A Project Manager's Perspective on "Value"
Recently, at a weekly Zoom Meeting with the "Heart of Agile" folks, I was graced with offering the topic of discussion for that meeting occurrence. I chose "Value". More specifically, I didn't establish conversation criteria, I just asked what is meant by value as in "Delivering value early". The responses and ensuing discussion was marvelous, truly a stream of consciousness discussion.
In a separate conversation with a friend of mine, who was my supervisor in the past, I told her what the job market was like and that a common question by an interviewer is "What value do you bring to our organization?" I told her that the preferred response of a mutual colleague is "I don't know that I bring any value at all to your organization!" She laughed and warned that the interview would end right there. I agreed and suggested that our mutual colleague might ask a clarifying question, with possibly choices. Perhaps, even then, the interview would end there as well, only a bit more graciously.
The challenge that I see with the use of the word value as it pertains to projects is that it's got to be in the proper context. A project team that is delivering a service or a tangible product, must know what type of value the sponsor is expecting. The project team must also know what type of value the key stakeholders are looking for as well. This holds true in both Agile and Waterfall environments. Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Project Managers, Program Managers and Portfolio Managers MUST know what type of value they are expected to create and they must work towards delivering that type of value.
This is a good time for a dictionary description of the word value. According to Lexico, which is powered by Oxford, value can be either a noun or a verb (https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/value). For the purpose of this article, we are looking at the noun, since the statement "Delivering value early" has "Delivering" as the verb and "value" as the object being delivered… and objects are nouns.
In the business world and certainly in project management, we are looking at different types of value. In order to have a productive discussion with sponsors, key stakeholders and other stakeholders the noun value has to have a modifier, or adjective, before it. If not, the adjective needs to be implied in the discussion. The chart below attempts to identify, at a high level, the adjective for value based on the audience or stakeholder type and an example value statement.
A recent source of inspiration for this blog post comes from Maurice "Mo" Hagar, who recently posted an article that addresses this. From that article:
"The risk in over-homonymization is that words begin to mean anything and everything until they mean nothing. This is a psychological phenomenon known as “semantic satiation.” Coined by psychologist Leon James, “semantic satiation” is a form of mental fatigue."
For many, this has happened to the word value, and Mo's article is an excellent read and can be found here -> https://www.infoq.com/articles/agile-agile-blah-blah/?
More Granular Discussion on Value
This post was over a year ago and I responded in a respectful way, challenging the message of this post. At the time, many agreed with me and even challenged me. My response was a hypothetical situation of a restaurant where you have to pay for utensils. The scenario that I set up was as follows; you order a bowl of soup and you are given the option of purchasing a utensil. The knife, fork and spoon are priced differently, but only one will work. That would be the Utility Value. The one that would work, the spoon, was at the highest price. A number of folks had humorous responses ("I'd bring my own utensils" or "I'd make soup at home and not have to deal with this."), while a noticeable amount were critical, telling me that I completely missed the point.
I then responded to those who said that I completely missed the point, generically, with a link to website where the definition and relationship between "cost", "price" and "value" were defined. Here is one of the websites that I referred: https://keydifferences.com/difference-between-price-cost-and-value.html. My point, then, as it is now, is that the discussion of value MUST be considered in the context of the overall discussion including the roles of the discussion's participants.
Another example, to further clarify, when interviewing for a job with a Human Resources Officer (Recruiter) where the job has no direct reports the value that you bring to the job may be "Technical Value", whereas the Human Resources Officer may be looking for "Social Value". To make this even more complicated, the Hiring Manager may be looking more for "Visionary Value". If value is such an important qualification, doesn't it make sense that the "Value Seeker", which is the Hiring Manager, be clear in terms of the specific "value type" they are seeking and why? Isn't it also important that the Hiring Manager make it clear what the priority of the value type is to the Human Resources Officer?
This strategy can also be used as a Project Manager when proposing a Project Solution to the Business Need of the Sponsor or the Key Stakeholders. Identify the audience and speak to their specific values showing how your proposed solution lives up to their values.
By doing this the process of delivering value results are positive for all involved.
Call to Action
This is such an important topic that very rarely goes beyond a Tweet like statement and an emoticon 👆👇🧡 response. This is neither a discussion nor engagement.
In order to bring the topic of values into a more evolved conversation:
Think about what you are going to do to make that happen in all of your projects and efforts and DO THEM.
Think about what clarifying questions you will ask when seeking qualification of the value sought and ASK THEM.
Think where you will ask these clarifying questions to get the answers (kickoff meetings, Sprint planning, Sprint review and GET THEM.
Think about how and where you will include these detailed values and DOCUMENT THEM.
Finally, share your thoughts in the comments below!
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