Category Archives: Agile Project Management

Is Project Management Obsolete – What Do You Think?

Is project management obsolete? 

  • I don’t think that “project management” is obsolete but I do think that some traditional roles of a “Project Manager” are becoming obsolete in projects that require a more adaptive approach. 
  • I also think that there’s a need to redefine what “project management” is if it is to continue to thrive in the future. 

There is a need to:

  • Separate the functions of “project management” from some of the traditional roles that have been played by a “Project Manager”, and
  • “Reinvent” the project management profession and develop a broader view of what “project management” is if it is going to continue to thrive and remain relevant in today’s world.
Is Project Management Obsolete

Examples of Companies and Professions Reinventing Themselves

Any company or profession that doesn’t change and adapt to changes in the world around them runs the risk of becoming stagnant and no longer relevant. Here are a couple of examples:

American Express

American Express is a company that has been around for more than 150 years and has had to reinvent itself a number of times over that time. American Express started out in 1850 shipping boxes on railway cars. That business went very well for a while:

“For years it enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the movement of express shipments (goods, securities, currency, etc.) throughout New York State.” (Wikipedia)

Can you imagine where American Express would be today if it still defined its business primarily around shipping boxes on railway cars? American Express has continued to reinvent itself over-and-over again to remain a vibrant and competitive company.

Quality Management

In the early 1990’s I worked in the Quality Management profession with Motorola. Prior to that time, Quality Management was heavily based on a quality control approach that relied on inspectors to inspect products for defects.That process was very reactive and inefficient and companies like Motorola began implementing a much more proactive approach to quality management that was based on eliminating defects at the source rather than finding and fixing them later. 

That caused a major transformation in the Quality Management profession.  Instead of being in control of quality through quality control inspectors, Quality Managers had to learn to distribute some responsibility for quality to the people who designed and manufactured the product and play more of a consultative and influencing role.  When I worked for Motorola in the early 1990’s,  my manager used to tell me that “Our job is to teach, coach, and audit – in that order“.

That turned out to be a much more effective approach but it was a gut-wrenching change for many people in the Quality Management profession who were used to being the ones who owned responsibility for quality and were in control of quality.

How Does This Relate to Project Management?

For many years, the project management profession has been dominated by an approach that emphasized planning and control. A project was deemed to be successful if it delivered well-defined project requirements within an approved budget and schedule. That approach hasn’t changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s but we live in a different world today. There are two major factors that are creating a need for a different approach to project management in today’s world:

Levels of Uncertainty

There is a much higher level of uncertainty because problems and solutions tend to be much more complex.  This is particularly true of large software systems. With a high level of uncertainty; it is difficult, if not impossible, to define a detailed solution to the problem prior to the start of the project.  

The example I use in my training is “finding a cure for cancer”.  Can you imagine attempting to develop a detailed project plan for that kind of effort?  There is just too much uncertainty.  Instead of getting bogged down in trying to develop a detailed project plan upfront, it would be much better to get started and use an iterative approach to attempt to converge on a solution as the project is in progress.

Increased Emphasis on Innovation

In many areas, competitive pressures require a significant level of innovation in new product development.  In these areas, creativity and innovation are much more important than planning and control.  For example, think of what a company like Apple has to do to develop a new iPhone.  Do you think that they start with a detailed plan based on some well-defined requirements?  I don’t think so.

What is Agile Project Management?

An Agile Project Management approach is ideally-suited for a project that:

  • Has a high level of uncertainty, or
  • Requires an emphasis on creativity and innovation rather than an emphasis on planning and control.

However, it is not limited to projects that are 100% Agile. An Agile Project Management approach is applicable to a broad range of projects and an Agile Project Manager needs to know how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any given situation.

Where Does Project Management Fit in Scrum?

In a Scrum project at the team level, you may not find anyone with the title of “Project Manager” but there is actually a lot of project management going on.

