I was able to interview Jean-Baptiste Crouigneau on a project initially aimed at defining a test strategy in this episode.
It turned out that the initial request was intended to serve another purpose, including supporting the delay of a strategic project.
I wanted to share the practices that we identified in retrospective from our sharing:
- Incorporate the context of intervention
- Identify the direct and indirect objectives of a project
- Understand the real expectations of the interlocutors
- Knowing how to stand firm on your convictions and values
- Adapt certain deliverables so that they are of higher value
- Bonus: Automation can delay a project
The following sections detail the points with actionable recommendations.
Incorporate the context of intervention
Relying on our instincts and weak signals can guide us in our step of discovering the context.
Like an investigator who follows his clues, we may encounter key elements of the project upstream.
This is also a practice that Lionel Ducrocq told us in this interview (<link>).
Taking the context into account is more or less difficult depending on the complexity and our degree of familiarity with it.
Keep a wide prism, an overview and perspective at the start of the project. Like a video game, you have to explore the map in small pieces to understand the global map.Antoine Craske
Concretely, it is advisable to keep a wide prism on the first phase, by meeting for example a maximum of direct and indirect interlocutors of the project.
This is the time to practice active listening, ask questions instead of providing them, and step back.
In order to get a complementary vision, I recommend mixing individual and small group formats.
The individual model allows you to create a more direct relationship, to focus on your point of view, and is more conducive to informal sharing.
Small-group formats make it possible to understand the dynamics of actors and interests and to bring out other elements.
I can also recommend using his network, which may have experience or indirect knowledge of the organization.
Maximizing these inputs upstream will make it possible to identify the risk areas to be developed as soon as possible.
Identify the direct and indirect objectives of a project
Let’s assume that the project objectives are formalized from a business and corporate perspective.
If not, I strongly recommend that you deal with this important failure factor first, as shared in this event <QE FR output 1 link>.
Once the direct goals are available, the next step will be to understand the indirect goals.
They vary in importance depending on the context of the project. In the case of Jean-Baptiste, it was a question of delaying a strategic project.
We come back to the ability to interact with the right people, in the right context, by asking the questions that can put us on track.
First, understand what the organization’s strategic challenges are in its ecosystem, putting yourself in the shoes of top management.
Then zoom into the context of the particular project.
Who is it sponsored by? Are there only internal or rather external? Who are the people in charge of the project? Who do you think has influence beyond job titles?
In addition, understanding whether a similar project has already been carried out or would be carried out in parallel can allow us to understand the priorities and how the organization has already reacted to similar initiatives.
Dig according to your instincts and the clues available to date, maximizing your interview through good preparation.
You should be able to clearly answer the following questions:
- Why is this project important for the company?
- What are the direct and indirect objectives of the project, from top management to the local project team?
- What are the implicit and explicit structuring assumptions?
Understand the real expectations of the interlocutors
Having a helicopter view and an understanding of the context, the zoom can be done at the level of the interlocutors.
Like a testing strategy, you should prioritize your effort. Use a stakeholder matrix for example in order to focus on the most important ones.
The challenge will be to identify their real expectations knowing that they will not be clearly expressed, it will be necessary to read between the lines.
Real expectations will rarely be expressed, it will be necessary to read between the lines.Antoine Craske
Personally I strongly believe in understanding the past, models and analyzing patterns to project possible scenarios.
Concretely, it is therefore necessary to identify the person’s history, the professional part often being partly available online.
Through empathy and trying to understand a different point of view, one can be successful in obtaining useful leads.
This should be combined with a good active listening technique to detect information useful for the project.
Knowing how to stand firm on your convictions and values
In the story shared by Jean-Baptiste, we feel that the pressure was strong, from general management to the project manager.
In a weak position, arriving in the middle of a project, and wanting to satisfy the stakeholders, one can easily give in to what is requested.
The problem is that the demands are rarely realistic, with too many stakes and constraints on what is possible to achieve.
It is not a good investment to give in to short-term pressure, although it is easier said than done.
The alternative shared throughout history has been to work on two proposed alternatives based on the constraints and working hypotheses.
The objective is to structure an argument illustrating that if none of the solutions is acceptable, a variable must be changed either in hypotheses or in solution level.
Experience can also help to feel more confident. However having reliable, validated and supported information is undeniably useful.
I also think that following our professional value system is something that we feel deep inside us in these decision-making moments.
Investing for the medium to long term seems the best bet and will highlight the problems sooner rather than creating more important ones later.
Adapt certain deliverables so that they are of higher value
The standards and models exist in part to simplify our life.
They are extracted from cross-experiences on similar issues with the aim of providing reusable content.
This does not mean, however, that they must be followed to the letter. I am convinced that adaptation and context are key.
In the example of the test strategy, beyond its necessary content if the objective is to contribute to project scenarios, providing a simulation tool can be very useful.
A supplement can also be provided in connection with the prioritization of requirements or management by risks, if it is not understood in the context of the intervention.
We come back to the previous points: adapt your deliverables to the context, to the expectations of the organization and of the interlocutors.
If, for example, stakeholders are more comfortable with visual formats and demonstrations, enhance the deliverables with this type of content.
Bonus: Automation can delay a project
I also wanted to share a point about automation.
The book relating the implementation of the Mainframe at IBM is at the origin of Brooks’ law “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”.
In the story shared by Jean-Baptiste, the client pushes for the implementation of test automation to save time within the constraints of the project.
As with the integration and coordination effort of an additional developer, adding automation in the middle of a project will just add heavy overheads.
Adding ongoing test automation to a project will most likely delay it.Antoine Craske
It is therefore necessary to fully measure this type of decision, and probably limit its implementation to a limited scope, frequent execution and with known tools and processes.
If not, it is probably another added risk to the project which materializes in delays downstream of the project.
Detect a hidden agenda is a complex art
The various learning and practices extracted from this experience are strongly linked to our behavior and analytical skills.
Judging the context remains key to prioritizing good actions, as there are often strong time constraints.
I hope this article has been useful to you in sharing, concrete and actionable. Comment or react to continue the sharing.
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