Iteration and Feedback: The Key to Making Projects and Teams Work

The Product Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) teaches that most project failures are caused by poor team dynamics. That may be true, but that’s just a specific case of a larger problem. The more foundational idea is that trouble arises when people don’t communicate sufficiently well or often, and that is true whether the communications are collegial or contentious. Everyone can be the best of friends, but if they’re sitting in their own rooms doing their own things they aren’t going to accomplish much as a team.

The whole concept of Agile and its specific techniques of Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, and their variants and hybrids, as well as related frameworks for managing complexity, is that there has to be an organized way for people to talk to each other so they can reach common and correct understanding of what is, what should be, and how to get from one to the other. My framework for doing business analysis works through six major phases in ways that are adaptable to a given effort, organization, and management environment. All the elements from each phase are tracked and kept in sync by using a Requirements Traceability Matrix.

The diagram above was created to emphasize the need to get people together to talk to each other, figure out what they need, what’s possible, and how they can work together. They don’t do this just once in most situations, they do it iteratively, incorporating feedback and making corrections until everyone is in agreement (subject to real limitations of time, resources, and availability) at the end of each phase. The circles in the diagram represent the iterative cycles of planning, performing, review, feedback, and correction for each phase. The links forward represent moving to the next phase when the iterations for the current phase have succeeded. The links backward represent recognition that something was missed that needs to be added in a previous phase. Adding the missing elements involves iterations in the previous phase and then a return to the ongoing iterations in the current phase. (Ha ha, if done well, this all flows more naturally than it sounds like in writing here.)

Since I’ve served in so many different roles in my career, often in the capacity of a vendor or consultant serving larger organizations by providing specialized, highly technical products and services, I’ve had the chance to meet, work with, learn from, share with, and help a lot of different kinds of people in a lot of different environments. They all have a part to play and their needs, contributions, thoughts, and opinions are all valuable.

Get them all talking to each other. My way isn’t the only way (though it’s a good one), but make sure people are talking in some way.

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