Information Technology Dark Side

Struggles of a Self-Taught Coder

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When Project Cultures Collide

March 20th, 2009 · No Comments

Back when I was still a minion of the dark side (corporate IT – wow that seems so long ago now) I frequently had difficulty obtaining services from other parts of the organization in a way that complemented the agile approach my project teams utilized. Every time I interacted with infrastructure, for instance, they wanted all of my requirements upfront, so they could do comprehensive once-and-done design. “I’d rather build out our infrastructure incrementally,” I would say, and sometimes I would be successful, but… mostly not. When other project managers would ask me how I was able to pull off agile in a waterfall world, I would often say something like “it leaves a lot of scars” because the truth is my approach just didn’t fit in.

Now that I work in a group that has really embraced lean and I have a technical role much more than I used to, I don’t run into that problem as much. Trust me, I don’t miss that issue. But occasionally I have to interact with an outside service provider who has a notion about the “right way” that can make things much more complicated than it needs to be. It’s not as frustrating as the problems I would encounter in the dark side when there was outside pressure to do BUFD or BUFR, but it is still difficult to deal with.

Here are some tips for dealing with outsiders who don’t usually work the way you do:

  • Explain your approach and see how they respond. Sometimes you will find an unexpected ally by telling them there are simply some aspects of the future you can’t predict and that you want to build something up incrementally and postpone technical commitments as long as you can without being irresponsible. Sometimes you’ll get derision. I’ve been called a cowboy more than once.
  • Find a different way. One of the beauties of technology is there are so many options. I think it’s okay to take the path of least resistance if you are blocked by an uncooperative, unresponsive, or simply slow moving bureaucracy.
  • Pick your battles. Don’t let a philosophical difference about project managemetn become a barrier between you and service provides. Minimize the differences when you talk about your approach, and don’t escalate conflict to higher levels of animosity than necessary.
  • Do the bare minimum to get by. I was always amazed by the answers I got when I asked infrastructure people what the absolute least amount of paperwork I had to to do to get resources was. It was often a tiny percentage of the massive forms they provided. Find out what parts of the process they measure and care about, make yourself look good there, and ignore the rest.
  • Get in the door, then collude with the people on the floor.This goes along with the previous point. Sometimes, it’s smart to just get through the engagement process to the point where you are working one on one with the actual service provider (not their agent/manager) and corrupt them with your subversive ideas.
  • Talk about goals when people want BUFD/BUFR. Often, people really only want to see the big picture when they ask for your requirements upfront. So, tell them a story, and make the questions you don’t know the answers to part of the story. Once they see the problems you are tackling, they’ll have a better sense of why you can’t define everything up front and they may not even expect you to.
  • “Because we’re using scrum” is not a reason. Arguing project methodologies is a waste of time and will only make it harder for you to engage with waterfall service providers. Talk about real problems, not abstract philosophical concepts of project management.
  • Good luck.


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