We were driving from South Bend, Indiana, to Chicago, Illinois, in May. My son was alternating between reading a book and watching the GPS as we traveled West on Interstate 90. With about 15 or so miles to go until we were got to the Indiana/Illinois border, the road was under construction. As I drove, there were lane shifts to navigate, concrete barriers on the lane shoulders, and pot holes that looked big enough to break a tire if you hit them at full speed. My son, glancing up from his book to look at the GPS screen, announced that we were going through Gary.
As I continued to drive, dodging potholes and shifting lanes as necessary, I thought more about my son’s comment. Obviously, a GPS can give you useful information to navigate, but it was no substitute for looking out the windshield and in the rearview mirror. The GPS doesn’t tell you about other cars. GPS can’t tell you about approaching emergency vehicles. And, GPS will not tell you about road hazards that seemingly come out of nowhere.
Just as a GPS gives useful information for navigating, IT project dashboards, burn down charts, and iteration velocity provide information you can use to navigate. These can tell you about the direction of your project and give insights about the speed of the team. They may even help you determine if your project is likely to be late, or not. However, if you forsake meaningful team interactions and observations, you risk hitting a project pothole or barrier that was not shown on the information radiators you use.
On projects, use information radiators. In addition to those sources, make sure to look beyond the dashboards. Interact with the team. Ask questions. Assess the risks. Hold your retrospectives, and make sure you know what your alternative paths are. Whatever you do, don’t do the project equivalent of following your GPS off a cliff.