Tag Archives: Agile PMO

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 approaches are not totally compatible with each other; however, they are necessarily incompatible either. It just requires some skill to blend them together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

Here’s an example, Michael Nir recently made a presentation at an Agile Boston meeting 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.

How Does Lean Reduce Waste?

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. For example,

  • 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 a PMO can reduce waste:

Utilization of Specialized Resources

If specialized resources that are not dedicated to project teams (such as DBA’s) are not well-planned and coordinated across teams:

  • 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

If a project portfolio is not well-managed, allocation of resources to project teams may not be not well-aligned with company business goals and priorities

Project Management of Individual Projects

If individual projects are not well-managed and are allowed to go off track, the allocation of resources to projects may not be optimized to maximize the business results for the company

Development Process Definition and Training

If:

  • 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

the execution of the process will not be consistent across teams and may not be as efficient and effective as it could be

In all of those areas, a PMO might add value by reducing waste but how far do you go with that? 

Can You Reduce Waste to Zero?

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, reducing waste to 0% is probably an unrealistic and impossible goal. No business is totally predictable where everything is known in advance to enable perfect prioritization, planning, and scheduling of resources
  • Second, putting too much emphasis on reducing waste would would mean superimposing a level of control and standardization on projects. That could easily be inconsistent with achieving the flexibility and adaptivity required by an Agile approach

What’s the Right Answer?

Given that conflict, what’s the right answer?  This is not necessarily an easy problem to solve. It will take some skill to figure out the right blend of:

  1. Focusing on lean and reducing waste and
  2. Preserving the flexibility and adaptivity required by an Agile approach. 

There clearly seems to be an optimum point between the two extremes of focusing on those two extremes individually. A PMO could probably perform a value-added role in helping an organization find that optimum point.

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

http://managedagile.com/2013/04/28/systems-thinking-and-binary-thinking/

People many times like to over-simplify what is really much more complex and reduce it to a simple, binary choice between two extremes: 

  • “Agile” versus “Waterfall” is one example of that and
  • “Lean” versus “Agile” is another example. 

Overall Summary

On the surface, Lean and Agile might appear to be in conflict with each other. If you pursued each approach individually and mechanically without really understanding the principles behind each at a deeper level, they could easily be in conflict. 

On the other hand, if you take take a systems-thinking approach to understand these seemingly disparate approaches at a deeper level. you will begin to develop a fresh new perspective to see them as complementary to each other rather than competitive.

Michael made a key point that it is a matter of focusing on value versus control and he’s absolutely right.  Here are some ways a PMO could add value:

  • Better defining processes and tools,
  • Providing training to people, and
  • Doing some level of project portfolio management and resource planning of people

Each of those can potentially add value; however, it does take some skill to determine the optimum point beyond which it stops producing value and starts to become dysfunctional.

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Is the Idea of a PMO Obsolete or Is It a Different Role?

Is the idea of a PMO Obsolete? I think the traditional notion of a PMO is becoming obsolete rapidly in many industries; however, that doesn’t mean that the idea of a PMO is no longer needed at all:

  • A PMO can play a value-added role but it is a somewhat different role than what a PMO may have played in the past.
  • It’s a difference in emphasis between providing control versus producing value

The traditional emphasis of a PMO has been primarily on:

  • Providing control of spending to ensure that individual projects were well-managed from a fiscal responsibility perspective and
  • That the overall portfolio of projects produced an acceptable return

What’s Wrong With the Traditional PMO Role?

What’s wrong with that picture? We’ve learned that many projects may seem to be successful from a financial perspective yet fail to deliver business value. Business value is a much more elusive target that is much more difficult to measure. So what is the answer?

  • It’s a significant shift in emphasis for a PMO to put more focus on producing value versus providing control; however, that’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.
  • Many people tend to see things in black-and-white, binary terms. Either you’re focused on value or you’re focused on control and there’s no middle ground. I don’t believe that to be the case.

How Do You Find the “Middle Ground”?

It takes a lot more skill to find that middle ground” but it definitely can be done. It requires seeing “control” in a different perspective – it’s a more dynamic kind of control. There’s a lot of similarities to the difference between traditional plan-driven project management and a more dynamic form of Agile Project Management at the project level:

  • Instead of having very well-defined plans at the project portfolio level that aren’t expected to change at all, plans are much more broadly defined and are expected to change and become further defined over time
  • It also requires a partnership with the business and much more active participation in the development and implementation of the project portfolio strategy by the business

What needs to happen at the project portfolio level is very similar to what needs to happen at the project level; it’s just at a higher level. There is a direct parallel between the role of a modern, PMO and the role of an Agile Project Manager.

