Methodology Roulette: always bet on gorilla

Hogarth?”

My mind was still trying to comprehend the scene before me, but my mouth already knew who was undoubtedly responsible. The conference table was gone; in its place was a roulette table. Gathered around the betting section of the table were some of the usual suspects, Percy – the pink elephant, Wanda – the black swan, the apes Stanley and Winston, and even James – the intern. And overseeing the table was none other than Hogarth. Wearing a poker visor and sweeping up chips with one of those crooked neck poles you see in gambling movies, he was cheerfully laying on the “dealer” patter.

Winner pays to six phase lifecyle on black. Oh, tough luck for Wanda betting it all on Scrum red. Lay your bets for the next spin…”

Hogarth, was the gorilla in the room. He’s one part elephant in the room – that problem everyone is trying so hard to ignore, and one part 800 pound gorilla – something so powerful that it can act without regard to the desires of others. The gorilla in the room can crush your project into dust and leave your team wondering what the license plate number was of the bus they were just thrown under.

Like Harvey, Jimmy Stewart’s imaginary rabbit, Hogarth is my personal management Pooka. Thing about management Pooka’s is they are a blessing, a curse and totally unpredictable.

Betting is closed,” Hogarth said. “Round and round she goes, where she stops nobody…”


“HOGARTH!” I snapped, this time much louder and with a healthy dose of annoyance. “What on earth are you doing?”

My 800 pound gorilla looked up from the spinning wheel. “Oh hey there, Boss. We’re just playing a little methodology roulette.”

I shook my head, trying to comprehend what he was saying. The roulette wheel was slowing down now and as I stepped closer I could see words, not numbers on the red and black pockets that made up the wheel. I caught words and acronyms like “6 Phase SLDC, 9 Phase PLC, Scrum, Lean, PDD, PUD, and BDUP”

Methodology what?”

The table broke into groans of disgust as the ball finally fell into a pocket labeled “SotP.”

Hogarth turned to the table, brandishing his chip collecting stick. “Oh too bad, no one put anything down on the “seat of your pants” methodology.”

Hogarth pulled out the banana tucked under his sleeve garter. While he peeled it he addressed my question. “If you haven’t noticed, there is a hell of a lot of methodologies running around. Just here in the company you’ve got at least a dozen variations. Your using a Scrumish model in the consumer group, IT is using a Lean Kanban model, Finance has a customized accounting focused process for all projects it takes part in, and let’s not even get into what it takes for the hardware team to change a single resister from 10 to 15 ohm in that monolith, twelve gate process they have.” Tossing his banana peel in the trash, he continued around a mouthful of the fruit, “With all those different processes it plays complete havoc on anyone who wants to run a project. What the heck should they learn, PMP, Prince, Six Sig, Agile, IBM’s custom process, Accenture’s?” He shook his head, “Man could go crazy trying to figure out which process to become an expert on.”

He was right, absolutely dead right. I could feel my heart start to quicken with impending panic. What should I do?

Oh come now, you don’t think I’d leave you hanging, now do you?” He gave me a sparkling white grin and pointed at the table. “When you can’t beat the house, don’t play the game. Remember it’s not about the process, it’s about the people.”.”

It’s good to have a Hogarth… (just don’t tell him that)

Methodology Roulette- Or how the heck can you work in any project?

We are hearing more and more about the portability of the project management skill set. I’ve blogged about this in previous blogs, “Project Gorillas are SMEs” and “The gorilla with too many hats.” The nutshell concept is that the project management career has become its own expertise that can transcend specific industries. I’m a walking, talking example of this, having worked in such diverse industries as hard drive manufacturing, consumer electronics, computer games and virtualization.

Okay, so I believe I can work anywhere. The question is, how do we keep up with all the ways to run a project?”

Even within a single “big bucket” methodology (which is really the wrong term at this level, but that’s another blog) there are dozens if not scores of variations. I’ve worked in traditional “waterfall” (Plan Driven Development or Big Design Up Front) projects that range from a bare three phases/gates to a staggering nine phases/gates and I’ve heard of programs with even more gates. The blog Leading Answers has a great blog on Agile Adoption that shows a periodic table of agile adoption. If there are that many ways to adopt agile, just think of the number of ways to do agile.

PMBoK, Prince2, BDUF, PDD, XP, SCRUM, LEAN, AGILE, SIX SIGMA, PMP, CSM, ACP, AAPM, CSP, CPM, ABC, 123, PDQ, the list of methods and certifications is staggering. PMI alone has six different certifications, five of which are focused on their own specific methods and practices.

Oh my head, there’s no way to keep up.”

That’s right, so don’t even try. Instead focus on what’s most important.

There is one thing every project I’ve ever worked on possessed. One constant factor across a half dozen industries and even more job titles. It’s on every project and it’s what you should focus on.

You mean people?”

Right! You see for me I’ve come to the realization that it’s not about the methodology at all. To paraphrase presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, “It’s about the people, stupid.”

Projects are done by groups of people. And when a group of individuals works together, instead of in parallel, they become teams. And through teamwork the end result can be greater than the sum of the parts.

And that’s why today I call myself an “Agile Project Manager”. Using the principles and values of agile to guide how I work with any team, any project, any methodology.

(Remember, agile isn’t a methodology. Just like the PMBoK isn’t a methodology, but a set of best practices, agility as it is practiced is nothing more than a set of guiding principles set forth in the Agile Manifesto. Scrum, XP, lean, those are methodologies).

The very first value of agility is “Individuals and Interactions over Process Tools.” It has nothing to do with the tangible. It has to do with how the team should function. Principles four, five, six, eight, and twelve are directly focused on people or team interactions and principle eleven can’t happen without a motivated team. Agile isn’t about shipping software, but instead is a set of values and principles. Values that have an extreme focus on the who, not the what.

But Agile is just a passing fad, it won’t last.”

Agile the word is new, the concepts behind agile are not. Agile is new vocabulary for good business practices that go back to post World War II with Edward Demmings, the Toyota Production System, and the people philosophy that became the Toyota Way. It really goes back even further; to the Hawthorne Study in the post depression and the roots of Industrial Psychology in WW I troop assignments. The point here is solid team building practices have existed for a long time. In the 1980’s and 90’s it seems we lost the way. In the drive for more efficient companies we forgot that the people in them are what make the products, not the balance sheet.

Using Agile as a management technique makes sense and is something that’s been done for decades. I’m not doing anything new, I’m just coming full circle.

Umm, okay. So how do you do Agile without using Scrum (or Lean, or Kanban, or..)?”

There are many ways to do this. Author and agile coach Lyssa Adkins focuses on coaching the players. Agile fundamentalist, Tobias Mayer, ascribes to total self-empowerment of the team. The Manager Tools podcast series focuses on making you a better manager with the concept that making a better you makes a better team. You can follow one of the existing concepts or, like me, you can develop your own principles and guides. For me I focus on how I can help teams. By being the best team helper I can be, I support the team in being better.

At the end of the day the core concept here is to focus on the team. A better team, makes for a better product.

Joel Bancroft-Connors

The Gorilla Talker

Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email

You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP


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One comment

  1. Thank you, Rob. It was a great pleasure to write for PMChat and we’re looking forward to this weeks PMChat event.

    Joel BC and Hogarth

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  1. PMChat Recap November 18, 2011 « PMChat - [...] Project Management Methodologies. Joel contributed an excellent article for the #PMChat weekly blog comparing choosing a project management methodology ...