Tag Archives: Agile Project Management Training

Agile Project Management: Are You a Caterpillar or a Butterfly?

I attended a very good webinar the other day with Ankur Nagpal, the CEO of Teachable, which is one of the training platforms that hosts my Agile Project Management Training curriculum.   He was talking about how to market training and made a comment something to the effect of:

“We shouldn’t be providing “training courses”; we should be providing “transformation”

He used the example of transforming a caterpillar into a butterfly.  He is absolutely right and that is exactly the approach I’ve strived to develop in my Agile Project Management courses for the past year and a half.  In fact, the picture I use as a symbol of my new Agile Project Management Academy and my Mastering Agile Project Management course is based on transformation:

Agile Transformation

It’s not exactly transforming “caterpillars” into “butterflies” but I think that analogy fits pretty well. It’s about transforming project managers (who may have been heavily indoctrinated in a traditional, plan-driven approach to project management that hasn’t changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s) into a much more high impact orientation that is:

  • Focused on producing results in addition to simply managing projects
  • Based on blending together Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any situation rather than force-fitting all projects to a traditional, plan-driven approach

That’s not an easy thing to do for several reasons:

  • PMI has at least recognized Agile as a legitimate variation of project management but “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
  • The prevailing thinking among many people in the project management profession is that, by definition, “project management” is defined as managing projects using a traditional, plan-driven approach and anything else isn’t really “project management”
  • There also many well-established stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions to overcome. For example, one of them is that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” and you need to force-fit your projects and business environment to one of those extremes rather than going in the other direction and fitting the methodology (or combination of methodologies) to the project and business environment

There are obviously some big transformations needed in this area to shift people’s thinking:

  • We need to see “Agile” and “Waterfall” in a fresh new perspective as complementary approaches rather than competitive
  • We also need see “Agile versus Waterfall”  from the perspective of a continuous spectrum of approaches from heavily adaptive at one extreme to heavily plan-driven at the other extreme with lots of alternatives in between rather than a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between two extremes
  • Project Managers, and the project management profession as a whole, need to take a broader view of what “project management” is that embraces Agile as well as traditional plan-driven project management
  • And, Project Managers also need to see “project management” in terms of producing results and not just managing projects and using whatever methodology (or combination of methodologies) is needed to produce the results as effectively and efficiently as possible

I think you will agree that is a very tall order and a daunting challenge but that is exactly the challenge I have taken on in the Agile Project Management curriculum I’ve developed.  Check it out here:

Agile Project Management Academy

What is an Agile Project Manager?

I’ve participated in some discussions recently that indicate that there is still a lot of confusion and controversy about what is an Agile Project Manager is. It’s understandable why this confusion exists:

  • There have been some very strong stereotypes built up over many years of what “project management” is and what a “Project Manager” is.  Those stereotypes are centered around the belief that “project management” is limited entirely to traditional plan-driven project management and project managers are so heavily engrained into that way of thinking that they can’t possibly adapt to an Agile environment.
  • PMI has made a step in the right direction by introducing the PMI-ACP certification.  That certification at least recognizes Agile as a legitimate form of project management but PMI has never really defined exactly what an “Agile Project Manager” is and what role he/she might play in the real world.
  • Many people think of Agile in a very narrow sense as limited to simple, single-team Scrum projects; and, because there is no “Project Manager” role defined at that level, they assume that there is no role for Agile project management at all in an Agile environment; however, there is more to Agile than simple, single-team projects.

In order to better understand what “Agile Project Management” is, we need to get past these stereotypes and develop a broader vision of what “project management” is, what “Agile” is, and what an “Agile Project Manager” is.

First, we need to recognize that the discipline of ”project management” isn’t limited to traditional, plan-driven project management with an emphasis on planning and control just because that’s the way project management has been typically practiced for many years.  There is actually a lot of “project management” going on in an Agile project although it may not look like the traditional, narrow view of what project management is at all:

  • It’s a different style of project management with an emphasis on taking an adaptive approach to maximize the value of the project in an uncertain environment rather than the traditional emphasis on planning and control; however, if you take a broader view of what “project management” is, it is still project management.
  • And, although you may not find anyone with the title of “Project Manager” at a team level in an Agile project, there’s a lot of project management going on – the project management functions that would normally be performed by an individual with the title of “Project Manager” have just been distributed among the other members of the team:
    • The Product Owner has a lot of responsibilities that might be performed by a project manager in a traditional plan-driven project.  He/she is responsible for the overall successful business outcome of the project which means delivering a valuable product in a timely and cost-effective manner and making all decisions that would normally be done by a Project Manager for risk management as well as planning and managing the overall effort.
    • The Scrum Master also has some responsibilities that might be done by a project manager including removing obstacles and facilitating the project team.  It may be a different style of leadership, but it is still leadership.
    • And, finally every member of the development team has some project management functions on a very small scale for planning, scheduling, tracking, and reporting on their own work as well as the work of the team as a whole.