  • Both need to play much more of a facilitation role and add value based on a much more dynamic style of management rather than a controlling role
  • They both need to put in place the right people, process, and tools to execute the strategy and intervene only as needed

Additional Resources

For more on this, check out my article:

What is an Agile PMO?”

Also check out this online training course:

“Agile Project Management for Executives”

What is an Agile PMO? Is it Possible? How Would it Work?

Background

I recently saw a question on a LinkedIn discussion group asking: What is an Agile PMO?

  • There are many people in the Agile community who might say that there is no role for a PMO in an Agile/Lean environment and
  • That the whole concept of a PMO is inconsistent with Agile.
  • That opinion is based on a stereotype that the role of the PMO is heavily associated with controlling and enforcing rigid, waterfall-style policies for selecting and managing the execution of projects and programs.

In that kind of environment, a PMO might require:

  • Very thorough and detailed upfront planning to justify the ROI on projects to support rigorous project/product portfolio management decisions
  • Rigid control of project execution to ensure that projects meet their cost and schedule goals and deliver the expected ROI

There is no doubt that some PMO’s have played that kind of role to some extent in the past; however, it is a stereotype to believe that is the only possible role for a PMO to play.

Understanding the Truth About “Agile versus Waterfall”

The key to understanding this issue is to first understand that there is not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”.  It is better to think of this as a range of alternatives between heavily plan-driven at one extreme and heavily adaptive at the other extreme. That looks something like this:

Range of Agility

And, the right approach is to fit the methodology to the nature of the project and business environment rather than going in the other direction and attempting to force-fit projects and business to some kind of canned approach (whatever it might be – Agile or not).

What’s the General Role of a PMO in Any Organization?

The general role of any PMO is to:

  • Align the selection and execution of projects and programs with the organization’s business goals. That includes:
    • Project/Product Portfolio Management,
    • Providing oversight of project execution and
    • The overall interface for management and reporting of projects and programs to senior management and the business
  • Coordination, guidance, and training to project teams as needed in the organization’s methodologies and standards for project management.

Those general functions probably don’t change in an Agile/Lean project environment. However, how a PMO performs those functions may change significantly depending on the organization’s overall strategy for implementing an Agile transformation.

  • Some organizations may choose to implement a relatively complete top-to-bottom Agile transformation for their business
  • Dean Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is an example of such a model
  • However, that can be a very ambitious and gut-wrenching change for many organizations. And, it may also may not be the best solution

It may be a mistake to believe that you have to force a company to do an extensive, top-to-bottom Agile transformation in order to adopt an Agile process at the development level.  There are many ways to adapt an agile development process to a company whose overall business may not be totally compatible with an agile approach at the enterprise level.

If you accept the notion that you need to tailor the approach to fit the nature of the business, it should be evident that:

  • The design of a PMO should be consistent with that approach and
  • There isn’t a single “canned” solution for what an “Agile PMO” is.  However, there are some general guidelines that should be useful.

What Does a Traditional PMO Look Like?

A traditional PMO organization that is oriented around a heavily plan-driven approach might look something like this:

Typical Traditional PMO Structure
Reference: Cobb, Charles, “Making Sense of Agile Project Management”, Wiley, 2011

In this kind of environment:

  • The PMO typically takes almost complete responsibility for the execution of projects on behalf of the business sponsors
  • The emphasis in this kind of organization is typically on planning and control of projects

This kind of organization would be consistent with a heavily plan-driven approach. However, how does that role change as an organization moves towards more of an adaptive approach?

What is an Agile PMO?

A more adaptive version of a PMO organization might look something like this:

What is an Agile PMO?
Potential Agile PMO Structure
Reference: Cobb, Charles, “Making Sense of Agile Project Management”, Wiley, 2011

Key Differences

Here’s what some of the key differences might be as an organization moves towards more of an adaptive (Agile) approach:

Advisory Role

The role of the PMO becomes more of an advisory role and a consultative role rather than a controlling role. The function of the PMO should be to:

  • Put in place well-trained people coupled with
  • The right process and tools
  • To make the process most effective and efficient and
  • To keep it well-aligned with the company’s business

Primary Responsibility

The primary responsibility for providing direction to projects:

