What Does ‘Waterfall’ Really Mean? How Do People Use That Word?

What does ‘Waterfall’ really mean? Have you ever thought about that?

  • The word “Waterfall” is often used in comparison to ‘Agile’ but do people know what they really mean when they compare ‘Agile’ to ‘Waterfall’?
  • I think the word ‘Waterfall’ is one of the most loosely-used words in the English language (the word ‘Agile’ is not far behind).

When people talk about ‘Agile’ and ‘Waterfall’, it sounds like they’re comparing two very specific and well-defined methodologies that are binary and mutually-exclusive opposites of each other. However, when you dig into what the words ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Agile’ really mean, you quickly discover that’s a very inaccurate and misleading comparison.

What Does Waterfall Really Mean?

What Does ‘Waterfall’ Really Mean?

Strictly speaking, the word ‘Waterfall’ was originally defined in 1970 by Dr. Winston Royce in his very famous paper:

Dr. Winston Royce’s 1970 Waterfall Paper

Dr Royce described a model that consists of a sequence of phases. In this model, the outputs of one phase flow into the next phase like a “Waterfall”:

What Is Waterfall

The process was called ‘Waterfall’ because the results of one phase flow into the next phase like a ‘Waterfall’.

What Was Life Like Prior to ‘Waterfall’?

it is useful to understand what life was like prior to Waterfall and what problems it tried to solve. What preceded ‘Waterfall’ was a lot of poorly-organized development efforts with little or no structure, discipline, and planning. Some of the major problems with the that approach were:

Coordinating Work of Large Development Teams

As projects grew in terms of scope and complexity with potentially much larger numbers of developers, it became apparent that a more planned and structured approach was essential to coordinate the work of large development teams

Cost and Schedule Overruns

The other major problem was that there was very limited predictability over the costs and schedules of software projects:

  • There were many and frequent very significant cost and schedule overruns, and
  • Business sponsors demanded some level of predictability

How Did the Waterfall Process Improve These Problems?

When the Waterfall approach was originally defined, it was a big improvement to go from practically no methodology at all to a very well-defined process. The new Waterfall process provided:

  • A “road map” to:
    • Coordinate the work of multiple developers as well as
    • Integrate the work with any other essential resources outside of the immediate development teams, and
  • A mechanism to gain control over the scope of software projects in order to get more predictability of project costs and schedules

Many younger people today don’t appreciate that history and just criticize Waterfall as being bad without understanding the problems it was intended to solve.

The “Pendulum Effect”

As with many things, there was a “pendulum” effect when the Waterfall approach was initially implemented. There was somewhat of an over-correction in many cases in going from no methodology to a very well-defined methodology. The pendulum swung in many projects from almost no control and discipline to very rigid control and discipline.

It Became Very Rigid and Inflexible

The initial implementation of the Waterfall process had a number of problems that even Dr. Royce recognized in 1970 when he first defined the process. Some of the most serious problems were:

  • The common practice when the Waterfall process was originally defined in 1970 was a very document-intensive and over-controlled process
  • You couldn’t exit a phase until all the documentation required to show that the work required for that phase had been completed, reviewed, and approved
  • The ultimate user of the software didn’t normally even see the software until all of the development and testing was complete and by that point in time; it was very difficult, if not impossible, to go back and make any significant changes
  • The emphasis on control of scope made the process very inflexible to any changes that might be needed to meet user needs and business goals in an uncertain environment

What Was the Impact?

As a result,

  • There have been many situations where the project may have met cost and schedule goals but failed to provide a sufficient level of business value
  • Another major problem was that a heavy emphasis on documentation and other overhead required for reviews and approvals made the whole process bureaucratic and not very cost efficient

It’s important to note that many of the problems associated with “Waterfall” are a result of how it is implemented and not necessarily inherent problems in the methodology itself.

Why Is the Agile versus Waterfall Comparison So Misleading?

