The following blog was written by Tom Norris, Director at Acutest:
As the Tokyo Olympics conclude, many of us will have heard medal-winning athletes describe their fanatical training regimes. For many, this involves repeating the same action thousands of times, aiming for perfection and breaking world records. And this leads to performance improvements, making the cut to enter the competition, and often medals.
However, at Acutest this approach is much less worthwhile when applied to a project which is delivering new products or services. In these cases, the repetition takes one of two forms: repeating something that has been done before (duplication where there is no need to do it again), or repeating something and expecting a different outcome (often considered to be the definition of insanity).
What are the facts:
1. Large-scale projects have a higher proportion of duplicated activities than small ones.
Studies by Acutest show that larger technology delivery projects have more duplication than smaller ones. For example, we often find IT functions write functionally identical tests more frequently, with larger numbers of tests rolled out, but no benefit beyond a more concise set of tests. They often duplicate whole cycles of testing (so the integration tests include all the system tests, or most of the tests run in acceptance testing have been previously run during earlier phases). And this duplication costs time and money, delaying delivery.
The chart below shows that even with a small number of tests, the proportion of duplicated tests increases with the total number of tests. We have often seen test suites where more than half the tests are duplicates (and removing them saves weeks of elapsed time). And of course, it is not just the tests that are a problem.
It’s a funny thing but the quickest win we deliver when we are rescuing failing projects is to rationalise the work being done and remove duplication (which is easier to write about than to do).
2. Failing projects blindly reuse the techniques that caused the problem
When something is going wrong in a project, we often see cycles of re-planning using the same approach used for planning the earlier “failed” deliveries. Often members of the team or the programme director are changed, but the techniques are the same at their core. The only difference is that people are instructed to work faster. And it comes as no surprise when the new plan does not work either. Just more frustration and wasted resources for the project team.
Once again, in our experience, if a plan or delivery has gone wrong, or takes much longer than expected, something needs to change. On one project, the programme director (on their fourth planning cycle), was asked to change the techniques for identifying the priority deliverables. They said: “if we had known we could do it like that, we would have done that in the first place”. They realised that they needed to deliver a core set of components first, despite what the contract said. They had to use a new technique to find out what really mattered, to achieve the desired customer outcomes.
Constant repetition might work for top athletes, but is a certain way of delaying new products and services.
And as we know, there are no medals for being late.
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