Tag Archives: Agile Project Management

Agile Project Management for Business Executives

I have just released a new online training course called “Agile Project Management for Executives”.

Agile Project Management for Business Executives

The Agile Bandwagon

In many areas, “Agile” is becoming a hot new buzz word and everyone wants to jump on the “Agile bandwagon”. They may not fully understanding why they’re getting into it and exactly what they expect to get out of it. In addition, many companies also make the mistake of assuming that whatever is good for the development process is good for the business as a whole and that is not necessarily the case.

Agile Bandwagon

Agile Project Management for Executives Course Summary

Agile has huge potential benefits for a business; however, it is easy to get carried away with some of the hype that exists about Agile. To avoid that, it is important to develop an objective understanding of its benefits and limitations to know how and when to apply it successfully. The right approach is to not necessarily to just implement Agile for the sake of becoming Agile, but figure out how it’s going to help your business and what problems it will solve. The typical questions and challenges this poses for business managers and executives are:

  • How do I reconcile an Agile development approach with my existing business management and project management processes?
  • Do I need to unravel all of my existing management processes in order to adopt an Agile development approach?

This course will help you answer those questions. It also includes assessment tools and planning tools that are designed to help you develop a very effective Agile Project Management approach that is very well-aligned with your business.

Intended Audience – Agile Training for Managers

There are three potential audiences for this course:

1. Senior-level Executives

The first audience is senior-level executives who want to make their business more agile. The course will help develop a well-integrated approach to fit an Agile development process to their business

2. Business Sponsors

The next audience is Business Sponsors of an Agile initiative who want to learn more about Agile Project Management. The course will help them prepare to provide more effective leadership for the initiatives that they are responsible for

3. Product Owners

The final audience is for Agile Product Owners.  Many of the people who are selected to perform that role are not well-prepared for what it requires and the role is not well-understood. The course will help them to better understand how to effectively perform the Agile Product Owner role

Why Is This Course Unique and Important?

For many years, many people have treated Agile as a development process. However, in recent years it has become apparent that the implementation of Agile as a well-integrated, enterprise-level business strategy is not well-understood.

1. Business Perspective

A lot of the Agile training that exists today is very focused on implementing Agile as a development process and on the “mechanics” of how to do Scrum. There is a relatively weak focus on Agile from a business perspective. For example, my own Certified Scrum Product Owner certification was heavily focused on the “mechanics” of how to do Scrum. It didn’t really directly address the role of the Product Owner as a business decision-maker at all.

2. Objective, Pragmatic Approach

This course is not a sales-pitch for Agile. It recognizes that there is not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” as many people seem to think. Instead, it objectively presents Agile and traditional plan-driven project management approaches as complementary to each other rather than competitive.

3. In-depth Training

This course is not a superficial seminar on how to implement Agile. It is a very substantive, university-level course that is over four hours long. It provides a very in-depth understanding of Agile from a business perspective

4. Complementary to Agile Project Management Approach

This course is also designed to complement all of my Agile Project Management courses. Implementation of Agile at an enterprise-level requires a collaborative partnership between a business executive and a senior-level Agile Project Manager. That relationship should be based on a mutual understanding of how an Agile approach might apply to their business.

Overall Summary

Business Executives and other business-oriented people such as Product Owners and Business Analysts need to understand the fundamentals of how an Agile process work because they will likely play a critical role in its implementation.

Additional Resources

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

What’s Next After PMI-ACP Certification and What’s the Future Like?

What’s next after PMI-ACP certification? Over the past few years, I’ve been progressively developing a new approach for PMI-ACP training:

  • It goes well beyond other training programs and
  • Lays the groundwork for what I see as the future of project management.
What's Next After PMI-ACP Certification?

