Sometimes it’s those who don’t ask for help, who need it most #HoskWisdom

The difference between someone in water waving and drowning is small, but the difference could lead to life and death. How many times do you see people and teams complaining, but are they waving or drowning?

Conflicting teams

IT projects are stressful, delivered to tight deadlines. Teams need to get their work done, but depend on other teams to complete the project. Teams need to focus on their own work to ensure it’s done correctly, on time and to a high level. The dilemma to individual teams is if the other teams don’t finish their work, the complete solution won’t work. You can’t finish creating a human and have the legs and arms finished but no head and eyes.

  • Your team needs to complete work
  • You need to help other teams with information and shared design
  • Obligation to the project to make sure all teams are working effectively

Waving not drowning

Complaining is a popular pastime on projects, individuals can create noise and distract others. The personal objectives of individuals can distort messaging and priorities

e.g.

  • An individual or team can exaggerate their performance and contribution
  • A successful team can quietly get their work done (not
  • personal conflicts can lead to individuals complaining about other teams

Drowning not waving

People and teams who are drowning don’t always ask for help, they try to battle on, hoping things will turn around. In some situations those who are in a position of responsibility don’t want to admit they made a mistake, have a relationship with an individual involved and don’t want to make the change.

The simple choice is to stick with the status quo and not change because changes need to justification and if it goes wrong there will be criticism. You are less likely to be criticised for sticking with the current plan, which still might work. The original plan might be created by someone else, which gives less incentive to change the plan and take responsibility.

To admit you are drowning takes courage because you need to make yourself vulnerable and ask for help. It easier for others to notice a team/individual needs help but there needs to be incentives to want to improve.

It’s difficult for leaders to understand what is working and what isn’t because of the lack of clarity in reporting and feedback. There are two truths that can come to mind

* You can’t lead from an office

* You can fool people on the front line that things are going well

You need to get out and talk to people, find the pain points from the people doing their jobs and not just listen to the managers, plan and metrics being measured. The tendency will be for people to not publicise bad news or hide it but if you want to improve a project you to fix the parts not working as soon as possible.

Step back

There are always more tasks to do on a project, another report to write, meetings to attend. The constant motion stops you taking time to reflect, step back and see the bigger picture. A project is a complex system with lots of separate and dependent parts. Most of the time you deal with the symptoms of problems and not the root cause.

Peter Senge’s first law of The Fifth Discipline is “today’s problems were created by yesterdays solutions”, the second-order effects of changes are not always clear but can cause problems later on or in other places.

To assess your own performance you need to create some time to think, look at the project as a complex system and see where the problems are and assess your performance and contribution to these problems.

questions like these help

  • What do I need right now?
  • What would really help me?
  • What are my priorities?
  • What am I doing, that someone else should do or can do?

People problems don’t resolve themselves and need to be actively resolved, unless you are close it’s difficult to tell if the person is waving or drowning.

This post came from listening to the new Future Islands album and then finding this poem written by Steve Smith called Not Waving but Drowning, one paragraph is below

Not Waving but Drowning BY STEVIE SMITH

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.

Projects evolve to create the right solution

Requirements create estimates, estimates create plans, plans create projects, projects create problems because the requirements, estimates, plans and projects were wrong #HoskCodeWisdom

IT projects go wrong, you can’t avoid it but you can prepare for mistakes, get feedback helps you learn, improve and create a solution suited to the customer needs. You can’t get all the requirements up front, for a technical team to design and estimate a solution correctly and then deliver it without any significant problems is crazy.

The requirements and solution develop the more you investigate and build. The solution delivered at the end is never like the solution specified at the beginning. The plan you created at the start of the project is never correct, it evolves and changes along with the solution.

Requirements are never complete, requirements are missed, requirements are added, requirements are wrong and they requirements change as the project develops.

Estimates are not commitments, they are an estimate of effort based on the information at the time.

Plans are created with the assumption nothing will go wrong, changes won’t happen, people won’t leave and nothing significant will go wrong. Plans will always change, expect it and use it to your advantage.

Change is natural, change is positive, change will deliver the project which is needed, not the project which was estimated and planned with a minimum amount of information.

Make sure people are aware plans will change and deliver projects in smaller parts, incorporate feedback into your plans and deliver value early and often.

The goal of a project is to deliver a solution the business needs, not the solution specified in the plan when you had less knowledge and no feedback or experience. Don’t become to protective of your plan that it stops you changing.

