Recently, a team of University of Cincinnati Master of Science in Information Systems students completed a case study on our ENCORE approach to project management. I’m delighted to say the team earned a perfect score for their hard work! This case study not only provided the means for achieving high marks for this high-performing group of students, but it also gave us a chance to revisit the need for creating this business process in the first place.
As career software professionals, we have seen the rise and fall of several incarnations, and sometimes mutations, of the two major project management methodologies.
Initially, just about everyone used the Waterfall method. This was adequate when release cycles were long enough to allow for massive projects which required years for implementation. The timelines were stringent, but there was usually enough time in the development cycle to accommodate the research, design, and implementation of multiple features and enhancements. This was by no means a perfect method. It relied strongly on the self-organization, discipline, and accountability of every player. If there wasn’t an official or self-appointed project manager in place, management often learned too late that there was a major issue. Many times, the software wasn’t tested until the end of the development cycle, creating a huge potential for items to slip through the cracks with very little opportunity to address them.
As technology evolved, competition and culture demanded shorter development cycles. A consistent stream of new applications, features, fixes and updates became necessary to stay relevant and please market demands. Agile project management was created to address this faster-paced environment and create a culture of accountability. The idea was simple, break each project into short segments or “sprints”, so that a portion of work could be implemented, tested, and demonstrated before the next sprint began. Daily status calls would hold team members accountable and allow them to identify roadblocks early. A new feature couldn’t be added without a comparable one being pushed out. Sounded good in theory, but we know that Agile wasn’t a silver bullet. Stricter business processes eat up more time. Scope creep will happen if the right person mandates it.
Once we formed Grass Roots Software, we saw the potential for similar issues happening with our clients. Since we weren’t a part of a client’s existing culture and didn’t have years of experience navigating their organization, the risks were even greater. The last thing we needed was another project management methodology, though. We decided we need a new approach. Our solution was to use the Agile methodology of project management and apply our ENCORE approach to it. Always keeping in mind that the client’s existing processes, culture, and technical environment are key to every deployment, we created a simple, flexible approach to mitigate risk. A business process evolved based on three simple actions: ENgage, COllaborate, REalize.
ENgage: Get to know the client. Meet the necessary players, understand their business, their technical environment, business processes, organizational structure. Learn about their challenges and what they are trying to achieve. Create a good foundation for a successful project implementation.
COllaborate: Work with the client-side teams to share knowledge. Keep communication open and consistent. Use your engagements to start collaboration on project requirements as early as possible. Make sure you know where the project stands and the client has access to the same information. New engagements may result from collaboration.
REalize: Show incremental and consistent progress. Demonstrate implemented features to relevant players at the end of each sprint. Demos may lead to new engagements or collaborations. A successfully completed project is the ultimate goal to be realized, but it can also be a path to re-engagement with the client.
Common sense, right? We think so. It’s really a quite simple approach. It shouldn’t need a lot of tweaking or a total reboot. We’re engineers that have been doing this a long time. We understand the value of re-using a powerful tool and adding a wrapper around it to suit your specific needs.
Finally, I wanted to thank the team of graduate students who found our ENCORE approach interesting enough to study in-depth. We appreciate the opportunity to revisit our business approach and wish you the best of luck in your studies and careers!
Learn more about our approach to project management.
Feel free to leave a comment below.