An Agile/Scrum approach uses a very different approach to project management:

  1. It’s a different kind of project management that is focused on an adaptive approach to project management to optimize the business value the project produces rather than a plan-driven approach to project management that is oriented around simply meeting cost and schedule goals for defined requirements.
  2. The project management functions that might normally be performed by someone called a “Project Manager” have been distributed among the members of the Agile team:
    • Each member of the team is responsible for planning, managing, and reporting on their own tasks and working with other members of the team as necessary to integrate their efforts
    • The Scrum Master plays a facilitation role and is responsible for removing obstacles if necessary
    • The Product Owner plays an overall management role to provide direction and decisions related to the direction of the project and is ultimately responsible to the business sponsor for the overall success or failure of the project from a business perspective

What Needs to be Done to Adapt to This New Environment?

In today’s world:

  • There are many project managers who have been heavily indoctrinated in a traditional plan-driven approach to project management who might attempt to force-fit all projects to that kind of approach
  • There are also many project managers who are used to a project management approach that relies heavily on well-defined document templates and checklists to define how the project is managed
  • Some project managers will need to upgrade their skills to a higher level because there is typically no project manager role at the team level in an Agile/Scrum project

Cooks versus Chefs

In my book, I use the analogy of a project manager as a “cook” versus a project manager as a “chef”:

  • “A good ‘cook’ may have the ability to create some very good meals, but those dishes may be limited to a repertoire of standard dishes, and his/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals may be primarily based on following some predefined recipes out of a cookbook.”
  • “A ‘chef’, on the other hand, typically has a far greater ability to prepare a much broader range of more sophisticated dishes using much more exotic ingredients in some cases. His/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals is not limited to predefined recipes, and in many cases, a chef will create entirely new and innovative recipes for a given situation. The best chefs are not limited to a single cuisine and are capable of combining dishes from entirely different kinds of cuisine.” (Cobb – The Project Manager’s Guide to Mastering Agile)

I think that analogy captures the challenge for the project management profession very well – In today’s world we need fewer “cooks” and more “chefs”:

  • We all need to adopt a broader view of what “Project Management” is that is not limited to traditional plan-driven project management
  • Project managers need to learn how to blend an Agile (adaptive) approach with a traditional plan-driven approach in the right proportions to fit the nature of the problem.  Force-fitting all projects to a traditional plan-driven project management approach is not likely to be very successful
  • This new environment “raises the bar” considerably for project managers and requires a lot more skill.  It is not a simple matter of filling in the blanks in well-defined project templates and following project checklists based on PMBOK®.

What Has Been Done to Transform the Project Management Profession?

PMI® has begun to recognize the need to deal with this challenge and has made steps in that direction but much more needs to be done:

  1. The PMI-ACP® certification is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t go far enough in my opinion.  It recognizes the need for project managers to have an understanding of Agile and Lean but it is only a test of general Agile and Lean knowledge and doesn’t really address the big challenge that project managers have of figuring out how to blend those approaches with a traditional plan-driven approach to project management.
  2. 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. PMBOK® version 6 will have some added material on how the various sections of PMBOK® might be applied in an Agile environment but that also doesn’t go far enough in my opinion. The whole idea of PMBOK® is not very compatible with an Agile approach.
    • Agile requires a different way of thinking that is much more adaptive and you shouldn’t need a 500+ page document to give you detailed instructions on how to do Agile.
    • The whole idea of developing a knowledge base associated with Agile and only changing it every five years is difficult to imagine
  3. Much of the training that is available to project managers today on Agile only addresses the basics of Agile and Scrum.  You have to understand the principles behind Agile and Scrum at a much deeper level to understand how to successfully adapt those approaches to different kinds of projects.  You can’t just do Agile and Scrum mechanically.

We need to go beyond these steps and “reinvent” what “project management” is (just as American Express and other companies have had to reinvent the business that they are in). Here’s an article I wrote with more on that subject:

What is Project Management?

Summary – Is Project Management Obsolete?

Project Management certainly isn’t obsolete but the “handwriting is on the wall” that change is definitely needed for the profession to continue to grow and thrive.  The need for change doesn’t always hit you in the face immediately. Many times it comes about subtly and it may not be that obvious at first but I can certainly see the early signs that a change is needed.

