Skipping Stones A Metaphor for Managing Projects

A thought came up in class today that I’d like to share. I structure my project management classes like a project where there are a number of small deliverables that are combined at the end to make a major deliverable. I have lived through a waterfall development environment and much prefer agile development methodologies.

My brother and I used to skip stones across the the surface of a lake when we were kids. We would try to count the number of hops the rock took before it took the deep plunge into the lake. To show my true colors, it’s all about surface tension, angle and velocity. I still love skipping rocks, but don’t get to do it as much.

Thinking about agile project management, I realized that skipping rocks is a good metaphor for working through a project. Think of your customers as the water, the project manager as the thrower, each hop as a minor deliverable and the big plunge is a milestone. The air between each hop is the time when we develop, test and release each minor deliverable in agile methodologies. Also, remember that every minor deliverable or hop of the stone causes a reaction from the customers. On the water, beautiful rings form. I hope it’s the same with our customers.

There is a lot of momentum at the beginning of our projects and achieve the first few deliverables. Then momentum fades, things get complex and we often have to compress schedules so we can make the major milestones. We skip many stones as we move through the project accomplishing each major milestone until the product is finished.

Continuous integration is another method where companies continually develop and deploy their products to meet their customer’s needs. I recently experienced this setup with CommCareHQ when learning about Dimagi’s development cycle. There are no major milestones in continuous development and the team aims for constant momentum with little degradation. Every minor develiverable has a minor impact on the customer and the product moves forward everyday. The continuous development metaphor would be like skipping a nuclear powered stone on an endless pool in a vacuum tube at near constant momentum. (I have been reading Science Fiction a lot lately)

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