I like to cook. I also like to eat. Hmm, maybe I should say that the other way around. I have noticed that some people like to eat but not cook.
I like to read recipes and imagine how they would taste. I try new recipes often.
Sometimes, the results are less than stellar. Mark’s question to me is, “What haven’t you changed?” Even when the results are delicious, Mark often asks me, “What did you change?”
Even with something as simple as recipes for food, I change things to experiment and see what would fit me—my taste, my preferences—better.
I know I like recipes for these reasons:
- I have a level of comfort because I trust the recipe has worked for someone at some time.
- Since I practice cooking and reading many recipes, I have an idea if the proportions will work.
- The original recipe gives me ideas about what I might like even better.
Knowledge work is not the same as cooking. We can follow a recipe exactly. Knowledge work requires more adaptation. What is our context? What results do we want? Even more important, what are our constraints?
I am curious then when people ask me for recipes for project and program management. Or management. Or anything to do with knowledge work. I’m big on guidelines, not rules. I’m big on experiments. I want to understand what might work—and what might not work—in any given situation.
If you are thinking about using a “best practice,” ask yourself these questions:
- Is there a principle behind this practice that I can use? For example, continuous integration is a terrific practice. The principles behind CI are: limiting work in progress, seeing finished work, and the ability to get feedback fast. I have yet to see a project where CI was not helpful. On the other hand, I know of many projects where the people don’t use CI. When I explain the principles behind CI, the teams often decide they will use the principles. Sometimes, they move to CI. Sometimes, they use a kanban board, code reviews, and interim feedback. I often think the “recipe” of CI would be better. And, they have something that works for them, now.
- Am I trying to adopt something that works in a different situation? I see geographically distributed teams try to adopt Scrum wholesale, including the real-time rituals. I don’t see why team members more than four hours time zone apart would willingly volunteer for at minimum of 13 meetings in a two-week period where the meetings put stress and strain on the people. Do your constraints/proportions fit your environment?
- Does anyone trust you enough to use principles, guidelines, and then experiment to achieve the goals? I often see organization say they want to use agile, but they don’t realize they need trust and transparency to make it work.
Only you can know if you need a recipe, or if you can use guidelines and experiments.
That is the question this week: Are you using recipes, or guidelines and experiments?
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