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Johanna Rothman helps managers and teams solve problems and deliver products. Her most recent book is Manage your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects. You can read her blogs and other writings at Johanna is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 127 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Failed Fast at Agile 2011, Learned a Lot

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I prepare for my speaking and workshop engagements. This year, I’ve been all over the world. I’ve had a great time, and my clients and audiences have had a great time, too.

Well, except for this past week at my session, “The Budgeting Black Hole: Predicting the Unpredictable” at Agile 2011. There, I bombed. I didn’t just do somewhat badly, I was a total disaster. When I say disaster, I mean disaster. I am accustomed to getting mostly high marks on my feedback forms, with some very low marks because I say provocative things that some people don’t like. That’s fine. Here, I got zero high marks. Zero. One medium mark, and that was generous. All the rest were low and very low. So when I say I bombed, I mean it. Disaster.

Here’s what I hoped would happen in the simulation:

You would try to predict something. How can you? It’s a new project. You can’t predict anything. You need experience. So you do one iteration. Based on your iteration/experience, you choose what to do with the project portfolio, including the budget. Now you do one more iteration, again assessing the progress you made. You make another prediction, based on your now two iterations worth of experience and your ability to re-jigger the project portfolio. Do the final iteration, count the money and see where you stand. Since we had multiple companies, we had a way to compare. You don’t get this at work. It was a laboratory experiment. Oh well. It’s too bad the simulation failed.

For many reasons, the simulation failed after one iteration. The only good thing is that I recognized that fact and did not try to continue.

And, I learned a lot, about simulations for managers and the Agile conference. Sometimes, I am not too bright. I am always the one talking about how busy managers are, how they don’t have the time to waste. Dope-slap on me. These people wanted answers. If I’d explained at the beginning that I was hoping to do an experiment about the ways they might have managed their budgets, they might have said, “Uh, heck no,” or “Well, we’ll try it,” or something else, but I didn’t give them a chance. Nope, I just assumed they would want to experiment with me, because iterative and incremental budgeting is new, and no one has really figured it out. But I didn’t write the session description that way. Nope, I wrote the description so that the session would get accepted.

So here’s what I did so that these people who spent any time with me would feel as if they got their money’s worth:

  1. I uploaded a substantial pdf with everything I know about incremental budgeting. Feel free to download it yourself. It’s at The Budgeting Black Hole: Predicting the Unpredictable. In the upper right corner, where it says “Download session PDF”
  2. I started a LinkedIn group, Agile Project and program portfolio management. Want to join? I’m moderating the group for now. If you’re an agilist, interested in project management, program management, curious, please ask, and I will add you.
  3. I have business cards from some of the people in my session, so I can send them the pdf directly. If you know of any of the people in my session, and they said to you, “Is Johanna an idiot?” you can let them know that I’m not most of the time. Every so often I am, and when I am, it’s really a doozy.

I failed fast. I learned a lot. I would have preferred to fail in not quite so public an arena. Oh well. I decided the fastest path to putting this behind me would be to admit it (transparency) and to write about it (the blog post and the pdf), and continue from there. So that’s what I’m doing. Let me know what you think.

Published at DZone with permission of Johanna Rothman, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)



Kyane Ben replied on Thu, 2012/03/15 - 10:50am

I would be interested in seeing some of the reasons why you feel the simulation failed. I re-read your session description and I can infer that it was a simulation (it was classified as a tutorial though) and I can understand why some people may not have got that. I’ve heard the Agile 20XX crowds can be tough when it comes to experiential learning.

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