Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Agile - Sociology, Protesters and Projects

It's been a while since I last blogged but it's been a busy year so far - is it really nearly April? I've left the hospitality & logistics industries behind for a while and decided that I needed a break from the cut & thrust of sensitive projects. Oil & Gas - that can't be too controversial can it? I know it's not a traditional industry for Agile ideas but they really wanted help in getting things delivered and who can resist a challenge? Drilling for Oil & Gas has been around a long long time so there can't be too many skeletons hiding in the industy's closet that I'll have deal with surely? - Yep I can get some rest this time! 

(Warning: the introduction to this blog is a little long but trust me by the fifth paragraph we start to talk about some new ideas for Agile projects do be persistent!)

Regular readers of this blog know that sociology & psychology are two of my favourite topics.  If you want to keep Agile simple & effective then you've got to have a good grounding in both.  Agile is about connecting with people, understanding what's important to them and adjusting your approach as we go along - just like we do in real life.  Unlike more traditional approaches which concentrate on having a guess up front about what we'll probably need in 12 months time and then doing everything we can to make sure that nothing changes too much while we're doing it. 

Of course one of the problems with this approach is that we finally deliver something that no one wants or needs anymore.

Of course I was wrong about getting a break as Gas Exploration is a hot topic in the UK & Europe.  Now that we're looking for less traditional ways of extracting energy from the earth's resources it's clear that a lot of people aren't that happy with some of the new ideas of getting it.  What do you do when there's loads of people knocking on your door saying they don't want your project and that you're killing the planet?  I'm talking about onshore rather than offshore and the search for "Shale Gas" - you may have heard the word for the method for extracting is called "Fracking". 

If you're not sure what "Fracking" is you might want to have a look at Frack USA who provide a great 101 course with videos.  I've no idea who coined the term "Fracking" in the US but they clearly didn't know what the UK Tabloid media could do with such a term... Frack Off, What the Frack? Fracking Stupid are clearly natural tabloid headlines and they're already being used a lot by the anti-fracking groups. 

Although I don't want this to turn into a discussion about how good or bad fracking is I think I should also provide you with the URLs of some of the opposing groups to provide balance and so you can make up your own mind.  Frack Off is one of the larger websites dedicated to protest groups against fracking in the UK and you can also look at Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace for different perspectives.  You'll see that there's a chance that any project will get crushed by "public opinion" if we can't manage communities well.  Lucky there is government support and an excellent standards body in UKOOG who are making sure that the industry works together and develops proper checks & balances to keep Unconventional Gas Exploration & Production safe.

Actually this is one of the first times that I've had to manage a sizable project in the face of such controversy. Mis-information, protest camps,  intimidation & media manipulation are just some of the things we're having to deal with.  One thing I have learnt is that there's relatively little local protest over fracking.  I think that's a little strange because I'm sure if an Oil & Gas company was going to put a drilling rig in the field next to my house I'd want to protest a bit.  In reality though it's clear that although local resistance is one of the most powerful tools for stopping such projects people are fundamentally apathetic and would rather leave the protesting to someone else.  Well, that's until something bad happens or they're convinced that something bad is going to happen and then it's protest camps, swampy tunnels, chaining themselves to gates & railings and overall making life difficult for the company that's just trying to make a profit.  I'm a great supporter of the right to protest and of free speech but some of the protesters methods are downright dangerous and in a lot of cases make the life of the real locals unbearable.

So when will local people get together, overcome their apathy and protest?  We can get some ideas from Boutilier & Thomson "Modelling & Measuring The Social Licence to Operate, 2011. They suggested that there are four levels of social acceptance including: Rejection/Withdrawal, Acceptance-Tolerance, Acceptance-Support and Co-Ownership

In any project, including my own, there will be three primary views: For it, Against it and Haven't Decided.  The "Haven't Decided" typically won't be that passionate either way and don't get involved in lobbying.  However, the views of the opposing factions "For" and "Against" will have vastly polarised views and regardless of the actual facts of the case are unlikely to change their mind.  The number of people in these two groups are vastly outnumbered by the "Haven't Decided" majority but typically have voices that are disproportionate to their size.

