CMMI and Agile Blog

January 15, 2017

A Key Value of Essence Related to Troubled Projects

I have been involved in the development of Essence since 2010 along with many other volunteers from around the world representing industry, academia and research.  And I have spoken on the subject of Essence at numerous universities and in many organizations including many of my own client organizations.  And the reaction I often get—to be frank—has been mixed.

Some people immediately see the potential value and react with comments like:

“Wow! I wish I knew about Essence when we were planning our last project.”

While others react with comments like:

“I don’t get it?” or

 “Why do we need it?” or

 “What’s so great about capturing what we’ve known for years?”

 Although it has taken me some time to figure it out, I now understand at least part of the reason why people react differently when first introduced to Essence.  The reason is because each person views Essence through the lens of their own experiences and perspective.  As an example, I can view my own clients as falling into two distinct types each with their own distinct experiences and perspective.

One type includes successful organizations with happy customers. These organizations have great people with proven track records of creating high quality software and meeting their cost, schedule and performance commitments within reasonable tolerances.  They come to me for coaching because they want to keep aware of the latest thinking and innovations in software development.  They do this because they know they have to keep getting better if they are to stay ahead of the competition.

The second type includes those who seek my coaching because their projects are in trouble.  Many in this group aren’t meeting their commitments and their customers aren’t happy and many don’t even know how they got into the mess they’re in.

Interestingly, it’s the first type who often respond when introduced to Essence with questions like,

“Why do we need it?” or

“What’s so great about capturing what we’ve known for years?”

 While the second type often respond with comments like,

 “I wish you were here and had told us about Essence when we were starting this project!”

When I help troubled projects I have found Essence to be an incredibly useful tool to help communicate to key organizational and project team leaders in a simple way where they went off course, and how to get back onto a healthy path.

This is a key value of Essence specifically related to troubled projects— it is a tool that can help you quickly pinpoint a problem area, and then drill down into that problem area, locating precisely what needs to be done, and then communicate the critical information to the people who need to know to get the project back on course.

I like to use a sports analogy to help explain this key value of Essence:

Most of us don’t appreciate a good referee in a well-played sporting event because we are focused on the game and the great performance of the players in the game.  But when the trouble starts, that is when the value of a good referee is recognized and appreciated by most of us.

What is interesting about this—and the parallel back to software– is that people who have only experienced successful software development efforts often don’t appreciate the value Essence can bring to– not only troubled projects– but to all projects, even the successful ones.  To help my successful clients understand this I like to ask them to think about the following:

Even though you are successful today, how confident are you that your next project will be as successful as your last?  And even for your current successful projects, how confident are you that the success you are currently experiencing will continue tomorrow?

 The point is that on all projects— successful or troubled—there is always risk of new circumstances and new challenges that can jeopardize future success.

 So what are you doing to mitigate that risk today?

While Essence clearly has proven itself in helping troubled projects today, its greatest value may actually lie in helping to mitigate the risk all software projects face of loss of essential software engineering activities that we now know exist and have captured in the simple Essence tool.

In my next video and blog I will explain two specific ways projects often get into trouble and a specific feature of Essence that can help mitigate the risk of both.

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