A related stereotype is that many people think that there is a binary and mutually exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” and try to force-fit their projects to one of those extremes when a better approach is to go in the other direction and fit the methodology to the project.  And, “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.  There are many projects that call for blending those two approaches in the right proportions to fit a given situation particularly as you get into larger, more complex, enterprise-level projects.

So what is an “Agile Project Manager”?

In my opinion, an Agile Project Manager is equally trained and skilled in applying both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices and knows how to blend them together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.  That is exactly what the training I’ve developed is all about – it is designed to:

  • Help people see “Agile” and traditional plan-driven project management in a fresh new perspective as complementary rather than competitive, and
  • Help project managers better understand what “Agile Project Management” is and what they need to do to prepare for it

So What role might an “Agile Project Manager” play in a real-world project?

I think it’s sad that some project managers see there only alternative in an Agile environment is to become a Scrum Master because the role of an Agile Project Manager is so ill-defined and poorly-understood.  I hope that the Agile Project Management training curriculum I’ve developed can help project managers see this new perspective and lead the rest of the profession into demonstrating successful Agile Project Management leadership. In my training, I’ve identified several potential roles that an Agile Project Manager might play:

  1. Team-level Role – There is officially no role for an “Agile Project Manager” at the team level in an Agile project; however, a project manager who is skilled in blending Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices can play a real value-added role as either a Product Owner, a Scrum Master, or an Agile Coach
  2. Hybrid Agile Role – For lots of reasons, companies choose to implement a hybrid Agile approach and this is an ideal environment for an Agile Project Manager to work in. An example would be an Agile contracting situation.
  3. Enterprise-level Role – As projects grow in scope and complexity to an enterprise level, there is a much more significant need for a dedicated Agile Project Manager role. As an example, I did a case study in my latest book on a project at Harvard Pilgrim that involved over 100 Agile teams – you just can’t do an effort like that without some form of project/program management

My training includes much more detail on this and several real-world case studies illustrating each of these roles.

What’s Next After Agile?

I recently saw a discussion on another forum where an individual raised the question of “What’s next after Agile?” and someone speculated that the next big methodology might be Lean.  I’ve also seen some people suggest that Kanban will become the next big methodology.  I’ve seen this pattern before – I call it the “Program Du Jour” pattern.  Here’s one of my favorite quotes on this subject:

“Americans are our own worst enemy when it comes to new business concepts. We love novelty and newness. We become so enamored with new ideas, we burn through them the way a child rips through toys on Christmas morning – squeals of delight, followed by three or four minutes of interest, then onto the next plaything. That is our pattern with new management techniques, too.

Barry Sheehy, Hyler Bracey, & Rick Frazier, Winning the Race for Value, American Management Association, 1996

The above quote was about business concepts and management techniques but the same thing can be said about methodologies.

Here’s an example – when Six Sigma came into vogue in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, it was really hot, everyone wanted to jump on the Six Sigma bandwagon, and any other earlier process improvement approach was considered obsolete and passé.  I published my first book on Business Excellence in 2003 and I interviewed a number of companies for my book at that time.  What I saw was that:

  • Many companies were doing Six Sigma very superficially and mechanically. In these companies there was a lot of “hoopla” and very visible ceremonies about Six Sigma including Black Belts, Green Belts, etc.  The implementation in many of these companies was not very successful because the company was looking for a “silver bullet” and when it didn’t meet their expectations, the company tossed it out and started looking for the next “silver bullet”.
  • In other companies where I thought Six Sigma was more successful and lasting, there was a big difference.   Six Sigma was seen only as a tool and not a “silver bullet” or panacea,
    people in the company understood Six Sigma at a deeper level, and the implementation was not just mechanical and superficial.   Six Sigma was so well-integrated into the way the company did business that it might not even have been very visible that it was Six Sigma and they might not even have called it “Six Sigma”

I see a similar pattern with Agile today.  Many people today see “Agile” as a “silver bullet” or panacea for almost any problem you might have; in many cases the implementation of Agile is superficial and mechanical; and, when it doesn’t work, there’s a tendency to toss it out and look for something new to replace it.  I think that kind of thinking has some serious flaws.

