People Process and Tools in an Agile Project – How to Fix a Broken Project

The inter-relationship of people, process, and tools in an Agile project is important to understand. It is particularly important when you try to fix a broken project.

People Process and Tools

Typical Traditional Project Management Approach

On several occasions, I’ve been brought in to rescue a project that was in trouble. In many cases, there is an expectation that, as a Project Manager,

  • I will re-plan the project,
  • Get it on the right track, and
  • Perhaps also”ram-rod” the effort to get it moving through to completion if necessary.

That’s the typical expectation of what a traditional Project Manager might do. If a project fails, it is the Project Manager who is typically held responsible.

People Process and Tools in an Agile Project

I think the Agile environment is different.

  • I’ve certainly seen a need to re-plan projects and get them on the right track and it often takes some strong leadership skills to do that; however
  • A more critical role in many cases in an Agile project is developing the right people, process, and tools to make the Agile project teams more effective and self-sufficient.

The irony is that if you do that successfully, you might practically eliminate the need for a Project Manager and put yourself out of a job, but that’s the right thing to do. I think that’s a key difference in an Agile project. In a traditional project, the role of the Project Manager might normally be expected to continue all the way to the end in order to push the project on to completion.

I’ve seen several Agile projects that got into trouble because they didn’t have an adequate amount of upfront planning. And, as a result the project didn’t have the right people, process, and tools to be successful. This happens frequently in larger, enterprise-level projects because many people don’t understand or appreciate what it takes to scale an Agile development approach to an enterprise level. Here are a few examples of typical problem areas I’ve seen:

People

The first and most important area is related to “people”:

  • It takes a lot more skill to organize a large, enterprise-level Agile project
  • The number and different types of people involved are typically a lot more numerous and complex
  • It can be a real challenge to figure out how to organize all of the people (both inside and outside of the project teams) to get the effort done successfully

Here’s an example:

  • I’ve seen projects get in trouble because there was no Project Governance model defined to provide overall direction to the project
  • In many cases at an enterprise level, its not as simple as having a single Product Owner to provide direction. And, without a plan for how all of the stakeholders and decision-makers will participate in the project as it moves forward, it’s very easy for a project to go off-course and get in trouble

Process

The second major area is process:

  • In many cases, there’s also not a clear understanding of what it takes to scale an Agile process like Scrum to enterprise levels.
  • There are typically layers of management needed above the team level and it has to be well-integrated with the company’s primary management structure.
  • It may not be as simple as layering a Scrum-of-Scrums approach on top of a couple of Agile teams.
  • There is also often a need to define a hybrid process that blends together:
    • Some amount of traditional plan-driven project management at a higher level with
    • An Agile development approach like Scrum at the team level.

Tools

The third area that it often important in effectively organizing large, enterprise-level Agile projects is tools.

  • In large, complex enterprise-level projects, tools also can be a major problem area
  • The tools that people many times use for small, simple Agile projects, just don’t necessarily scale well to larger, more complex, enterprise-level projects

For example,

  • People might use physical story cards and white-boards for tracking progress of small, single-team Agile projects but
  • Those methods start to fall short very rapidly as you to try to scale the effort to larger, enterprise-level projects with multiple teams that need to coordinate with each other and may not be collocated
  • Managing that type of situation typically requires more sophisticated, on-line electronic tools

People Process and Tools – Overall Summary

I’ve been in situations where clients might not have the patience to address some of these more systemic issues involving people, process, and tools:

  • In some cases, there might be an expectation that the Project Manager will just somehow “ram-rod” the project to get it moving and get it back on the right track but
  • Taking that kind of approach and ignoring the more systemic factors associated with people, process, and tools is not likely to be very successful,
  • That’s equivalent to just putting pressure on a broken process to make it work better. A more effective approach in most cases is to fix the broken process.

Additional Resources

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

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