A big reason why the typical Agile versus Waterfall comparison is so misleading is that the words “Agile” and “Waterfall” are so loosely-used.

How is the Word “Waterfall” Loosely-used?

Before Agile came into widespread use, many variations on the original Waterfall model were developed to create a more adaptive approach to solve some of these problems.

  • More iterative processes such as the Rational Unified Process (RUP) and a number of variants became widely-used in the 1990’s and early 2000’s
  • There has been a proliferation of a broad range of many different development models such as the Spiral model
  • Some of those have only a very limited resemblance to the original ‘Waterfall’ model as it was defined in 1970.

In spite of this evolution, people still loosely characterize all of those methodologies as ‘Waterfall’ as if it was one specific, unique and well-defined methodology called ‘Waterfall’ and that is not really the case

How Is the Word “Agile” Loosely-Used?

The word ‘Agile’ is also loosely used. We all know that ‘Agile’ is not a specific methodology although many people equate ‘Agile’ with Scrum:

  • Scrum is not really a specific methodology, it is really a framework that is intended to be adaptable to a broad range of situations
  • Agile is not really equivalent to Scrum. There are other Agile methodologies such as Kanban

What’s a More Accurate Way of Describing ‘Agile’ versus ‘Waterfall’?

What’s a Better Way to Describe “Waterfall”?

The common denominator of all the methodologies that people loosely call ‘Waterfall’ is that

  • They emphasize some level of upfront planning and control.
  • The goal is to try to achieve predictability over project scope, costs, and schedules.

For that reason, I think the word “plan-driven” is a more accurate and objective description of what people really mean when they say ‘Waterfall’.

What’s Better Way to Describe “Agile”?

The common denominator of methodologies that people call ‘Agile’ is that:

  • They are flexible and adaptive and
  • Emphasize creativity and innovation in an uncertain environment

rather than:

  • Emphasizing planning and control to achieve predictability with lower levels of certainty.

For that reason, I prefer to use the word “adaptive” instead of the word ‘Agile’ when comparing it to ‘Waterfall’ (plan-driven).

Overall Summary

When people in the Agile community compare ‘Agile’ and ‘Waterfall’, it’s usually in the context of

  • Agile is good and Waterfall is bad and that’s really not accurate and objective.
  • Saying “Agile is better than Waterfall” is like saying “A car is better than a boat” – both have advantages and disadvantages depending on the environment that you are in.

The words “Agile” and “Waterfall” are very loosely used in practice and that causes a lot of confusion. They are used as if both “Agile” and “Waterfall” are unique, individual methodologies and that is not the case.

The word “Waterfall”, in particular, is very loosely-used.

  • When people use the word “Waterfall”, they’re not necessarily talking about the real “Waterfall model that was defined by Dr Winston Royce in the 1970’s
  • They’re really talking about any plan-driven methodology that is not completely agile.

A better way to think about “Agile” versus “Waterfall” is in terms of “adaptive” versus “plan-driven”. That’s a much more accurate and objective way of making that comparison.

Additional Resources

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

Are Agile and Six Sigma Complementary to Each Other?

I recently responded to a question on an online discussion that asked “Are there companies that use Agile and Six Sigma?”.  This raises an interesting question of “Are Agile and Six Sigma really complementary to each other?”. How would you go about blending the two approaches?

Are Agile and Six Sigma Really Complementary to Each Other?

Potentially Conflicting Approaches

There are numerous approaches that might conflict with each other such as:

  • Agile and Six SIgma,
  • Lean and Agile, and
  • Agile and Waterfall

Those approaches have different objectives. If you pursued these approaches individually and independently of each other, the objectives of each approach might be somewhat contradictory. However, if you do it intelligently, it is very possible to blend these approaches in the right proportions.  