  • Shifts more to the business side represented by the Product Owner in the projects and
  • There is a much more of a closer coupling with the business side, and
  • There is more emphasis on the PMO providing business value rather than simply managing project costs and schedules

Role of Functional Organizations

The role of the functional organizations (Development, QA Testing, etc.) also changes to providing more of an advisory function as the resources are more committed to project teams and the project teams become more self-organizing

Key Challenges

This model can be a very big change for many businesses because:

  • It puts a lot more responsibility on the business side of the organization to provide direction to projects. And, the business organization may not be well-prepared to take on that responsibility
  • It requires developing a close collaborative relationship between the project team and the business rather than using a PMO as a “middle-man”
  • It also relies much more heavily on self-organizing teams

For those reasons and others, a totally adaptive approach may not be the right approach for all businesses. And, even if it is, it may take time to migrate an existing organization to that kind of approach. Fortunately, there are many ways to develop a hybrid approach to blend a traditional plan-driven approach with a more adaptive approach to fit a given business and project environment.

Hybrid Environments

The role of the PMO should be aligned with supporting whatever the overall business strategy is. That might require a hybrid of an Agile and traditional plan-driven approach. For example, here are some of the ways that a hybrid approach might be implemented:

Project/Product Portfolio Management

The PMO may still be the focal point for Project/Product Portfolio Management. However, a more agile approach might be used to perform that function.

  • Instead of very rigorous upfront planning that might be required to analyze project ROI to support a more traditional, plan-driven project/product portfolio management approach,
  • A more dynamic decision-making process might be used at that level with a much more limited amount of upfront planning and less-detailed ROI analysis.

Project Execution

In the other functions related to managing the execution of projects, the PMO:

  • Probably would probably delegate more responsibility to project teams and
  • Play more of a facilitative and consultative role to support the project teams rather than playing a controlling role.

Overall Summary

In summary,

  • Agile certainly forces some rethinking of the role of a PMO. However, it doesn’t necessarily make the whole concept of a PMO obsolete and irrelevant
  • There are a wide range of strategies an organization can choose for implementing an Agile transformation at an enterprise level. It isn’t necessarily a binary choice between a pure “Waterfall approach from top-to-bottom or a totally “Agile” approach from top-to-bottom. You have to choose the right approach to fit the business rather than attempting to force-fit the business to some kind of “textbook” approach.

The important thing to recognize is that this is not a “one size fits all” decision. What is the right approach for one company may not be the best approach for another.

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Enterprise-level Product Backlog Organization

A lot of thinking about Agile seems to be based on small, single-team projects rather than large, complex enterprise-level initiatives and there is a limited amount of information on what needs to be done to scale small, single team projects to large, complex enterprise-level initiatives and how to structure an enterprise-level product backlog.

Product Backlog Planning

One of those areas that often needs to be done differently on large, complex, enterprise-level projects is Product Backlog organization.  On small single-team Agile projects, the predominant thinking seems to be that you only need to plan the backlog a few sprints in advance, you just prioritize the stories in the backlog, and then pull them off as needed to start a sprint. 

That method starts to break down as you scale projects to large, complex enterprise levels.  There are a number of problems I’ve seen with that approach:

The Importance of Planning

Without planning the backlog further in advance, it’s difficult to assess the overall scope of the project and determine the resources required for the project. 

  • For example, I’ve seen a project that just started development with a small, single Agile development team and after two years of development still had no end-in-sight of when the project would be completed. 
  • It was a major surprise when we stepped back and re-planned the entire backlog at a high level to find that the project was going to take almost another two years to complete with the current level of resources.

Large Product Backlogs

When you have a large product backlog with hundreds or perhaps even over 1,000 stories, understanding the inter-relationship of the stories becomes important. 

When you make priority changes among stories in the Product Backlog, it often doesn’t make sense to do it the level of individual stories…if you move one story up in the Product Backlog, what about the other stories that are inter-related with it? 

  • Wouldn’t you want to move all of those stories together as a group?  Organizing the Product Backlog into Epics and perhaps even themes provides a way to make priority decisions at a higher level that is more appropriate for enterprise-level projects. 
  • At that level, priority decisions are often more based on a higher-level of epics and themes rather than at the level of individual stories within an epic or theme.

Architecture

Another major problem area is architecture. If you take a piecemeal approach to doing individual stories without planning and considering the entire solution, it can lead to poor architectural decisions and possibly significant rework later on.

Multiple Teams

Finally, when a project grows to the point that multiple teams are involved, it becomes even more essential to organize the work to be done in a way that it can be segmented among multiple teams without requiring excessive amounts of coordination overhead among the teams.