Additional Resources

I am very passionate about helping the project management profession recognize the need for this transformation and helping project managers to develop the skills to successfully make this adaptation.  That’s the essence of the three books I’ve published on Agile Project Management and of the online Agile Project Management training I’ve developed.

How Do You Improve Team Performance in a Project Environment?

I recently responded to a question about “How do you improve team performance in a project? 

  • It is very common for project managers to over-manage teams and I think that is a mistake. 
  • A team is like a dynamic organism and rather than simply putting pressure on the team to improve performance, a better approach is to understand the dynamics of how a team performs and work on the factors that impact improving performance. 
  • An even better approach is to help the team become self-organizing and take responsibility for improving their own performance.

What is a Self-organizing Team?

Here’s a good definition of a self-organizing team from the Scrum Alliance web site:

“A group of motivated individuals, who work together toward a goal, have the ability and authority to take decisions and readily adapt to changing demands”

What is a Self-organizing Team

The diagram below shows a comparison of a traditional project team and a self-organizing team:

Does This Mean Abdicating all Responsibilities to the Team?

The principles behind empowered teams can be used in any project. It is just different levels of empowerment.  The diagram below shows a comparison of different levels of empowerment:

How Do You Improve Team Performance

Here’s a description of each of these levels:

  • The lowest level of empowerment is a “manager-led team”.  In that environment, the only responsibility delegated to the team is for managing the execution of tasks that they are responsible for.
  • At the other extreme is a “self-governing team” where the team takes complete responsibility for their operations including setting their own direction.  It would be unlikely to find that level in a project team but you might find a senior management leadership team that operated that way.
  • The two levels in the center would be more commonly found in a project environment.  A “self-managing team” takes responsibility for monitoring and managing work process and progress.
  • A “self-organizing team” goes beyond that and takes responsibility for designing the team including defining roles within the team and defining the organizational context of how the team operates.

An important point is that “self-organizing” does not mean that a team does not need any direction at all. Self-organizing teams should not be used as an excuse for anarchy.

What Are the Advantages of Empowered Teams?

There are a number of advantages of empowered teams:

  • It more fully utilizes the capabilities of the people on the team
  • It reduces the need for someone to directly manage all aspects of how the team operates
  • It improves team performance because the team takes more responsibility for managing its own performance
  • Team performance is more sustainable because the performance of the team is more self-correcting
  • It encourages creativity and innovation and enables the team to quickly adapt to new problems and challenges

How Do You Improve Team Performance?

Project Managers have a tendency to over-manage the performance of teams because the perception is that is what a Project Manager or Team Leader is supposed to do; however, in many cases, simply putting pressure on the team to improve performance may not be the best thing to do. A more proactive and more sustainable approach is to better understand how the team functions as a dynamic organism and work on the factors that drive performance.

In an Agile environment, if there is a project manager involved at all at the team level, that project manager needs to be more of a coach to help the team improve its own performance. However, there is no reason why the idea of empowered teams is limited to an Agile environment.  The same ideas can be applied in a traditional plan-driven environment; however, it may involve somewhat less empowerment.

1. Traditional Plan-driven Projects

In a traditional project team, a Project Manager or Team Leader typically provides direction to the team and he/she is the one who is held responsible for the performance of the team and the results that they produce.    In a traditional plan-driven project, some level of control may be needed to manage conformance to the project plan; however, even in that kind of environment, it is essential to delegate some level of responsibility to the members of the team.

2. Agile Projects

In an Agile project, there is a much higher level of emphasis on creativity and innovation rather than conformance to a plan.  In that kind of environment, it is very important to fully empower all the members of the team to actively contribute to the solution as much as possible.

Additional Resources

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

Free Agile Project Management Webinar

Free Agile Project Management Webinar

Why This Is Important

Traditional, plan-driven project management has not changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s; however, the rapid proliferation of Agile Project Management practices will bring about a transformation that will cause us to re-think what “project management” is in much broader terms.  There are many difficult challenges that must be overcome to make that transformation:

What You Will Learn

Here’s a summary of what you will learn in this Free Agile Project Management Webinar:

1. Learn to Fit the Approach to the Nature of the Project

Agile and traditional plan-driven project management (what many people loosely call “Waterfall”) are seen as binary and mutually-exclusive choices; and, as a result, many people tend to think they need to force-fit a project to one of those extremes when the right solution is to go in the other direction and fit the methodology to the nature of the project. It can require a lot more skill to do that but it definitely can be done.

