Help Promote an Agile Project Management Approach

Would you like to help promote an Agile Project Management approach that could potentially rejuvenate the whole project management profession? (By the way, what I mean by “Agile Project Management” is the ability to blend Agile and traditional, plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation)

  • Are you as passionate about Agile Project Management as I am?
  • Do you agree that any project manager who only knows how to do traditional plan-driven project management will be at a serious disadvantage in many industries and application areas in the not-too-distant future?
  • Would you like to help the project management profession move into the next generation of project management?
  • Would you like to also earn some extra cash helping to bring about that change?

As many of you may know, I have developed a very comprehensive online training course on Agile Project Management with over 17,000 students.  However, that is only the beginning and I need help to try to dramatically expand the number of students the courses reach.

The new platform at the Agile Project Management Academy has some very interesting new capabilities such as  “affiliate marketing” that allows me to offer the capability for any student to be an “affiliate”.  If you are an “affiliate”, you will receive a commission of 25% for any new students you bring into the Agile Project Management Academy.

This is an opportunity for any student to earn a little extra cash to defer their own training expenses; or, if you are a PMI member, this could be an opportunity for your entire PMI chapter to get some additional revenue and get PDU’s for your members at the same time. If you’re interested in taking advantage of this opportunity, send me an email  and I’ll sign you up.

What’s the Value of Project Management?

I recently participated in a discussion on Quora where someone asked the question “What’s the value of Project Management?” The person who answered the question did an excellent job and his answer was spot-on in the context of traditional, plan-driven project management; however, I think there’s a need to rethink that in the context of Agile Project Management.

What's the value of project management?

His answer to this question centered on the fact that “project management is about change” and that is absolutely correct. It went through a scenario of a typical company that builds widgets:

In the Widget Company, everyone is consumed with building widgets and building them as efficiently as possible. That is what “process management” is all about.  However, suppose one day the CEO of the company went to a widget convention and found that other companies were building much better widgets for half the price. That’s where project management comes in – when you have to make a change such as introducing a new product to remain competitive.

For that reason, project management is the lifeblood of many companies – it is what keeps the company competitive and on the leading edge of the markets they serve. Great companies have to continuously evolve to remain competitive and sometimes that might require significant change. An example of that I like to use is American Express. American Express started out over 150 years ago in the railway express shipping business shipping boxes on rail cars. If they had continued in that business, they might not be doing so well today but they have continuously adjusted to changes in the market and technology over that period of time.

Let’s go back to the Widget Company example – suppose that after coming back from the widget convention, the CEO of the Widget Company determined that:

  • He didn’t want to just adopt a “me too” strategy and build the same kind of widget that everyone else was building
  • He wanted to go beyond that and build something really unique and innovative that would go well beyond what the rest of the competitors had to offer
  • And, he wanted to get it to market quickly before any other competitor could develop a similar product

Suppose that no one really knows exactly what that means in terms of detailed product requirements for whatever the new widget is? That’s where Agile Project Management comes in. It works best in situations where it is difficult to define detailed requirements for a product before the project starts and where you have get started quickly and get something to market as quickly and efficiently as possible. In that situation, rather than taking time to define detailed requirements before starting the project, you would start with a vision of what the product should be and take an incremental and iterative approach to continuously refine the product as the project was in progress.   That’s exactly the kind of effort that an Agile Project Manager should be able to lead.

When you ask many people “What’s the value of project management?”, many people will think that the value of project management is being able to plan and execute projects to deliver well-defined requirements within a given cost and schedule. That is a very common image of the value of project management that has been well-ingrained into many project managers for many years. In today’s world, I think we have to broaden that notion. Simply managing projects to meet cost and schedule goals may be important but it isn’t sufficient in many cases.

Technology is changing rapidly in many areas and that makes it difficult to adopt a traditional, plan-driven approach to project management because it just isn’t feasible in many cases to develop detailed project requirements for a project before it starts and being competitive often requires a much more aggressive and dynamic approach. That calls for a more Agile approach and the value of project management is really about bringing about change using whatever project management approach is most appropriate to fit the situation.

