Category Archives: Agile Project Management

Learn how to blend Agile principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any given situation.

What’s the Future of Project Management? What Do You Think?

What’s the future of project management? Is project management obsolete? 

  • I don’t think that “project management” is obsolete. However, 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.
Future Project Management

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 Creativity and 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. At the team level, many functions that might normally be performed by a Project Manager have been distributed among other roles. Here’s an article with more detail on that:

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

  • 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:

PMI-ACP Certification

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
  • It 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.

PMBOK and Integrated Approach

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 has 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.

Agile Project Management Training

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.

Overall Summary

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.

We need to go beyond these steps and “reinvent” what “project management” is. Here’s an article I wrote with more on that subject:

Additional Resources

I am very passionate about helping the project management profession recognize the need for this transformation.  That’s the essence of the three books I’ve published on Agile Project Management and of the online Agile Project Management training that I have developed.

Improving Team Performance – How Do You Improve Team Performance in a Project Environment?

A number of people have asked questions related to improving team performance. It takes some skill to do that – “How do you improve team performance in a project? 

Improve Team Performance

Improving Team Performance

How to Improve Team Performance

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:

  • Rather than simply putting pressure on the team to improve performance, a better approach is to understand the dynamics of how a team performs. You can then 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”

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

What is 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:

LevelDescription
Manager-led TeamThe 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.
Self-governing TeamAt 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 below are more typically found in an Agile environment:
Self-managing TeamA “self-managing team” takes responsibility for monitoring and managing work process and progress.
Self-organizing TeamA “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:

  • Empowered teams more fully utilize the capabilities of the people on the team
  • They reduce the need for someone to directly manage all aspects of how the team operates
  • They improve 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

Comparison of Agile and Plan-driven Approaches

There can be a big difference between an Agile environment and a traditional plan-driven environment.

1. Traditional Plan-driven Projects

In a traditional plan-driven project team, a Project Manager or Team Leader typically provides direction to the team:

  • The project manager is the one who is held responsible for the performance of the team and the results that they produce, and
  • 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

In an Agile environment, there may not be a project manager involved at all at the team level:

  • If a project manager is involved at that level, he/she 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

Overall Summary

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 effective
  • A more proactive and more sustainable approach is to better understand how the team functions as a dynamic organism. You can then work on the factors that drive performance.

Additional Resources

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

Free Agile Webinar for Project Managers

Transform yourself into a high impact Agile Project Manager!

This free Agile webinar will help project managers understand how to dramatically transform themselves into a very high impact Agile Project Management role!

Free Agile Webinar

Why This Agile Webinar Is Important

This Agile Webinar is very important for project managers. Agile is having a very significant impact on the project management profession:

  • Traditional, plan-driven project management has not changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s
  • Many projects are moving rapidly to an Agile approach

Weaknesses in Traditional Project Management Approach

Agile addresses several major weaknesses in a traditional plan-driven project management approach:

  • It is not well-suited for an environment with a high level of uncertainty
  • The emphasis on planning and control can stifle creativity and innovation
  • Unnecessary overhead can increase costs and slow progress

The Challenge for Project Managers

Traditional, plan-driven project management is still useful if it is done in the right context; however:

  • Any  project manager who only knows traditional plan-driven project management and force-fits all projects to that approach will have limited success
  • Project managers need to learn how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any given situation

That is exactly the challenge that this webinar will help you understand.

Agile Webinar Summary – 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:

  • As a result, many people tend to think they need to force-fit a project to one of those extremes
  • The right solution is to go in the other direction and fit the methodology to the nature of the project
  • That 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 makes 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. PMI-ACP is a step in the right direction; however it has several limitations:

  • PMI-ACP doesn’t address the challenge that many project managers face of learning how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven project management
  • Agile and traditional, plan-driven project management are still treated as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two
  • It is also a general test of Agile and Lean knowledge and doesn’t focus on a specific real-world job that a project manager might play

Overall Summary

This Agile webinar will help you:

  • Better understand the challenges Agile presents to project managers, and
  • The impact on your career as a project manager
  • It will help you begin to develop a broader, high-impact view of what “project management” is

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 Agile Tools So Important?

Have you ever thought about “Why are Agile Tools So Important?”.