Agile Project Management Training Objectives

When I set out to develop this training, I wanted to

  • Try to anticipate the future of the project management profession and
  • Take a different approach to Agile Project Management and PMI-ACP Certification training

There were several objectives that were important goals:

Not a Typical Exam-prep Course

There are a lot of courses out there that are based on what I call an “exam cram” approach:

  • The course design is focused on passing the PMI-ACP exam and not much more than that
  • It involves a lot of memorization of information. That doesn’t generally lead to a deeper and lasting understanding of the material

Go Beyond the PMI-ACP Exam

Although the PMI-ACP exam is a challenging exam, it doesn’t go far enough in my opinion:

  • It is primarily just a test of general Lean and Agile knowledge
  • It doesn’t address one of the biggest challenges that a project manager faces of learning how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven project management in the right proportions to fit a given situation
  • The individual project manager needs to figure out how to put the two together

Design the Training Around a Real-world Role

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

  • It’s important for a project manager to have a clear idea of what role that he/she might play in order to prepare him/herself for that role.
  • The role of an Agile Project Manager is not well-defined. It is even somewhat controversial among some people that there is a legitimate role for a project manager to play in an Agile environment.

Avoid the Limitations of Some Typical Agile Training

A lot of Agile training that is out there (like the typical CSM training) is very superficial in my opinion. The typical Agile training focuses on the “mechanics” of how to do Agile and really doesn’t go into the principles behind it very much at all

  • Agile is intended to be adaptive
  • In order to take an adaptive approach, you have to understand the principles behind it 
  • Doing it very mechanically is not very adaptive.

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

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

  • The new vision of “project management” is not limited to taking a project with well-defined requirements and planning and managing it to meet cost and schedule goals. 
  • This new vision of Agile Project Management includes:
    • Taking on an effort with some very broadly-defined business objectives in a very dynamic and uncertain environment and
    • Leading a project management approach that is designed to maximize the business value of the overall solution

Overall Summary

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

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

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

Additional Resources

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

What Is Agile Project Management? What Transformation is Needed?

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

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

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

What Is Agile Project Management?  What Transformation is Needed?

Agile Project Management Transformation

Transforming Caterpillars into Butterflies

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

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

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

What Transformation is Needed?

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

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

This new Agile Project Management orientation is:

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

What’s Different?

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

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

Why Is This Transformation Difficult to Do?

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

Integration of Agile and Traditional Plan-driven Project Management

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

Rethinking “Project Management”

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

Overcoming Stereotypes, Myths and Misconceptions

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

Overall Conclusions

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

Agile Project Management Academy

What is an Agile Project Manager?

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

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

Popular Stereotypes and Misconceptions

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

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

Agile Versus Waterfall

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

Agile is Not Limited to Small, Single-team Projects

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

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

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

PMI has made a step in the right direction by introducing the PMI-ACP certification. That certification at least recognizes Agile as a legitimate form of project management; however,

  • PMI has never really defined what an “Agile Project Manager” is and what role he/she might play in the real world
  • The PMI-ACP certification is a general test of Agile and Lean knowledge and is not designed around a particular job role
  • To some extent, PMI still treats Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two

A Broader Vision of Project Management

In order to better understand what “Agile Project Management” is, we need to get past these stereotypes and develop a broader vision of:

  • What “project management” is,
  • What “Agile” is, and
  • Finally, What an “Agile Project Manager” is

Important Goals

We need to recognize that:

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

A Different View of Project Management

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

  • You may not find anyone with the title of “Project Manager” and
  • It may not look like the traditional, narrow view of what project management is at all:

It’s a different style of project management with an emphasis on taking an adaptive approach to maximize the value of the project in an uncertain environment.

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

Distribution of Project Management Functions

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

Product Owner Role

The Product Owner has a lot of responsibilities that might be performed by a project manager in a traditional plan-driven project. 

  • He/she is responsible for the overall successful business outcome of the project which means delivering a valuable product in a timely and cost-effective manner and
  • Making all decisions that would normally be done by a Project Manager for risk management as well as planning and managing the overall effort

Scrum Master Role

The Scrum Master also has some responsibilities that might be done by a project manager including:

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

Team Role

And, finally every member of the development team has some project management functions on a very small scale for:

  • Planning, scheduling, tracking, and reporting on their own work
  • As well as the work of the team as a whole.

Overall Summary – What is an “Agile Project Manager”?

In my opinion, an Agile Project Manager is:

  • Equally trained and skilled in applying both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices
  • He/She should know how to blend them together in the right proportions to fit a given situation. 

What Role Might an “Agile Project Manager” Play?

