Implementation Guiding Principles

In most cases software implementation projects start off with a clear vision of the various macro-level influences, constraints and directives that define the shape of the project at the outset. During the initiation stage the clear, consensus view on the project principles influences fully the micro-level decisions taken in terms of architecture, solution design, resourcing, scope, prioritisation, schedule and so on. The challenge for many projects is maintaining the purity of the vision across the course of the project in light of variations in uncontrollable factors such as the business context, risks becoming reality, project resources and so forth.

An effective tool to mitigate this loss of identity and direction, and the consequential impact this can have on confidence and productivity, is the definition of an unambiguous, concise set of guiding principles that are communicated early and frequently. Additional to the benefits related to a clear and strongly defined direction, principles support increased productivity through empowerment; if low level decisions align with the principles then action can be taken without time-expensive consultation.

Corporates do this, why not projects?
This approach is well established in business, with many corporates defining an aspirational, future state vision and set of guiding principles that underpin the delivery of the vision through applied influence to all activities undertaken and decisions made. Guiding principles can be very effective particularly where a culture is established that prioritises all actions taken in relation to their conformance to the principles. This level of application requires absolute confidence across the business that the principles are current, meaningful, complete and beneficial to all parties. The value of this approach at a business level can apply equally to a project.

Key Points
No more than 7. The primary value of guiding principles is the strength of the message, achieved through brevity. Telephone numbers were originally set at 7 digits as this was believed to be the most people could be expected to remember. 7 therefore seems a reasonable limit in this context.

Revisit during retrospectives. Stale principles will damage the integrity of the approach. Agility should be paramount such that principles are current and enable changes in the direction of travel whilst the project is in flight (excuse the metaphors here).

Communicate frequently. All project artefact (slides, documents etc.) should state the guiding principles and relate the content to the relevant principles, noting deviations.

All design decisions should relate to one or more principles. See above point.

Prioritisation. A simple prioritisation scheme (high, medium, low; 1,2,3 .. n) can be effective in resolving conflicts between principles.

Buy in. All project stakeholders must approve the principles and accept the impact. Without complete buy in the integrity of the approach is diminished.

Principles can be goals. Principles are often directive in nature, goals are an interesting extension to this.

Use Work.com. The Goals functionality of Work.com can provide a useful tool to manage, communicate, collaborate and report on the principles. This functionality also enables user-level goals to be mapped to the higher level goals.

Alternatives
Vision statements can be difficult to articulate, particularly where there are multiple unconnected concerns.

Project charters can be too cumbersome to be a realistic communication tool. It’s human nature to read once and subsequently ignore any project documentation that requires a time investment.

In both cases above, guiding principles can provide a complementary abbreviated formatting.

Examples
Maintainability of the solution by client administrator.

Future extensibility without technical resource.

Sales productivity improvement is the key objective.

Declarative build over technical solution options.

Quality over expediency.

Technical excellence.

Buy over build.

Alpha 1 bug count must be less than 100.

The solution will be productised internationally.

The project delivery date must be achieved.

Release early and iterate.

Business utility to be delivered every 2 weeks.

Only user-accepted features to be released.

User stories estimated at 5 days or more to be split.

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