Rather than Agile being replaced by something new, what I hope that will happen is that:

  • People’s understanding of Agile will mature, they will start to understand the principles and values behind it at a deeper level, and they will go beyond superficial and mechanical implementations
  • People will stop seeing Agile as a “panacea” or “silver bullet” for any problem you might have and rather than force-fitting all problems to some particular methodology like Agile, they will recognize the need to go in the other direction and fit the methodology to the problem
  • People will also recognize that “Agile” does not make all other management approaches obsolete and passé and:
    • There’s a need to see Agile and more traditional plan-driven approaches in a fresh new perspective as complementary rather being competitive
    • Various Agile approaches such as Scrum, Kanban, and Lean are also complementary to each other rather than competitive

This is exactly the kind of thinking I’ve tried to help people develop in the curriculum in the new Agile Project Management Academy.  To learn more about that, you can check it out here:

Agile Project Management Academy

Agile Project Management Academy

I am very pleased to announce the opening of the Agile Project Management Academy! The Agile Project Management Academy is an online school that is dedicated to helping project managers and other students learn how to successfully integrate Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any situation and to develop a very high impact and adaptive project management approach that provides the best of those two worlds.

You can enroll in the Agile Project Management Academy at no charge by clicking this link. There is no obligation to purchase a course if you enroll in the school and enrolling in the school will keep you informed of new courses and discount offers that become available. You can also enroll in either of these two free courses to try it out with no obligation:

Any of my Udemy students will recognize the courses in the Agile Project Management Academy as courses that have been offered on Udemy that have drawn over 10,000 students and over 300 5-star reviews. I will continue to offer these courses on Udemy; however, offering these courses through the Agile Project Management Academy creates some new opportunities that were not available on the Udemy platform. The new platform provides:

  • A dedicated focus on Agile Project Management that will help students realize the full benefits of these courses in a much more integrated environment
  • More ways for students to take courses including bundled discounts and subscriptions
  • Much more capabilities for direct communication with students to create a more interactive learning experience
  • The ability to integrate courses from other providers with my own courses to provide a more complete learning experience
  • Better and more timely support for students

I hope you enjoy this new capability! I am very excited to make it available! Enrollment in the school is free and anyone who registers in the school will receive email updates of new courses as well as enhancements to existing courses. You can enroll in the school at no charge here:

Agile Project Management Academy

You can find a summary of the courses that are offered as well as some discount coupons for all of the courses here:

Course Summaries and Discount Coupons

Please send me an email if you have any questions or comments on this new capability:

Send email to Chuck

For any student who has previously purchased one of my courses through Udemy, I will be happy to provide access to the equivalent course in the new Agile Project Management Academy at no charge. If you would like to take advantage of that offer, just send me an email.

My Methodology is Better than Your Methodology

There are a lot of people who get caught up in what I call “methodology wars” where they are intent on their position that my methodology is better than your methodology and whatever methodology they advocate is better at solving any problem you can possibly imagine than any other methodology. You can see this in the many “agile versus waterfall” discussions and other discussions where SAFe, Kanban, or some other methodology/framework is positioned as a “silver bullet” for any problem you might have. They also tend to ignore all other methodologies as obsolete or irrelevant.

The truth is that all methodologies and frameworks have strengths and weaknesses depending on the situation and the right approach is to fit the methodology to the situation rather than force-fitting a problem to some pre-defined methodology. Sometimes that may require customizing a methodology to fit the problem and/or using a combination of elements from different methodologies. It’s a lot more difficult to do that, but it can be done – it requires:

  • Knowledge of a broader range of methodologies and frameworks,
  • Ability to see the strengths and weaknesses of those methodologies objectively, and
  • A deeper understanding of the principles behind those methodologies to know how they might be combined to fit a given situation

Here’s an example – I just finished adding some material on “Lean Software Development” to my online training courses on Agile Project Management.  Lean is not widely-used as a standalone methodology and it clearly didn’t win the “methodology wars” but the principles behind lean are the foundation for all Agile methodologies including Scrum.  If you look at the principles behind lean, they may appear to be at odds with other Agile methodologies:

  • Lean heavily emphasizes eliminating waste in a process to improve efficiency, while
  • Agile is more heavily-focused on taking a flexible and adaptive approach to meet customer needs and is less concerned about just eliminating waste

If you pursued each of these goals in isolation and to an extreme; they might be in conflict with each other, but if they are blended together in the right proportions to fit a given situation, they can be very complementary rather than competitive.