That’s a broader view of the value of project management that I think is much more consistent with the world we live in today.

Agile Project Management Student Guide

This post provides a description of an Agile Project Management Student Guide that contains an Agile Project Management learning road map. Over the past two years, I’ve developed seven online training courses to help project managers who may have been heavily indoctrinated in a traditional, plan-driven approach to project management develop a high performance adaptive project management approach that blends Agile and traditional, plan-driven project management in the right proportions to fit any given situation.

Even if you are never involved in a true Agile project, these courses will help you develop a much stronger project management approach that provides a more customer-focused approach to fit the methodology to the nature of the project.

Agile Project Management Student Guide

This can be a difficult and confusing transformation for many project managers and to make this journey easier, I’ve just finished developing an Agile Project Management Student Guide that provides a road map to better understand how the courses I’ve developed help a project manager to address these challenges. You can download a free copy of the student guide from the link below:

Download Agile Project Management Academy Student Guide

Learn More about our Agile Project Management Training Program

Free Podcast on Agile and Waterfall

I’m very pleased to announce that a free podcast on Agile and Waterfall that I did with Chad McAllister is now available on the web through Chad’s “Everyday Innovator” site. You can check it out here:

TEI 078: Traditional vs Agile project management for product managers–with Chuck Cobb, PhD

This podcast is an excellent summary of an interview I had with Chad McAllister.   Chad is the host of The Everyday Innovator podcast, author of Turning Ideas into Market-Winning Products, and founder of Product Innovation Educators.  He is a Top 40 Product Management Influencer and a Top 10 Innovation Blogger and he helps product managers become product masters.

In this interview you will learn:

  • How to compare waterfall and agile approaches,
  • The problems agile project management strives to solve,
  • Why both planned and adaptive approaches need to be used, and
  • Common issues encountered when adopting agile project management

This interview and podcast are designed to help Product Managers and others understand how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven project management practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation.  This interview and podcast should be of benefit to anyone who is interested in developing a fresh new perspective to see these two seemingly disparate approaches (Agile and Waterfall) in a fresh new perspective as complementary to each other rather than competitive.

Hope you enjoy this interview and podcast!

PS  Chad made a minor mistake in the title of his blog – he has me down as a PhD and I’m not a PhD.

Politics and Agile Project Management

Have you ever thought about the relationship of what’s going on in politics and Agile Project Management? I think there’s possibly a significant relationship between the two. Look at what is happening in politics throughout the world:

  • In the UK,  regardless of whether the decision to leave the EU is right or wrong, the “Brexit” vote indicates that many people want to have much more direct control of their own government
  • In the US,  Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump probably couldn’t be further apart in their political orientation but they do have one very significant thing in common – they are both attractive to people who are frustrated with the bureaucratic and cumbersome nature of establishment politics.

What Do People Really Want?

Without taking sides in any of these political contests, the pattern seems to be clear – people are fed up with bureaucracy and traditional, establishment politics and want a radical change.  However, many people are beginning to be concerned about the potential impact of such radical change.  What will be the impact of tossing out all of our experienced political leaders and moving to a much more unpredictable environment?  I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to that question.

Politics and Agile Project Management

Does that sound familiar?  I think it does. 

What’s the Relationship to Agile Project Management?

A lot of organizations and people are fed up with force-fitting a traditional, plan-driven project management approach on their organizations that hasn’t changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s.   They want to get rid of bureaucratic and cumbersome management processes.  Many businesses and people want radical change and they see Agile as a potential solution to that need.  However, tossing out all of the established way of doing things is a concern to many people and organizations.

An Agile Project Management approach can provide a nice compromise.   It provides a way to break away from a traditional, plan-driven project management approach; however, it doesn’t really require completely tossing out all of the established ways of doing things and starting completely over from scratch.  It provides a way to customize a management solution to fit the needs of a given business environment and projects.