I think it’s sad that some project managers see their only alternative in an Agile environment is to become a Scrum Master. That’s because the role of an Agile Project Manager is so ill-defined and poorly-understood.  I’ve identified several potential roles that an Agile Project Manager might play:

1. Team-level Role

There is officially no role for an “Agile Project Manager” at the team level in an Agile project; however, a project manager who is skilled in blending Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices can play a real value-added role as either a Product Owner, a Scrum Master, or an Agile Coach

2. Hybrid Agile Role

For lots of reasons, companies choose to implement a hybrid Agile approach and this is an ideal environment for an Agile Project Manager to work in. An example would be an Agile contracting situation.

3. Enterprise-level Role

As projects grow in scope and complexity to an enterprise level, there is a much more significant need for a dedicated Agile Project Manager role. As an example, I did a case study in my latest book on a project at Harvard Pilgrim that involved over 100 Agile teams – you just can’t do an effort like that without some form of project/program management.

Additional Resources

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

What’s the Future of Agile? Is There Something Else Coming Next?

I recently saw a discussion on an online forum where an individual raised the question of “What’s the Future of Agile?”

  • Someone speculated that the next big methodology might be Lean
  • I’ve also seen some people suggest that Kanban will become the next big methodology

I’ve seen this pattern before – I call it the “Program Du Jour” pattern.  When something new comes along, everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon.

The Future of Agile
Bandwagon with kids on a white background

Here’s one of my favorite quotes on this subject:

The “Program du Jour” Effect

“Americans are our own worst enemy when it comes to new business concepts. We love novelty and newness. We become so enamored with new ideas, we burn through them the way a child rips through toys on Christmas morning – squeals of delight, followed by three or four minutes of interest, then onto the next plaything. That is our pattern with new management techniques, too.”

Barry Sheehy, Hyler Bracey, & Rick Frazier, Winning the Race for Value, American Management Association, 1996

The above quote was about business concepts and management techniques but the same thing can be said about methodologies.

An Example – Six Sigma

Here’s an example:

  • When Six Sigma came into vogue in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, it was really hot, everyone wanted to jump on the Six Sigma bandwagon, and
  • Any other earlier process improvement approach was considered obsolete and passé.  

I published my first book on Business Excellence in 2003 and I interviewed a number of companies for my book at that time.  What I saw was that:

Superficial, Mechanical Implementation

Many companies were doing Six Sigma very superficially and mechanically.

  • In these companies there was a lot of “hoopla” and very visible ceremonies about Six Sigma including Black Belts, Green Belts, etc. 
  • The implementation in many of these companies was not very successful because the company was looking for a “silver bullet” and
  • When it didn’t meet their expectations, the company tossed it out and started looking for the next “silver bullet”.
More Successful Implementation

In other companies where I thought Six Sigma was more successful and lasting, there was a big difference.  

  • Six Sigma was seen only as a tool and not a “silver bullet” or panacea,
  • People in the company understood Six Sigma at a deeper level, and
  • The implementation was not just mechanical and superficial.  
  • Six Sigma was so well-integrated into the way the company did business that it might not even have been very visible that it was Six Sigma and
  • They might not even have called it “Six Sigma”

How Does That Apply to Agile Today and the Future of Agile?

I see a similar pattern with Agile today. 

  • Many people today see “Agile” as a “silver bullet” or panacea for almost any problem you might have.
  • In many cases, the implementation of Agile is superficial and mechanical; and,
  • When it doesn’t work, there’s a tendency to toss it out and look for something new to replace it
  • I think that kind of thinking has some serious flaws

What’s Likely to Happen?

Rather than Agile being replaced by something new, what I hope that will happen is that:

1. People’s Understanding of Agile Will Mature

People’s understanding of Agile will mature. They will start to understand the principles and values behind it at a deeper level, and they will go beyond superficial and mechanical implementations

2. People Will Stop Seeing Agile as a Panacea

People will stop seeing Agile as a “panacea” or “silver bullet” for any problem you might have. Rather than force-fitting all problems to some particular methodology like Agile, they will recognize the need to go in the other direction and fit the methodology to the problem

3. Agile” Does Not Make All Other Management Approaches Obsolete

People will also recognize that “Agile” does not make all other management approaches obsolete and:

  • There’s a need to see Agile and more traditional plan-driven approaches in a fresh new perspective as complementary rather being competitive
  • Various Agile approaches such as Scrum, Kanban, and Lean are also complementary to each other rather than competitive

What’s the Future of Agile – Trends in Agile Development and Project Management

Although I don’t see something else replacing Agile in the future, there are a number of trends that seem evident to me in the future of Agile:

1. Convergence

Traditional plan-driven project management is beginning to converge with Agile. That is definitely a strong component of the future of Agile. Agile started out as a revolution against traditional plan-driven project management practices (what many people loosely call “Waterfall”). That pendulum is starting to swing back to the middle. 