Here’s another example – many people seem to believe that all forms of traditional project management are obsolete and irrelevant and have been totally replaced by Agile.  On the surface; if you look at traditional, plan-driven project management and Agile, they may appear to be at odds with each other; and if each approach is pursued in isolation and to an extreme, they probably will be in conflict but that shouldn’t preclude blending the principles behind the two approaches together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

This kind of thinking is commonly called “Systems thinking” – it requires seeing a problem in a holistic context and understanding the dynamics of the problem at a deeper level rather than mechanically imposing a predefined solution on a given problem.  This is the kind of approach I’ve tried to help students develop in all of my online Agile Project Management training courses.

Agile Project Management Roadmap

I recently published an article on “Preparing for the PMI-ACP® Exam“. I want to expand on that article in the broader context of: What is the “Agile Project Management Roadmap” for a Project Manager with little or no Agile experience to become a well-qualified Agile Project Manager and where does PMI-ACP® certification fit into that process? Here’s a simplified, high-level diagram that shows what I think that process looks like and how the online training I’ve developed fits into that “road map”:

Agile Project Management Training Roadmap

Here’s some notes on this “road map”

  • It’s important to recognize that the typical Project Manager who has little or no Agile experience can’t just go out and take the PMI-ACP certification exam (even if they took at least 21 hours of training first), you need at least 1,500 hours of experience in an Agile environment to qualify to take the exam
  • In order to get 1,500 hours experience in an Agile environment, you need some knowledge to be able to perform that role. That’s the primary need that my current online training courses fill. Those courses provide an excellent foundation and an equivalent level of knowledge for most of the topics required for PMI-ACP but it’s more focused on preparing someone to assume a real-world role rather than “exam prep” training
  • After you get the 1,500 hours of experience, you need to take an exam-prep course before you can take the PMI-ACP® exam. A total of at least 21 hours of training is required to qualify to take the exam. My courses, as they exist now, will satisfy about 7.5 hours of this requirement
  • Finally, it’s important to recognize that getting PMI-ACP® certification doesn’t immediately give someone the skills to get a job. PMI-ACP® certification is a test of general Agile knowledge and is not oriented around qualifying someone to perform a particular role. This is a very controversial topic; but, in general, there is no role for an Agile Project Manager at the team level in an Agile environment, the typical role for an Agile Project Manager would be at a higher enterprise level and PMI-ACP® definitely does not prepare someone for that role. That’s requires additional training beyond the level of PMI-ACP® certification and that’s the need my Advanced Agile PM Training course are designed to satisfy.

It’s very important to recognize that Agile will precipitate a dramatic transformation of the Project Management profession as we know it today and PMI-ACP® certification is a good step in the right direction but I think most people will agree that it’s just a test of general Agile knowledge and doesn’t go far enough to prepare project managers for a specific Agile Project Management role and to address the real challenge that many project managers face of “How do I blend Agile and traditional Project Management” principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation?”

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level is important. One of the criticisms I’ve heard often about Agile/Scrum is that people do it “mechanically” – sometimes, they rigidly and dogmatically implement Scrum “by the book”. That’s very ironic because it’s the opposite of what was intended by the Agile Manifesto (remember “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”). That shouldn’t be surprising – you can get a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certificate by sitting through a two-day course and many people never go beyond that level of training.

In my opinion, to develop a high-performance Agile/Scrum approach that is dynamic and adaptable to a broad range of situations, you have to go beyond doing it “mechanically by the book” and understand the principles and values behind it at a deeper level. This becomes particularly important when you try to scale Agile/Scrum to larger and more complex enterprise-level projects.

I’ve developed a new online training course to help fill this need and I’m offering this course at a discounted price of $10 for anyone who wants to take it during the month of June. Here’s a brief video summary of this new online training course:

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level Video Summary

You can find more information on this course plus the discount coupon code on this blog site training page:

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level Course Information

If you’re interested in certification, this course should be excellent preparation for the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification. I think the PSM certification is more rigorous than CSM and it recognizes that training and development should be an ongoing process beyond simply sitting through a one-time, two-day training course.