Overall Summary

In another article I recently wrote on “Enterprise-level Agile Implementation“, I discussed the other levels of management that are typically found at an enterprise-level in larger companies that need to be integrated such as Program Management and Product/Project Portfolio Management.  In a large company,

  • Organizing the Product Backlog into a hierarchical structure can be essential to support effective decision-making at those higher levels of management above the level of a single Agile team
  • And that is often critical to ensure that all of the projects in an organization are well-aligned with the company’s overall business strategy.

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Enterprise-level Agile Implementation

I was recently asked to help a consulting firm who is working with a client having trouble with a very large enterprise-level Agile implementation. 

  • It seems that the company had gone head-over-heels into Agile across the whole company and the senior executives were unhappy with the way it was going. 
  • Many projects were going off track and senior management didn’t feel like they had much visibility and predictability to see if all the development efforts were really well-aligned with the company’s business strategy. 
  • I think this is a typical problem that many companies face for large-scale, enterprise-level Agile implementations.

The Challenge

The problem is that large companies typically have some kind of management infrastructure such as a PMO  for managing projects as well as some kind of project portfolio management approach to align projects with the company’s business strategy and that existing management infrastructure probably isn’t totally compatible with an Agile development approach.  The choices are:

  1. Dismantle the existing management infrastructure and simply implement Agile at a development team level with no guiding management infrastructure.  That typically results in problems  such as projects going out of control and not being well-aligned with the company’s business strategy.
  2. Implement a new top-to-bottom Agile management approach such as the Scaled Agile Framework.  This is a good solution but requires a major redefinition of the company’s management infrastructure and some companies are just not ready to make that kind of gut-wrenching change.
  3. Implement a “bridge” between the existing management infrastructure and the Agile development approach using a hybrid management approach overlaid on top of the Agile development process.

Higher Levels of Management

The most important point is that you can’t ignore the need for these higher levels of management and implement Agile as a development process without defining some way that it integrates with the company’s overall business strategy. The choices look something like this:

Enterprise Level Agiie Business Strategy

This can be a difficult thing to do because standard Agile methodologies such as Scrum do not provide much guidance above the development team level and there are a number of choices at each of these levels.  At each level, there is a choice of implementing a more Agile or a more traditional, plan-driven management approach.  It is somewhat like a chess game as shown in the diagram below:

Enterprise Agile 2

Potential Enterprise-level Agile Frameworks

Here’s how I would position some of the frameworks for filling this need:

Enterprise Agile 3

The three frameworks shown above are:

  1. My own Managed Agile Development model
  2. Scott Ambler’s Disciplined Agile Delivery model
  3. Dean Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Product Development versus Project Development

Agile has been most widely used in “product” development environments and less widely used in “project” development environments.  The difference between product development versus project development is not widely recognized.  Of course, this is not a totally universal, black-and-white distinction; but, in general, here are some key differences:

Product Development

Products are less deterministic and the business model is usually a little more open-ended.  For example, a company might say that we want to develop a product to satisfy “X” market need (where that market need may only be generally defined and might need to be validated) and we’re going to invest $X to fund a team for ongoing development to support that product development initiative.

For many products, it’s an effort that simply goes on-and-on without end to provide ongoing support and enhancements for the life of the product.  Products are generally somewhat speculative and might require a significant amount of innovation particularly if it is something that has never been done before.  For that reason, a product development effort is very well-suited to an Agile development process.

  • The business model behind a product development effort is typically based on a projected return on investment (ROI) that the decision to invest $X in the ongoing development effort will provide an acceptable return from the profitability that the product will generate over a period of time.
  • The decision process associated with a  product development effort is generally focused on prioritizing what features should be added to the product to provide the highest level of customer satisfaction and profitability.  That decision process is ideally suited to an agile development process.

Project Development

Projects are typically more deterministic and less speculative.  Very few development teams are given a “blank check” to do some kind of project without having some expectations of what the project will accomplish, what it’s going to cost, and what the schedule will be.

The business model behind projects is also typically very different. 

  • A company typically has a given amount of funding to invest in projects and some kind of project portfolio management approach is generally needed to determine the appropriate mix of projects that will provide the greatest overall benefit. 
  • In order to make that decision, something must be known about the expected results, costs, and schedules of the projects in that portfolio and there is an ongoing need to monitor the performance of those projects to see if they really are going in the right direction to provide the return that was expected.