Defining your project problems, helps you avoid them

All I want to know is how this project will fail, so I can avoid doing that #HoskWisdom

Project plans have goals, milestones and deliverables. They have optimistic paths into the future and run into trouble when the inevitable problems jump up and smash you in the face.

Predict your potential problems and you can resolve them before they become problems. Focus on what might go wrong and you can create plans to prepare for it. Do your thinking before the event when you have time and you will have the answers ready for when you have to act.

Mike Tyson warns of the danger of project plans

“Everyone has a plan, until you are punched in the face” — Mike Tyson

Predict your problems

The best person to predict the problems that might occur on the project you are working on, is the team working on the project. There are common problems, but each project can create completely new problems.

A popular method to predict problems is to perform a premortem, like a post mortem but before the death of your project 🙂

Premortems are effective because no one is to blame for potential problems, it encourages people to raise potential problems. Premortems can be more effective than post mortems because in a post mortem people are being defensive and protecting themselves rather than diagnosing the actual causes of the problems. Post Mortems can suffer from people rewriting history to support their actions and justify their actions.

Premortem’s help you find potential sources of failure and give you a chance to resolve small problems before they become big problems.

A premortem could start

  • “The production go live failed disastrously because…..” or “
  • “What are we nervous about”
  • “What could go wrong which would cause us the most problems”
  • “what’s like to go wrong”
  • “what’s the biggest risk”
  • “what happens if this person gets kidnapped”
  • The project was a colossal failure because…..”

The group can suggest reasons the project could fail, discuss the causes and what steps we can take to mitigate the problem. Focus on the top ten and work out what you can do to stop those problems from happening.

Plans go wrong and need to change, planning for problems lets react strategically if those problems occur. Planning for problems allows you to use time before the event to be ready during the event. When problems happen in an event, you don’t have time to think, which is why you should use the quiet time before to plan your response.

The best time to fix a roof is when the sun is shinning, not in a thunderstorm. The best time to plan for big problems in a one off event, is before the event has started. You can stop some problems from occuring, have plans for when other problems occur

Define your fears

I was watching a Tim Ferris TED talk — Why you should define your fears instead of your goals and a blog post — Fear-Setting: The Most Valuable Exercise I Do Every Month. which offers a similar approach

Define — prevent — prepare

  • Define: List the worst things that could happen or the significant problems
  • Prevent: List how you can stop the items above
  • Repair: If the worst happens, list how to repair each bad thing.
  • Have others resolved this problem or similar problems, learn from their experience and avoid their mistakes

If you think you don’t have time, what will be the cost of not doing this? unexpected problems ruin your day

Conclusion

Thinking about your project fears or what might go wrong is inverting the problem, it helps you avoid mistakes and prepare for them. There is a difference between knowing what problems could occur and preparing for them. Time is a tool and successful people use it to give them time to think. In the middle of a crises you don’t have time to think, so do your thinking before the crises hits.

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today — Chinese proverb

The coronavirus is a good example, the countries which got hit from SARS prepared themselves for future pandemics by creating a plan, stock piling, upgrading hospitals and were ready to act quickly. The countries which had to tackle Covid-19 as it was happening were behind, tried to decide as they went, and responded slower.

Things to consider when using Flows for data migration

“Show me a ten-foot wall and I’ll show you an eleven-foot ladder” ― Peter Bevelin

Using Flow for data migration is easy but has limitations you should consider, these limitations can cause problems left the data migration in limbo, whilst waiting for the api limits for each day and Flows waking up and running

When you hit the daily limit for Flows, they stop working until the next day (when limit resets). 

Considerations

  • Data migration can have lots of records and could take many days
  • Flows don’t fail, they queue them up
  • The only way to stop Flows triggering is to delete them or put the Dynamics 365 environment into admin mode.

There are examples where the Flow limits meant the Flows have been in a waiting state for 4 days due to hitting the throttling limit on a daily basis.

Flows are not just on Flow runs by actions inside the flow.

How did we get here with Flows

Microsoft initially had workflows which were hosted by Microsoft and used Async service on the Dynamics 365 server. There were no limits on workflows but from Microsoft’s perspective this isn’t great because these run on Microsoft resources and costs them to host and run them.

Microsoft created Flows, with greater functionality and built on Logic apps. Flows are a scalable, enterprise solution and with connections allow you to create Low code solutions and link systems together.