  • That requires a lot more skill and
  • It requires a different kind of thinking to see them as complementary rather than competitive approaches

The Fundamental Problem

There is a significant fundamental problem that must be overcome to see all of these approaches in a different perspective:

  1. Companies and individuals get enamored with a methodology like Agile or Six Sigma and see it as a “silver bullet” solution to any problem that they might have
  2. They attempt to mechanically force-fit their business to one of those methodologies without fully understanding the principles behind it

An Example With Six Sigma

When I published my first book in 2003, Six Sigma was very hot and everyone wanted to “jump on the Six Sigma bandwagon”.  At that time, I researched a number of companies that were doing Six Sigma and other process improvement methodologies. What I saw was this:

Successful Companies

In companies that seemed to do Six Sigma successfully:

  • It wasn’t even obvious that it was Six Sigma and they might not have even called it “Six Sigma”,
    • The implementation wasn’t limited to Six Sigma
    • They understood the principles behind Six Sigma, and
    • Might have blended Six Sigma with other process improvement methodologies, and
  • It was very well-integrated with their business.
    • It was just a tool that was part of their business
    • Rather than a program that was superimposed on their business

Less-Successful Companies

In other companies, I saw a much more superficial implementation of Six Sigma that didn’t last in many cases:

  • There was a lot of emphasis on the “mechanics” of doing Six Sigma,
  • There was a lot of “hoopla” about the ceremonies associated with Six Sigma. (green belts, black belts, etc.), and
  • They openly advertised that they were using Six Sigma to promote themselves

Does that sound familiar?  I think a similar thing is going on with Agile today.

The Key Factor for Success

What I learned from that some of the key factor for success are:

  • Don’t get overly enamored with any methodology (Six Sigma or anything else):
    • Don’t think of it as a “silver bullet” for any problem you might have.  
    • Be objective and recognize that any methodology has advantages and limitations depending on the problem you’re trying to solve,
  • Adapt the methodology to fit the problem and the business environment rather than force-fitting your business to some predefined methodology, and
  • Go beyond simply doing a mechanical implementation of any methodology (Agile or Six Sigma) and understand the principles behind it at a deeper level

Are Agile and Six Sigma Really Complementary To Each Other?

On the surface, Six Sigma and Agile would tend to pull you in different directions:

  • Agile emphasizes creativity and innovation as well as flexibility and adaptivity to maximize the business value of the solution
  • Six Sigma emphasizes process standardization and control of a process to minimize process variation

The key to seeing these approaches as complementary rather than competitive is to understand the fundamental principles behind the approach at a deeper level rather than getting lost in the “mechanics” of the approach.

The essence of Six Sigma is attempting to standardize processes and reduce variation in processes.  If you became obsessive about pursuing that goal, it would also not be very consistent with being Agile. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with attempting to standardize processes to some extent as long as it is also done intelligently and in balance with other objectives.

The importance of “Systems Thinking”

A fundamental skill for doing this successfully is “Systems Thinking”.
Systems thinking is essential for seeing these seemingly contradictory approaches in a much broader context. It enables you to see how these objectives can interact in complementary ways rather than being competitive. Here’s an article with more detail on “Systems Thinking”:

Overall Summary

It is very possible to blend together different approaches that are seemingly in conflict with each other as long as it is done intelligently. It requires:

  • Understanding the fundamental principles behind each approach rather than getting lost in the mechanics,
  • Using a systems thinking” approach to see these seemingly contradictory approaches in a different perspective. Systems thinking enables you to see how they might actually be complementary to each other rather than competitive, and
  • Learning to fit the methodology to the problem rather than force-fitting a problem to any given methodology

This is exactly the approach behind the Agile Project Management online training courses I’ve developed.

Additional Resources

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

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.

What Is Servant Leadership and How Does It Relate to Agile?

“Servant Leadership” is a commonly-used term in an Agile environment. However, if you asked people what it means, I’m sure you would get a number of different responses. For that reason, I think it is worthwhile to discuss “What Is Servant Leadership?”

What is Servant Leadership?

What Is Servant Leadership?

