ITx 2018 Conference Programme

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Project Management Was The Worst Thing That Ever Happened to IT

Thursday 12:00pm - 12:30pm, ITP Conference (WCC Plenary Room)

When we impose fixed time, money, and deliverables, which is the classic project management formula, then the only variable available to a project manager is the quality of the outputs. So the moment they encounter anything at variance with the requirements and the business case (which they inevitably will, as these are complex systems), they cut short testing, training, and documentation; and they start preparing a formal defect list to be heaved over the wall into production.

We end up in the extraordinary position of being in the business of manufacturing defects which we formally deliver to our customer tied up with a ribbon and ask them to sign them off as delivered.

This is clearly insane.

So how did we get in such a ridiculous position as to be manufacturers of defects?

The answer goes back to the 1980s, and the failure of organisations to effectively govern their IT. All enterprises manage three primary resources: people, money, and information. Back then, governors of organisations were good at managing money and were starting to understand how to manage people, but information was a black art.

As the sophistication and complexity of information management grew, governors and executives became nervous at the increasing amounts of money being put into this resource and their complete lack of understanding of why and how the money was used.

Rather than actually learn and understand as they did for finance and HR, governors responded by imposing a project management framework around IT, where the benefits were promised upfront before money was handed over, and the outcomes were measured at the end.

This would have been OK if it had been done in an agile way - where a program defined what the benefits to be derived were but not how to derive them. unfortunately, IT responded in its usual excessively fastidious way by imposing pedantic engineering methodologies like Prince2 which defined in detail how to execute on delivering the outcomes.

Most of all it led to the lunacy where you don't get your money until you commit to time, cost, and deliverables. All such business cases are theatre, ceremonial, a lie.

At their heart, Agile and DevOps are fundamentally about shedding the yolk of project management and redesigning IT ways of working from first principles to build complex systems without theatre or excessive ceremony. We build systems where we iterate towards a hypothesis, exploring, failing, and incrementally growing a solution.

If you build your organisation out of projects you are building out of blocks that evaporate. A project is a transitory phenomenon, not a structural component. You probably know of one or more organisations whose BAU is whatever was left when the projects vanished.

Building a business out of projects' droppings is a bad idea. We should build our organisation out of products, with standing product teams which are a permanent function for the lifetime of the product. Our operating model is based on product not project.

The project will be at the business level. IT will provide capacity not outcome, through continuous streams of work delivering at a fixed sprint velocity.


Rob England

Teal Unicorn

Rob England B.Sc., MIITP, CITP is an independent IT management consultant, trainer, and commentator based in Wellington, New Zealand. Rob is an internationally-recognised thought leader in DevOps and IT Service Management (ITSM) and a published author of seven books and many articles. He is best known for his controversial blog and alter-ego, the IT Skeptic. He speaks regularly at international conferences.

Rob labels himself a "DevOps anticryptoequinologist". (He's interested in DevOps for horses not unicorns.)

Rob is an acknowledged contributor to The DevOps Handbook, and to ITIL (2011 Service Strategy book). Rob was awarded the inaugural New Zealand IT Service Management Champion award for 2010 by itSMFnz, and made a Life Member in 2017.