Entropy and Project Management

I don’t now if it’s happened to you, but it’s happened to me quite often. You set some expectations for what will be done in the morning or the day, then you get started on your meetings.  You check in with the team after lunch and none of the morning’s priorities have been accomplished.  Worse, things that you thought could be done easily today are looking impossible.  How did the team get so far off in just a few hours?

I can only guess, it must be entropy.

There are several possibilities that are a little more modest.  Maybe you didn’t set the right priorities and the team was right.  Maybe you didn’t communicate them as effectively as you thought you had.  Maybe your and the team’s goals aren’t aligned.

One of the things I like about the Scrum framework for Agile projects is the way it manages this entropy.

First, the story backlog and the stories selected for the current Sprint get the team aligned toward the same goals.  Once the stories are selected, the team decomposes these into tasks which they own.  The stories are prioritized according to business value and the return on effort, so each day’s priorities communicate themselves.  You don’t have to set them or worry if the team will hold them.

And, while entropy can still enter in, you have daily updates with direct feedback to the team in the form of a burn-down chart that encourages the team to get itself back on track.

Entropy in project management is real, but the Scrum framework does a lot to keep it from derailing your project.

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2 Responses to Entropy and Project Management

  1. PM Hut says:


    This is a nice short post on this dilemma (entropy) that most project managers face. I personally disagree with you that the solution to this problem is Scrum – but you bring up some very valid points in any case.

    I would like to republish your post on PM Hut (under the scrum category). Please either email me or contact me through the contact us form on the PM Hut website in case you’re OK with this.

    • billrg says:

      I am interested in knowing why you disagree. Please note that I believe Scrum helps manage entropy, not that Scrum is “the” solution. You may re-publish the post.

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