How Do I Maximize My Value as a Project Manager?

I frequently get questions from students and others asking “How do I maximize my value as a project manager?”. That’s a very good question because the world of project management is changing rapidly as a result of the influence of Agile. As a result, the answer to that question is not as simple as you might think. It’s important to understand the impact of these changes and plan your career accordingly.

How Do I Maximize My Value as a Project Manager?

What’s Different in Today’s World?

There have always been two primary aspects of being a good project manager, in my opinion:

  1. The first is knowledge of project management principles and practices
  2. The second is understanding of a particular area to apply that knowledge to

In the past,

  • You might have been able to get by with being a “general purpose project manager” with a solid knowledge of project management principles and practices alone
  • In some cases, a project manager might have been nothing more than a good, high-level planner and administrator

In today’s world, I don’t believe that is sufficient.

1. Project Managers Need to Provide Business Value

In the past,

  • It may have been sufficient for a project manager to be successful by delivering a set of defined requirements within a given cost and schedule budget
  • However, there have been many projects that have met their defined requirements but failed to deliver an acceptable level of business value

That can easily occur for two major reasons:

A. Level of Uncertainty

We live in a world today where solutions are much more complex and there may also be a much higher level of uncertainty about what the best solution is. That can make it very difficult or impossible to accurately define the requirements for a project upfront. In this environment:

  • Business value takes on a much broader definition – Simply meeting cost and schedule goals is only one component of business value and it may not even be the most important component of business value
  • A more adaptive project management approach is needed – Attempting to define firm project requirements upfront in a very uncertain environment and then controlling changes to those requirements makes it difficult to optimize the value of the solution as the project is in progress
B. Need for Creativity and Innovation

There is also a very high level of competition in today’s world. Being successful in that environment can demand leading-edge products and it can require a significant level of creativity and innovation to develop those products. An over-emphasis on planning and control can stifle creativity and innovation.

For example, can you imagine trying to develop an industry-leading product like a new iPhone with a traditional plan-driven approach to project management? There is a lot of uncertainty about how to maximize the customer value of a new iPhone and it can require a lot of creativity and innovation to be successful. Producing high-impact business results is what is important.

2. There Is Not Just One Way to Do Project Management

A major impact of this is that there is no longer just one way to do project management. You need to fit the project management approach to the nature of the project. Any project manager who only knows how to do a traditional plan-driven approach to project management and tries to force-fit a project to that approach is not likely to be successful.

It is also not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” as many people seem to think. A good project manager needs to see those two approaches in a fresh new perspective as complementary to each other rather than competitive and learn how to blend those two approaches in the right proportions to fit any given situation.

How Do You Adapt to This New World?

It can be a big challenge to develop and enhance your project management skills to adapt to this new world. Here are some questions I’ve seen frequently:

What Certification Should I Get?

PMI is still catching up with these changes. For a long time, PMI has treated Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as two separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two. Today’s PMI certifications still reflect that:

  • PMP is heavily associated with traditional plan-driven project management
  • PMI-ACP is associated with general Agile and Lean knowledge

Neither of these certifications really addresses the most important challenge I believe a project manager needs to address of learning how to blend these two areas in the right proportions to fit a given situation. In addition, the role of an Agile Project Manager is still not well-defined and PMI-ACP is only a test of general Agile and Lean knowledge and does not prepare you for a specific role. The result is that:

  • Both of these certifications have value as a foundation, but
  • They do not go far enough to address the primary challenges that a project manager might face in today’s world

What Academic Degree Should I Get for Project Management?

There have also been a number of questions from college-age people about the role of an academic degree in becoming a project manager. For example:

  • What academic degree should I get for a career in project management?
  • Is it worthwhile to get a master’s degree in project management?

Here are my thoughts on that:

  • There is certainly some value in academic training but project management has always had a practical, real-world focus on getting things done. As a result, an academic degree in project management without any real-world experience has limited value
  • Many universities that offer academic training in project management still base their curriculum heavily or exclusively on a traditional plan-driven approach to project management and have not fully-integrated an Agile approach into their curriculum
  • As I’ve previously mentioned, project management is more than just knowing project management skills, its important to also have some knowledge of an area to apply those skills to. An in-depth knowledge of general project management skills without much knowledge of how to apply those skills to deliver business results in a particular area of focus is not a good formula for success, in my opinion.

