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Leaders Need Vision

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Leaders of process improvement initiatives need vision (note not the vision artifact from the unified process). 

A lot of the clients that I engage with are often in need of help to turn around an initiative that has not yielded the expected return on investment.  Ok, that is a soft way of saying that usually once things have gone awry for a while, they need a turnaround team to fix the current state and bring focus and a strategy that will yield results.

Results derived from process initiatives in software development don’t provide returns overnight for larger organizations.  These types of initiatives, with populations of software development professionals that will be impacted range from 1,000 to many thousands take time, and can span from 12 – 60 months.  Just like any other initiative that has such a long timeline, the leader must have a vision that they are driving to.  Ok, let me state that again, the leader MUST have a vision, and be committed to making and supporting decisions that will bring that vision to fruition within an achievable timeline.

One of the sports that I enjoy following is Formula 1 racing.  F1 is at the top of the food chain in motorsports, they have the biggest budgets (some in excess of $600 million a year and over 1,000 team members) just to race 2 cars in a single season.  Just like any other sport, there are the teams that are the front runners with a real chance to be the season’s champions and there are those that are the back markers, the teams in the last places on the results board.  One team, that as long as I have been a fan of F1 has always been at the low end of the results, consistently coming in last and second to last place.  The team was purchased, and the new team leader in an interview discussed the vision he had for the team which included hiring very well respected people in the industry, incremental improvements, and instilling the team with a new philosophy.  The timeline to reach this vision was a few years, and every year, up through this one, they did indeed improve.  This year they were real contenders for the championship title, and lost by a very slim margin.  This was a team that just a few years ago would have had a good race if one of their 2 cars came in 3rd from last.  Now they regularly win races and are one of the most competitive teams in the series.  All it took was vision.

I recently worked with a client that had a lot of the ingredients for real success, the success that can be discussed based on measurable results that are meaningful to the organization.  However, where this was an initiative with a lot of promise and on an upward trend to finally see returns on the significant investments they had and would still need to make, the leader of this initiative, who recently took over lacked any vision.  There has been a very visible degradation to the process implementation team, the project teams that are adopting as well as those who have already adopted.  Absent from the list of roles who have taken notice is executive management.  There is no doubt they will be taking notice in the very near term, but to date there has been very good “filtering” upward and the ride on the wave of earlier momentum is still paying dividends, albeit that is coming to an end.

The cost of this degradation will be material, in my experience as well as intimate knowledge of the environment; it will take hard work and financial commitment to get the work back on course.  Lack of vision is very costly indeed.

Joshua Barnes

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Published at DZone with permission of Joshua Barnes .

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