Watermelon Reporting

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by marc

Februar 11, 2011

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This is what Wikipedia writes about the watermelon:

The Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.), family Cucurbitaceae) can be both the fruit and the plant of a vine-like (scrambler and trailer) plant originally from southern Africa, and is one of the most common types of melon. […] The watermelon fruit, loosely considered a type of melon (although not in the genus Cucumis), has a smooth exterior rind (green, yellow and sometimes white) and a juicy, sweet interior flesh (usually pink, but sometimes orange, yellow, red and sometimes green if not ripe).

Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.), family Cucurbitaceae) can be both the fruit and the plant of a vine-like (scrambler and trailer) plant originally from southern Africa, and is one of the most common types of melon. This flowering plant produces a special type of fruit known by botanists as a pepo, a berry which has a thick rind (exocarp) and fleshy center (mesocarp and endocarp); pepos are derived from an inferior ovary, and are characteristic of the Cucurbitaceae. The watermelon fruit, loosely considered a type of melon (although not in the genus Cucumis), has a smooth exterior rind (green, yellow and sometimes white) and a juicy, sweet interior flesh (usually pink, but sometimes orange, yellow, red and sometimes green if not ripe).

For my metaphor, I’ll use the one with red flesh but orange and yellow would work too. I think most of us experienced the phenomenon when the project status is red but is getting greener and greener when climbing the management ladder. The project’s core is red but for the management it has a nice green paring, so it looks like a watermelon. This is why I call this phenomenon Watermelon Reporting. But why are we creating such reports and how can we avoid it?

Why?

The bearer of bad news already had a bad time in the ancient world. If he was lucky, they gave him the chop but in other cases they simply chopped his head of. This hasn’t changed until now but fortunately only in a figurative sense. Some bosses aren’t interested that there are problems with a project in their responsibility because if they know about it, they are in charge. So what do they do to avoid incurring the wrath of their boss ? They tweak the project status just a bit and the melon starts growing.

Another reason could be that nobody wants to be in the focus of management, thus they embellish the project status in the hope that everything turns for the better. And as we all know hope is the last to die.

In the end the result is the same.. Eventually the overripe melon bursts and there is no rescue for the project anymore.

How to avoid it?

The answer is easy: Transparency, transparency and transparency. If there is no way to hide the current status the watermelon can’t grow. Fortunately Scrum and other agile frameworks provide tools like burndown charts and backlogs to help the team with their transparency. But there are also tools like dashboards or kanban boards to do this job, but this will be the subject of one of my next blog posts.

Conclusion

The nuts and bolts of any project are transparency. If the project status is transparent, the watermelons can’t arise. If anybody is able to get the information, it will be difficult to hide something.

About the author 

marc

Marc Löffler ist selbständiger Agile Coach, Autor und Keynote-Speaker. Er befasst sich leidenschaftlich mit agilen Managementmethoden. Bevor er mit agilen Methoden in Berührung gekommen ist, hat er als zertifizierter Projektmanager bei Firmen wie Volkswagen, Siemens und EADS gearbeitet. Mit Begeisterung hilft er Unternehmen dabei, agile Werte zu verstehen und zu leben. Er liebt es, neue Einsichten zu generieren, und unterstützt Teams dabei, Probleme aus anderen Blickwinkeln zu betrachten. Seit September 2018 ist er zertifizierter Professional Speaker GSA (SHB) mit der besten Keynote seines Jahrgangs. Im Jahr 2014 erschien sein Buch „Retrospektiven in der Praxis“ beim dpunkt.verlag. Im Jahr 2018 folgte das Buch „Improving Agile Retrospectives“ bei Addison Wesley.

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  1. Pingback: 7 Agile Sins
  2. Hi Marc,
    Your post here is almost 10 years old, but Google still found it for me!
    I just presented a variation of this metaphor to a client to describe the disconnect between external and internal metrics. I added a picture of a watermelon to illustrate the point.
    One member of the audience responded to me privately to say he found the watermelon reference to be racially insensitive.

    I'm curious — have you ever received that feedback when sharing this metaphor?
    Did you originate this metaphor? Yours was the earliest reference I could find online.

    Best regards, and thanks for your perspective.

    1. Hi Larry

      I’m not 100% sure if I’m the originator of this metaphor. But as you said: I didn’t find any older reference. Regarding your question about the feedback for your audience: No, I never got such feedback. I don’t understand why this should be racially insensitive, but maybe I overlook something.

      – marc

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