“Servant leadership” sounds like a manager who does nothing but get coffee, donuts, and pizza for the Agile team. Is that what it really is? (I don’t think so). The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in “The Servant as Leader”, an essay that he first published in 1970 long before Agile came into being.   Here’s a definition of “servant leadership”:

“Servant leadership is characterized by leaders who put the needs of a group over their own. These leaders foster trust among employees by holding themselves accountable, helping others develop, showing appreciation, sharing power and listening without judging. While serving and leading seem like conflicting activities, these leaders are effective initiators of action.”

http://www.ehow.com/list_6753156_servant-leadership-games.html?ref=Track2&utm_source=IACB2B

A “servant leader” doesn’t necessarily completely abdicate the leadership role and do nothing but get coffee, donuts, and pizza for the team.  He/she recognizes the importance of working through others and engaging and empowering others to use as much of their own capabilities as possible.  Here’s an excellent quote on that:

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons?

A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong”

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership

What is Servant Leadership?

What Does it Really Mean to be a Servant Leader?

A major leadership principle that is applicable to any leadership role is that there is no single leadership style that works in all situations. A good leader should be capable of taking an adaptive and situational leadership approach that is appropriate to the people and the environment he/she is trying to lead.

With regard to servant leadership, the way the servant leader role is implemented will be very dependent on the capabilities of the Agile team you are leading and the environment you are part of. The goal should be to maximize the utilization of the capabilities of the entire team. However, that doesn’t mean a servant leader completely abdicates a leadership role and turns over all responsibility to the team. Determining the most effective servant leadership role requires some judgement:

  • If the team is very strong and very capable, the role of the servant leader may be limited to a facilitation role
  • If that is not the case, a more active leadership role may be needed by the servant leader

Basically, the servant leader needs to “fill the cracks” as much as possible to help the team become fully effective on their own.

Why Is This Important in Agile?

The idea of “servant leadership” is particularly important in an Agile environment because an Agile approach is best suited for projects with a high level of uncertainty.  In that kind of environment,

  • A lot of individual creativity may be needed to find an optimum solution and
  • Maximizing the creativity of the team requires that the team be empowered as much as possible.

It is basically a softer leadership style that puts an emphasis on empowering others over a more controlled approach.  It is ideal for a highly uncertain environment that requires an adaptive Agile approach.  Naturally, it probably would not be so ideal for a more plan-driven environment where conformance to a plan is important.

Additional Resources

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

What is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It Important?

I just finished creating a significant training module on Agile Leadership and one of the key topics in that module is “Emotional Intelligence”.  I’m sure some people are wondering “What is emotional intelligence and why is it important?”  I’d like to summarize some of that here.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

First, here’s a definition of “emotional intelligence”:

“Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills:

  • Emotional awareness;
  • The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and
  • The ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/emotional-intelligence

What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It Important?

Why Is It Important?

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important skills of an effective leader. The reason that emotional intelligence is so important to leadership is that if you can’t control your own emotions; it will be difficult, if not impossible to be an effective leader.

Here’s a quote that sums up the value of emotional intelligence very well:

“We probably also know people who are masters at managing their emotions. They don’t get angry in stressful situations. Instead, they have the ability to look at a problem and calmly find a solution. They’re excellent decision makers, and they know when to trust their intuition.”

 

“Regardless of their strengths, however, they’re usually willing to look at themselves honestly. They take criticism well, and they know when to use it to improve their performance.”

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCDV_59.htm

What Are the Benefits of Emotional Intelligence?

Here are some of the key benefits of developing emotional intelligence:

  • Increased leadership ability because your leadership approach will be based on sound, rational principles rather than being dominated by emotional responses
  • Increased team performance because team members will feel much more comfortable and secure in a non-threatening team environment with no hidden agendas
  • Improved decision-making because decisions are made more objectively and rationally
  • Decreased occupational stress because there will be less emotional tension involved in the work environment
  • Reduced staff turnover because there will be fewer emotional flare-ups
  • Increased personal well-being because learning to accept yourself and gain control of your emotions can lead to a much happier life

How Do You Improve Emotional Intelligence?