Applying Agile to Project Development

The process associated with managing a “project” is also typically different…the general nature of the features the “project” will provide would generally be much more well-defined prior to the start of the project, there would typically be some expectations about what the cost and schedule of the project would be, and it probably wouldn’t be completely open-ended to add features as a “product” might be.   These are key reasons why it is more difficult to apply an Agile development model to projects than it is to products.

Applying Agile principles and practices in a “project” development environment rather than a “product” development environment can be a bit more challenging but it definitely can be done. 

  • Agile works best where there are no constraints on costs and schedules and the primary goal is to add features to maximize customer satisfaction (product model). 
  • When you introduce constraints on costs and schedules (project model), this is the area where it is many times appropriate to use some kind of hybrid managed agile approach to meet the competing demands of a highly flexible and adaptive development approach and the predictability of meeting cost and schedule constraints that is often demanded in a project environment.

The Hybrid Agile Development Approach I’ve described in one of my other posts is an example of how this can be done.  It involves wrapping a “shell” around an Agile development process that can be as thick or thin as you want it to be to provide a sufficient level of planning and predictability to meet the needs of the business environment while retaining a lot of flexibility and adaptivity within the development process.

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Emotional Intelligence in Agile – Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?

The role of emotional intelligence in Agile is important to understand. It is a skill that is very difficult to master for many people.

Emotional Intelligence in Agile

What is Emotional Intelligence?

HelpGuide.org defines “emotional intelligence as follows:

“Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. Emotional intelligence impacts many different aspects of your daily life, such as the way you behave and the way you interact with others.”

Why is that so important in an Agile environment? It’s important because:

  • Agile relies so heavily on teamwork and open, honest, and
  • Transparent communication both within the team and with other stakeholders outside of the team.

Key Attributes Associated with Emotional Intelligence

HelpGuide.org goes on to define four key attributes associated with “emotional intelligence”:

CharacteristicDescription
Self-AwarenessYou recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence
Self-ManagementYou’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances
Social AwarenessYou can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization
Relationship ManagementYou know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict

Source: www.helpguide.org/mental/eq5_raising_emotional_intelligence.htm

The easiest way to see how this impacts the performance of Agile teams is to observe the behavior of someone who has a low level of emotional intelligence. Here is an example:

  • On an Agile team I’ve worked with, there was one particular individual who was very bright and intelligent but
  • He had a very strong and dominating personality and what I would consider a low level of emotional intelligence.

Here are some characteristics I saw – He:

  • Liked to be in control of everything. He wanted to be seen as the “hero” who is leading the entire effort. There was a saying on the team that if it’s not XX’s idea, it sucks
  • Was opinionated and confrontational, didn’t value other people’s perspective, and attacked other people openly in emails
  • Had a strong vested interest in his own ideas and proving himself “right”. He lost objectivity and wasn’t able to see different sides of a decision

Impact on an Agile Team

How does that impact the effectiveness of an Agile team?

  • It can stifle the contribution of others on the team. It’s well known that more minds can work better than one and the performance of a team is maximized when everyone on the team is fully engaged and actively contributing to decisions and the work of the team.
  • It can lead to poor decisions. Decisions may be biased in favor of one person’s point of view and may not objectively consider all aspects of the problem

Here’s some excellent additional reading on this subject:

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/eq5_raising_emotional_intelligence.htm

How Do You Acquire Emotional Intelligence?

I believe that the first and most important step is self-awareness. You have to be somewhat introspective and be able to look at yourself openly and honestly and also learn to be comfortable being open and transparent with others.

  • That doesn’t come naturally to all people and requires a certain amount of self-confidence to develop. Many people have a “shell” that they operate within and that “shell” can be either thick or thin.
  • There’s a concept that I learned a long time ago called the “Johari Window” that is still valid today.

The Johari Window

The Johari Window is a tool that is used to analyze someone’s level of self-awareness. It breaks up people’s self awareness into four quadrants:

AreaDescription
Open/Free AreaPersonality attributes and characteristics that are known to yourself and to others
Blind AreaPersonality attributes and characteristics that are known to others but not by yourself
Hidden AreaPersonality attributes and characteristics that are known by yourself but not by others
Unknown AreaPersonality attributes and characteristics that you are not fully aware of and others are also not aware of

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johari_window

Alan Chapman has created a very nice diagram that shows the relationship of these four quadrants:

Johari Window Model

Source: http://www.businessballs.com/johariwindowmodeldiagram.pdf

Key Points

The key points are:

  • People who have a high level of self-awareness and who are also open and transparent in their behavior with others:
    • Have a relatively large quadrant one (Open/Free Area)
    • The other quadrants are relatively small
  • The objective of increasing your self-awareness, openness, and transparency is to:
    • Increase the size of quadrant one (Open/Free Area)
    • Relative to the size of the “Blind” and “Hidden” quadrants.
  • Another objective is to more fully develop your true potential through self-discovery of skills, attributes, and characteristics in the “Unknown” area that neither you or others you interact with are fully aware of.