2. Develop a More Adaptive Approach

In the world we live in today, technologies tend to be much more dynamic and rapidly-changing and projects may have very high levels of uncertainty that make it very difficult, if not impossible, to successfully apply a traditional, plan-driven project management approach in many situations that call for a much more adaptive approach.

3. Understand the Convergence of Agile and Traditional Project Management

The convergence of these approaches raises the bar for the project management profession and will likely have a significant impact on the careers of many project managers.

4. Learn Where PMI-ACP Fits In

PMI® has recognized the importance of Agile and has created the PMI-ACP® certification which is a step in the right direction; however, it doesn’t go far enough to address this challenge – it is only a general test of Agile and Lean knowledge; 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; and it is left up to the individual project manager to figure out how to blend those two approaches in the right proportions to fit a given situation

Overall Summary

This presentation will help you better understand these challenges, the impact it may have on your career as a project manager, and help to begin to develop a broader, high-impact view of what “project management” is that is focused on maximizing business value using whatever blend of methodologies is most appropriate for a given situation.


What is a “Hybrid Agile” Approach? Is There Such a Thing?

What is a hybrid Agile Approach? Is there such a thing? I recently came across an article on the Internet that was posted in several places entitled “The Moment of truth: There Is No Hybrid Agile“.

  • This article is so full of stereotypes and misconceptions about “Agile” and “Waterfall” that I felt that I had to respond to it. 
  • It is typical of many articles that position “Agile” and “Waterfall” as two binary and mutually-exclusive alternatives with no middle ground between the two.

What Are the Flaws in This Thinking?

Treating Agile and Waterfall as Discrete, Binary Opposites

The biggest flaw in this thinking is that this article and many others like it treat “Agile” and “Waterfall” as if they were individual, discrete methodologies. They also position “Agile” and “Waterfall”  as diametrical opposites of each other.  That’s not very accurate.

“Agile” and “Waterfall” are not really discrete, individual methodologies at all and both of those terms are used very loosely.  In common usage. Neither of those are individual, discrete methodologies:

  • Many people  may think of “Agile” as being synonymous with Scrum but that is not really accurate.  “Agile” is much broader than Scrum – it is a way of thinking defined by the Agile Manifesto
  • “Waterfall” is also not a single, discrete methodology. In today’s world, many people use the term “Waterfall” for any plan-driven methodology that is not Agile.  What about RUP and other iterative approaches that probably wouldn’t be considered to be Agile?  Is that “Waterfall”?

A Better Way of Thinking

Instead of thinking of what people commonly call “Agile and “Waterfall” as individual discrete methodologies, it is more accurate to see it as a continuous spectrum of approaches from heavily plan-driven at one extreme to heavily adaptive at the other extreme like this:

What is a hybrid agile approach?

If you think of it in that way, it is much easier to see the possibility for lots of approaches in the middle of that spectrum that blend the right level of plan-driven principles and practices with more adaptive principles and practices to fit a given situation.

Here’s what some methodologies would look like plotted on a spectrum of heavily plan-driven versus heavily adaptive:

Adaptive vs Plan-driven

As you can see from this diagram:

  • “Agile” is not a single approach and there is not just one way to do “Agile”:
    • Kanban is more adaptive than Scrum, and
    • Even within Scrum you will find different styles of implementation from
      • Simple team-level projects which may tend to be more adaptive to
      • Larger more complex multi-team projects which may tend to be somewhat more plan-driven

Putting It Into Practice

The most important point to get out of this is that there is not a clear and well-defined boundary line between “Agile” and “Waterfall” as many people seem to think.