The following tips have been reproduced from the Mind Tools web site (https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCDV_59.htm):

  • Observe how you react to people – “do you rush to judgement before you know all the facts? Do you stereotype? Look honestly at how you think and interact with other people. Try to put yourself in their place, and be more open and accepting of their perspectives and needs.”
  • Look at your work environment – “Do you seek attention for your accomplishments? Humility can be a wonderful quality, and it doesn’t mean that you’re shy or lack self-confidence. When you practice humility, you say that you know what you did, and you can be quietly confident about it. Give others a chance to shine – put the focus on them, and don’t worry too much about getting praise for yourself.”
  • Do a self-evaluation – “What are your weaknesses? Are you willing to accept that you’re not perfect and that you could work on some areas to make yourself a better person? Have the courage to look at yourself honestly – it can change your life.”
  • Examine how you react to stressful situations – “Do you become upset every time there’s a delay or something doesn’t happen the way you want? Do you blame others or become angry at them, even when it’s not their fault? The ability to stay calm and in control in difficult situations is highly valued – in the business world and outside it. Keep your emotions under control when things go wrong.”
  • Take responsibility for your actions – “If you hurt someone’s feelings, apologize directly – don’t ignore what you did or avoid the person. People are usually more willing to forgive and forget if you make an honest attempt to make things right.”
  • Examine how your actions will affect others – “before you take those actions. If your decision will impact others, put yourself in their place. How will they feel if you do this? Would you want that experience? If you must take the action, how can you help others deal with the effects?”

Why Is This Particularly Important to Agile Project Management?

Check out my previous article on Agile Leadership and I think you will understand why effective leadership is extremely difficult and so important in an Agile environment with high performance teams.  Agile is based heavily on transparency and openness and if you can’t be open and transparent about who you are as a person, you will have a difficult time being effective in an Agile environment.

How Can I Learn More to Improve My Skills?

Self-awareness is one of the biggest components of emotional intelligence.  Many people aren’t even aware of who they are as a person and don’t reveal that to others.  They live their lives behind a facade that is based on projecting an image of who they are to others that may not be very genuine and others can employees can see through that easily.

When I was a young manager many years ago, self-awareness training was a standard part of many company’s management training curriculum.  

  • The idea was that, to be an effective leader, its important to be genuine and open with others and you can’t do that without self-awareness.  
  • Unfortunately, over the years, companies have cut back on that kind of training.  It was seen as frivolous and not essential and as pressure has mounted to reduce cost of operations, a lot of that kind of training has been cut.

Additional Resources

I can’t really directly help you develop emotional awareness in my online training; however, I’ve added two new sections and twelve additional lessons on Agile Leadership and Emotional Intelligence in my online training that I think will be helpful to you to better understand how to develop an effective leadership strategy.

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

What’s Really Different About Agile Leadership?

I just finished developing some online training on Agile Leadership and What’s Really Different About Agile Leadership? This article is a brief excerpt of that training.

What’s Really Different About Agile Leadership?

They’re are lots of stereotypes and myths in this area – here are a few of them:

  • Project Managers only know how to do a “command-and-control” style of management
  • Agile requires a “servant leadership” approach which means that you completely abdicate the leadership role

Those stereotypes generally follow many of the stereotypes that people have about seeing “Agile” and “Waterfall” as binary and mutually-exclusive choices with nothing in the middle of those extremes.  Instead of force-fitting a project to one of those extremes, the right approach is to go in the other direction and fit the methodology to the nature of the problem and sometimes that requires a blend of the two approaches.

