Transparency and High Visibility: How to Keep a Stupidly Large Project Alive and Healthy

I may have alluded to this in previous posts, but let me try to sum up The Hell That Is What Our Team Is Working On Right Now:

We have been given 6 months to complete a web application that is basically a (beautiful and much improved) replica of an existing suite of desktop apps that took us two years to build.  Oh, and we started with pretty much no web experience.  Oh, and our deadline is Jan 1.  Merry Xmas to me; this year I want Xanax.

After going through the complete Kübler-Ross model, we got focused and got started.

Let me tell you some facts about what we are working with: it involves people from a wide variety of departments across the company as well as a lot of hardware/tools/”things” that we do not have any sort of clear concept of yet.  As a result, it has been very hard to get information and fairly hard to specify and figure out which stories a) have enough information to be worked on and b) won’t incur too much change as people figure out what’s going on.

Obviously, we’re building this iteratively.  Because how the hell else can you build something when you get new bits of information every week?  At any rate, this product is essentially changing the face of our company and there are a lot of stakeholders.  This thing needs to be gold in everyone’s eyes.

So how have we been making this work?

1. Transparency

We use V1: Agile Enterprise as our project management tool.  The team uses the storyboard to move stories across the various stages of development, and we use tasks within that to log any issues that come up during testing.  If we log a task within a story, that story gets kicked back for rework.  We have ten columns on our board, so it is very easy to tell what is going on with a story, whether it’s in code, in review, in test, etc (you may have more or fewer; ten was the sweet spot we eventually came to through trial and error).  Anyone on the team can see at any time what is being worked on and where in it’s life a story is.  They can look at tasks within the story to see what kinds of stuff is being kicked back.  Our boss, who is in a different location, can go in at any time and see where bottlenecks are and what needs improvement and then formulate a plan to resolve any issues.  You can use index cards, other programs, carrier pigeons….whatever works for you.  But having this very high level of transparency about what is being worked on has been great for all parties involved.

2. High Visibility

I’ve mentioned our weekly demos in previous posts, but they very much bear repeating.  Without these weekly demos, this product would not be anywhere near the level of quality and, let’s not kid ourselves, awesomeness that it is now.  We have all of the people working on the product as well as our boss and the CIO (a major stakeholder with a lot of knowledge about the rest of the company’s involvement in the product) in the demo, and everyone’s input is equally valuable.  By doing these weekly demos we can ensure that the workflow we have envisioned works, and if it doesn’t we can figure out exactly what we need to change right then and there.  All parties involved can give feedback and present their thoughts on the issue and we can all put our heads together for some critical thinking and problem solving.  Even if it’s something like a minor design change we are very much able to address problems then and there, and sometimes devs will even make changes in the code right away in the demo so we can see what it looks like.  No need to wait 3 days for an email response or call someone and wait for them to get the answer.  Building this product iteratively with high visibility has been an incredible experience; watching it all come together, being able to make immediate tweaks to a system rather than finding out in beta that we’ve completely hosed something, bonding with each other during this hellacious time…I wouldn’t trade it.  It’s been intensely valuable to us, and the product? looks absolutely fantastic as a result.

3. Communication

Which brings me back to the root of every good and bad thing that I ever talk about: communication.  We communicate issues on the taskboard, we communicate the progress of a story on the storyboard, we communicate what is done to stakeholders by way of weekly demos, and we talk all the time to make sure everything and everyone is on the right page.  With this short, rapidly approaching deadline, we don’t have a lot of time for rework and dicking around.  We are all working together and keeping everyone in the know to make this project happen.  Without this intensely high level of communication we would be halfway through the project and it would look awful and we’d all be looking for new jobs come January. 

4. Awesomeness

Our team is incredible.  I love them like a weird family (the way I imagine carnival sideshow acts are a family), and without all of our contributions I can guarantee that we never would have come this far.  I just want to say I love you guys and cannot tell you how amazing it has been to work with you on this mind-numbing, hair-graying, frustrating, wonderful project.  You all bring, give, and do so much, and I sincerely appreciate all of it.  Let’s drink all the beer (in the world) Jan 2.

– The Bearded Lady

1 comment so far

  1. bernard on

    you are having quite an experience.
    seems looking into mirror of time for me.
    best wishes in the new year.

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