Fitting the Approach to the Nature of the Problem

Many people make the mistake of performing a methodology mechanically. They think they need to do it religiously and “by the book”(That’s true of both Agile and other non-Agile methodologies)

  • The right approach is to fit the methodology to the nature of the problem rather than force-fitting all problems to a given methodology (Agile or non-Agile)
  • It takes more skill to do that but it definitely can be done.
  • It requires understanding the principles behind the methodology and why they make sense in a given situation rather than doing a given methodology mechanically

If you think of methodologies as being rigid and prescriptive,

  • It will be difficult to see how two seemingly disparate methodologies could be blended together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.
  • On the other hand, if you understand the principles behind the methodologies at a deeper level, it is much easier to see how they could be complementary to each other rather than competitive.

Learning to be a “Chef”

It can take a lot more skill to learn how to blend different approaches together in the right proportions to fit a given situation. In my book on Agile Project Management, I use the analogy of a project manager as a “cook” and a project manager as a “chef”.

A Good “Cook”

“A good ‘cook’:

  • May have the ability to create some very good meals, but
  • Those dishes may be limited to a repertoire of standard dishes.
  • And, his/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals may be primarily based on following some predefined recipes out of a cookbook”.
A “Chef”

“A ‘chef’, on the other hand,

  • Typically has a far greater ability to prepare a much broader range of more sophisticated dishes using much more exotic ingredients in some cases.
  • His/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals is not limited to predefined recipes, and
  • In many cases, a chef will create entirely new and innovative recipes for a given situation
  • The best chefs are not limited to a single cuisine. They are capable of combining dishes from entirely different kinds of cuisine.

That’s the challenge for project managers and agile practitioners in today’s world – we need more chefs and fewer cooks.

What is a Hybrid Agile Approach?

In simple terms, a hybrid Agile approach is one that blends the plan-driven principles and practices with Agile (adaptive) principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

Managed Agile Development Framework

An example of that is the Managed Agile Development framework that I created. It simply wraps an outer layer of project-level planning around an Agile development process.

Managed Agile Development Framework

The outer layer can be as thick or thin as necessary to fit the situation.

The Origin of This Approach

I originally developed this framework when I was managing a very large government program for a US government agency.

  • The government agency had to have some level of predictability over the costs and schedules of the program.
  • The program was so large that it actually had some level of congressional oversight so some level of predictability and control was essential
  • However, within that outer envelope, the government agency customer wanted to have flexibility in many of the detailed requirements.
  • We were able to find the right balance of control and flexibility to satisfy both needs.

What Are Examples of Hybrid Agile Approaches?

Some of the most common examples of hybrid Agile approaches are:

Agile Contracts

  • The government program I mentioned is a good example
  • I also have a case study in my book on General Dynamics UK, Ltd. They successfully used a hybrid Agile approach to manage a large defense contract for the ministry of defense in the UK
  • I just finished building a new house. I naturally had a contract with the builder that defined the cost and schedule for the home. However, the builder offered a lot of flexibility to make changes even as the construction of the house was in progress (He charges for changes, of course)

Large, Enterprise-level Projects and Programs

It’s almost impossible to successfully implement some large complex enterprise-level projects and programs without integrating some level of project and program management.

  • A good example of that is the Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare case study that is written up in my latest book.
  • The project involved over 100 Agile teams and involved replacing almost everyone of HPHC’s most critical business systems over a period of time
  • The whole effort involved a lot of moving parts that had to be carefully planned and synchronized. It’s impossible to imagine how that could be done without a sufficient level of project and program management to guide and manage the overall effort

Other Business-driven Initiatives

Many people have the mistaken belief that you need to force the entire company to be agile in order to adopt an Agile development approach. That isn’t necessarily true.

Fitting the Approach to the Business

A business has to be designed around whatever critical success factors are most important for the business that they’re in. Becoming agile may not be the only factor and may not even be the most significant factor.

  • For example, some companies are in very cost-competitive industries and succeed primarily based on operational excellence to lower their costs as much as possible
  • Becoming more agile may play an indirect role in that but it isn’t necessarily the most important factor
Product Development Companies

On the other hand, in a company that is technology-driven that succeeds on bringing leading-edge products to market as quickly as possible, it’s much easier to see how a pure Agile approach might be a very strong and direct driver of the business

  • Agile was originally developed for companies that do product development and that’s where it works best.
  • In companies whose primary business is not developing products per se, there is typically more of a project-oriented approach.
  • The company has to typically evaluate a potential portfolio of projects to determine what mix of projects and programs is going to have the greatest impact on their business.
  • Then they need to monitor the execution of those projects and programs to determine if it is really delivering the expected returns.