Boutilier & Thomson came up with the view that if a project is going to succeed and gain the support of the local community then it must gain a "social licence to operate" from the residents.  If the project can engender a feeling of "trust" then protests are likely to be limited and delivery will be so much easier to achieve.  I would suggest that groups like Frack Off, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth can only succeed if they can build a "social license to protest" as without the support of the silent majority they simply don't have the ability to get the local community to stop the project and they don't have the power or the numbers to do it themselves.  The role of the "Against" lobby is probably slightly easier as it's much easier to be negative about a project than it is to be positive and they can always play the "David v Goliath card" (e.g. the small man against the giant corporate).  For those of you who are interested I don't believe that either the "For" or "Against" groups have found a way to swing the views of the "Haven't Decided" group yet.  That's why the Green Party, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are fairly silent on the matter at the moment and overall local resistance is very low... but it's increasing slowly.
So what's this got to do with Agile methods and techniques? 

In traditional project management methods we work on our stakeholder mapping & management matrices to try and get buy in from the key people who could make our lives very difficult - those with real influence.  Some of our "stakeholders" are hostile and oppose what we're trying to do but the vast majority are "Haven't Decided".  However, things change rapidly and people can quickly change their minds.  Traditional projects aren't geared up for this.  Project planning & management methods are build around the premise that with enough definition & planning at the start of the project we can de-risk & mobilise our stakeholders to deliver the project.  Intuitively we know that this isn't the case.  Things change, incidents happen and political environments shift too rapidly for traditional project management to keep up.  All we can hope is that the buy-in that we developed in the early days of the project can be sustained just long enough to deliver something useful.

Of course Agile is much better at managing change and resistance.  Assuming that we ensure that the ways that we measure "value" include what's important to the "Haven't Decided" community we can continuously develop & demonstrate our positive approach through the Sprint Stand up, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective to fine tune our Social Licence to Operate.  Agile is designed to bring the stakeholders (product owners) into the project develop & deliver process and bring the builders closer to the users.

So that's what I've learnt in the past few weeks.  If I want to reduce the number of protests & keep my project on track I have to change the "Haven't Decided" into "For it" stakeholders and reduce the influence of the "Against it" groups - in short I've got to use Agile rather than Waterfall techniques.

Recent Agile surveys constantly indicate that one of the benefits of Agile is an increase in Stakeholder Acceptance of 80-85%.  In my industry that can equate to 10-15 days saved per Exploration Drilling Expedition due to a reduction in protester generated delays.  When you're paying £50,000/day just to keep the rig going that's worth £750,000 per site and we're probably going to drill at least five wells this year alone. £3.25 million savings seems like a worthwhile reason to concentrate on getting the Social Licence - what do you think?

For an industrial company it's been quite a learning curve worrying about the community & social side of projects.  In the past, most operations have been offshore and protest opportunities are pretty limited in the wild North Sea.  But now we're exploring literally next door to communities and the chances of mass protests are much larger and the risks to our reputation that much greater.  The industry has made a few mistakes but we've also seen the "trust" rating improving in our local project communities as we've started to adopt Agile principles and using community acceptance as part of any story value.  As a result we're moving from Rejection towards Acceptance-Tolerance.  We're not naive enough to think that we'll ever achieve Co-ownership but we do believe that Acceptance-Support is possible. 

In the next blog I'll demonstrate some of the methods and techniques that we're using to gain our Social License to Operate.  If the cynical large multi-national Oil & Gas sector can now see how Agile can deliver on the bottom line and these principles apply to all project environments - perhaps other resistance sectors will be able to see that Agile ain't just for IS projects - it applies to all.

See you all soon