Niels was proposed by Grant. I have to admit I had never heard of Niels before Grant proposed him, but when I see the list of people Grant put him in (that I did know) I was intrigued. Unfortunately Grant died before I could ask him about Niels. With some googling I found that Niels taught at SkillsMatter. He even created Evolutionary Project Management (or Planning as he calls it now). Instead of me using google to find out more about Niels, why don’t we listen to the man himself?
What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?
I have no idea. Or, perhaps, that I am very risk-averse. Failure is not an option. And I made it my drive to research and teach people how never to fail in projects any more. As Cobb said in 1989 (“Cobb’s Paradox”): “We know why projects fail – we know how to prevent their failure – so why do they still fail?” I agree: Projects don’t deserve to fail. They don’t have to. Marketing this knowledge (as Cobb already indicated) is, however, not easy, as people usually think that project failure is to be expected. After all, they hardly ever get fired if a project fails.
If you would not have been in IT, what would have become of you?
I am not ’in IT’. I am helping individuals, projects and organizations to become more successful in a shorter time. I do help a lot of IT projects and I have a lot of experience in that corner, but I also help a lot of other projects. Actually, I’m an electronics engineer who is still capable of designing complex electronic systems. When coaching embedded systems development teams, this comes as a benefit.
What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?
My biggest challenge is to get people to understand the essence of my ideas, before they are trying them out. Once people start trying them out, they see the great benefit (both for themselves and for their organization) and love it. Before they start trying them out they often resist trying. After all, they have been running projects for ages. They know how to run projects. They are using the latest project management hypes. What useful ideas could I possible add to that? What could possibly have a significant impact on their performance that they don’t know of? They seem not to have any idea what I’m talking about until they start doing it and I’m still struggling how I can explain better beforehand. It reminds me about the saying: The proof of the pudding is in the eating. How can one experience the taste of a pudding before actually eating it?
Project success depends on a lot of small but important details. If I explain all these details in a conversation or a tutorial, people don’t understand the essence of the details, because their own context is missing. To me, what I am telling about is hard practice. To them, it’s still theory, which has to be translated to their own situation. They feel uncertainty which creates resistance. That’s why, instead of doing public workshops, some 10 years ago I started Project Coaching, or what I call “Just in Time Training”: standing in the mud with the people in a project or organization, showing what to do in the current situation using these ideas. In this case I suggest we do this. In that case that. A lot of people I coached thought that what I was telling was clear and that they could easily apply it. Until I started coaching them. Then they suddenly realized that they had had no clue about what I really meant. And that what I really meant made them so much more efficient, doing a lot more in much shorter time. Example: It feels good to be getting in control of my work. It’s incredible to me that in all the time I’ve been doing this kind of work, for several different companies, no one has ever provided me with this kind of help. Recently my manager commented again that he was surprised about all the work I’ve been getting done lately, so I told him it’s due to using Evo (the label I put on everything that works better). Whether this challenge is good for me? I have no idea. Additional note: recently I started coaching a large project. The project manager said: “I’ve been a project manager for 23 years. I’ve all the diplomas. I wonder what magic you can still add to that.” A seasoned consultant hired to speed up the project said something similar: “I’ve been working as a consultant for years, helping projects with specific knowledge. With so many years experience, what can you still tell me?” Both were convinced within about an hour. The consultant said: “You didn’t waste one minute of my time!”
What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?
“Why don’t you use the words Agile and Lean?” I don’t use hype-words, as I don’t like the hypes which come and go. These hypes are often misused by consultants making a business out of teaching the new hype, rather than teaching how to get better results. They sell tricks rather than results and when people start trying out the tricks they think they mightily improved. Bottom line: did your project succeed in shorter time? That’s not the success the developers think they achieved. It’s what the customers think and experience. The most important metric I use is the size of the smile of the customer. A lot of Agile and Lean I see around me is neither agile nor lean. That’s why at a recent seminar, my presentations were about the ‘essence of Lean and Agile’, rather than the hype. After all, project-results pay salaries. Processes don’t. For more examples, see: What is the essence of being Lean and Agile?
What drives you?
There is so much waste in projects and organizations, to the detriment of the people’s and organization’s dignity. Furthermore, project failures are paid by all of us. That’s obvious if public organizations are involved, because they spend our taxes. It’s however also the case when private organizations waste time and money, because it makes the products we buy more expensive. I know we can do a lot about this and I try to help people to do something about this. If they want to improve (that’s the catch. As Deming already said: Survival isn’t compulsory.
What is your biggest achievement?
I don’t recall achieving big things. I think I achieve a lot of little things and most of them become so obvious to me that I don’t see them as achievements. I helped a lot of people to become more productive and they feel the excitement and are proud of it (see some testimonials, link above). After all, if people achieve more, are more successful, I have achieved my goal. One thing that comes to mind is developing Evolutionary Planning (see e.g. booklets#2 and #7, which (now I have heard about Lean) is very Lean and it is the starting point for people to become more successful.
What is the last book you have read?
Walter Shewhart: Economic control of quality of manufactured product (1932). It’s a shame that this book wasn’t used at university when I was studying electronics (1967-74). It shows, among a lot of other things, the background of the Shewhart Cycle (Design-Manufacture-Sell-Observe-Redesign), as Deming called it. Deming later called it the Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycle. This is the first book about statistics that I could keep reading from start to end, as if it was an exciting novel.
Update: If you like the questions, you can read more like these in the book: who is agile