Tag Archives: Agile Project Management

Agile Project Management for Executives

I have just released a new online training course called “Agile Project Management for Executives”.

Agile Project Management for Executives

The Agile Bandwagon

In many areas, “Agile” is becoming a hot new buzz word and everyone wants to jump on the “Agile bandwagon”. They may not fully understanding why they’re getting into it and exactly what they expect to get out of it. In addition, many companies also make the mistake of assuming that whatever is good for the development process is good for the business as a whole and that is not necessarily the case.

Agile Bandwagon

Agile Project Management for Executives Course Summary

Agile has huge potential benefits for a business; however, it is easy to get carried away with some of the hype that exists about Agile. To avoid that, it is important to develop an objective understanding of its benefits and limitations to know how and when to apply it successfully. The right approach is to not necessarily to just implement Agile for the sake of becoming Agile, but figure out how it’s going to help your business and what problems it will solve. The typical questions and challenges this poses for business managers and executives are:

  • How do I reconcile an Agile development approach with my existing business management and project management processes?
  • Do I need to unravel all of my existing management processes in order to adopt an Agile development approach?

This course will help you answer those questions. It also includes assessment tools and planning tools that are designed to help you develop a very effective Agile Project Management approach that is very well-aligned with your business.

Intended Audience

There are three potential audiences for this course:

1. Senior-level Executives

The first audience is senior-level executives who want to make their business more agile. The course will help develop a well-integrated approach to fit an Agile development process to their business

2. Business Sponsors

The next audience is Business Sponsors of an Agile initiative who want to learn more about Agile Project Management. The course will help them prepare to provide more effective leadership for the initiatives that they are responsible for

3. Product Owners

The final audience is for Agile Product Owners.  Many of the people who are selected to perform that role are not well-prepared for what it requires and the role is not well-understood. The course will help them to better understand how to effectively perform the Agile Product Owner role

Why Is This Course Unique and Important?

For many years, many people have treated Agile as a development process. However, in recent years it has become apparent that the implementation of Agile as a well-integrated, enterprise-level business strategy is not well-understood.

1. Business Perspective

A lot of the Agile training that exists today is very focused on implementing Agile as a development process and on the “mechanics” of how to do Scrum. There is a relatively weak focus on Agile from a business perspective. For example, my own Certified Scrum Product Owner certification was heavily focused on the “mechanics” of how to do Scrum. It didn’t really directly address the role of the Product Owner as a business decision-maker at all.

2. Objective, Pragmatic Approach

This course is not a sales-pitch for Agile. It recognizes that there is not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” as many people seem to think. Instead, it objectively presents Agile and traditional plan-driven project management approaches as complementary to each other rather than competitive.

3. In-depth Training

This course is not a superficial seminar on how to implement Agile. It is a very substantive, university-level course that is over four hours long. It provides a very in-depth understanding of Agile from a business perspective

4. Complementary to Agile Project Management Approach

This course is also designed to complement all of my Agile Project Management courses. Implementation of Agile at an enterprise-level requires a collaborative partnership between a business executive and a senior-level Agile Project Manager. That relationship should be based on a mutual understanding of how an Agile approach might apply to their business.

Additional Resources

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

What’s Next After PMI-ACP Certification and What’s the Future Like?

What’s next after PMI-ACP certification? Over the past few years I’ve been progressively developing a new approach for PMI-ACP training that I think goes well beyond other training programs and lays the groundwork for what I see as the future of project management.

What's Next After PMI-ACP Certification?

Training Objectives

When I set out to develop this training, I wanted to try to anticipate the future of the project management profession and take a different approach to Agile Project Management and PMI-ACP Certification training. There were several objectives that were important goals:

Not a Typical Exam-prep Course

There are a lot of courses out there that are based on what I call an “exam cram” approach that is designed to get students through the PMI-ACP exam and not much more than that. It involves a lot of memorization of information which doesn’t generally lead to a deeper and lasting understanding of the material.

Go Beyond the PMI-ACP Exam

Although the PMI-ACP exam is a challenging exam, it doesn’t go far enough in my opinion.

  • It is primarily just a test of general Lean and Agile knowledge and it doesn’t address one of the biggest challenges that a project manager faces of learning how to blend Agile and traditional, plan-driven project management in the right proportions to fit a given situation.
  • PMI still treats Agile and traditional, plan-driven project management as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two. It is left up to the individual project manager to figure out how to put the two together.