  • People are beginning to recognize that there isn’t really a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”.
  • Rather than force-fitting a project to one of those extremes, a better solution is to fit the methodology to the nature of the problem. That may require a blend of both approaches in the right proportions to fit the situation.

2. Hybrid Approaches

Learning how to blend those approaches together requires understanding a broader range of methodologies at a deeper level.

  • Many people today do Agile somewhat mechanically “by the book” without really understanding the principles behind it.
  • That results in a somewhat rigid approach to how to apply Agile. That is exactly the opposite of the adaptive approach that is intended for Agile. Check out this article for more on that:

3. Scaling Agile

Many companies and people are attempting to scale Agile to larger and more complex, enterprise-level projects. That will accelerate both of the above trends. Agile was originally designed around small, simple, single-team projects and it can be difficult to scale. Scaling Agile often requires thinking about how to blend it with typical enterprise-level management practices. Those practices include project/program management, project/product portfolio management, and overall business management. Check out this article for more on that:

4. Enterprise-level Agile Transformations

Sometimes, an attempt is made to force a whole company to be agile in order to adopt an Agile development approach. That just isn’t completely realistic or desirable in some cases. Becoming Agile is not necessarily a goal in itself. It has to be applied in the context of the company’s most critical business objectives. What problem will it solve and how will it solve it? Check out this related article for more on that:

Overall Summary

It is difficult to predict the future of Agile but we can definitely see some trends evolving:

  • There has been a lot of experience applying Agile to small, simple single-team development projects.
  • There has been far less experience in scaling Agile to larger and more complex enterprise-level solutions

Achieving that challenge requires a lot more skill and knowledge and a much more in-depth knowledge of the principles behind Agile.

Additional Resources

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

Scaling Agile and Scrum for Large, Complex Projects

There is a lot of confusion and some fairly polarized opinions about scaling Agile and Scrum for large, complex projects involving multiple teams. There are a number of different competing approaches for doing this.

Scaling Agile and Scrum

Scrum-of-Scrums and LeSS

  • Some people think that it can be done simply by adding a Scrum-of-Scrums approach to provide a mechanism to coordinate the efforts of multiple teams.
  • A more comprehensive approach for integrating the efforts of multiple development teams is Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS).
  • A Scrum-of-Scrums approach is a loosely-coupled approach that only provides for basic coordination of the work between teams – each team still operates fairly independently.
  • LeSS is a much more tightly-coupled approach that goes beyond the very basic level of coordination of work that the Scrum-of-Scrums approach provides.

The table below shows a comparison of the two approaches:

AreaScrum-of-ScrumsLeSS
Coordination of WorkFormal Scrum-of Scrum’s MeetingInformal, “Just Talk”
Product Backlog Management
(Single or Multiple Backlogs)
Not SpecifiedSingle Product Backlog
Sprint Planning
(Separate or Joint)
Not SpecifiedJoint
Sprint Review
(Separate or Joint)
Not SpecifiedJoint
Allocation of Work
(Component or Feature)
Not SpecifiedFeature

Selecting the Right Approach

The right approach will depend on the project and the need for a more loosely-coupled or tightly-coupled approach for integrating the development efforts. However,

  • Both of these approaches only address integration of the teams from a technical, development perspective and do not explicitly provide any mechanism for integration of the efforts from a business perspective.
  • It is assumed that the normal Product Owner role provides that level of integration but that may not be very realistic for very large, complex projects. This is really a multi-dimensional problem as shown in the diagram below:
Agile Scaling Dimensions

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and other enterprise-level Agile frameworks recognize the need to provide this level of business integration with an appropriate level of program management and/or product/project portfolio management to ensure that the development efforts are well-integrated and well-aligned with the company’s business strategy.

