Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Building a Snowman - A Federal Analogy

A couple of weeks ago in the DC area, we got quite a bit of snow. Being that there was snow, my three and half year old son and I decide to make a snowman.

We get dressed and go out and start making the snowman. I show him what I’m doing and how to make a snowman. He’s helping out a bit here and there and everything is fine for a little while.

He soon loses attention and decides he wants to play with the shovel, which is fine. He’s playing with a shovel and I’m making a snowman. Once he sees my snowball really take shape, he decides he wants his own snowball. I stop what I’m doing, make a snowball for him and show him what to do with it.

Soon my snowball gets larger and the boy wants me to stop my snowball and make his larger. He then decides he doesn’t like the way I roll my snowball and wants me to only pat the snow into the snowball. He then doesn’t like the way I pat it and wants me to pat it a specific way.

Eventually, he says it’s cold and wants to go back inside. So I wrap up the snowman, take a picture and we’re done.

Our happy snowman!

So what’s the point? As I was going over this in my head, I had a little laugh and realized that there are quite a few similarities between that experience and experiences in the Federal government. Now I wouldn’t be so condescending as to say it’s like working with a 3 year old; I’ve worked with and continue working with many sharp, skilled, and high functioning Feds. The similarities to the snowman exercise lie in the way the projects can get distracted and derailed. It’s the execution of the bureaucracy, governance, and politics that can cause the distractions to the projects. Note I say execution because the questions that the Feds want answered are fine. Things like identifying how much value has been delivered, is this project still viable, are the systems secured are all valid questions, the inefficiencies lie in the way the questions are posed and artifacts or evidence that is required/mandated to answer these questions.

Now back to the snowman, the point of this exercise wasn’t to build the snowman; I could have left the boy inside the house and built a super-snowman in half the time. The point is to enjoy the time with my son.

When working on a Federal project, is the true goal the stated goals of the project/program/organization?  It should be, but the nuance is to be able to work with the Feds and help define and direct the implementation of the vision towards actual project success. Along the way, it would be great for us Agile-ists to try to affect true Agile change in these organizations where we can.


  1. Yeah its a good article. According to you what we project managers do is communicating. And a lot of this communication is done during project meetings. It can sometimes feel like you are running from one meeting to another and that your time is often wasted. Meetings don’t start on time, the issues aren’t dealt with, there is no agenda, there is no focus, nobody assigns any follow ups or tasks and of course then they also don’t end on time. An efficient project manager is required for the good management of a project. I think a project manager should PMP certified. Looking forwards to apply what I learned in PMP classes in my company.

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