Design the Training Around a Real-world Role

The PMI-ACP certification is not designed around preparing someone for a particular job role.

  • I think it’s important for a project manager to have a clear idea of what role that he/she might play as an Agile Project Manager in order to prepare him/herself for that role.
  • I think that’s particularly important since the role of an Agile Project Manager is not well-defined and it is even somewhat controversial among some people that there is a legitimate role for a project manager to play in an Agile environment.

Avoid the Limitations of Some Typical Agile Training

A lot of Agile training that is out there (like the typical CSM training) is very superficial in my opinion.

  • The typical Agile training focuses on the “mechanics” of how to do Agile and really doesn’t go into the principles behind it very much at all.
  • Agile is intended to be adaptive but in order to take an adaptive approach, you have to understand the principles behind it in order to know how to adapt it to fit a given situation.  Doing it very mechanically is not very adaptive.

What’s the Future Like?

In order to see why I think this training makes so much sense, we need to make some assumptions about where the future of the project management profession is heading. I believe that many aspects of traditional, plan-driven project management have not changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s and we’re on the verge of a very major change.  What does that change look like? I don’t believe traditional, plan-driven project management will ever become obsolete. It definitely has a well-established role in some industries like construction that lend themselves to a plan-driven approach and require some level of predictability over costs and schedules. However,

  • Even in industries like construction, project managers are starting to learn how to take a more adaptive approach
  • In many other industries and application areas that have a high level of uncertainty that requires a more adaptive approach to project management, a project manager who only knows how to do a traditional, plan-driven project management approach and tries to force-fit all projects to that approach will have some serious limitations

New Vision of Project Management

We need to adopt a broader view of what “project management” is – force-fitting all projects to a traditional, plan-driven project management approach is just not very effective any more.

This broader vision of “project management” is is not limited to someone who can take a project with well-defined requirements and plan and manage it to meet cost and schedule goals.  This new vision of Agile Project Management includes taking on an effort with some very broadly-defined business objectives in a very dynamic and uncertain environment and developing and defining and leading a project management approach that is designed to maximize the business value of the overall solution.

That means an Agile Project Manager needs to learn how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven principles and practices in the right proportions to fit the situation.  And, even if a project manager is never involved in a true Agile project, it will make him/her a much stronger project manager by broadening the range of project management capabilities that he/she has to offer.  That’s where I see the future of project management going and that’s exactly how the online Agile Project Management training I’ve developed is designed.

Additional Resources

Check out this new training curriculum in The 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 ingrained 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.

A Broader Vision of Project Management

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:

Product Owner Role

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.

Scrum Master Role

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.

Team Role

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.

Agile versus Waterfall

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 online Agile Project Management 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

What Role Might an “Agile Project Manager” Play?

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’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

Additional Resources

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

What’s Next After Agile? Is There Something Else Coming Next?

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:

The Program du Jour Effect

“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.

An Example

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”

How Does That Apply to Agile Today?

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

Additional Resources

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

Scaling Agile and Scrum for Large, Complex Projects

There is a lot of confusion and some fairly polarized opinions about scaling Agile and Scrum for large, complex projects involving multiple teams.

  • Some people think that it can be done simply by adding a Scrum-of-Scrums approach to provide a mechanism to coordinate the efforts of multiple teams.
  • A more comprehensive approach for integrating the efforts of multiple development teams is Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS).
  • A Scrum-of-Scrums approach is a loosely-coupled approach that only provides for basic coordination of the work between teams – each team still operates fairly independently.
  • LeSS is a much more tightly-coupled approach that goes beyond the very basic level of coordination of work that the Scrum-of-Scrums approach provides.