Advanced Agile Project Management Training

As many of you who have been following my blog post realize, I’m very passionate about closing the gap between the project management community and the Agile community and helping people see these two approaches as complementary rather than competitive. To that end, I’ve published three books on Agile Project Management and I’ve written over 60 articles in this blog site. However, I’m determined to go beyond that and develop an online Advanced Agile Project Management training curriculum that condenses a lot of that knowledge into a well-organized set of training courses that are easy to follow and understand. There are several needs that I’m trying to satisfy with those courses:

  1. Project Managers – Many project managers are unsure about the impact of Agile on the project management profession as well as on their own career direction.

    There are many project managers who have been heavily indoctrinated in a traditional, plan-driven approach to project management and see no need to learn anything about Agile. Agile is perceived to be something that is relevant only to software development and can be ignored by anyone who is not working in that area.I believe that Agile is a fundamental shift in thinking that applies, to some extent, to any area and learning how to integrate Agile principles and practices in the right proportions with a traditional plan-driven approach will make someone a stronger project manager even if they are never involved in a pure Agile project.

    It's a matter of learning to be adaptive and fitting the methodology to the project rather than using a "one size fits all" approach to force-fit all projects to a traditional, plan-driven approach.

    There are some project managers who may think it is just a matter of getting another certification such as PMI-ACP and they're done as soon as they get that certification.I think PMI-ACP is a step in the right direction but I don't think it goes far enough. PMI-ACP is mostly a test of your understanding of basic Agile and lean terminology.

    It doesn't address the real challenge that many project managers face of figuring out how to integrate Agile and traditional plan-driven principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

    A key objective of the training I’ve developed is to help project managers develop a more adaptive approach to project management that integrates Agile as well as traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any situation. I do not believe that traditional plan-driven project principles and practices are obsolete and no longer needed; however, I do believe that any project manager who only knows how to do traditional plan-driven project management will be very limited in the not-too-distant future.

  2. Business Managers – Many project managers are a product of the environment that they work in and their organization’s management approach is heavily rooted in a plan-driven approach to project management.
    • The organization expects project managers to take charge of projects and to do whatever is needed to manage and control a project to make it successful. If a project is in trouble or fails, the project manager is the one held responsible. Naturally, that would tend to lead a project manager to take a “command-and-control” approach to managing projects.
    • There is also typically a heavy emphasis on management of project costs and schedules and a project that goes significantly over its schedule and cost goals is likely to be regarded as a failure. That would also naturally tend to favor a “Waterfall” approach where the project locks in the requirements upfront and does not encourage making changes once the project is in progress.

    A project manager who works in that kind of environment will have difficulty developing a more adaptive approach to project management if that isn’t consistent with what the organization expects of him/her. Many of these organizations see it as a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” and think they have to force-fit their business and projects to one of those extremes and they’re scared to death of adopting an Agile approach for fear of totally dismantling their existing management systems and completely losing control of their business.

    That’s a key reason why I developed the “Making Agile Work for Your Business” course so that project managers who are stuck in that kind of environment can use that training to influence their organization to understand how to fit an Agile Project Management approach to any business environment.

  3. Agile Teams – You might ask, “Why would an Agile team need to know anything about ‘project management’?” The answer to that question may not be obvious but there are several good reasons why Agile teams need to learn how to integrate some level of project management principles and practices into their work.
    • There’s a common misconception that “project management” isn’t required in an Agile project at the team level because you typically won’t find anyone with the title of “Project Manager” at that level. The truth is that there is still a need for “project management”; it’s just a much more adaptive approach to “project management” and the “project management” functions are distributed among the members of the team rather than being performed by one individual with the title of “Project Manager”. Even a developer or a tester on an Agile team has some very basic project management responsibilities for planning and managing their own tasks and collaboratively working with the rest of the team to integrate all of the work of the team around a common goal.
    • Many projects require some level of predictability and control in addition to being Agile. A good example of that is an Agile contracting situation where it is essential to manage a customer’s expectations regarding costs and schedules in addition to being agile.
    • Many people on an Agile team have been thrust into the role that they’re in with little or know training at all. They may know something about the “mechanics” of how to do Agile and Scrum but they typically may have no project management background at all and they may even see “project management” as inconsistent with an Agile development approach. My courses will also help people on Agile teams see this in a broader perspective and learn how to integrate an appropriate level of “project management” focus into their efforts on an Agile team.