Friday, 3 October 2008

GetThings Done: Always have a safe backup

In most projects I've ever done time has always been an issue. The pressure is always on to 'Just get it done' and the temptation is there to rush off and get as much done quickly as soon as possible. I've talked elsewhere about the need for good planning. I haven't talked much though about the need for delivering regularly, little and often, rather than developing lots of things and delivery it all in a big release.

This analogy just came to me about why it's always important to deliver a working solution regularly rather than just keep developing with out delivering for a long time.

The analogy is about climbing a cliff face. Now to be fair I'm not a climber so I may not be completely accurate but the concept should hopefully be clear.

I start by introducing two teams of four climbers each, Team A the 'rushers' and Team B the 'plodders'. We'll see how the names pan out. Now the challenge is just to climb a cliff face. It's in the middle of nowhere and subject to all sorts of weather. By all accounts its pretty precarious. Both teams are of about the same skill level and have the same types of equipment and knowledge of the cliff.

Team A are full of people who just want to get to the top and don't see the need for building base camps and putting in pegs to secure themselves at regular intervals. They just focus on getting to the top and only take enough rations and equipment to get them there. They just set off and start climbing.

Team B are a bit more methodical, they check they've got the right equipment and spares and make sure it all works. Then set off an hour after team B. Team B also build a base camp every hundred or so metres which take anything from 20 minutes to an hour and plan to rest half way to keep their strength up.

Team A obviously race away and get half way up the cliff in just a few hours. They've had a few mistakes and picked up a few minor injuries but they're doing well.

At the same time Team B are only a quarter of the way up. They're well rested and in good spirits. They've already got a few sets of pegs hammered in place should they fall.

Anyway the challenge carries on, Team A race ahead with Team B moving slowly up the mountain all the while losing ground. Very quickly though the weather goes very bad. Visibility is just a few metres and the cliff face is becoming treacherous with the wind and rain lashing down on it.

Team A are just half an hour from the top so they decide to press on. They don't have enough equipment to wait around in the first place. Once they reach the top they'll be fine and the weather looks like it'll get worse. Team B think sod it and just setup a camp just over half way up to wait it out.

The weather just keeps getting worse but Team A haven't setup camp. They now find it really difficult with every inch they climb. Soon enough on of the slips. They're all attached to each other so the faller is caught but the fall badly damages the hands of both the faller and his teammate just behind who took the brunt of supporting him. Now they'll find it really difficult to carry on. They've got no choice though so they have to press on. They get within siteof the summit and suddenly another of their team falls. This time it's more serious, with their injuries and tiredness they're finding it difficult to hold on and another falls at the same time. They can't hold their team members up for long.

The story for Team A is now dependent on their luck and team B. I could just say Team A fall to their deaths but then that's pretty harsh and I'm not writing a horror here. I picked this scenario because the projects I've been involved in often feel like we're climbing a cliff face. I've taken the approach of Team A and I've seen many others do the same. I've found so many times that within site of the end point all manor of things come out of the wood work and stop me every getting to the end. That's what the weather represents.

Team B's story is that they completed the climb later that day in about the time they'd predicted. They took twice as long to reach the same point as Team A but then without the weather they'd have got there sooner. They rescued Team A who had managed to hang on for the several hours it took for Team B to arrive. Team B were able to give Team A food and water and some first aid since they had extra provisions. Both Teams reach to the top together. Team B enjoyed the climb had just a few cuts and bruises and plenty of energy left. They went on to climb the rest of the mountain over the next few days. Team A were tired, hungry and couldn't carry on any further.

It's a harsh story but I've tried to show how proper planning and a methodical approach to the boring things such as security and safety ensured that Team B got where they were going on time and could carry on. Team A just rushed and paid scant attention to basic safety precautions and ended up putting themselves in danger and didn't finish any of the tasks they'd set for themselves.

So while this climb was fictional, the projects I've worked on aren't. I don't always aim to deliver sooner than other teams and now you might understand a little why. I aim to get where I said I be when I said I'd be there and then to be ready to build on what I've achieved
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