The table below shows a comparison of the two approaches:

 Scrum-of-ScrumsLeSS
Coordination of WorkFormal Scrum-of Scrum’s MeetingInformal, “Just Talk”
Product Backlog Management
(Single or Multiple Backlogs)
Not SpecifiedSingle Product Backlog
Sprint Planning
(Separate or Joint)
Not SpecifiedJoint
Sprint Review
(Separate or Joint)
Not SpecifiedJoint
Allocation of Work
(Component or Feature)
Not SpecifiedFeature

Selecting the Right Approach

The right approach will depend on the project and the need for a more loosely-coupled or tightly-coupled approach for integrating the development efforts. However,

  • Both of these approaches only address integration of the teams from a technical, development perspective and do not explicitly provide any mechanism for integration of the efforts from a business perspective.
  • It is assumed that the normal Product Owner role provides that level of integration but that may not be very realistic for very large, complex projects. This is really a multi-dimensional problem as shown in the diagram below:
Agile Scaling Dimensions

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and other enterprise-level Agile frameworks recognize the need to provide this level of business integration with an appropriate level of program management and/or product/project portfolio management to ensure that the development efforts are well-integrated and well-aligned with the company’s business strategy.

Enterprise Agile Scaling Frameworks

Confusion and Conflict

There is a lot of confusion and conflict in this area:

  • A number of people who see this from a development perspective tend to think that SAFe and other enterprise-level frameworks that address the problem of business integration are just unnecessary overhead and bureaucracy
  • Many people who see this from a business strategy perspective don’t understand the need for integrating development efforts from a technology perspective

Challenges

There are three major challenges that need to be considered:

  1. Integrating the efforts of multiple teams from a development perspective
  2. Aligning the efforts of all teams with the organization’s business objectives
  3. Coordination with other related efforts outside of the project team and providing tracking and progress reporting to management

Both the development integration perspective and the business integration perspective have merit and need to be considered when scaling Agile/Scrum to large, complex projects and all of the above challenges may need to be addressed to make a large, complex, multi-team Agile project successful.

Additional Resources

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

How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification

I think there is a lot of confusion among project managers about how to prepare for PMI-ACP certification – some people may think that:

  1. Getting PMI-ACP certification is a matter of buying an “exam prep” book or taking an “exam prep” training course and then going out and taking the exam, and
  2. Once you’ve taken and passed the exam, that is your “ticket” to get a job working in an Agile environment as a project manager

Both of those assumptions are far from reality, in my opinion:

  1. You can’t just do some “exam prep” training and/or buy an “exam prep” book and go out and pass the exam for several reasons:
    • PMI won’t allow that – PMI requires a  minimum of 1,500 hours of working in an Agile environment before you can even apply to take the exam
    • There’s such a broad range of topics on the exam, it would be very difficult or impossible to pass the exam for someone who just “crammed” to pass the exam with little or no real-world Agile experience
    • Even if you could do that, simply “cramming” to pass the exam would have very limited value because it would have little credibility without some real-world experience to go along with it
  2. Just getting a PMI-ACP certification is not likely to be a “ticket” to getting a job as a project manager in an Agile environment for a  couple of reasons:
    • PMI-ACP is just a test of general Agile and Lean knowledge – it’s not designed to test your ability to perform a particular Agile role
    • The role of an Agile Project Manager is not well-defined and there is also some controversy that there is a role for a project manager in an Agile environment at all

I think it’s a mistake for anyone to think that getting PMI-ACP certification is just a matter of going out and passing the exam and getting a job in an Agile environment and people have to develop more realistic expectations about it.  I recommend:

  1. Understand the roles that an Agile Project Manager can potentially play in the real-world, develop a vision for yourself of what that target role is, and understand the overall “road map” for moving into that role.
  2. Understand how PMI-ACP relates to other Agile certifications and where it fits into that road map.  For example, a project manager who is new to an Agile environment may have to start out in a Scrum Master role to get some experience and PMI-ACP isn’t the best approach to become a Scrum Master – CSM or PSM is much better-suited for getting into that kind of role as a first step
  3. Don’t limit your focus to simply passing the exam – focus on developing solid, credible, real-world experience and use the PMI-ACP certification exam to validate that you do have the knowledge and experience needed to perform that role

My online Agile Project Management curriculum includes a training course for project managers called “What Is the Future of Agile Project Management”. That course is designed to help project managers develop a strategy for themselves and helps them understand how to position my other Agile Project Management courses in this strategy. 

Additional Resources

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

How Do You Go About Selling Agile?

A student in one of my courses asked if I could help him develop a short and succinct way of “How Do You Go About Selling Agile? I think it’s an excellent topic and I told him I would write up something on that. Here it is…

How Do You “Sell” Agile?

First, I don’t think that anyone should start with an objective of “selling Agile” to anyone. There are a lot of people out there who try to do that and I think it is fundamentally the wrong approach to try to convince someone to become more Agile rather than focusing on how becoming more Agile will help them and what problem it will solve.