If you look at what has happened with Agile, the Agile Manifesto that was developed fifteen years ago in 2001 started a revolution and many people in the Agile community have advocated a fairly radical approach to get rid of traditional, plan-driven project management altogether.   On the other side of that fence, there have been some project managers who are resisting this change and are equally polarized on insisting that a traditional, plan-driven approach is the only way to do project management and are force-fitting that approach on all projects.

What Does the Future Look Like?

I think that the polarization between the project management community and the Agile community is starting to fade away as people start to see that it is possible to blend the two approaches together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.   I hope it doesn’t take a long time for the polarization that exists in the current political environment to fade away.  Countries are like businesses in a sense – they are much stronger if the people in the country and business are unified around a common direction for the country/business and countries/businesses are weakened by excessive polarization and fragmentation.

Achieving that kind of unifying vision isn’t easy either in politics or in a business environment.  In both cases, it takes strong leadership to bring people together.  That’s why I’m so passionate about helping to develop that kind of leader in the Agile Project Management community.


Why Do We Need Project Managers?

Suppose that you happen to be riding in an elevator with a senior manager and you are asked the question, “Why do we need project managers?”.   You have about 15 seconds to come up with a simple and general answer that is going to be meaningful to a senior executive to convince him/her that project managers are critical to the success of their business.

If you asked a number of people that question of “Why do we need project managers?”, you would probably get a broad range of responses.  Many people would answer the question in terms of the typical things that project managers do such as planning and organizing projects and managing costs and schedules and those are all true but they are only tasks that project managers have been known to take on and many of those things that people typically associate with project mangers have a fairly narrow association with only a traditional, plan-driven project management role.

Why do we need project managers?

“Project Management” is a fairly broad role and there are many different kinds of project managers that have different kinds of specializations.  The role is also getting even broader as a result of Agile Project Management.  I think there is a need to take a broader view of what “project management” is and define it in terms that describe the role that an Agile Project Manager might play as well as a traditional, plan-driven project manager.

If you had to boil it all down to a simple explanation, I would say this:

A project manager increases the probability of a project successfully meeting its business objectives by applying the most effective combination of people, process, and tools to solve the problem and providing the essential leadership to guide the project in the right direction for it to be successful.

That’s a fairly broad definition but I think a broad definition like that is needed in today’s world in order to redefine the role that a project manager plays that isn’t limited to the traditional, plan-driven project management role that many people heavily associate with “project management”.  We’ve got to start thinking of “project management” in broader terms than the traditional, plan-driven approach to project management that has been around since the 1950’s and 1960’s.

A lot of project managers get totally consumed in the tasks of doing project management and may not see the big picture that the real goal is not to just plan and control projects to meet cost and schedule goals the real goal is to solve business problems using whatever process is appropriate to solve the problem.  That’s what the Agile Project Management courses I’ve developed are all about.

What is the Future of Project Management?


I’ve written a number of articles on the future of project management and I still get a lot of questions from project managers who are confused about the impact of Agile on project management and ask questions like “What Agile certification should I get?”. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just going out and getting another certification like PMI-ACP and “poof – you are an Agile Project Manager”. The PMI-ACP certification is a step in the right direction and it’s not an easy certification to get but it’s just a test of general Lean and Agile knowledge and is not aligned with a particular role. In fact, the role of an Agile Project Manager Is not well-defined and there is even some controversy among some people that there is a role for an Project Manager In an Agile environment.

Confusion Over Project Management Direction

It’s totally understandable why there would be a lot of confusion among project managers as to how Agile and the future of project management impact their career direction. There are some project managers who are in “denial” and want to assume that traditional, plan-driven project management is the only way to do project management, will go on forever unchanged, and Agile isn’t really a valid form of project management at all. I’m not an Agile zealot – I try to take a very objective and pragmatic approach. In one of my courses I have a slide that says “Saying Agile is better than Waterfall” is like saying “A car is better than a boat”. They both have advantages and disadvantages depending on the environment. You have to be able to fit the approach to the problem rather than force-fitting all problems to one of those extremes. I am convinced that project managers who only know how to do traditional, plan-driven project management and try to force-fit all projects to that approach will be at a severe disadvantage relative to other project managers who know how to blend Agile and traditional project management in the right proportions to fit the situation.

