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Enough with the Spreadsheets!

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Boring spreadsheet meeting
Who doesn't like sitting around all afternoon while somebody updates a spreadsheet?
Woo Hoo! Good times.

I get to watch a lot of project teams on a lot of different projects, so I get to see how teams organize their work and track it. And let's face it -- some things keep team energy and productivity high and some seem to drive it into the ground.

Working from a spreadsheet drives it into the ground.

What's interesting is how easy it is to do this yet how difficult it is to recognize and talk about.

You all know what I'm talking about. Somebody somewhere thinks it's a good idea to keep something in a computer. Maybe it's a list of project stories, a release plan, or the tasks everybody is currently working on. It's an easy and totally natural thing. Who wants to do things by hand when the computer can do them much easier?

The problem is that simply because something is easier for you doesn't mean it's easier for everybody else. Tracking a hundred tasks for the current sprint on a spreadsheet may be an awesome and efficient use of your time. Taking 3 hours of team time while they watch you update it is not.

Ever been on a project that started wordsmithing? You know, the ones where there is a report or something to create and everybody wants to agree on terms. So somebody brings up a Microsoft Word on the screen and everybody goes through the doc line by excruciating line. Should that be a comma or a semicolon? Is the word "with" exact enough or should we use "as part of" instead? What's our opinion on fonts?!?

It's not just Excel or Word. We do this with PowerPoint, with MS Project , with just about anything. Anything that can appear on the screen is something we can subject the rest of our team to.

I had a Scrum Master last month that was getting a project started. They asked the team: do you want to use a spreadsheet or just cards? The team all voted cards. The Scrum Master decided nope, the team was going to use a spreadsheet. After all, which was easier?

The problem here is the question "easier for whom?" For most meetings and communications regarding the team, very simple things are required. Instead we make the input much more complicated so we can generate nifty reports later on. We quickly get into spots where the actual work involved from the team is more related to the complexity of the tool than the value of the decisions being made.

It's crazy. We should stop doing it.

Take Microsoft Project for example. It's not unusual for projects to have dependencies. It's also not unusual for tasks in a project to have dependencies. Dependency management is an important thing to enter and track. But Project is one of a few tools where it's very easy to get your project into a state that even you don't understand. You can end up spending hours only to have to rework major portions. Want to bring your team along with you on that journey?

A wise person said once to make things just as complicated as they need to be and not a bit more. That means if you're meeting to size stories; find a quick way for the team to do that. Use cards, or planning poker, or High/Medium/Low. Whatever you do, keep the energy high and the team moving quickly. If you're meeting to task stories, why not hand the stories out on cards and have the team all task them at once? Does everybody need to watch while you type in each task one-by-one into a spreadsheet? If you're demonstrating your story at a showcase, do we need an hour-long PowerPoint and history of the story? Or just some simple context, what you did, and whether the story is done or not?

That doesn't mean that you won't have difficult and technical conversations, only that they should be the exception, not the rule. And basic project tracking things should NOT be technical in nature. If you want to use a cool tool, do it on your own time.

Most of the time, what you need from the team is very simple. Whatever your role is, what the team needs from you is simple too: keep it upbeat and make their work as easy as you can.

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This page contains a single entry by DanielBMarkham published on June 2, 2009 6:22 PM.

Resveratrol is Best Vitamin Hack So Far was the previous entry in this blog.

Agile Project Management Is Like Teenage Sex is the next entry in this blog.

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