I’ve been thinking about what signifies a healthy project. A pattern that I have seen in many places is that a lot of tasks are created and estimated, but most of them never get done. Some of them get the rare attention of recurring meetings that all end with the acknowledgement that we should talk about this later.
Most seem to believe that after a lot of tasks are created and estimated you will be able to have intimate knowledge of progress by looking at all of the defined tasks and seeing how quickly they are being finished. This sounds reasonable. Why shouldn’t it work?
Yes, why shouldn’t it? I have a theory. I believe this idea, which basically is describing the waterfall methodology of project management, is precipitated by the idea that you can easily predict your future problems. This is false. As your project progresses you discover problems you had never thought of. Some of them force you to take different paths to reach your goal. Then you also have the problem that the world is changing and the demands of your organization are changing. For this reason it’s natural that things will come in from the side that are more important than this pre-made plan of yours.
I think a good way of thinking to create a healthy project is that there are some root issues that need to be solved. You then have a rough idea how they can be solved. This is where you put your full focus as a team. Once they have been solved you have more knowledge and are for that reason able to look ahead and see other problems that need to be solved.
So from the outside, how can you know if a team is engaged with solving the problems that matter? I think the key metric is lead time. Look at the work items that your team is working on. If there is a reasonably short lead time it means that the team is agile enough to quickly handle new problems that arise. It also means that the team hasn’t spent too much time making their perfect waterfall plan.