Additional Resources

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

Why Are Tools So Important in an Agile Environment?

Have you ever thought about “Why Are Tools So Important in an Agile Environment?”. We all know that one of the very important values in the Agile Manifesto is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. Some people might interpret that to mean that tools aren’t necessary or appropriate in an Agile environment. I don’t think that is the case but it’s important that they be used in the right context:

What’s the Right Context for Agile Tools?

  • In a traditional plan-driven environment (aka “Waterfall”), the process and the tool manages the efforts of everyone on the team
  • In an Agile environment, a lot more flexibility and adaptivity is needed so any tool that is used should play a supporting role rather than a controlling role

It’s important to understand that context in order to use tools appropriately in an Agile environment. The key idea is that

“You should manage the tool rather than the tool managing you”

Why Are Agile Tools So Important?

Why Are Agile Tools So Important?

As long as they’re implemented in the right context, I believe that tools are very important in an Agile environment for several reasons:

  • Agile projects are very dynamic and fast-moving and coordination of the efforts can be a challenge especially with distributed teams
  • Scaling Agile projects to large, complex enterprise levels and keeping the projects well-aligned with the business objectives they are intended to support can also be very challenging

How Are Agile Tools Different?

It’s also important to understand how Agile project management tools are very different from traditional plan-driven project management tools like Microsoft Project.

Traditional Plan-driven
PM Tool Emphasis
Agile PM Tool Emphasis
Structure of the project (WBS, Gantt, Pert, etc.)Maximizing flow of work and efficiency (Structure is considerably simplified, much more fluid, and not as important)
Tracking conformance to a plan baselineMuch more dynamic environment; plan is continuously being updated and refined
Tracking completion of tasksTracking delivery of value against a high-level road map
PM is the primary user of the toolThe entire team uses the tool and the tool supports team communication and collaboration
Information in the tool is updated periodically by the PM for reporting purposesInformation in the tool is updated in much more continuously by everyone on the team for coordination and tracking progress
PM prepares and distributes progress reportsAnyone can view progress any time
(Information Radiator)

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 Does PMBOK v6 Mean For the Future of Project Management?

Background

PMBOK version 6 and the new PMI Agile Practice Guide signal a new direction for project management that, for the first time, starts to integrate Agile and traditional plan-driven project management. What does that mean for the future of project management?

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

Confusion Over Project Management Direction

It’s totally understandable why there would be a lot of confusion among project managers as to how Agile and the future of project management impact their career direction.

  • There are some project managers who are in “denial” and want to assume that traditional, plan-driven project management is the only way to do project management, will go on forever unchanged, and Agile isn’t really a valid form of project management at all.
  • On the other hand, there are people in the Agile community who believe that there is no need at all for traditional plan-driven project management at all and Agile is a solution to almost any problem you might have

I’m not an Agile zealot – I try to take a very objective and pragmatic approach.

  • In one of my courses I have a slide that says “Saying Agile is better than Waterfall” is like saying “A car is better than a boat”. They both have advantages and disadvantages depending on the environment.
  • You have to be able to fit the approach to the problem rather than force-fitting all problems to one of those extremes.
  • I am convinced that project managers who only know how to do traditional, plan-driven project management and try to force-fit all projects to that approach will be at a severe disadvantage relative to other project managers who know how to blend Agile and traditional project management in the right proportions to fit the situation.

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

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the traditional, plan-driven approach to project management; the problem is in how its applied.

  • The primary problem with the traditional, plan-driven approach is that it works for situations where the requirements are well-defined and the primary concern is planning and managing a project to meet those well-defined requirements within a given budgeted cost and schedule.
  • That approach just doesn’t work well in situations where the requirements are much more uncertain and the primary concern is not just managing costs and schedules but taking an adaptive approach to maximize the business results and value that the project produces. 
  • In today’s rapidly-changing business environment the need for taking that kind of approach is becoming increasingly common.