How Do You Develop Self Awareness?

Years ago, I can remember many companies made self-awareness training a key part of their management development curriculum for new managers:

  • The principle behind that was that you couldn’t be very effective as a manager if you had a hidden personal agenda and
  • You weren’t open and transparent in your relationships with other people
  • Your employees will recognize the external veneer that you put on, see right through it, and lose respect for you

Unfortunately, over the years, many companies have cut back on that kind of training.

  • It was perceived as too “touchy-feely” and when times got tough, it was one of the first things that got cut because it was not seen to have a direct contribution to company profitability.
  • The relationship to company profitability may be indirect, but I think it is just as essential today for managers and even more important for people participating in Agile teams.

There are some exercises that can be done with Agile teams to develop higher levels of self awareness. For example, here’s a Johari Window self-assessment tool:

http://kevan.org/johari

Overall Summary

Emotional Intelligence is important in an Agile environment.

  • It is essential for creating an environment of trust where people feel comfortable with being open and honest with others in a small group
  • Once people have become comfortable with doing that in a small group, they can then take more risks and practice the same behavior outside of that small protected group environment
  • Self-awareness is a very important skill for achieving emotional intelligence. You must be able to see yourself openly and honestly in order to improve

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Agile Project Manager Job Description

I was recently asked by a company I am working with to create an Agile Project Manager job description. Here’s what I came up with:

Introduction

The Agile Project Manager (APM) is responsible for planning, leading, organizing, and motivating Agile project teams. The goals are to:

  • Achieve a high level of performance and quality, and
  • Deliver agile projects that provide exceptional business value to users

The APM may be responsible for managing several concurrent high visibility projects using agile methods in a fast-paced environment that may cross multiple business divisions.

Potential Agile Project Manager Roles

The APM may play a number of different roles in actual practice:

Enterprise-level Role

At an enterprise level, potential roles include:

  • Leading and managing large, complex enterprise-level projects
  • The projects may consist of multiple Agile teams and require integration with other activities outside the scope of the Agile teams

Team-level Role

At a team level, potential roles include:

  • Playing a consultative role to put in place the appropriate people, process, and tools, to improve team efficiency and effectiveness
  • Coaching members of the team as needed to optimize the efficiency of the project team

Hybrid Agile Role

In situations that require a hybrid Agile approach, potential roles include:

  • Using good judgment and skill to develop a project management approach that is suitable for planning and managing the effort
  • Achieve the project goals within designated project constraints

In performing these roles, the APM will be expected to use a high level of knowledge and experience in blending traditional project management principles and practices with an Agile development approach in the right proportions to fit large, complex, mission-critical, enterprise-level projects and with the appropriate level of planning and provide the right balance of agility and predictability.

Essential Job Requirements

AreaRequirement
Project Planning and ManagementDefine project scope and schedule while focusing on regular and timely delivery of value; organize and lead project status and working meetings; prepare and distribute progress reports; manage risks and issues; correct deviations from plans; and perform delivery planning for assigned projects
Team ManagementAssist in team development while holding teams accountable for their commitments, removing roadblocks to their work; leveraging organizational resources to improve capacity for project work; and mentoring and developing team members
Product Owner SupportSupport the Product Owner in managing customer expectations for project deliverables, managing stakeholder communications, and helping to implement an effective system of project governance
Process Management and ImprovementDefine and manage a well-defined project management process and champion ongoing process improvement initiatives to implement best practices for Agile Project Management
Team BuildingPromote empowerment of the team, ensure that each team member is fully engaged in the project and making a meaningful contribution, and encourage a sustainable pace with high-levels of quality for the team