Enterprise Agile Scaling Frameworks

Overall Summary

The ability to scale Agile to handle large, complex enterprise-level projects is a relatively new area that has a lot of confusion and conflict associated with it. It also poses some very significant challenges.

Confusion and Conflict

There is a lot of confusion and conflict in this area:

  • A number of people who see this from a development perspective tend to think that SAFe and other enterprise-level frameworks that address the problem of business integration are just unnecessary overhead and bureaucracy
  • Many people who see this from a business strategy perspective don’t understand the need for integrating development efforts from a technology perspective

Challenges

There are three major challenges that need to be considered:

  1. Integrating the efforts of multiple teams from a development perspective
  2. Aligning the efforts of all teams with the organization’s business objectives
  3. Coordination with other related efforts outside of the project team and providing tracking and progress reporting to management

Both the development integration perspective and the business integration perspective have merit and need to be considered when scaling Agile/Scrum to large, complex projects and all of the above challenges may need to be addressed to make a large, complex, multi-team Agile project successful.

Additional Resources

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

How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification

I think there is a lot of confusion among project managers about how to prepare for PMI-ACP certification – some people may think that:

  • Getting PMI-ACP certification is a matter of buying an “exam prep” book or taking an “exam prep” training course and then going out and taking the exam, and
  • Once you’ve taken and passed the exam, that is your “ticket” to get a job working in an Agile environment as a project manager

Both of those assumptions are far from reality, in my opinion:

How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification
Beautiful female graduate wearing a graduation gown

An Exam Prep Approach Doesn’t Work

You can’t just do some “exam prep” training and/or buy an “exam prep” book and go out and pass the exam for several reasons:

  • PMI won’t allow that – PMI requires a  minimum of 1,500 hours of working in an Agile environment before you can even apply to take the exam
  • There’s such a broad range of topics on the exam, it would be very difficult or impossible to pass the exam for someone who just “crammed” to pass the exam with little or no real-world Agile experience
  • Even if you could do that, simply “cramming” to pass the exam would have very limited value because it would have little credibility without some real-world experience to go along with it

PMI-ACP Isn’t a Ticket to Get a Job

Just getting a PMI-ACP certification is not likely to be a “ticket” to get a job as a project manager in an Agile environment for a  couple of reasons:

  • PMI-ACP is just a test of general Agile and Lean knowledge – it’s not designed to test your ability to perform a particular Agile role
  • The role of an Agile Project Manager is not well-defined and there is also some controversy that there is a role for a project manager in an Agile environment at all

How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification -What’s the Right Approach?

I think it’s a mistake for anyone to think that getting PMI-ACP certification is just a matter of going out and passing the exam and getting a job in an Agile environment. People have to develop more realistic expectations about it.  I recommend:

1. Understand the Real-world Role of an Agile Project Manager

First, it’s important to understand the roles that an Agile Project Manager can potentially play in the real-world:

  • Develop a vision for yourself of what that target role is
  • Understand the overall “road map” for moving into that role
  • Focus your training around that role

2. Understand the Role of PMI-ACP Certification

Next, its imporatnt to understand how PMI-ACP relates to other Agile certifications and where it fits into that road map.  For example:

  • A project manager who is new to an Agile environment may have to start out in a Scrum Master role to get some experience and
  • PMI-ACP isn’t the best approach to become a Scrum Master
  • CSM or PSM is much better-suited for getting into that kind of role as a first step

3. Don’t Limit Your Focus to Passing the Exam

Don’t limit your focus to simply passing the exam:

  • Focus on developing solid, credible, real-world experience and
  • Use the PMI-ACP certification exam to validate that you do have the knowledge and experience needed to perform that role

Overall Summary

It’s important to develop a strategy for preparing yourself for PMI-ACP certification.

  • Simply passing the certification exam should not be the primary goal
  • Focus on preparing yourself for a real-world role as a primary goal

My online Agile Project Management curriculum includes a training course for project managers called “What Is the Future of Agile Project Management”. That course is designed to help project managers develop a strategy for themselves and helps them understand how to position my other Agile Project Management courses in this strategy. 

Additional Resources

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

How Do You Go About Selling Agile?