Fitting the Approach to the Business

I also very strongly believe that there is not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”; and, rather than attempting to force-fit a business or project to one of those extremes, you have to go in the other direction and fit the methodology (whatever it might be – Agile or plan-driven or some combination of both) to the situation. It takes a lot more skill to do that but it definitely can be done. It requires:

  • A broader knowledge of different methodologies (both Agile or adaptive and plan-driven) and an ability to see past many of the stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions that exist about what’s commonly referred to as “Agile” and “Waterfall” to see those two approaches in a fresh, new perspective as being complementary to each other rather than competitive and to objectively understand the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches
  • The ability to take a “systems thinking” approach to see those methodologies in a broader context beyond just a development process perspective of how they relate to an overall business and what problems they might solve
  • In addition to all of that, you also need to understand the principles behind the methodologies at a deeper level (rather than just the mechanics of how to perform the methodology) to understand how to blend different, seemingly disparate methodologies together as needed to fit a given situation

Taking a Business Perspective

However, if you’re trying to “sell” a manager on becoming more agile, he/she probably doesn’t have all of those skills and they’re probably not willing to sit through a series of training courses to develop those skills either; so, how do you develop a relatively simple “elevator speech” to help someone understand why they should even consider becoming more Agile?  Here are some thoughts on that:

  1. First, you have to look at it from an overall business perspective , not from a more limited development process perspective. It’s very easy to get “tunnel vision” with Agile –
    • We get so enthusiastic about the benefits of Agile from a development process perspective that we assume that what’s good for the development process must be good for the company as a whole and that’s not necessarily the case.
    • Rather than attempting to force-fit a company to an Agile approach; you may have to craft an approach that is more well-aligned with the primary success factors that drive the company’s business and becoming more Agile may or may not be the most important factor in the company’s overall business success.
  2. Second, you have to recognize that some companies are scared to death of Agile – they’re afraid of losing control and that fear is not totally unfounded if the Agile approach is not well-designed and managed.
    • So, you may need to start off with more of a hybrid approach as an initial first step to demonstrate success rather than going full-bore into a complete corporate Agile transformation.
    • You also need to recognize that an Agile transformation can take a long time and demands a lot of patience and perseverance.
  3. Finally, nothing sells better than results. Work on developing good results and that will sell itself.

Benefits of a More Agile Approach

It’s important to focus on the benefits – how will it help the business? Don’t just try to become Agile for the sake of becoming Agile. Although the benefits of adopting a more agile approach will vary from one company to another, there are some general benefits that apply, to some extent, to any company. Here are the key general benefits I would focus on in my “elevator speech”…

Adaptability

The biggest and most general benefit is adaptability – regardless of whatever other benefits an agile approach might provide, no one is likely to argue that there’s a big advantage in being able to tailor an approach to fit a project and a business rather than force-fitting all projects to a traditional, plan-driven project management approach

Time-to-Market

Probably the next most important general benefit is time-to-market

  • A lot of people have the impression that an Agile project is always faster and that’s generally true but not always true.
  • The real emphasis in Agile, in my opinion, is keeping the customer closely-engaged with the project as it progresses to ensure that what you’re developing really meets their needs.
  • Sometimes that may actually take longer because it may involve some trial-and-error. However, very few people could argue that prioritizing requirements and delivering functionality incrementally rather than waiting to deliver the entire project all at once can significantly accelerate progress even if you don’t take a full Agile approach.

Reduced Costs

Another big factor is reduced costs associated with reducing unnecessary overhead in projects. This is another one that doesn’t require adopting a full Agile development approach to achieve – all it requires is taking a hard look at some of the documentation and other artifacts and controls used in a project and deciding whether they really produce value or not and who they produce value for.

Customer Satisfaction

Finally, as I’ve mentioned, the big selling point of Agile is the improved customer satisfaction you get from having a customer directly engaged in the project to ensure that the project really solves their business problem and provides an appropriate level of value to them

Overall Summary

The key point to emphasize is that all of these are relatively tangible benefits that can be realized, to some extent, on any project simply by using more of an “Agile Mindset” and it doesn’t necessarily require adopting a full-blown textbook Agile approach like Scrum and/or risk losing control of your business to get some of these benefits. Also, in addition to those more tangible benefits, there are also a lot of intangible benefits such as:

  • Improved employee productivity and morale that results from more empowered teams
  • Improved organizational synergy that results from higher levels of collaboration, trust, and shared responsibility within the organization

Years ago when I was a Program Manager in a large computer company, part of the training to become a Program Manager was a course called “Solution Selling” which was basically a consultative approach to “selling”.

