Category Archives: Superseded

University Project Management Curriculum With Agile

I had an interesting discussion with a major university about helping them develop an integrated university project management curriculum with Agile that included a master’s degree program in Agile Project Management. They correctly recognized that the world of project management is changing rapidly and they didn’t want to make a major investment in developing a project management curriculum based on an old and outdated notion of what “project management” is. I think they are absolutely correct in that; however, it isn’t totally clear how a master’s program in project management should be structured to reflect the evolution that I believe is going on in the project management profession today.

University Project Management Curriculum with Agile

Similarities Between Project Management and Modern Physics

We can learn a lot from how the science of physics has evolved because I think there are a number of interesting similarities to the evolution that is currently going on in project management. For many years until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, physics was based on what is called “Classical Physics”.

What is Classical Physics?

“Classical physics is the physics of everyday phenomena of nature, those we can observe with our unaided senses. It deals primarily with mass, force and motion. While its roots go back to the earliest times, to the Ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and Archimedes, it later developed into a cohesive system with the contributions of Galileo, Kepler and Newton. Classical physics achieved phenomental success, as the Calculus of Newton and Leibniz gave it the tools to tackle even even problems not imagined by its pioneers.”

“Around 1900, give or take a decade, surprising new experimental evidence, primarily about atoms and molecules, showed us that these small-scale phenomena behave in ways not anticipated by classical theory. This ushered in a new era called “modern” physics. New laws and methodology were developed to deal with the rapidly expanding experimental evidence. Relativity and quantum mechanics added new tools to the study of nature. These did not make classical physics “wrong”, for the old laws were working just as they always had, within their limited scope—which was the study of large objects (not atomic scale ones) moving relatively slowly (not near the speed of light). “

“So classical physics is still the starting point for learning about physics, and constitutes the bulk of the material in most introductory textbooks. It is the theory underlying the natural processes we observe everyday. It is the key to understanding the motion of pulleys, machines, projectiles and planets. It helps us understand geology, chemistry, astronomy, weather, tides and other natural phenomena”

Simanek, Donald E., What’s Physics All About?,

What Happened to Cause People to Rethink Classical Physics?

That notion of physics that was intended to define how the entire universe worked held together for a long time; however, serious weaknesses began to appear around the early 1900’s:

“By the end of the nineteenth century, most physicists were feeling quite smug. They seemed to have theories in place that would explain all physical phenomena. There was clearly a lot of cleaning up to do, but it looked like a fairly mechanical job: turn the crank on the calculator until the results come out. Apart from a few niggling problems like those lines in the light emitted by gas discharges, and the apparent dependence of the mass of high-speed electrons on their velocity”

“Twenty-five years later, this complacency had been completely destroyed by the invention of three entirely new theories: special relativity, general relativity, and quantum mechanics. The outstanding figure of this period was Albert Einstein. His name became a household word for his development, virtually single-handedly, of the theory of relativity, and he made a major contribution to the development of quantum mechanics in his explanation of the photoelectric effect. “

Slavin, Alan J., “A Brief History and Philosophy of Physics”,

How is This Transformation Related to Project Management?

Classical Physics is analogous to traditional, plan-driven project management. Similar to the laws of classical physics, the traditional, plan-driven project management approach has been widely accepted as the only way to do project management for a long time. And the way traditional, plan-driven project management is done hasn’t changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s. It assumes a very predictable view of the world where it was possible to completely define a project plan with a fairly high level of certainty prior to the start of a project. That is similar to classical physicists who believed for a long time that a model of the universe could be completely predicted based on some relatively simple and well-defined laws of classical physics. In recent years; however, it is apparent that we are in a much more dynamic and more complex universe with much higher levels of uncertainty where that traditional, plan-driven approach to project management no longer works well at all.