A student in one of my courses asked if I could help him develop a short and succinct way of “How Do You Go About Selling Agile? I think it’s an excellent topic and I told him I would write up something on that. Here it is…

Selling Agile
Mature businessman in his office with offce building on the background

How Do You Go About Selling Agile?

First, I don’t think that anyone should start with an objective of “selling Agile” to anyone. There are a lot of people out there who try to do that.

  • I think it is fundamentally the wrong approach to try to convince someone to become more Agile.
  • A better approach is to focus on what problem it will solve.

Selling Agile – Fitting the Approach to the Business

I also very strongly believe that there is not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”. Rather than attempting to force-fit a business or project to one of those extremes, you have to go in the other direction and fit the methodology to the problem. It takes a lot more skill to do that but it definitely can be done. It requires:

1. A Broader Knowledge of Different Methodologies

You need a broader knowledge of different methodologies (both Agile or adaptive and plan-driven) including an ability to:

  • See past many of the stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions that exist about what’s commonly referred to as “Agile” and “Waterfall”
  • See those two approaches in a fresh, new perspective as being complementary to each other rather than competitive and
  • Objectively understand the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches

2. Systems Thinking Approach

It also requires the ability to take a “systems thinking” approach to see those methodologies in a broader context beyond just a development process perspective of how they relate to an overall business and what problems they might solve

3. Understand the Principles Behind the Methodologies

In addition to all of that, you also need to understand the principles behind the methodologies at a deeper level. (Rather than just the mechanics of how to perform the methodology) That is essential to understand how to blend different, seemingly disparate methodologies together as needed to fit a given situation

Selling Agile – Taking a Business Perspective

If you’re trying to “sell” a manager on becoming more agile,

  • He/she probably doesn’t have all of those skills and
  • Is probably not willing to sit through a series of training courses to develop those skills either

So, how do you develop a relatively simple “elevator speech” to help someone understand why they should even consider becoming more Agile?  Here are some thoughts on that:

Look at It From an Overall Business Perspective

First, you have to look at it from an overall business perspective , not from a more limited development process perspective. It’s very easy to get “tunnel vision” with Agile:

  • We get so enthusiastic about the benefits of Agile from a development process perspective
  • We assume that what’s good for the development process must be good for the company as a whole and that’s not necessarily the case

Rather than attempting to force-fit a company to an Agile approach:

  • You may have to craft an approach that is more well-aligned with the primary success factors that drive the company’s business and
  • Becoming more Agile may or may not be the most important factor in the company’s overall business success.

Fear of Agile

Second, you have to recognize that some companies are scared to death of Agile. They’re afraid of losing control and that fear is not totally unfounded if the Agile approach is not well-designed and managed.

  • So, you may need to start off with more of a hybrid approach as an initial first step to demonstrate success rather than going full-bore into a complete corporate Agile transformation
  • You also need to recognize that an Agile transformation can take a long time and demands a lot of patience and perseverance

Focus on Results

Finally, nothing sells better than results. Work on developing good results and that will sell itself.

Benefits of a More Agile Approach

It’s important to focus on the benefits. How will it help the business?

  • Don’t just try to become Agile for the sake of becoming Agile
  • Although the benefits of adopting a more agile approach will vary from one company to another, there are some general benefits that apply, to some extent, to any company

Here are the key general benefits I would focus on in my “elevator speech”…

Adaptability

The biggest and most general benefit is adaptability. Regardless of whatever other benefits an agile approach might provide,

  • No one is likely to argue that there’s a big advantage in being able to tailor an approach to fit a project and a business rather than
  • Force-fitting all projects to a traditional, plan-driven project management approach

Time-to-Market

Probably the next most important general benefit is time-to-market. An Agile approach is not necessarily the fastest but it has some significant advantages:

  • Prioritizing requirements and delivering functionality incrementally can significantly accelerate progress
  • A more streamlined planning process can also accelerate the startup of a project
  • Reduction of unnecessary overhead will improve efficiency and throughput

Reduced Costs

Another big factor is reduced costs associated with reducing unnecessary overhead in projects. This is another one that doesn’t require adopting a full Agile development approach to achieve. All it requires is:

  • Taking a hard look at some of the documentation and other artifacts and controls used in a project and
  • Deciding whether they really produce value or not and who they produce value for.

