Help me, Spock!

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Help me, Spock!

Mr. Spock is a fictional character in the Star Trek media franchise.  His half-human, half-Vulcan heritage challenges him with many internal and external conflicts.

A similar yin and yang for most IT project managers is the challenge they face working with business and technology teams.  That is to say, project managers working with business stakeholders, whose primary goal is to cut cost, and IT teams, who want the latest and greatest technology.

Although somewhat stereotypical, this statement seems to fit many organizations working toward success; sometimes at the expense of the groups they serve.

“It’s much easier to get the job done, if you ignore those pesky customers. Right?”

ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a set of practices for IT service management which defines the scope of IT as basically everyone who uses their services; internal customer-facing, external customer-facing, and the supporting technology for those users.

This characterization can create a cycle of frustration for IT departments.  They quickly become a “utility company” for their users, and not the innovation center many desire to be.

“Keep the email coming and my documents available.  Thank you.”

The traditional business stakeholder for IT is the CFO (Chief Financial Officer).  And in most organizations the CFO often oversees IT.  The CFO is viewed as a financial gatekeeper, and faces never ending pressure from their organization to cut costs.

“Did you finish the inventory? You want me to authorize this technology, why?”

Project managers tend to bring their own brand of centricity to the mix.  According to PMI (Project Management Institute), a typical project should include the following phases: initiation, planning, execution, controlling, and project close.

“You will do this first, then that, then this.  Got it!”

The origins of modern project management can be traced to the early space program.  Where it was vital to understand each project phase.  (You might blow something up if you didn’t.)  Prior to that most projects in the U.S. were managed with an ad-hoc approach.

In the decades that followed, software development projects tended to follow a similar sequential process.  In the development world it is known as the Waterfall model.  Dev teams define the project requirements, design the prototype, implement the solution, test and maintain the final product.

As the saying goes, “Everything old is new again.”

In 2001, a group of software development professionals introduced an alternative project management methodology – the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.  And the modern-day agile approach was born.

This iterative ad-hoc approach, at last, brought the user officially back into the process.  An agile approach makes the user a vital part of the process, and allows the customer to guide the project trajectory.

Agile has seen challenges. Like Spock, the project management community has had a great deal of anguish.  Many in the project management community struggle to reconcile this customer-focused methodology with a segmented approach.

The nebula shrouding agile has not helped.  Today, there are actually a multitude of agile frameworks, and for this discussion I am lumping them together as a single methodology.  Inherently, these frameworks ask the customer to provide their backlog (i.e. wish list), and prioritize the next steps in the project.

Having a flexible, customer-oriented project approach has never been more important.  To keep up with rapidly changing requirements, organizations must succeed quickly.  The best project managers are not just organizers.  The best project managers are able combine their communication and management skills, technical and business wisdom, with the ability to plan, coordinate, and execute.

To sum it up even more succinctly, “Logic is the beginning of wisdom; not the end.” – Spock, Star Trek VI

 

References:

Project Management Institute online at https://www.pmi.org/

“ITIL is ITIL” whitepaper online at https://www.axelos.com/case-studies-and-white-papers/itil-is-itil

“Manifesto for Agile Software Development” online at http://agilemanifesto.org/

“Biography for Spock” online at http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0001439/bio