Qualifications

  • Solid understanding of software development life cycle models as well as expert knowledge of both Agile and traditional project management principles and practices and the ability to blend them together in the right proportions to fit a project and business environment
  • A proven track record of successfully implementing software or web development projects using Agile methodologies including 8+ years of experience as a Project Manager managing large, complex projects in a high-tech development environment with multi-function teams. PMP preferred
  • Prior experience with SCRUM/Agile methodologies with enterprise-level application development projects. PMI-ACP, CSM, or equivalent preferred
  • Experience overseeing multi-function project teams with at least 10-15 team members including Developers, Business Analysts, and QA Personnel
  • Balanced business/technical background:
    • Sufficient level of technical background to provide highly-credible leadership to development teams and to be able to accurately and objectively evaluate complex project risks and issues
    • Ability to provide leadership to business analysts and collaborate with customers and develop strategies and solutions of high business value

Skills Required

  • BA or BS or equivalent experience is required; MA or MS is a plus
  • Very effective interpersonal skills including mentoring, coaching, collaborating, and team building
  • Strong analytical, planning, and organizational skills with an ability to manage competing demands
  • In-depth knowledge and understanding of business needs with the ability to establish/maintain high level of customer trust and confidence
  • Proven ability to lead software development projects and ensure objectives, goals, and commitments are met
  • Solid understanding of and demonstrated experience in using appropriate tools:
    • Agile Project Management tools such as Jira/Greenhopper, Rally, VersionOne or equivalent
    • Microsoft Project, Visio, and all Office Tools
  • Excellent oral and written communications skills and experience interacting with both business and IT individuals at all levels including the executive level
  • Creative approach to problem-solving with the ability to focus on details while maintaining the “big picture” view

Additional Resources

This is a new and rapidly evolving field. For more insight into the role of an Agile Project Manager, check out the online training curriculum below:

Agile Project Management Training Curriculum

Developing an Agile Company Culture

Developing an Agile company culture can be a major obstacle to successfully implementing an Agile development approach; however, it doesn’t have to be that difficult.

  • Some people make the mistake of thinking that you have to change the entire culture of a company in order to adopt an Agile development approach.
  • I don’t believe that is either necessary or appropriate in many cases; a company’s culture should be designed around whatever business they are in and that may or may not be well-aligned with implementing an Agile development approach.
  • See my previous blog post on “Agile and Corporate Culture” for more discussion on this:

Impact of Corporate Culture

Agile works best in companies that are in the business of developing products or where software product development is somehow very directly related to their primary business.

  • In other companies where the relationship is more indirect, it can be much more difficult to implement an Agile development approach because it may not be as well-aligned with the company’s primary business objectives.
  • An example is Walmart…Walmart’s primary business is driven by reducing costs. I’m sure that software development plays some role in that but it is much more indirect than a company like Amazon.com whose business is very directly leveraged by software development.
  • It should be very easy for a company like Amazon.com to implement an Agile development approach and far more difficult for a company like Walmart to do the same thing.

The key point is that since Walmart’s primary business is through conventional brick-and-mortar retail stores, they have to develop a culture that is well-aligned with squeezing costs out of every area of their operations and managing a large number of retail stores very efficiently and effectively.

  • Those are the primary drivers of their business and that may not align very well with an Agile development approach.
  • If you were to set out to implement an Agile development process inside of a company like Walmart, would you try to get them to give up their entire corporate culture and adopt a different corporate culture that is more suitable for hosting an Agile development process? I don’t think so, but there are some fundamental aspects of any company’s culture that can be dysfunctional are most critical to adopting an Agile development approach.

What Are the Most Important Factors?

Here are a few of what I think are the most important factors in developing a corporate culture that is consistent with Agile:

1. Transparency and Trust

In many large corporations, there is somewhat of a contractual relationship between the business users and the people who deliver Information Technology solutions. The business users may be under intense pressure to reduce costs and want to get firm commitments from the solution providers on the costs and schedules of projects. That is one of the major factors that has can be a big obstacle to implementing an Agile development approach – sometimes it even creates somewhat of an adversarial relationship between the two organizations. The key to getting past that obstacle is:

  • Companies need to realize that this is not an “all-or-nothing” proposition to totally give up all control of projects to become Agile. There are many ways to blend traditional project management principles and practices with Agile principles and practices to develop the right balance of agility and control. See my blog post on a Hybrid Agile framework here:

http://managedagile.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/a-hybrid-agile-development-framework/

  • Developing a spirit of trust, partnership, and collaboration between the two organizations can require some strong executive-level leadership to break down some of the traditional barriers that exist inside of companies. The strongest driving force for making that happen is that it requires a more collaborative partnership approach to focus on rapid innovation.

