Yesterday’s Weather

It’s funny how things evolve in this world. Consider for amoment, the whole philosophy of project management. This started, from what I have read,with a guy trying to forecast how much pig iron could be effectively mined by a labor-force in a given week. A lot of this was based on getting guys with very strong backs motivated to accomplish twice as much work, with only a 50% increase in pay, in the same amount of time. Think on that one!

Fast forward quite a few decades. Now we are in the land of the lost. Sleestacks? Nope, Project Managers! The Waterfall process was documented (officially) in 1970 by a gentleman named Dr. Winston Royce. He wrote a 9 page paper on how to “Manage the Development of Large Software Systems”. He outlines it initially, before diving into the details. Right there on page 2, he provides the following disclaimer: “I believe in this concept, but the implementation described above is risky, and invites failure”. Holy cow! I’ll go ahead and give you all a few minutes to recompose yourselves and get back into your chairs. But seriously, did everyone just Sharpie out that line and press on? Almost like news headlines approved and not approved to be read in Good Morning Vietnam.

Think on that. Almost every major effort over the last 40 years to standardize a ‘prescriptive’ project management approach and methodology has been stacked on this premise. And stacked. And stacked. Now, don’t misconstrue what I’m saying. I’m not saying that all of those methodologies are junk and should be chucked. For, without them, a few folks whose names we have seen might not ever have gotten together on that fateful ski weekend in February, 2001. Frustration is the mother of invention? Or something. I could be wrong. But probably not.

Let’s switch gears for a minute. In Agile circles, there is a concept called “Yesterday’s Weather”. This concept was published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society in 1979, as a means of predicting- you guessed it- weather. It’s absolutely brilliant in its simplicity. Look at yesterday as a barometer (bad pun, but well placed!) for tomorrow. Boiled down to, look at your past successes and failures (recent) to map your path for future successes, and hopefully, fewer failures. Yes, this in turn becomes a Retrospective.

Another implementation of Yesterday’s Weather is to forecast how much work you can get done. Sidebar. When did estimation become a commitment? It used to be that someone would ask you, “how long do you think it will take to…..?” You give a rough estimate. 3 days later, someone is standing at your desk looking for delivery. Back to forecasting. This was the evolution of the story point. Moving to an objective scale, so that time wasn’t the primary measurement. So to forecast how much work you can complete, we simply look at the last completed iteration, assess any changes to our development team, time off, holidays, etc.- and adjust. This leads to a velocity calculation and … anybody still reading?

Last bit of profound thinking. Think about ‘those guys’ back in the 90’s, and what led up to February 2001. If they hadn’t been continually inundated with failing projects that couldn’t cope with scope and requirements change, we’d (you know, the royal, Agile ‘we’) all be staring at Gantt charts and Detailed Project Plans. And we probably wouldn’t think twice about it.

Challenge. If you are in an Agile development group, or even not- what are you going to do to improve the performance and successes of your team?

Grab an umbrella!

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