  • 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

For more on Agile Manifesto values, check out this link:

https://agilemanifesto.org/

Why Are Agile Tools So Important?

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?

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)

Overall Summary

Tools can be very important in an Agile project. However, the role of tools is very different and they need to be used in the right context.

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:

  • It 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?

Agile Project Management 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:

  • The course design is focused on passing the PMI-ACP exam and not much more than that
  • It involves a lot of memorization of information. That 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
  • 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
  • The individual project manager needs to figure out how to put the two together

Design the Training Around a Real-world Role

The PMI-ACP certification is a good certification. However, it is not designed around preparing someone for a particular job role:

  • It’s important for a project manager to have a clear idea of what role that he/she might play in order to prepare him/herself for that role.
  • The role of an Agile Project Manager is not well-defined. 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
  • In order to take an adaptive approach, you have to understand the principles behind it 
  • Doing it very mechanically is not very adaptive.

Future of PMI-ACP Certification – What’s the Future Like?

Agile is having a significant and profound effect on the project management profession. We need to make some assumptions and develop a vision of where the future of the project management profession is heading.

  • The new vision of “project management” is not limited to taking a project with well-defined requirements and planning and managing 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
    • Leading a project management approach that is designed to maximize the business value of the overall solution

Overall Summary

PMI-ACP is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t go far enough in my opinion. To some extent, it still treats Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.

The big challenge for project managers that goes beyond the PMI-ACP certification is learning how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation

  • The online Agile Project Management training is designed around that objective
  • This training will be of benefit to all project managers even if they are not involved in an Agile project. The training will broaden the range of project management capabilities that he/she has to offer.

Additional Resources

Check out this new training curriculum in The Agile Project Management Academy.

What’s Different About Agile Metrics?

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

Agile Metrics

Different Views of Metrics

Metrics play a different approach in an Agile environment that is important to understand; however,

  • Metrics will be directly related to the level of planning and the project approach and
  • The project approach should fit the nature of the project

Customizing Metrics to Fit the Project

Metrics should be well-aligned with the success criteria for the project and need to be customized to fit the project. There are a number of factors that influence the need for metrics.

Impact of the Project Approach on Metrics

The project methodology and the success criteria for the project is likely to have a big impact on metrics. As a result, you’re likely to see very different types of high-level project metrics in an Agile project.

  • In a traditional plan-driven project, metrics are heavily used to show how closely the project is tracking against cost and schedule goals. As a result, 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, there is typically more focus on producing results. For that reason, 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

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, the stakeholders are much more heavily engaged in the project on an ongoing basis. There is also lots of emphasis on openness and transparency

The impact is that Agile needs less extensive metrics to keep people informed of what’s going on in the project. In an Agile project, stakeholders should have direct, first-hand knowledge of what’s going on in the project without extensive metrics.

Metrics Should Support Decision-making

There is a different need for decision-making that will also impact metrics:

  • In a traditional plan-driven environment, management typically has to get engaged in projects at a much lower level. They need to make decisions related to resolving issues, assigning additional resources, etc.
  • Agile companies delegate more responsibility to empowered, self-organizing teams. As a result, there is less need for management to get engaged in tactical project decisions

Different levels of empowerment will cause a significant difference in the metrics needed at different levels:

  • Senior managers will be less heavily-engaged in tactical project decisions
  • That should enable them to focus more heavily on more strategic issues

Overall Summary

Metrics in an Agile environment will probably be very different and more limited; however,

  • Metrics still have value in an Agile environment
  • They should be customized to fit 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?

Some 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 but it doesn’t have to be that way
  • You can do as much (or as little) risk management as necessary depending on the nature of the project and the sensitivity to risk

Overall Summary

Risk management is not inconsistent with an Agile approach. In fact, an Agile approach offers many advantages for doing risk management more effectively. Developing a risk management strategy for an Agile environment is 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 Agile Project Management? What Transformation is Needed?

There is a lot of confusion about what Agile Project Management is. There is also some uncertainty about what transformation is needed to move to an Agile Project Management approach. I’ve even heard some people in the Agile community say that “there is no such thing as Agile project management”.