The benefit to Microsoft is the Flow runs are easily counted and Flows are hosted in Azure which is scalable. Microsoft pushed Dynamics 365 users to use Flows and warn that workflows will be deprecated sometime in the future. Flows allow Microsoft to estimate and control how much it costs to run Flows. Dynamics 365 online is a service, so Microsoft don’t want to have unlimited resource/compute for people.

Flows allow people to scale up and pay for what they use in classic Azure costing process. This initially seems unfair because we were used to no limits but paying for what you use is ultimately fair.

You get taxed one way or another with functionality and it’s not something you can resist. It’s important to align your solutions with Microsoft’s road map. If you resist and continue to use workflows because they are free then in the future you are creating a huge upgrading task.

Flow first

I have a Flow first attitude and workflow should not created on projects going forward. Many Dynamics 365 professionals resist this because they have Workflow skills and might not have created a flow yet. By default we don’t like change and stick with what we know.

Make them do it in a flow, it will be slow to start with but they will soon start to love Flows because they are more powerful

How to cancel flows

There isn’t any way to bulk cancel flows, it’s a one by one event. Flows queue up runs even if they are not enabled!! The only way to stop them is to delete them (and there is no way to bulk delete flows!!)

if you cancel a flow it doesn’t stop the flow running when the api threshold limit is refreshed when you hit a new day.

It’s possible you could be left with 1000’s of instances of flows left in a running state, with you waiting for refreshes of API limits. These could be days!

Deleting flows is only a choice if you have a solution with the flows in and more recommended with an automated release.

Logics apps?

Microsoft have created functionality to run Logic apps on your local machine and some talk that we should all be moving to Logic apps. This combined with an improved editor should make it easier for no code professionals to create logic apps.

I’m not sure about this or if it’s the direction of travel but at the moment Flows are easier because of the current environment connection that means the Flow can work in the environment it’s in and is easily deplorable.

What’s the usual data migration choice

The common tool I see used for data migration on large projects is Kingswaysoft. I haven’t used Scribe online but I believe it has similar functionality, so it depends on the expertise of your team.

Microsoft is moving to count the actions within a flow and step in a flow will be an action which you will have a limit

Dynamics 365 and replicating to an SQL database for reporting

Flow limit

The Flow limit is a topic that will increasingly come up in Dynamics 365 projects, as more projects hit the limit.

My feeling is the limit is a bit low, particularly considering the number of environments you can have in a large project.

Conclusion

Flows are awesome and combined with connections they are powering the no/low code revolution in Dynamics 365/Power Platform projects. Flows and Power Platform are replacing the bespoke .Net applications and Excel spreadsheets that can grow in companies.

Microsoft is starting to be tighter with the Flow limits and charging more in the future. This seems unfair because we are coming from not paying much but in reflection I tend to view the Azure/usage pricing as fair.

Currently the way Flows have some odd ways of work and the turning off functionality can be a nuisance because the runs are queued, waiting for you turn the flows back on. The only way round this is deleting the flow.

Avoid certainty and embrace inquiry

You control the decision, not the outcome #HoskWisdom

There are no right answers, there is only questions and finding out why. There is no certainty, we have questions, ideas and our ability to make good decisions.

The more you think you know, the less you question and the more assumptions affect your decisions.

When you believe you are an expert, you stop listening to other people because you believe there is nothing more to learn. This gives you less information to make decisions with and unable to adapt to changes.

Outcomes

“You cannot make progress without making decisions.” Jim Rohn

A good outcome can come from the wrong decision.

A bad outcome can come from a good decision.

The feedback we get from our decisions comes from the outcome but outcomes are not guaranteed with luck and other variables affecting the outcome. 

We can’t control the outcome but we can control are decision making process. There are occasions where people make the right decision with incorrect logic. This works in the short term because of probability and luck but in the long term the results are based on thinking and quality of your decision making process.

Long term success is based on your critical thinking skills and your ability to solve problems. Environments constantly change and the actions that brought you success yesterday might not work tomorrow.

System thinking says yesterdays solutions are tomorrows problems and this is due to second order effect, unintended outcomes and the environment changes.

You need to make decisions, reflect on the feedback and adjust if you need to.

Don’t be certain, question, clarify and find the why. Being curious helps you uncover information to make better decisions, inquiry helps clarify assumptions.