What’s Wrong with Traditional, Plan-driven Project Management?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the traditional, plan-driven approach to project management; the problem is in how its applied. The primary problem with the traditional, plan-driven approach is that it works for situations where the requirements are well-defined and the primary concern is planning and managing a project to meet those well-defined requirements within a given budgeted cost and schedule. That approach just doesn’t work well in situations where the requirements are much more uncertain and the primary concern is not just managing costs and schedules but taking an adaptive approach to maximize the business results and value that the project produces.  In today’s rapidly-changing business environment the need for taking that kind of approach is becoming increasingly common.

The Future of Project Management

There’s essentially two sides of this equation: value and cost – in the past, with most traditional plan-driven projects, the value side has been assumed to be well-defined and fixed and project managers only needed to worry  about the cost side.  In this new environment, that is no longer true – project managers now need to worry about both maximizing value as well as managing costs and schedules.  That’s a fundamental shift in thinking for many project managers – it means:

  • Taking a broader focus on maximizing the business value that a project produces and using whatever methodology (or combination of methodologies) that makes sense to achieve those goals
  • Fitting the project management approach to the nature of the business problem rather than force-fitting all projects to a standard, plan-driven approach.

That raises the bar significantly for many project managers and there is no certification that I know of that will prepare you to take on that role.  Even PMI hasn’t completely figured this out – Agile and traditional plan-driven project management are still treated as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.  It’s left up to the project manager to figure out how to blend those two seemingly disparate approaches together in the right proportions to fit the situation.

The Agile Project Management Academy

That’s exactly the challenge for the future of project management profession that the courses in the Agile Project Management Academy are designed to address, but at this point in time, you have to be somewhat of a pioneer to lead the rest of the project management profession into a new vision for the future of project management that embraces Agile as well as a traditional, plan-driven project management approach.

The Future of Project Management
I hope you will join me in taking on this challenge to prove to the world that there is an important, value-added role for project managers in an Agile environment.

What’s Different About Agile Metrics?

What’s Different About Agile Metrics? Are metrics really consistent with Agile at all? Some people might say that metrics are not very consistent with Agile because Agile is unplanned and uncontrolled but that is a misconception. The right approach is to fit the level of planning, risk management, and metrics to the project. Let’s look at some of the key differences between a traditional, plan-driven environment and an Agile environment that might have an impact on how (and if) metrics are used.

  1. Metrics should be related to and well-aligned with the success criteria for the project

    • As a result, in a traditional, plan-driven environment, you’re going to see metrics indicating how closely the project is tracking against cost and schedule goals
    • That kind of metric may not be very appropriate in an Agile environment. An Agile project should be focused on producing results.
    • Impact:The result is that you’re likely to see very different types of high-level project metrics with an Agile project. In a traditional plan-driven project, you might see a dashboard with red/yellow/green status indicators that signify the amount of variation from budget and schedule goals. In an Agile environment, a burn-down or burn-up chart might be a good way to show the performance of the project in producing results.

  2. Metrics are a form of project communications

    • In a traditional plan-driven environment, communications are typically more limited and formal, as well as more controlled.
    • In an Agile environment, all of the stakeholders should be much more heavily engaged in the project on an ongoing basis and there is lots of emphasis on openness and transparency
    • Impact:There should be less of a need for extensive metrics to keep people informed of what’s going on in the project. If Agile is implemented correctly, most stakeholders should have first-hand knowledge of what’s going on in the project without extensive metrics.