The Future of Project Management

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

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

That raises the bar significantly for many project managers.

What Certification Should I Get?

Some people seem to think that it is only a matter of getting another certification and I’ve participated in several discussions lately where project managers were asking questions like: “What certification should I get in order to get into Agile (CSM/PSM, CSPO, or ACP)?” 

  • The answer to the question of “what certification should I get” depends on what role you want to play and it requires some thought and planning because there is no well-defined role for a project manager in Agile at the team level.  
  • There are several possible career directions for project managers with regard to Agile.  
  • You may not have to completely throw away your project management skills, but you would have to rethink them considerably in a very different context and you may not use some project management skills very fully at all depending on the role you choose.

1. Become a Scrum Master

A ScrumMaster is what’s known as a “servant leader”. The Scrum Alliance defines the primary responsibilities of a ScrumMaster as follows:

  • Ensures that the team is fully functional and productive
  • Enables close cooperation across all roles and functions
  • Removes barriers
  • Shields the team from external interferences
  • Ensures that the process is followed, including issuing invitations to daily scrums, sprint reviews, and sprint planning
  • Facilitates the daily scrums

There’s a few project management skills that might be useful (at least indirectly) for that role but it doesn’t utilize much of the planning and management skills that a project manager typically has.  For that reason, becoming a ScrumMaster may or may not make sense as a career direction for many project managers.

2. Become a Product Owner

The Scrum Alliance defines the primary responsibilities of a Product Owner as follows:

  • The product owner decides what will be built and in which order
  • Defines the features of the product or desired outcomes of the project
  • Chooses release date and content
  • Ensures profitability (ROI)
  • Prioritizes features/outcomes according to market value
  • Adjusts features/outcomes and priority as needed
  • Accepts or rejects work results
  • Facilitates scrum planning ceremony

The Product Owner role actually includes a lot of project management functions but it is actually much more similar to a Product Manager than a Project Manager.  The major differences are that:

  • The Product Owner is a business decision-maker and requires some business domain knowledge that a project manager may not have.
  • The Product Owner role doesn’t typically include many team leadership skills. In an Agile environment, team leadership is more a function of the ScrumMaster and the team itself.

3. Hybrid Agile Project Management Role

For a lot of good reasons, many companies will choose to implement a hybrid Agile approach that blends the right level of traditional plan-driven project management with Agile. This is a very challenging role for a project manager to play because it requires a deep understanding of both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management to know how to blend these two seemingly disparate approaches together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

4. Project/Program Management of Large, Complex Enterprise-level Agile Projects

There is a legitimate role for project managers in managing large, complex enterprise-level projects; however, there are several things to consider about planning your career in that direction:

  • This role is limited to large, complex projects that typically require multiple Agile teams and require blending together some level of traditional plan-driven and Agile principles and practices in the right proportions to fit the situation.
  • This role doesn’t exist at all on most small, single-team Agile projects.

This role requires some very significant skills that can be very difficult to attain. Many people may assume that the PMI-ACP certification qualifies you to perform this role. It is a step in the right direction, but a lot more experience and knowledge is needed to perform this role including:

  • Knowing how to blend traditional, plan-driven principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given project,
  • Adapting an agile approach to fit a business environment, and
  • Scaling Agile to an enterprise level.

You have to be a “rock star” Agile Project Manager to perform this role.

Overall Summary

In many industries and application areas, the project management role associated with small, single-team projects may be completely eliminated by Agile. There may be some project managers who are not significantly impacted by this such as project managers in the construction industry, but even in those industries some knowledge of Agile principles and practices may be essential.

This creates difficult choices for a Project Manager to make, but the key message for any project manager should be that Agile will force them to make some significant choices about their career direction and it isn’t as simple as just going out and getting another certification (like ACP).

Agile Project Management Training

That’s exactly the challenge for the future of project management profession that the courses in the Agile Project Management Training I’ve developed are designed to address:

The Future of Project Management

What’s Different About Agile Metrics?