Certainty in your ideas, stops you changing and adapting to change. It can lead you down the wrong path and your ego can stop you changing your mind.

Situation changes and you have to align with it.

picture from here

Further reading

Why you should listen more than you talk

The Knowledge Project #89 — Maria Konnikova — Less Certainty, More Inquiry

Dynamics 365 October 2020 wave 2 error — Mobile Offline Profiles import: FAILURE: Mobile Offline Profiles import: FAILURE

I was on a project which was manually applying the October 2020 Wave 2 update and after saying this never go wrong, what happens, yep, it goes wrong.

The question is what do you when this happens. In reality you can only raise a Microsoft support ticket.

I raise a P1 with premier support and Microsoft do not reply for 2 and half hours, clearly their idea of a P1 is different to mine.

So I was poking round the system, which is not straight forward because with PowerApps portal there are at least 3 ways to do everything.

So I got to Environments →Dynamics 365 apps

I can see I have two apps with an update available. Of course pressing this button looks like it kicks of an install but nothing seemed to happen.

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So I look at solution history record in advanced find to see if any solution imports fail. and I find that one of the solution patches from Microsoft has been failing since 15/08/2020. Doesn’t Microsoft check?

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The error is

Mobile Offline Profiles import: FAILURE: Mobile Offline Profiles import: FAILURE

I found the same error somewhere else

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The mobile offline profile is if you have a canvas app and you enable it to go offline, which means it can work without internet by downloading data onto the device, e.g. a salesman using a tablet and having the app work offline.

In this case weren’t using offline functionality and the only canvas with offline enabled and the profile was Microsoft’s Field Service app.

I have had problems with the mobile offline profile before

Dynamics 365 — mobile offline profile error

It would surprise me if this is the problem but I didn’t really have any method to investigate. The way the patches are applied I can’t see the import logs to identify where the errors are.

What’s surprising is Microsoft best practices is not to use patches and yet they use them. They are pushing regular update of patches and some of them aren’t working and no one is informed or does anything about it!

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I will wait to see what the resolution is to the problem but it was frustrating because I couldn’t do much to investigate or fix it. The problem is with Microsoft updates and they will have to investigate.

Why you should listen more than you talk

“Never give reasons for what you think or do until you must. Maybe after a while, a better reason will pop into your head.” General William T. Sherman

When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. Robert Greene

The more someone talks the more you learn, the more we talk the more information we give away. Despite this, our inclination is to talk more than we listen. Listening lets us learn more about a situation, gather more information. Talking has the opposite effect, you give more information away.

Shut up and listen

The more people talk, the more points they make, the increased chance of contradicting themselves. The more points you make, the more ammunition you give to people to disagree with you, let them wonder what you think and give yourself room to change your mind.

We waste time by talking about things which aren’t important, focusing on the wrong areas, instead, keep quiet.

You learn by listening

When you speak you don’t learn. When you listen, you might hear extra information, a new idea, feelings or a new perspective. When you listen you learn.

What is the goal?

  • What is the goal of this discussion?
  • What is the motivation of the people?
  • What is being discussed?
  • What problem is being solved
  • What does the other person think?
  • Why do they think that?

When you listen it helps you understand what people think, why they think something and how they feel. Yet before they have time to speak, we are telling them about our ideas on the topic.

You produce better ideas if you explore problems, understand different perspectives, and gather more information before forming ideas. The earlier you speak the less information you have used to come to your conclusion and the great the chance of misunderstanding the situation.

Better solutions need you to listen and learn, if speed is the goal then talking can help you push forward a conversation and decision. The earlier you speak the less informed your answer will be.

Perspectives

There are no right or wrong solutions, each solution has strengths and weaknesses. Understanding different solutions from different perspectives allows you to create solutions by combining different ideas.

Silence makes people nervous

People don’t like silence and they will talk to fill it. The more people talk, you the more you learn about them, their thoughts and their ideas.

Less is more

”The human tongue is a beast that few can master. It strains constantly to break out of its cage, and if it is not tamed, it will run wild and cause you grief.” Robert Greene

Speaking less reduces your chances of saying something stupid or saying things which are incorrect. speaking more, increases the chances of you saying something stupid or something you will regret.

Time to think

The less you speak, the more time you have to think. You can’t talk and think, you can’t listen and think. When you listen you gather information, when the speaker stops, you think about the new data and how it fits with the existing data you had.