  3. Metrics should be well-designed to support the level of decision-making required

    • In a traditional plan-driven environment, management typically has to get engaged in projects at a much lower level and make decisions related to resolving issues, assigning additional resources, etc.
    • The companies I know that have done Agile well have told me that by delegating more responsibility to empowered, self-organizing teams, it relieves a big burden on management to get engaged in tactical project decisions
    • Impact:Because of the different levels of empowerment, there is likely to be a significant difference in the metrics needed at different levels. In particular, senior managers should not have to be heavily engaged in tactical project decisions and should be able to focus more heavily on more strategic issues

For those reasons, you are likely to find a lot more metrics in a traditional, plan-driven environment and the metrics in an Agile environment will probably be very different but metrics still have value in an Agile environment. This is yet another example of the need to get past some of the myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes that paint the picture that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”. Rather than force-fitting a project to one of those extremes, you need to fit the approach to the nature of the project and the metrics should also be appropriate to the nature of the project.

What is Agile Risk Management?

People might think that Agile Risk Management is an oxymoron because there is a common stereotype that an Agile project is totally unplanned – so why would you take a planned approach to Agile Risk Management if the whole project is unplanned?  That stereotype is closely related to the very common misconception that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”.  The truth is that there is a continuous range of approaches from heavily plan-driven at one extreme to heavily adaptive at the other extreme with lots of alternatives between those extremes and you should fit the approach to the nature of the project rather than force-fitting a project to one of those extremes.

A similar thing is true regarding risk management.  There is no single approach to doing risk management and it’s not a binary choice between zero risk management and a totally rigid and controlled approach to risk management.  You need to fit the risk management approach to the nature of the project:

  • For high risk projects where the customer is very sensitive to risk, it probably makes sense to do a fair amount of risk management to identify, analyze, mitigate, and monitor those risks.
  • For lower risk projects where the risk is less of a concern to the customer, a more informal approach to risk management may be appropriate.

The overall process for doing risk analysis in an Agile environment is generally the same as a traditional, plan-driven project; however, it may not be as formal and it may not be as disciplined.  The general approach follows these stages:

  • Risk Identification – this might consist of a brainstorming session to identify potential risks in the project
  • Risk Analysis – this involves further study to determine the probability and impact of each risk
  • Risk Response – this involves determining what, if anything, should be done to mitigate the risk
  • Monitoring and Control – Finally during the course of the project, the risks are monitored and controlled

An Agile approach is inherently well-designed for dealing with risks:

  • Risks are generally directly related to uncertainty in a project and an Agile approach is intended to be flexible and adaptive in order to deal with uncertainty.  For that reason, it is easier to adapt to risks in an Agile environment as the project is in progress.
  • In a traditional, plan-driven project; a considerable amount of re-planning may be necessary to adapt to risks as the project is in progress; and, for that reason, it may be more important to plan for risks upfront in a traditional, plan-driven environment.

Another factor is due to the iterative and incremental nature of development in an Agile project, it’s not too difficult to structure the Product Backlog to address high risk items early in the project; and, if there is a lot of uncertainty associated with those risks, a “spike” can be performed to evaluate the risk without having a major impact on the project.

It’s easy to lose focus on risk management in an Agile environment because there is no well-defined focal point of responsibility for risk management as there may be no project manager to be the focal point for that.

  • In an Agile environment, the focus on risk management is typically owned by the entire team just like the focus on project management is typically owned by the entire team.
  • Another factor is that because an Agile approach is more adaptive to risks, there tends to be a “cavalier” approach to not worry about risks.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way.  It’s primarily a matter of:

  • Making a conscious decision of how much (and what kind of) risk management is needed based on the nature of the project
  • Training the team in the basics of risk management
  • Building in some focus on thinking about risks in all of the Agile/Scrum ceremonies (Daily Standup, Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective, etc.)
  • Determining how the risk management effort will be managed – how will risk management be done and how will responsibilities for risk management be distributed among the team?