What’s Different About Agile Metrics? Are metrics really consistent with Agile at all?

Different Views of Metrics

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

Relationship of Metrics and Success Criteria

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

  • As a result, in a traditional, plan-driven environment, you’re going to see metrics indicating how closely the project is tracking against cost and schedule goals
  • That kind of metric may not be very appropriate in an Agile environment. An Agile project should be focused on producing results.

Impact of the Project Approach on Metrics

The result is that you’re likely to see very different types of high-level project metrics with an Agile project.

  • In a traditional plan-driven project, you might see a dashboard with red/yellow/green status indicators that signify the amount of variation from budget and schedule goals.
  • In an Agile environment, a burn-down or burn-up chart might be a good way to show the performance of the project in producing results.

Metrics are a form of project communications

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

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

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

Overall Summary

For those reasons, you are likely to find a lot more metrics in a traditional, plan-driven environment and the metrics in an Agile environment will probably be very different but metrics still have value in an Agile environment.

  • This is yet another example of the need to get past some of the myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes that paint the picture that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”.
  • Rather than force-fitting a project to one of those extremes, you need to fit the approach to the nature of the project and the metrics should also be appropriate to the nature of the project.

Additional Resources

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

What is Agile Risk Management? How Is It Different?

People might think that Agile Risk Management is an oxymoron.

  • There is a common stereotype that an Agile project is totally unplanned
  • So, why would you take a planned approach to Agile Risk Management if the whole project is unplanned?   
Agile Risk Management

There is always some level of planning in an Agile project even though the level of planning may be limited.  Here’s an article with more detail on that:

Why Is Planning So Difficult? Is It a Waste of Time?

The gist of this is that you have to adapt the planning approach to the level of uncertainty in the project.  A similar thing is true regarding risk management:

  • There is no single approach to doing risk management and
  • It’s not a binary choice between zero risk management and a totally rigid and controlled approach to risk management. 

You need to fit the risk management approach to the nature of the project:

  • For high risk projects where the customer is very sensitive to risk, it makes sense to take a planned approach to risk management
  • For lower risk projects , a more informal approach to risk management may be appropriate.

Agile Risk Management Process

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

PhaseDescription
Risk IdentificationThis might consist of a brainstorming session to identify potential risks in the project
Risk AnalysisThis involves further study to determine the probability and impact of each risk
Risk ResponseThis phase involves determining what, if anything, should be done to mitigate the risk
Monitoring and ControlFinally during the course of the project, the risks are monitored and controlled

Advantages of an Agile Risk Management Approach

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

  • Risks are generally directly related to uncertainty in a project and an Agile approach is intended to be flexible and adaptive in order to deal with uncertainty
  • For that reason, it is easier to adapt to risks in an Agile environment as the project is in progress

Risk Management in a Plan-driven Environment

In a traditional, plan-driven project:

  • A considerable amount of re-planning may be necessary to adapt to risks as the project is in progress and
  • For that reason, it may be more important to plan for risks upfront in a plan-driven environment.

Structuring an Agile Project for Risk Management

Another factor is due to the iterative and incremental nature of development in an Agile project:

  • It’s not too difficult to structure the Product Backlog to address high risk items early in the project and,
  • If there is a lot of uncertainty associated with those risks, a “spike” can be performed to evaluate the risk without having a major impact on the project.

Responsibility for Agile Risk Management

It’s easy to lose focus on risk management in an Agile environment because there is no well-defined focal point of responsibility for risk management. Risk management is normally a project management responsibility and there is typically no project manager at the team level in an Agile project:

  • In an Agile environment, the entire team owns responsibility for risk management. In a similar way, the the entire team owns responsibility for project management
  • Another factor is that because an Agile approach is more adaptive to risks, there tends to be a “cavalier” approach to not worry about risks.

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

  • Deciding how much (and what kind of) risk management is needed based on the nature of the project
  • Training the team in the basics of risk management
  • Building in some focus on thinking about risks in all of the Agile/Scrum ceremonies
  • Determining how the risk management effort will be managed:
    • How will risk management be done and
    • How will responsibilities for risk management be distributed among the team?

Additional Resources

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

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.