  • I don’t really believe that there is no such thing as Agile Project Management but it is true that the role of a project manager in Agile is not well-defined and is still evolving
  • I also believe it will take a major transformation of how we think about project management to reshape the project management profession to fill this new role

Although it is difficult at this point in time to precisely define how the Agile Project Management role may wind up, we can certainly see that a very significant transformation is needed.

What Is Agile Project Management?  What Transformation is Needed?

Agile Project Management Transformation

Transforming Caterpillars into Butterflies

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

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

He used the example of transforming a caterpillar into a butterfly.  He is absolutely right and that is exactly the approach I’ve focused on developing in my Agile Project Management courses. 

What Transformation is Needed?

It’s not exactly transforming “caterpillars” into “butterflies” but I think that analogy fits pretty well. It’s about transforming:

  • Project managers (who may have been heavily indoctrinated in a traditional, plan-driven approach to project management that hasn’t changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s) into
  • A much more high impact orientation

This new Agile Project Management orientation is:

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

What’s Different?

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

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

Why Is This Transformation Difficult to Do?

This transformation not an easy thing to do for several reasons:

Integration of Agile and Traditional Plan-driven Project Management

A major challenge is to integrate Agile and traditional plan-driven project management. PMI has at least recognized Agile as a legitimate variation of project management; however, up until recently “Agile” and traditional plan-driven project management have been treated as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.

Rethinking “Project Management”

Another major challenge is to develop a broader view of what “project management” is. The prevailing thinking among many people in the project management profession is that, by definition, “project management” is defined as managing projects using a traditional, plan-driven approach and anything else isn’t really “project management”

Overcoming Stereotypes, Myths and Misconceptions

There also many well-established stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions to overcome. For example, one of them is that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” and you need to force-fit your projects and business environment to one of those extremes. The right approach is to go in the other direction and fit the methodology (or combination of methodologies) to the project and business environment

Overall Conclusions

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

Agile Project Management Academy

What is an Agile Project Manager?

There is a lot of confusion and controversy about what an Agile Project Manager is. It’s understandable why this confusion exists:

  • There are many stereotypes and misconceptions about both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management and
  • The role of an Agile Project Manager might play is not well-defined
What is an Agile Project Manager?

Popular Stereotypes and Misconceptions

There are some very strong stereotypes of what “project management” is and what a “Project Manager” is:

  • Those stereotypes are centered around the belief that traditional plan-driven project management is the only way to do project management
  • Project managers are so heavily ingrained into that way of thinking that they can’t possibly adapt to an Agile environment

Agile Versus Waterfall

One of the biggest misconceptions that many people seem to have is that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between Agile and “Waterfall” with nothing in between. That ignores the possibility of blending the two approaches to fit a given situation.

Agile is Not Limited to Small, Single-team Projects

Many people think of Agile in a very narrow sense as limited to simple, single-team Scrum projects.

  • Because there is no “Project Manager” role defined at that level, they assume that there is no role for project management at all in an Agile environment
  • However, there is more to Agile than simple, single-team projects

The Role of an Agile Project Manager is Not Well-defined

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; however,

  • PMI has never really defined what an “Agile Project Manager” is and what role he/she might play in the real world
  • The PMI-ACP certification is a general test of Agile and Lean knowledge and is not designed around a particular job role
  • To some extent, 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

A Broader Vision of Project Management

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
  • Finally, What an “Agile Project Manager” is

Important Goals

We need to recognize that:

  • The discipline of ”project management” isn’t limited to traditional, plan-driven project management and
  • An emphasis on planning and control is not the only way to do project management

A Different View of Project Management

For example, there is actually a lot of “project management” going on in an Agile project although:

  • You may not find anyone with the title of “Project Manager” and
  • 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.

  • It may not have the traditional emphasis on planning and control
  • The project management functions that would normally be performed by an individual with the title of “Project Manager” have been distributed among the other members of the team

Distribution of Project Management Functions

Here is a summary of how the project management functions that might normally be performed by a Project Manager have been distributed among other roles at the team level in an Agile project:

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 that might limit progress and
  • Facilitating and coaching the project team

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.

Overall Summary – 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
  • He/She should know how to blend them together in the right proportions to fit a given situation. 

What Role Might an “Agile Project Manager” Play?

I think it’s sad that some project managers see their only alternative in an Agile environment is to become a Scrum Master. That’s 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.