Everyone who's ever supervised a software project has been there--the six-month project that stays 80% done for six weeks. The application that runs out of funding before it runs out of defects. The mega-project that rolls over one fiscal year into the next with status meetings that are just depressing.
All these scenarios indicate one thing: you're stuck. Either you're stuck with an aggressive timeline that's gone crazy, or the project is up against an obstacle that keeps it stuck in one place.
When this happens, your professionals may run out of fresh ideas and become demoralized. Extended periods of overtime just wear everyone out and strain the work environment. The ordinary personal issues that people normally take in stride become distracting hassles. "Happy Hour" takes on an ironic tone.
You want to add "resources" (technical people), but that's not in the budget and you know about Brooks' Law anyway. (Adding people to a project that's running late just makes it even later.) What you really need is a one-time boost to get your team past the mental and technical blocks that are holding it back.
If your project is heading for derailment, you don't necessarily need a bigger crew; maybe all you need is to get the tracks cleared so you can keep moving. That's why I created the Critical Results Now℠ program. It's designed to remove the obstacles that stymie progress, frustrate your team, and throw your project off. Critical Results Now℠ turns paralysis into progress, sharpens your team, and gets the project back on track.
In one day on site with your team, the Critical Results Now℠ solution includes some or all of:
We always focus on the problems you've identified as most urgent, or on systemic issues that are inhibiting overall progress.
If your project has been reporting "no change" in status meetings, or one technical problem is highlighted week after week with no resolution, or if your development staff has turned to dark humor, what you're doing probably isn't working. You can keep trying harder, or you can use some short-term help to get past the obstacles. That's when you want Critical Results Now℠.
"All successful projects are the same; but all failing projects are failing in different ways." The great Russian novelist Tolstoy was actually talking about dysfunctional families, but his insight is spot on with software projects. There is no one answer. That's why my complex, holistic, and geeky approach really works... in three different ways:
First off, there is the simple benefit of my fresh eyes. I'm good at spotting the habits and assumptions that hamper creativity--and software development is always a creative task, or you're underutilizing your team! Part or all of your team may have overcommitted their minds to a technical idea that just isn't going to work out, or one that's more work than it's worth. Break a habit, break a logjam. It's that simple.
Second thing, I study the systems and relationships that keep your team going (or blocked). Who is listened to? What skills are marginalized? Where are the blockages or points of resistance? What kinds of decisions stick and what are the recurring frustrations? This may sound like high-falutin' grad school stuff, but it's really just a matter of paying attention to things that everyone observes but doesn't talk about.
Third thing, everyone has micro-gaps in their technical knowledge: I fill in those gaps directly, by applying my own tech skills; or indirectly, by showing a team member where to get help. That might be some one-on-one cube tutoring; it could be a hardcopy book; maybe it's just restating the problem.
I worked with a really big manufacturer whose new .NET application worked fine on a development laptop but always locked up on the test server. I dropped some Debug.WriteLine statements into the troubled code section and found that it had spawned an interlocking local thread. On a dual-core CPU, the spawned thread ran to completion, released its locks, and allowed the main thread to continue. The single-CPU test server revealed the problem, which we resolved by changing the thread model.
Another time, I resolved a long-standing design battle by encouraging the "insurgent" side to develop a stripped-down implementation of their proposal instead of arguing theory. That revealed the fatal flaws in their model faster, more convincingly, and far less violently than the verbal showdown they were headed for. The team moved forward without any lingering design doubts or requests for do-overs.
Ah, but it's not really one day. Before you commit to a day of Critical Results Now℠, we talk on the phone for about an hour--you, me, and maybe one or two key technical leaders. I ask a lot of questions about your project, its timeline, and how it got stuck. In between that conference call and Day Zero, I perform research and maybe some experiments. I might call back to solicit more details or to give short-term advice. Then we get together for a concentrated day of heavy lifting--you'll definitely want to have lunch sent in, and make mine Indian.
Finally, I document what has been improved, changed, or solved; and we plan a debriefing session about a week later. At the debriefing, your team can ask followup questions and discuss strategies for further improvement. I use this opportunity to fill in technical gaps I may have missed the first time around.
Yeah, that happens sometimes, comes with the territory.
All that having been said, while I truly envision Critical Results Now℠ as a single on-site day, it can easily be extended to two or three days. The key, though, is always high-efficiency technical problem solving, peer education, and improving your processes.
Much of the help I provide is technology-agnostic; it really doesn't matter whether you're doing Windows, Unix, infrastructure, legacy systems, or something completely new. But Critical Results Now℠ is ideal for stuck projects in applications that are already using--or trying to get into--.NET, Visual Studio (C# and VB.NET), varieties of AJAX, and SQL implementations including MySQL, Oracle, and SQL Server. I have a broad background in software development, so I've probably seen and worked successfully in a shop like yours.
But if that still isn't enough, I offer this guarantee. If you fulfilled the briefing requirement, and your team was present and participating on the on-site day, but you don't agree that I helped your team--just ask and I will cheerfully return your money, and we can still be friends. Your money back if not satisfied.
If you're still on the fence about this, maybe Critical Results Now℠ isn't the right choice for you today. But if you're still hovering over the Contact link, just call me anyway and we'll figure out how I can help, even if it's just friendly advice or a suggestion that doesn't require a fee. I'd hate for anyone to miss out because of uncertainty or unanswered questions.
If, on the other hand, your stuck project is ready for some concentrated learning and problem-solving, let's get in touch. Go right to the contact form or just call me at 216-661-2000 and we'll get started immediately!
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