Fitting the Leadership Style to the Nature of the Problem

You can make some similar observations about leadership style:

  • A good leader doesn’t have one well-defined style of leadership that he/she force-fits all situations to.
  • A good leader recognizes that different styles of leadership are needed in different situations – that’s what “situational leadership” is all about

Another important observation is that the leadership style that is most appropriate in a given situation is directly related to the nature of the project and the problem solving approach.  Here’s how I see the relationship:

What's Really Different About Agile Leadership?

The nature of the problem shapes the management objective and

  • The management objective shapes the problem solving approach
  • The problem-solving approach  determines the leadership style that may be most appropriate

Real-world Examples

Here’s how that might work out in different environments:

Traditional Plan-driven Project Environment

Projects that have a relatively low level of uncertainty and require some level of predictability might lend themselves to more of a plan-driven approach to project management.  An important characteristic that differentiates this kind of project is that it is assumed to be possible to define the general solution to the problem with some level of certainty prior to the start of the project.

  • Problem-solving Approach – In that approach, a defined problem-solving approach is what is typically used.  The solution to the problem is generally well-defined in advance and the general approach for implementing the solution is also fairly well-defined.
  • Management Objective – If predictability is important, having a well-defined plan and conformance to that plan are also important.  Naturally, that requires some level of emphasis on control.
  • Leadership Approach – That calls for a style of leadership that naturally might be a bit more directive in order to remain on track with the project plan.  You certainly don’t want members of the project team running loose in all different directions without some kind of plan that integrates all of their efforts together that is consistent with the overall plan.

Agile Project Environment

  • Problem-Solving Approach – This type of project uses a empirical process control approach.  The word “empirical” means “based on observation” which means that both the definition of the solution as well as the process to discover the solution will evolve based on observation throughout the project.
  • Management Objective – Arriving at an effective solution is far more important in this kind of project than predictability.  Therefore, innovation and creativity would generally be emphasized more than control.
  • Leadership Style – This type of project obviously calls for a different leadership style.  If you want to encourage creativity and innovation, you don’t want to emphasize control, you want to empower people and give them some flexibility to use their own intelligence and judgement to explore alternatives as necessary to find the best solution.

Polarized Viewpoints

There are a lot of very polarized viewpoints in this area that go something like this:

  • Agile is good and
  • Waterfall is bad

Or alternatively:

  • Command-and-control management is bad and
  • Agile Servant Leadership is good

Those polarized points of view tend to over-simplify what is not quite so simple as drawing a black-and-white comparison between two extremes.  There are lots of “shades of gray” in both the problem-solving approach and the leadership style that is most appropriate for a particular situation.  An effective leader should be able to adjust his/her leadership style and problem-solving approach as necessary to fit any given situation.

  • There is not just one leadership style that fits all situations
  • Leadership styles are not necessarily good or bad – saying a particular leadership style is good or bad is like saying “a car is better than a boat”.  Each has advantages and disadvantages depending on the environment you’re in.
  • Agile leadership is not really a radically different style of leadership that is totally separate and mutually-exclusive with other leadership styles; however, it significantly expands our definition of what “leadership” is.

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 are the Most Practical Ways to Do Project Planning?

I recently participated in an online discussion in response to a question that was asked on “What are the most practical ways to do project planning?” It’s a critical issue and it comes up a lot so I thought I would share some thoughts on this subject.

Factors to Consider

In my opinion, there are two very significant factors in determining what planning approach would make the most sense for a particular project:

1. Uncertainty

The level of uncertainty in the project is probably the most important factor.  If there is a high level of uncertainty that cannot easily be resolved, it would probably be foolish to try to develop a highly-detailed, plan-driven approach.  An example would be attempting to find a cure for cancer.  It would probably be foolish to try to develop a detailed plan for that effort, there’s just way too much uncertainty. That doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t do any planning at all.  You would take stock of what you know and don’t know and try to develop at least a cursory plan based on that information and then continually revise the plan based on what you learn as the project is in progress.