PMI is moving slowly towards recognizing the need to take a broader approach to what “project management” is; however, there are many project managers who still believe that traditional, plan-driven project management is the only way to do project management and there are some well-engrained stereotypes of what “project management” is that are also based on that notion. PMI has created the PMI-ACP certification that recognizes the need for project managers to know something about Agile and Lean; however, PMI still treats “Agile” and traditional, plan-driven project management principles and practices as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two. It’s up to the individual project manager to figure out how to put the two together.

What Can We Learn from This Similarity?

Traditional, plan-driven project management (just like Classical Physics) will never be totally obsolete and will continue to be a foundation for many areas of project management:

“…classical physics retains considerable utility as an excellent approximation in most situations of practical interest. Neither relativity nor quantum theory is required to build bridges or design cellphone antennas.”

The never-ending conundrums of classical physics, Trent University

However, it is important to recognize and not ignore the limitations that are inherent in a traditional, plan-driven project management approach. Experienced physicists have learned to recognize the limitations of classical physics that it only works reliably in a certain range of situations as shown in the figure below:

modern-physics

“Classical Physics is usually concerned with everyday conditions: speeds much lower than the speed of light, and sizes much greater than that of atoms. Modern physics is usually concerned with high velocities and small distances.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_physics

Similarly, project managers also need to recognize that a traditional, plan-driven approach to project management only works reliably in a limited set of situations. In the project management world, this can be expressed with the Stacey Complexity Model:

stacey-complexity-model

In this model there are two primary dimensions – one is requirements complexity and the other is technology complexity.

  • Traditional, plan-driven project management still works in areas of low complexity such as some construction projects but even in some of those areas, project managers have recognized a need for a somewhat more adaptive approach
  • As you get further out on either complexity axis, there is typically a need for more of an adaptive Agile approach that is better suited for dealing with uncertainty but this is not a binary and mutually-exclusive proposition. There is a need to blend both approaches in the right proportions to fit the situation

Implications for a University Project Management Curriculum with Agile

Just as “Modern Physics” is the integration of Classical Physics with a more modern approach to physics, I believe that there is a new vision of what “project management” is that integrates an Agile approach in the right proportions with a traditional, plan-driven approach. My view is that there is a “Modern Project Management” concept that is emerging that is analogous to the concept of “Modern Physics” that integrates these different approaches together in one discipline similar to the way that Physics has evolved. If someone were to get a Master’s degree in Physics today, it seems unlikely that the studies would be limited to Classical Physics with no mention of the other areas of Modern Physics. But that is, in fact, the way a number of universities have structured a Master’s Degree in Project Management program today. Universities need to move beyond that notion of project management and develop a much broader and well-integrated curriculum to address this need.

Help Promote an Agile Project Management Approach

Would you like to help promote an Agile Project Management approach that could potentially rejuvenate the whole project management profession? (By the way, what I mean by “Agile Project Management” is the ability to blend Agile and traditional, plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation)

  • Are you as passionate about Agile Project Management as I am?
  • Do you agree that any project manager who only knows how to do traditional plan-driven project management will be at a serious disadvantage in many industries and application areas in the not-too-distant future?
  • Would you like to help the project management profession move into the next generation of project management?
  • Would you like to also earn some extra cash helping to bring about that change?

As many of you may know, I have developed a very comprehensive online training course on Agile Project Management with over 17,000 students.  However, that is only the beginning and I need help to try to dramatically expand the number of students the courses reach.

The new platform at the Agile Project Management Academy has some very interesting new capabilities such as  “affiliate marketing” that allows me to offer the capability for any student to be an “affiliate”.  If you are an “affiliate”, you will receive a commission of 25% for any new students you bring into the Agile Project Management Academy.

This is an opportunity for any student to earn a little extra cash to defer their own training expenses; or, if you are a PMI member, this could be an opportunity for your entire PMI chapter to get some additional revenue and get PDU’s for your members at the same time. If you’re interested in taking advantage of this opportunity, send me an email  and I’ll sign you up.

What’s the Value of Project Management?

