How you should learn from Sure Step

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Sword & stone (Excalibur) by Midnight-digital (Not leaving ! Just very busy) (opens in a new window) Prescriptive methodologies, such as Sure Step, are double-edged swords. They are aimed at increasing repeatability, consistency, traceability, manageability and more of your projects, yet they seemingly increase overhead and contribute to an inflated project price tag.

As a result, companies sometimes offer excuses such as: it would be too expensive for the customer, or we would lose the project to the competitor, because our price would be too high.

In my opinion, this kind of reasoning is just wrong.

What are the benefits of project methodologies, anyway? Projects are more repeatable, more traceable, more transparent and predictable, there is less slack; all of this leads to more effectiveness, which leads to less costs. Also, projects follow best practices, there are less risks, there are more chances of project success, all of which are tremendous benefits for the customer and the implementer. This is theory.

Then why do companies so often give up on methodologies, instead of embracing them? I believe the answer is simple: they fail to learn from them.

If you don’t learn from something, dismissing it is much easier. And it’s that other edge of the sword at work here: when you fail to learn from methodology, you’ll only see it add overhead and bureaucracy, instead of value.

Sure Step is no different. It’s a sword. Learn how to wield it, and it’ll work for you. Wiggle it carelessly, and you’ll get hurt.

How can you learn from Sure Step, and make it work for you, instead of against you? Here are the steps that you need to follow on different levels of your Sure Step maturity:

  1. Trust Sure Step. It’s a library of best practices collected over years, even decades of implementation experience. Many experts who have been there and done that have contributed to it and made it work. If it worked for them, it should work for you, most of the time.
  2. Don’t be smart. Especially when first using Sure Step, leave your inner Einstein at home. Be Forrest Gump instead. Follow the guidance, do the chores, write the docs and specs, don’t ask why. Remember when you learned dancing, or golfing, or playing piano, or karate, or anything of the sort? You didn’t become master by knowing it better. You became master by repeating, one step at a time.
  3. Keep track. Document everything. Your successes; and your failures. Why you succeeded, and why you failed. Then share it with your team members. It’s difficult learning from a huge system such as Sure Step if you don’t keep such documentation. Building up your own experience is good, but not good enough; implementation projects are team efforts, and there should be team experience. It works best when it’s written down. That’s what Sure Step is in itself: experience, written down.
  4. Reuse. Don’t start every project from scratch. Reuse your knowledge accumulated on previous engagements: your Fit Gap worksheets, risk registers, communication plans, requirements templates, etc. Reuse increases your effectiveness, and contributes to your learning (noticing patterns is much easier from multiple occurrences, than from a single one).
  5. Improve. All of the above will reveal to you what works, and what doesn’t, as well as why. This is where you should start improving the methodology and the templates. Sure Step isn’t rigid: it allows for and encourages modifications and adjustments, especially if they help you improve your processes. After you have learned what doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to modify the methodology, document templates, guidance, etc.
  6. Don’t over-improve. Even though you need to improve, don’t “improve” too much. Before modifying anything, you need to have a reason, and for a reason you need to have proof that you are right. If you don’t, don’t modify it. And when you modify, make sure you don’t modify everything there is. Sure Step is a system, and as any system it relies upon interactions of its components. If you modify every single component, you might bring the whole system down. Work your way through improvements gradually.
  7. Optimize. Improvement must be managed, and you need to focus the improvement where you need it most. You need to set goals for improvement, and make sure you reach them with every customer engagement.

Jumping ahead is the most common mistake you can make. You can’t reuse your intellectual property if you haven’t built it first by following the methods. You can’t start improving if you don’t understand processes, you can’t start optimizing if you haven’t been able to reuse and improve.

Only as you gradually climb the ladder of Sure Step maturity, your work will be more efficient, and you will notice that there is less bureaucracy and more value in every single Sure Step process you apply, and every single document you create. Otherwise, your hasty approach might easily backfire. Using the tools that one doesn’t understand isn’t the smartest thing around, is it?

Invest into learning and mastering Sure Step. You’ll get it back, every dime.


Vjeko has been writing code for living since 1995, and he has shared his knowledge and experience in presentations, articles, blogs, and elsewhere since 2002. Hopelessly curious, passionate about technology, avid language learner no matter human or computer.

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