Customer Satisfaction

A big selling point of Agile is the improved customer satisfaction from having a customer directly engaged in the project to ensure that the project really solves their business problem and provides an appropriate level of value to them

Employee Productivity and Morale

Improved employee productivity and morale is a result of more empowered teams

Organizational Synergy

Finally, a major benefit of an Agile approach is the organizational synergy that results from the cross-functional collaboration of an Agile approach. Having everyone in the organization work together in a spirit of trust and partnership towards some overall goals can have a very powerful impact.

Overall Summary

The key point to emphasize is that all of these are relatively tangible benefits that can be realized, to some extent, on any project simply by using more of an “Agile Mindset”. It doesn’t necessarily require adopting a full-blown Agile approach like Scrum and/or risk losing control of your business to get some of these benefits.

Years ago when I was a Program Manager in a large computer company, part of the training to become a Program Manager was a course called “Solution Selling” which was basically a consultative approach to “selling”. It created a different approach to “selling”

  • Instead of going in to a client to sell them something like “Agile”, the “solution selling” approach is to go in to the customer and to do a lot active listening to understand their problem before attempting to sell any solution
  • I think that’s a good approach with Agile also. There are people out there who get overly-zealous about “selling” Agile to the extent that “Agile” becomes a solution to any problem you might have. That’s the wrong approach, in my opinion.

Additional Resources

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

How to PrepaRe for PMI-ACP Certification

Preparing for the PMI-ACP exam can be difficult. However, simply passing the exam should not be an end-in-itself. In my opinion, developing the knowledge and skills to do a real-world job is what’s important. If you do that, you should pass the exam easily.

Prepare for PMI-ACP

Background

I’m very passionate about helping project managers transform themselves into a more Agile Project Management approach. I think that is critical to the future of the project management profession:

  • I was among the earliest group of people to obtain the PMI-ACP® certification in 2012
  • I’ve published three books on Agile Project Management, and I’ve developed a number of online training courses on Agile Project Management
  • All of that effort has been focused around helping project managers successfully make the transition to a real-world Agile Project Management role

Certification and Training Philosophy

First, let me explain my philosophy with regard to certifications and training in general:

  • A lot of people chase after certifications to build up their resume. They cram for taking certification exams using a lot of rote memorization and focus on simply passing the exam
  • I’m not an advocate of that approach
  • I believe that the right approach is to build your knowledge and skills through training, self-directed study, and on-the-job experience. That should give you a solid foundation of the knowledge needed to do the job; and
  • Then, as a second step, take the certification exam to validate that you really do have the knowledge that you think you have
  • Using that approach will make the information much more meaningful and easier to retain

I really believe a certification exam should be “evidence that you can do a job” and not “a ticket to get a job”. That is a key reason why PMI requires some level of actual experience in addition to taking a certification exam.

Things to Consider to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification

There are several important things to consider in preparing for the PMI_ACP exam:

  • One of the problems with the PMI-ACP exam is that it isn’t oriented around a particular job. It’s more of a test of general knowledge associated with Agile and Lean
  • That’s a very important consideration to recognize that getting through PMI-ACP® doesn’t really directly qualify you for a specific job
  • You have to shape your own training and development around a particular role that you want to play; you can’t really rely heavily on PMI-ACP to prepare you for that role

The Future of Project Management

Preparing yourself for a real-world role is a difficult thing to do:

  • The role that an Agile Project Manager plays in the real world is not well-defined
  • It is even somewhat controversial that there is a role for an Agile Project Manager at all in a true Agile project

Agile is going to cause a major transformation of the project management profession over a period of time. I don’t think that anyone (including PMI) has figured out what the full impact of that transformation will be.