2. Focus on Continuous Improvement and Innovation

A focus on process improvement and continuous innovation is certainly not new to Agile.

  • It has been around a long time and many companies have successfully adopted continuous improvement approaches based on Six Sigma and other methodologies.
  • I published my first book in that area called “From Quality to Business Excellence” in 2003.
  • What I found was that in the companies that did Six Sigma well, it may not even be noticeable that it was Six Sigma. They may not have a lot of the hoopla like black belts and green belts that are normally associated with Six Sigma and it was so deeply ingrained into the way the company did business, that it may not even have been called Six Sigma.
  • The companies that did it well took a systems thinking approach to adapt it to their business while the more superficial companies simply did it mechanically “by the book” and treated it as just another “Program du jour”.
  • I think a similar thing is happening today with Agile. Companies who take the time and effort to understand Agile at a deeper level and adapt it to their business are probably more likely to do it successfully.

3. Respect for People and Self-organizing Teams

This principle is also not new to Agile. It was a key element of Dr. Deming’s principles that form the basis of the Total Quality Management (TQM) approach and I can remember a strong focus on this when I worked at Motorola in the early 1990’s.

  • It’s another thing like Six Sigma that some companies forget about when the pressure gets intense to deliver business results.
  • They sometimes take a superficial, brute-force approach to try to drive business results rather than taking a systems-thinking approach to understanding the factors that drive business results and the role that people play in achieving those goals.

If you only focus on those three things about a company’s culture, I think you will have a pretty good foundation for implementing an Agile development approach and those three things are somewhat common to all companies regardless of what business they’re in.

An Interesting Footnote

By the way, here’s an interesting footnote to this article: Walmart has recognized the importance of e-commerce to their business and has formed a new division called “Walmart Labs” to address that challenge. Here’s an interesting article on that topic:

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/429589/walmarts-new-high-tech-labs-youre-not-in-arkansas-anymore/

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Managed Agile Development Framework – A Hybrid Approach

I’ve seen many people ask a question like “should I use Agile or Waterfall for a project? That presumes that this is a binary, all-or-nothing choice that you have to choose one or the other and not both. It excludes the possibility that there is a hybrid approach that provides the benefits of both approaches. The Managed Agile Development Framework is an example of a hybrid approach that is very easy to implement

Background

A few years ago I was responsible for managing a large government project that required meeting some defined cost and schedule milestones but the customer wanted to take an Agile approach to defining the requirements. In response to that project, I developed an approach which I call “The Managed Agile Development” framework that would satisfy those two seemingly inconsistent goals.

  • We were able to successfully build a partnership with the government client in which we did a very professional job of managing overall contractual requirements at the “macro-level”, and
  • Within that “macro level” envelope, we were still able to implement a fairly Agile development approach at the “micro-level”
Managed Agile Development Framework

How Does It Work?

I’m providing a brief description of how it works here (refer to my book for more details). There are two layers in the framework as shown in the diagram above. The “Macro” layer is plan-driven; but it can be as “thick” or “thin” as you want it to be. The “Micro” layer can be any Agile development approach such as Scrum.

  • The macro-level framework is a plan-driven approach, designed to provide a sufficient level of control and predictability for the overall project. It defines the outer envelope (scope and high-level requirements) that the project operates within
  • Within that outer envelope, the micro-level framework utilizes a more flexible and iterative approach based on an Agile Scrum approach that is designed to be adaptive to user needs

Trade-offs to Consider

Naturally, there are tradeoffs between the level of agility and flexibility to adapt to change at the “micro-level” and the level of predictability and control at the “macro-level”. It is important that both the client or business sponsor and the development team need to agree on those tradeoffs. The framework provides a mechanism for making those tradeoffs by making the “macro-level” as “thick” or “thin” as you want to fit a given situation.

  • Increasing the level of predictability and control requires beefing up the macro-level and providing more detailed requirements at that level and implementing at least a limited amount of change control
  • To increase the level of agility, you can simply eliminate the macro-level altogether or limit it to only very high-level requirements
  • Other elements of the framework can be easily customized or eliminated depending on the scope and complexity of the project and other factors

Change Control

A question that often comes up is “How do you handle change control?”. The answer to that question is that you have to design enough slack into the milestones at the “macro” level to allow detailed elaboration of requirements to take place in the “micro” level. However, when there is a significant enough change in the “micro” level that would impact achievement of the requirements in the “macro” level, that should trigger a change to the “macro” level milestones. This general approach can be used on almost any project.

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.