I recently participated in a discussion on Quora where someone asked the question “What’s the value of Project Management?” The person who answered the question did an excellent job and his answer was spot-on in the context of traditional, plan-driven project management; however, I think there’s a need to rethink that in the context of Agile Project Management.

What's the value of project management?

His answer to this question centered on the fact that “project management is about change” and that is absolutely correct. It went through a scenario of a typical company that builds widgets:

In the Widget Company, everyone is consumed with building widgets and building them as efficiently as possible. That is what “process management” is all about.  However, suppose one day the CEO of the company went to a widget convention and found that other companies were building much better widgets for half the price. That’s where project management comes in – when you have to make a change such as introducing a new product to remain competitive.

For that reason, project management is the lifeblood of many companies – it is what keeps the company competitive and on the leading edge of the markets they serve. Great companies have to continuously evolve to remain competitive and sometimes that might require significant change. An example of that I like to use is American Express. American Express started out over 150 years ago in the railway express shipping business shipping boxes on rail cars. If they had continued in that business, they might not be doing so well today but they have continuously adjusted to changes in the market and technology over that period of time.

Let’s go back to the Widget Company example – suppose that after coming back from the widget convention, the CEO of the Widget Company determined that:

  • He didn’t want to just adopt a “me too” strategy and build the same kind of widget that everyone else was building
  • He wanted to go beyond that and build something really unique and innovative that would go well beyond what the rest of the competitors had to offer
  • And, he wanted to get it to market quickly before any other competitor could develop a similar product

Suppose that no one really knows exactly what that means in terms of detailed product requirements for whatever the new widget is? That’s where Agile Project Management comes in. It works best in situations where it is difficult to define detailed requirements for a product before the project starts and where you have get started quickly and get something to market as quickly and efficiently as possible. In that situation, rather than taking time to define detailed requirements before starting the project, you would start with a vision of what the product should be and take an incremental and iterative approach to continuously refine the product as the project was in progress.   That’s exactly the kind of effort that an Agile Project Manager should be able to lead.

When you ask many people “What’s the value of project management?”, many people will think that the value of project management is being able to plan and execute projects to deliver well-defined requirements within a given cost and schedule. That is a very common image of the value of project management that has been well-ingrained into many project managers for many years. In today’s world, I think we have to broaden that notion. Simply managing projects to meet cost and schedule goals may be important but it isn’t sufficient in many cases.

Technology is changing rapidly in many areas and that makes it difficult to adopt a traditional, plan-driven approach to project management because it just isn’t feasible in many cases to develop detailed project requirements for a project before it starts and being competitive often requires a much more aggressive and dynamic approach. That calls for a more Agile approach and the value of project management is really about bringing about change using whatever project management approach is most appropriate to fit the situation.

That’s a broader view of the value of project management that I think is much more consistent with the world we live in today.

Politics and Agile Project Management

Have you ever thought about the relationship of what’s going on in politics and Agile Project Management? I think there’s possibly a significant relationship between the two. Look at what is happening in politics throughout the world:

  • In the UK,  regardless of whether the decision to leave the EU is right or wrong, the “Brexit” vote indicates that many people want to have much more direct control of their own government
  • In the US,  Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump probably couldn’t be further apart in their political orientation but they do have one very significant thing in common – they are both attractive to people who are frustrated with the bureaucratic and cumbersome nature of establishment politics.

What Do People Really Want?

Without taking sides in any of these political contests, the pattern seems to be clear – people are fed up with bureaucracy and traditional, establishment politics and want a radical change.  However, many people are beginning to be concerned about the potential impact of such radical change.  What will be the impact of tossing out all of our experienced political leaders and moving to a much more unpredictable environment?  I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to that question.

Politics and Agile Project Management

Does that sound familiar?  I think it does. 

What’s the Relationship to Agile Project Management?