Ask questions

When you ask questions, you get answers. If you disagree, you can ask a question and highlights the weakness in their ideas. Don’t tell people they are wrong, ask questions and help them change their own minds.

Changing minds

Time arguing is time wasted and unsuccessful. So do less of it and focus on being positive. Don’t waste time on negativity.

Getting requirements

A mistake people make when getting requirements is stop listening and move to creating the solution. They stopped listening they didn’t create the solution that user needed because they didn’t understand the requirement.

Conclusion

Listen more than you speak, focus on acquiring information rather than sharing it. You gain little less by talking and more from listening. 

The more you talk, the more you give away. Listen, learn and follow Robert Greene’s 4th Law — always say less than necessary

Make time to invest in yourself

My new cat William

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
Henry David Thoreau

The days go fast, it’s easy to be busy all day but is being busy good and are meeting short-term goals coming at the cost of your long-term career goals.

We start work, read emails, start doing something, attend meeting then more work, emails, meetings, tasks, deadlines.

Doing project work is the primary focus of our work, but does it align with your career goals.

answer these questions

  • When do you improve yourself
  • When do you learn new skills
  • When do you keep up with the latest changes in Dynamics 365/Power Platform

When do you find time to improve yourself? What is the best investment of your time? Invest in yourself and create skills that will benefit you in the long term.

Set yourself the goal of getting better daily and over the year the small improvements will turn into large improvements. The investment in yourself will compound. The best investment you can make with your time is to invest in improving yourself.

Short term

Projects and day-to-day work will take as much as time as you want to give it, there is always another task or more work to do on a project.

Projects is great for short term and medium term results but it’s unlikely to progress your career and it’s unlikely to improve your skills, knowledge and thinking.

Projects are like a hamster wheel, you get on and you keep running all day until you have no energy left. The tasks progress the project but rarely progress your career because the tasks don’t build new skills.

Step back

You step into work and focus on the details to get work done to a high level. To progress your career, you need to step back and focus on the skills which will improve you in the long term.

When you step back, you see the bigger picture and can plan what you need to do to get promoted or progress to the next level.

little and often

There are lots of small things you can do daily to get into the habit.

  • Reading one article a day on Dynamics 365
  • Read a book
  • Watch a YouTube video
  • Do 20 minutes each day to study for a certification

Invest in yourself and to get into the habit of improving yourself, don’t give all your time to other people and their goals.

Think long term

This quote from Farnam street blog helps you understand why thinking long term gets long-term success.

“If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that.” ― Jeff Bezos

General Mattis says people should have a professional approach to reading and improving themselves

“If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.” ― Jim Mattis, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

Article — General James Mattis, on the Matter of Professional Military Reading.

If you are too busy to read then you are to busy to learn from the past and improve your knowledge, skills and thinking. You are choosing to learn the hard way by trial and error. Reading and learning new skills helps you in future situations because you might have read about it and upgrading your skills gives you a different perspective on the situation.

The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men. 
Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead. —General James Mattis

Conclusion

Keep improving yourself every day. The best investment you can from your time is to improve yourself because you benefit from the change every day onwards. 

Improving yourself compounds the investment and your brain is the tool you use the most.

Short-term gains are fleeting, to prosper in the long term you have to focus on yourself and improve your thinking, communication skills and knowledge.

The best time to prepare for tomorrow is 5 years ago, the second best time is today, so get going.

What I learnt working on IT projects

Don’t build solutions on assumptions, ambiguity and ignorance #HoskWisdom

IT projects are a challenge, a good deal of fail and all of them are difficult. IT project can need lots of people, time, ideas and hard work.

Projects face obstacles, problems and changes of priorities, these changes can defeat you or you look at them as opportunities to make the solution better, the quote below sums it up.

“The obstacle becomes the path” Ryan Holiday

Challenging projects help you see the best in people, you can’t deliver a project by yourself and at certain times different people will shine, save the day and do something that helps you. Your team will be there to help you when you need it and you will be there to help them.

The better you can work as a team, the better the project will go.

Projects have taught me about myself, about technology and how to work with a group of people to make a team.

IT projects are about people not technology

There is a lot of noise and focus on technology on IT projects but ask yourself these questions

  • People builds the solution
  • People use the solution
  • People make decisions
  • People sign off requirements on the project

People are at the heart of the project and they are reason it for its success or failure.

Slow down to speed up

More people, working hard feels like it would speed up delivery but it can slow things down, when work is half finished, changes conflict.