  • PMI-ACP® is only the first step towards making that transformation
  • It is a good certification and it is a step in the right direction but it is only a test of general Agile and Lean knowledge.
  • It doesn’t address the primary challenge that many project managers face of learning how to blend Agile and traditional project management principles and practices together in the right proportions to fit a given situation
  • That’s the challenge my courses are designed to address

Online Curriculum Summary

There are a lot of PMI-ACP® exam prep courses out there but I’ve taken a different approach. I specifically didn’t want to develop an “exam prep” course for the reasons I mentioned above:

  • I decided instead to focus on better-defining the actual roles that an Agile Project Manager might play in the real world, and
  • Designing a complete, online training curriculum around helping people prepare for those real-world roles

It’s important to remember that one of the requirements to qualify to take the PMI-ACP® exam is that you have to have:

  • At least 2,000 hours of project management experience; and,
  • In addition to that, has at least 1,500 hours working in an Agile environment

My primary seven courses are designed to help you achieve that goal.

Overall Summary

If you’re thinking about going for PMI-ACP® certification, my recommendation is don’t do it just to “get your ticket punched”:

1. Get Some Real-world Experience in an Agile Environment

First go out and get the knowledge and experience required to fill a real-world Agile Project Management role

  • The seven primary courses I’ve developed are very well-aligned with that strategy which I think is a good strategy to pursue
  • Then get some real-world experience in an Agile environment. And, finally, use the PMI-ACP® exam to validate your proficiency

2. Final Steps to Prepare for the PMI-ACP Exam

When you do get to that point that you do have the knowledge and experience to take the exam, there are a number of resources to help you prepare to take the exam:

  • I have developed a specific course called “How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification” to help you prepare. That course cross-references all the material in my seven primary courses to the PMI-ACP certification requirements
  • As a final step, there are a number of exam-prep books and courses that I believe are useful. In particular, I think Mike Griffiths’ book is a good resource.
  • However, please remember that passing the exam and getting the certification shouldn’t be an end-in-itself

Additional Resources

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

Agile Contracts – Does it Work? How Do You Do It?

A lot of people may think that it is inconsistent to impose cost and schedule constraints on an Agile project. It is difficult, but it definitely can be done – one of the areas where that becomes essential is Agile contracts.

Agile Contracts

An Example of Agile Contracts

For example,

  • I once managed a large federal government project that had all the typical government contracting requirements for cost and schedule milestones; but,
  • At the same time, the government customer wanted some level of flexibility to work out detailed requirements as the project progresses

The Relationship With the Customer

Does that sound inconsistent? It might be depending on the relationship you have with the customer. Obviously, this will only work if there is a spirit of trust and partnership with the customer.

  • The customer needs to collaboratively work out any trade-offs between the scope of the requirements and the cost and schedule of the contract as it progresses
  • If there is more of a typical “arms-length” contracting relationship or some kind of adversarial relationship, it’s not going to work at all

Doing this generally requires a hybrid Agile approach that blends an Agile development approach with a plan-driven “shell”.

  • The plan-driven shell provides some level of predictability and control over the overall scope, cost, and schedule of the project while
  • The Agile development approach operates within that shell to provide some level of flexibility and adaptivity in the detailed requirements

That approach is described in more detail in my article on the “Managed Agile Development Framework“.

Money for Nothing; Change for Free

Jeff Sutherland has created a very nice model for this called “Money for Nothing, Change for Free”. Jeff’s approach is based on two primary clauses in an Agile contract:

Change for Free

The “Change for Free” clause is based on the idea that the customer can make any change they want provided that the total contract work is not changed.

  • This allows new features to be added provided that lower priority items are removed from the project.
  • I have documented a case study in my book on how General Dynamics, UK successfully used this approach on a large government contract in the UK.

Money for Nothing

The “Money for Nothing” clause is interesting. It recognizes the fact that in many projects:

  • The customer always asks for everything that they could possibly need, but
  • If you prioritize those items and deliver the highest priority items first, at some point you will reach a point of diminishing returns where the cost of developing incremental features exceeds the value that those features provide.

This clause:

  • Allows the customer to cancel the contract at that point. The customer saves 80% of the cost that would have been spent to complete the remaining items; however,
  • The contractor receives a fee of 20% of the cost for early cancellation
  • That makes it a win/win for both the customer and the supplier.

What Kind of Agile Contracts Does This Apply To?

This concept is not limited to fixed-price contracts – that’s only the extreme case.

  • It can be applied to almost any Agile project where there is a need for some level of predictability and control over the costs and schedule of the project
  • Very few people get a “blank check” to do an Agile project without any expectations of what will be delivered and what the estimated cost and schedule of the project are likely to be

Additional Resources

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