This is only a brief overview.  I’ve just finished some detailed training on Agile Risk Management and I will be adding that to my “Mastering Agile Project Management” online training course in the next few weeks.  Check that out here:

Mastering Agile Project Management Course

Lean and Agile – Is Lean in Conflict with Agile?

I’ve participated in several discussions and presentations lately where the subject of Lean and Agile came up and I think the relationship of the two is very interesting. If you pursued each of those approaches to the extreme and tried maximize what you would get out of both, they would tend to pull you in different directions. Lean emphasizes reducing “waste” and Agile emphasizes flexibility and adaptivity to meet customer needs. Those two things are not totally compatible with each other; but that doesn’t mean that they are incompatible. It just requires some skill to blend them together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

Here’s an example, I attended a presentation at an Agile Boston meeting last night by Michael Nir who talked about “The Agile PMO” which was based on his book of the same name. Michael indicated that a key potential role of an Agile PMO is to reduce waste in an organization and that goal is very consistent with Lean. An example of that could be under-utilization of people in the organization – under-utilization of resources or less than optimum utilization of resources could certainly be a major source of waste in an organization. There are a number of ways that could happen:

  • The utilization of shared, specialized resources such as DBA’s that are not dedicated to project teams is not well-planned and coordinated across teams.  As a result, project teams may be idle waiting for these specialized resources or the specialized resources might not be fully-utilized waiting for work from project teams.
  • Project portfolio management is not well-managed.   As a result, allocation of resources to project teams may not be not well-aligned with company business goals and priorities.
  • Individual projects are not well-managed and are allowed to go off track.   As a result, the allocation of resources to projects may not be optimized to maximize the business results for the company.
  • The development process is not well-defined, tools aren’t adequate to support the process, and/or project teams are not well-trained to execute the process.  As a result, the execution of the process is not consistent across teams and is not as efficient and effective as it could be.

It seems clear that all of these things could result in wasted resources and could be considered legitimate areas that a PMO could add value to but how far do you go with that?  Carried to an extreme, a focus on simply reducing waste could easily become dysfunctional.  Michael mentioned that waste in some organizations could be as high as 95%.  What would happen if you attempted to reduce waste to 0%?

  • First, it probably would not be successful because reducing waste to 0% is probably an unrealistic and impossible goal just because no business is totally predictable where everything is known in advance to enable perfect prioritization, planning, and scheduling of resources
  • Second, at some point, putting too much emphasis on reducing waste would tend to run counter to Agile because it would mean superimposing a level of control and standardization on projects that would likely be inconsistent with achieving the flexibility and adaptivity required by an Agile approach

So, what’s the right answer?  This is not necessarily an easy problem to solve and it will take some skill to figure out what is the right blend of (1) focusing on lean and reducing waste and (2) preserving the flexibility and adaptivity that is required by an Agile approach.  There clearly seems to be an optimum point between the two extremes of focusing on those two extremes individually and a PMO could probably perform a value-added role in helping an organization find that optimum point.

This is yet another example of the need for “systems thinking”.  Here’s a previous post I wrote on that subject:

People many times like to over-simplify what is really much more complex and reduce it to a simple, binary choice between two extremes, which it is not.  “Agile” versus “Waterfall” is one example of that and “Lean” versus “Agile” is yet another example.  On the surface, those approaches might appear to be in conflict with each other; and, if you pursued each approach individually and mechanically “by the book” without really understanding the principles behind it at a deeper level, they could easily be in conflict.  It takes some skill to take a systems thinking approach to understand these seemingly disparate approaches at a deeper level and see them as complementary to each other rather than competitive but it can be done.

Michael made a key point last night that it is a matter of focusing on value versus control and he’s absolutely right.  Better defining processes and tools, providing training to people, and doing some level of project portfolio management and resource planning of people is something that can definitely add value if it is done in the spirit of adding value; but it does take some skill to determine the optimum point beyond which is stops producing value and starts to become dysfunctional.

Blending Agile and Traditional Project Management

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