  • It created a different approach to “selling” – instead of going in to a client to sell them something like “Agile”, the “solution selling” approach is to go in to the customer and do a lot active listening to understand their problem before attempting to sell any solution.
  • I think that’s the right approach with Agile also. There are people out there who get overly-zealous about “selling” Agile to the extent that “Agile” becomes a solution to any problem you might have. That’s the wrong approach, in my opinion.

Additional Resources

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

Preparing for the PMI-ACP Exam

Preparing for the PMI-ACP exam should not be an end-in-itself in my opinion…developing the knowledge and skills to do the job is what’s important.

My Background and Motivation

  • I’ve been engaged in some discussion lately on the PMI-ACP® certification and it caused me to do some research into how I can potentially help people prepare for the PMI-ACP® certification.
    • I was among the earliest group of people to obtain the PMI-ACP® certification in 2012,
    • I’ve published three books on Agile Project Management, and I’ve developed a number of online training courses on Agile Project Management.
  • All of that effort has been focused around helping project managers successfully make the transition to a real-world Agile Project Management role and not specifically focused on helping people prepare for the PMI-ACP® exam; however, I do realize that having certifications can be valuable to help people get a job so I decided to do some analysis to see what, if anything, I could do to help people prepare for PMI-ACP certification.

My Philosophy

First, let me explain my philosophy with regard to certifications in general.

  • A lot of people chase after certifications to build up their resume. They cram for taking certification exams using a lot of rote memorization and focus on simply passing the exam.
  • I’m not an advocate of that approach. I believe that the right approach is to build your knowledge and skills through training, self-directed study, and on-the-job experience to gain a solid foundation of the knowledge needed to do the job; and then, as a second step, take the certification exam to validate that you really do have the knowledge that you think you have.

Passing a certification exam should not be an end-in-itself in my opinion:

  • Developing the knowledge and skills to do the job is what’s important and a certification exam can be a good way of validating that you do have the knowledge and skills.
  • One of the problems with the PMI-ACP exam; however, is it isn’t oriented around a particular job – it’s more of a test of general knowledge associated with Agile and Lean and isn’t really directly associated with a specific job role.
  • That’s a very important consideration to recognize that getting through PMI-ACP® doesn’t really directly qualify you for a specific job.
  • The role that an Agile Project Manager plays in the real world is not well-defined and it is even somewhat controversial among some Agile people that there is a role for an Agile Project Manager at all.

Exam-Prep Courses

There are a lot of PMI-ACP® exam prep courses out there but I’ve taken a different approach.

  • I specifically didn’t want to develop an “exam prep” course for the reasons I mentioned above.
  • I decided instead to focus on better defining the actual roles that an Agile Project Manager might play in the real world and designing online training around helping people prepare for those roles.
  • That isn’t really an “exam prep” course per se, but I think it helps someone develop into a role to get the real world experience needed to qualify to take the certification exam.

Don’t forget that one of the requirements to take the PMI-ACP® exam is that someone has at least 2,000 hours of project management experience; and, in addition to that, has at least 1,500 hours working in an Agile environment. I think that’s a good requirement and it’s specifically designed to prevent someone from going out and cramming to get through the exam based primarily on rote memorization of information.

Overall Summary

If you’re thinking about going for PMI-ACP® certification, my recommendation is don’t do it just to “get your ticket punched” that you have the certification.

  • First go out and get the knowledge and experience required to fill an Agile Project Management role in the real world and then use the PMI-ACP® to validate that you do have that knowledge.
  • The courses I’ve developed are not “exam prep” courses, but they are very well-aligned with that strategy which I think is a good strategy to pursue.
  • When you do get to that point that you do have the knowledge and experience to take the exam, there are a number of resources to help you prepare to take the exam.
  • In particular, I think Mike Griffiths’ book is a good resource but passing the exam and getting the certification shouldn’t be an end-in-itself. That’s only the final step in proving that you have successfully acquired that real-world knowledge and experience.