A lot of organizations and people are fed up with force-fitting a traditional, plan-driven project management approach on their organizations that hasn’t changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s.   They want to get rid of bureaucratic and cumbersome management processes.  Many businesses and people want radical change and they see Agile as a potential solution to that need.  However, tossing out all of the established way of doing things is a concern to many people and organizations.

An Agile Project Management approach can provide a nice compromise.   It provides a way to break away from a traditional, plan-driven project management approach; however, it doesn’t really require completely tossing out all of the established ways of doing things and starting completely over from scratch.  It provides a way to customize a management solution to fit the needs of a given business environment and projects.

If you look at what has happened with Agile, the Agile Manifesto that was developed fifteen years ago in 2001 started a revolution and many people in the Agile community have advocated a fairly radical approach to get rid of traditional, plan-driven project management altogether.   On the other side of that fence, there have been some project managers who are resisting this change and are equally polarized on insisting that a traditional, plan-driven approach is the only way to do project management and are force-fitting that approach on all projects.

What Does the Future Look Like?

I think that the polarization between the project management community and the Agile community is starting to fade away as people start to see that it is possible to blend the two approaches together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.   I hope it doesn’t take a long time for the polarization that exists in the current political environment to fade away.  Countries are like businesses in a sense – they are much stronger if the people in the country and business are unified around a common direction for the country/business and countries/businesses are weakened by excessive polarization and fragmentation.

Achieving that kind of unifying vision isn’t easy either in politics or in a business environment.  In both cases, it takes strong leadership to bring people together.  That’s why I’m so passionate about helping to develop that kind of leader in the Agile Project Management community.

 

Why Do We Need Project Managers?

Suppose that you happen to be riding in an elevator with a senior manager and you are asked the question, “Why do we need project managers?”.   You have about 15 seconds to come up with a simple and general answer that is going to be meaningful to a senior executive to convince him/her that project managers are critical to the success of their business.

If you asked a number of people that question of “Why do we need project managers?”, you would probably get a broad range of responses.  Many people would answer the question in terms of the typical things that project managers do such as planning and organizing projects and managing costs and schedules and those are all true but they are only tasks that project managers have been known to take on and many of those things that people typically associate with project mangers have a fairly narrow association with only a traditional, plan-driven project management role.

Why do we need project managers?

“Project Management” is a fairly broad role and there are many different kinds of project managers that have different kinds of specializations.  The role is also getting even broader as a result of Agile Project Management.  I think there is a need to take a broader view of what “project management” is and define it in terms that describe the role that an Agile Project Manager might play as well as a traditional, plan-driven project manager.

If you had to boil it all down to a simple explanation, I would say this:

A project manager increases the probability of a project successfully meeting its business objectives by applying the most effective combination of people, process, and tools to solve the problem and providing the essential leadership to guide the project in the right direction for it to be successful.

That’s a fairly broad definition but I think a broad definition like that is needed in today’s world in order to redefine the role that a project manager plays that isn’t limited to the traditional, plan-driven project management role that many people heavily associate with “project management”.  We’ve got to start thinking of “project management” in broader terms than the traditional, plan-driven approach to project management that has been around since the 1950’s and 1960’s.

A lot of project managers get totally consumed in the tasks of doing project management and may not see the big picture that the real goal is not to just plan and control projects to meet cost and schedule goals the real goal is to solve business problems using whatever process is appropriate to solve the problem.  That’s what the Agile Project Management courses I’ve developed are all about.

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

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

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

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

Agile Transformation

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

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

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

  • PMI has at least recognized Agile as a legitimate variation of project management but “Agile” and traditional plan-driven project management are still treated as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two
  • The prevailing thinking among many people in the project management profession is that, by definition, “project management” is defined as managing projects using a traditional, plan-driven approach and anything else isn’t really “project management”
  • There also many well-established stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions to overcome. For example, one of them is that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” and you need to force-fit your projects and business environment to one of those extremes rather than going in the other direction and fitting the methodology (or combination of methodologies) to the project and business environment

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

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

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

Agile Project Management Academy