Why adding more people to a project doesn’t make it go faster

Focus on quality rather than speed of output, fewer mistakes and consistent delivery will create releases, the successful process builds confidence and creates momentum.

Surprises on a project are never welcome because problems and delays follow. Focusing on quality, reducing mistakes and keeping momentum raises confidence in the team, it will reduce the chance of unexpected surprises..

Understand the business goals

Before you start with the technology and solution, understand the business, it’s goals, it’s language and how the business wins.

The purpose of the solution is to create a tool to support users do their job and the business to achieve its goals.

All requirements, features and user stories should focus on business needs and purpose. What is the user doing? why are they doing it? and how does this help the business.

Ask questions

Ask questions, to understand the business, clarify assumptions and work out the goals of the business.

If you have a question, ask it, it’s likely if you are thinking this then others in the room will be thinking it. Question help understand and clarify assumptions. Avoid building the solution on assumptions because these are weak foundations that could crumble later.

Don’t remake the old system

Everyone is influenced by the existing system and they will try and recreate the old system with new technology. People are use to the current system, they understand how it works and resisting change is the comfortable 

Focus on the business goals and what the purpose of the business. The old system will be aligned to the functionality of the old system. When creating a new system it’s a chance to align the process with the out of the box functionality of the software it’s being built with e.g. Dynamics 365 and Power Platform.

Don’t be constrained by the existing system, focus on the goals of the business and how best to deliver those and make it easier for people to do their jobs.

Warning — it will be difficult because people don’t like change and will keep referring back to how the current system works.

The best way to learn is through questions, reframe questions to look at work from the perspective of the teams and persona’s doing the work, understand the goals of the teams and how they fit together as a whole.

Clarify assumptions

Assumptions lead to problems, bugs and changes. You need to clarify the assumptions and get the facts otherwise you will be building a solution on ambiguity and ignorance.

Clarify the assumptions as soon as you can because these are logic bugs and can embed themselves in key parts of a process, which can be difficult to change later.

Focus on what matters

In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks. — Warren Buffett

People devote energy to unimportant and unproductive areas. Work out the key areas and focus on getting those right, focus the energy and stop wasting time on the other areas.

Most areas on a project are unimportant and not worth arguing and discussing.

“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” Greg McKeown

People will try to create meetings for everything and demand your time. If you are not needed in a meeting, don’t attend and spend that time doing productive activities.

Keep it simple

Show the users how Dynamics 365 works, start with a simple solution and then get users to try it before thinking about any complex solutions.

When you give users a blank canvas and ask them what they would like, they will come up with ideas that sound good but aren’t what they need and aren’t easy to build or maintain.

Align the requirements to the out of the box functionality.

Don’t panic, don’t blame

Panicking causes you to make bad decisions, blaming doesn’t achieve anything and lowers morale.

Be prepared for things to go wrong, mistakes to be made. Projects involve getting out of your comfort zone and trying things we haven’t done before. Take this small knock backs on the chin, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and try again.

You can’t guarantee to get everything right, particularly when you do something for the first time. Trust the team, trust yourself, don’t lose faith and keep going.

It will be difficult but you will overcome all the problems in your path. You will do it as a team.

Projects can be difficult but Don’t quit

IT projects are difficult, there will be tough periods but keep going and do not quit.

There will be times when you think the project won’t succeed, the deadlines are too tight, requirements aren’t defined, too many bugs, priorities changing, people leaving, technology failing, super bugs making everyone working from home.

Keep going, don’t quit, you will get there.

Relationships are key

Relationship with the customer and users is important because you want build trust. The customer pays the bills and makes the decisions, you have to influence as the technical export.

Build a good reputation and relationship with the client. This means listening, giving information and building trust. Avoid things which can reduce confidence in your ability, things like

  • Bugs
  • Not replying quickly
  • Hiding information
  • Talking in technical jargon they don’t understand
  • Raising problems without solutions

The customers in an IT Project is not the enemy, they are the partner. You will work together to create a solution

Conclusion

IT projects often start slowly which is fine, as long as you keep improving, fixing problems and build momentum.

Projects are not the same and there is no template to deliver a successful project. You have to adapt to situation, people and requirements. Build relationships, gain trust and find a way to progress.

As relationships grow, the project team can work quicker and the work becomes more rewarding.

Projects are about people, they will be the reason for success.