It’s important to recognize that Agile is going to cause a major transformation of the project management profession over a period of time and I don’t think that anyone (including PMI) has figured out what the full impact of that transformation will be over time.

  • PMI-ACP® is only the first step towards making that transformation.
  • It is a good certification and it is a step in the right direction but it is only a test of general Agile knowledge and doesn’t address the primary challenge that many project managers face of learning how to blend Agile and traditional project management principles and practices together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.
  • That’s the challenge my courses are designed to address.

Additional Resources

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

Agile Contracts – Does it Work? How Do You Do It?

A lot of people may think that it is inconsistent to impose constraints that the project needs to be completed within a certain expected cost and schedule on an Agile project. It is difficult, but it definitely can be done – one of the areas where that becomes essential is Agile contracts.

Agile Contracts

An Example of Agile Contracts

For example, I once managed a large federal government project that had all the typical government contracting requirements for cost and schedule milestones; but, at the same time, the government customer wanted some level of flexibility to work out detailed requirements as the project progresses.

The Relationship With the Customer

Does that sound inconsistent? It might be depending on the relationship you have with the customer. Obviously, this will only work if there is a spirit of trust and partnership with the customer to collaboratively agree to work out any tradeoffs between the scope of the requirements and the cost and schedule of the contract as it progresses. If there is more of a typical “arms-length” contracting relationship or some kind of adversarial relationship, it’s not going to work at all.

Doing this requires a hybrid Agile approach that blends an Agile development approach with a plan-driven “shell”. The plan-driven shell provides some level of predictability and control over the overall scope, cost, and schedule of the project while the Agile development approach operates within that shell to provide some level of flexibility and adaptivity in the detailed requirements. That approach is described in more detail in my article on the “Managed Agile Development Framework“.

Money for Nothing, Change for Free

Jeff Sutherland has created a very nice model for this called “Money for Nothing, Change for Free”. Jeff’s approach is based on two primary clauses in an Agile contract:

Change for Free

hThe “Change for Free” clause is based on the idea that the customer can make any change they want provided that the total contract work is not changed. This allows new features to be added provided that lower priority items are removed from the project. I have documented a case study in my book on how General Dynamics, UK successfully used this approach on a large government contract in the UK.

Money for Nothing

The “Money for Nothing” clause is interesting. It recognizes the fact that in many projects, the customer always asks for everything that they could possibly need but if you prioritize those items and deliver the highest priority items first, at some point you will reach a point of diminishing returns where the cost of developing incremental features exceeds the value that those features provide.

This clause allows the customer to cancel the contract at that point and save 80% of the cost that would have been spent to complete the remaining items; however the contractor receives a fee of 20% of the cost for early cancellation which makes it a win/win for both the customer and the supplier.

What Kind of Agile Contracts Does This Apply To?

This concept is not limited to fixed-price contracts – that’s only the extreme case. It can be applied to almost any Agile project where there is a need for some level of predictability and control over the costs and schedule of the project. Very few people get a “blank check” to do an Agile project without any expectations of what will be delivered and what the estimated cost and schedule of the project are likely to be.

Additional Resources

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

A Broader View of Risk Management for Agile – How Is It Different?

I recently participated in a LinkedIn discussion on risk management that was heavily focused on a conventional approach to risk management built around a plan-driven approach to project management. I wanted to share my thoughts on a broader view of risk management for Agile project environments as well as a traditional plan-driven project management environment.

Background

First, if you’ve read any of my other blog posts or books, you will understand that:

  • I think we need to broaden our view of project management to see “Agile” and what is commonly called “Waterfall” as complementary to each other rather than competitive and recognize that traditional plan-driven project management is not the only approach to project management.
  • I prefer to think of a continuous range of alternatives from heavily plan-driven at one extreme to heavily adaptive at the other extreme that looks something like this:
Increasing Agility and Adaptivity

And, the right thing to do is to fit the approach to the project rather than force-fitting a project to some arbitrary model (whatever it might be – Agile or plan-driven). One of the biggest characteristics that would influence the choice of an approach is the level of uncertainty in the project. If you think of a broader approach to project management in those terms, it has a big impact on how you might do risk management.

Why is Risk Management Different in an Agile or More Adaptive Environment?