2. Customer Relationship

The second major factor is the relationship with the customer.   If you have a contractual relationship with the customer where the customer is expecting a firm set of deliverables for a given schedule and cost, you might be forced into a planning model to try to effectively manage and satisfy those customer expectations.  If there is more of a collaborative relationship with the customer, you probably have a lot more ability to optimize the approach based on the level of uncertainty in the project.

Planning Quadrants

Obviously, there may be a conflict between these two factors.  I’ve created a diagram below to show some of the possible combinations of these two factors:

What are the most practical ways to do project planning?

Lets look at each of these quadrants individually:

1. Low Uncertainty, Contractual Relationship

This is the area that most project managers are most familiar with and it is the area that is most well-suited for a traditional plan-driven project management model.  In this area, the level of uncertainty may be low enough to permit developing a detailed plan that is consistent with managing customer expectations in a contractual relationship model.

2. Low Uncertainty, Collaborative Relationship

If the level of uncertainty associated with a project is low, you might develop a more collaborative relationship with the customer but that might not be the most efficient way to do the project.  If the level of uncertainty is truly low and it is relatively easy to define the project requirements upfront, it may not make too much sense to engage the customer too heavily in a collaborative relationship to further define detailed direction for the project as it is in progress.

3.. High Uncertainty, Collaborative Relationship

This is the area where an Agile approach makes sense but the success of that effort will generally depend on a collaborative relationship with the customer to make it work.  In this area, instead of trying to develop a highly-detailed upfront plan prior to starting the project, you would probably:

  • Reach agreement with the customer on at least a vision for the project and at least some higher level objectives and requirements that the project must meet, and
  • Then further elaborate those requirements and the plan for meeting them as the project was in progress

    It’s easy to see how this kind of planning model may not work well unless there’s a collaborative spirit of trust and partnership with the customer since:

    • It may be almost impossible to accurately define the costs and schedule for completing the project prior to starting the effort; and

    • Further defining the plan as the project is in progress requires a close working relationship with the customer.

4. High Uncertainty, Contractual Relationship

This area is the quadrant that is likely to be most problematic:

  • Attempting to do an Agile project with highly uncertain requirements without a collaborative relationship with the customer is not likely to work very well:
    • The customer may not be committed to actively engage in the project as it is in progress to help elaborate and resolve questions related to the requirements; and,
    • As a result, the project may either get stalled or go off in the wrong direction
  • Attempting to apply a contractual, plan-driven approach in this kind of environment is also likely to be problematic. There would likely be a very high risk associated with trying to develop a firm, plan-driven contractual relationship based on highly uncertain requirements. What is likely to happen is:
    • The project meets the defined requirements but the defined requirements were wrong, or
    • There are so many changes as the project is in progress that the scope of the project winds up being completely different from what the customer was expecting

      It’s easy to see how either of these scenarios might present a very high risk.

Of course, this is somewhat of an over-simplification and all projects don’t fall very neatly into one of these quadrants.  There is a very broad range of scenarios in the middle of this diagram that call for some kind of hybrid approach.

What are the Most Practical Ways to Do Project Planning?

There are a number of conclusions that I think we can draw from an from understanding of this model:

  1. There is not just one way to do project planning – Project Managers who have been heavily indoctrinated in a traditional, plan-driven model and attempt to force-fit all projects to that kind of planning model are likely to not have optimal results
  2. This is not a simple binary and mutually-exclusive choice between an Agile and traditional plan-driven planning model; it is much more complicated than that.  There’s a whole spectrum of different possible scenarios and it is a multi-dimensional problem
  3. The right approach is to fit the planning model to the nature of the problem based on the level of uncertainty and the relationship with the customer.  Attempting to use a single “one size fits all” planning model for all projects is not likely to work very well.

This creates a big challenge for project managers to learn how to blend an Agile and traditional plan-driven approach in the right proportions to fit a given situation.  And, that’s not an easy thing to do – PMI still treats these two areas as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.  This is exactly the challenge that my Agile Project Management training is designed to address.

Additional Resources

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

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.

Blending Agile and Traditional Project Management