Here’s how I see some of the key differences in a risk management approach that might be associated with a more adaptive approach to project management in a very uncertain environment:

Definition of Failure

Risk is associated with the failure of a project, so how you define “failure” has a big impact on how you do risk management.

  • In a traditional plan-driven project, the requirements of the project are typically well-defined and a “failure” would normally be associated with failing to deliver those requirements within the required cost and schedule budgets allocated for the project.
  • In that kind of environment, it wouldn’t normally be considered a failure if the project met the requirements it was supposed to meet within the cost and schedule goals but failed to deliver the appropriate business value.
  • That approach works fine in an environment where it is possible to relatively accurately define the requirements of the project before the project starts and three is a reasonable level of certainty that if you meet the defined requirements, the project will automatically produce the appropriate business value that is required.
  • An Agile or more adaptive approach is best in situations where it is much more difficult to define detailed requirements for the project prior to the start of the project and there is far less certainty of what is required to produce the appropriate business value.
  • In that kind of environment, there is a much larger risk that the project won’t produce the required business value even if it does meet the defined requirements within budgeted cost and schedule goals. That’s a very important difference between an Agile (or adaptive) approach and a more traditional plan-driven approach.

Relationship to Upfront Planning

Since an Agile approach normally has a lot less upfront planning, it typically requires a more dynamic approach for identifying and managing some of the risks while the project is in progress rather than a comprehensive approach to identify and anticipate risks before the project starts.

Note that this is not an all-or-nothing choice between zero upfront planning and highly detailed and rigid upfront planning – the approach to planning could be anywhere between those extremes and the approach to risk management should be consistent with the level of planning.

The important point is that it just isn’t practical to take a comprehensive approach to identify and anticipate all risks in a project with a very limited amount of upfront planning

Relationship to Business Value

The risk of not producing the appropriate business value in a very uncertain environment is a very different kind of risk and requires a different kind of risk management approach. That kind of risk isn’t necessarily totally black-and-white – you could produce a relatively mediocre product that met the letter of the requirements but really didn’t provide much business value.

A conventional approach to risk management is generally based on avoiding and eliminating risks and uncertainty as much as possible so that the project will deliver predictable results, but that approach can work against you if you have a goal of maximizing business value. (See my previous article on Management of Uncertainty in Agile Projects).

  • In many cases, risk is associated with opportunities to provide a higher level of business value.

  • With a conventional approach to risk management, you might try to reduce the level of uncertainty and ambiguity associated with user requirements as much as possible prior to the start of the project and you might also tend to favor a low risk approach of using tried-and-true technology rather than “pushing the envelope” a bit to use riskier technology that might provide a higher level of value to the user.

  • From a conventional risk management perspective, that may be the right thing to do but it could easily result in a very mediocre product that doesn’t provide much business value.

How is the Approach to Risk Management Likely to be Different in an Agile environment?

Some people might think that risk management isn’t appropriate in an Agile environment – I don’t believe that to be the case. You can do as much or as little risk management as needed depending on the nature of the project – it just requires a different approach to risk management.

  1. It needs to recognize a broader definition of “failure” – a project can fail by failing to deliver business value even if it meets defined requirements and meets its cost and schedule goals
  2. The approach to risk management needs to be consistent with the overall level of upfront planning in the project – that might mean a less comprehensive identification and analysis of risks prior to the start of the project and a more dynamic approach to risk management as the project is in progress.
  3. Instead of seeing all risks as a bad thing that should be avoided and eliminated, we need to recognize that some risks are related to opportunities. For that reason, a decision to avoid or eliminate risks needs to consider the impact of potential missed opportunities as well as the impact of the risk.

Advantages of an Agile or Adaptive Risk Management Approach

In fact, an Agile or adaptive approach can have a lot of advantages for developing a very effective risk management approach. Steve Gordon commented that Agile or adaptive thinking provides the ability to structure a project to fail early and inexpensively to minimize the impact of a risk on the overall project. Wayne Mack also suggested several more specific risk management advantages that an Agile or adaptive approach can provide:

  • “Technical risks are addressed through early prototypes (“spike stories”) and side-by-side comparison of alternatives (‘A/B testing’)”
  • “Integration risk is mitigated through early and continuous integration. User acceptance risk is mitigated through early product review”
  • “Cost and schedule risk is mitigated through incremental releases – we always have something to show for the money spent; it is no longer an all or nothing trade-off”

Additional Resources

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