What Is the Role of an Agile Project Manager?

Any project manager should have a clear idea of what role they are preparing themselves for. However, the big question that is difficult to answer is “What Is the Role of an Agile Project Manager?” That role is still evolving and there is even some controversy among some people that there is a role for a project manager at all in an Agile environment. I can only give you some general recommendations on this:

  • The role of a project manager in leading and managing small, simple, single-team projects is rapidly disappearing
  • Many project managers who may have primarily focused on performing that role will need to move up to a higher level of value-added
  • The primary focus of any project manager should be on delivering business results and just a knowledge of project management skills is often not enough to do that

Here’s an article with more on that:

Overall Summary

The world of project management is going through some very rapid and significant changes at this time.

  • Many project managers have questions about how to adapt their careers to fit this new environment
  • There are no simple and easy answers to that because the role of a project manager in this environment is still rapidly changing

The most important things for a project manager to realize are that:

  • These changes are happening and can’t be ignored. Most project managers will probably need to upgrade their skills to continue to grow and thrive in this new environment. Any project manager who is in “denial” and insists on doing project management the same way it has been done for years may have limited success
  • PMI is still catching up with these changes. As a result, you can’t totally rely on PMI certifications to guide you in the right direction. The existing PMI certifications are a good foundation but they don’t go far enough at this time

Additional Resources

This is only a very brief, high-level overview of the changes going on in the project management profession. If you want to learn much more detailed information, check out my Online Agile Project Management Training Courses. The first course is free!

Who Gets Blamed When an Agile Project Fails?

Have you ever thought about “When an agile project fails, who gets blamed”? I thought it was a very interesting question.

Who Gets Blamed When an Agile Project Fails?

How Does an Agile Project Fail?

It’s actually difficult for an Agile project to fail.

  • An Agile project typically does not have rigid cost and schedule goals that must be met and
  • An Agile/Scrum process has the capability to detect and correct potential failures early

Given that, an Agile/Scrum project should be self-correcting if it is done properly. For example, at the end of each sprint:

  • There is a Sprint Review to detect problems with the product
  • There is a Sprint Retrospective to detect and correct process problems

An Agile project should provide early warning of a potential failure with plenty of opportunity to correct any problems before the end of the project. At the end of each sprint, both the product and the process to produce the product are reviewed and corrected if necessary. If an Agile process fails, the process must have broken down somewhere; and rather than looking for an individual to blame, a more appropriate response would be to figure out what went wrong in the process to prevent it from happening again.

Fail Early, Fail Often

One of my favorite Agile mantras is “fail early; fail often”. People should not be afraid of failure and should see failure as an opportunity for learning. That is very important in an environment that is designed to support creativity and innovation. If senior management is looking for someone to blame, that’s not very consistent with an Agile culture.

How to Prevent Failure in an Agile Project

It’s relatively easy to prevent failure in an Agile project – its mostly a matter of:

  • Implementing the process effectively including Sprint Reviews and Sprint Retrospectives with an emphasis on continuously improving both the product as well as the process for producing the product as the project is in progress
  • Designing and implementing an enterprise-level transformation to align the Agile development approach with the company’s business and to create a culture that is supportive of an Agile approach

The important point is that their should be:

  • Everyone in the organization should have a spirit of shared ownership and partnership and be committed to the success of the project instead of an “arms-length” contractual relationship between the business and the project team
  • The business sponsors and users actively participate in the project in a spirit of partnership as the project is in progress to provide feedback and inputs as the project is in progress

Additional Resources

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

Using Agile for Non-Software Projects – Agile Home Remodeling

A number of my students have requested some case studies that show applying Agile to non-software projects. As an example, I recently completed a home remodeling project which may seem simple and trivial; but believe me, it was not.

Agile for Non-software Projects

Using Agile for Non-Software Projects

It is possible to apply Agile to almost any project but that doesn’t necessarily mean using Scrum. And, it certainly doesn’t mean just going through the rituals of doing Scrum mechanically. Applying Agile principles and figuring out how to apply them to non-software projects can be very challenging.

Background

I have been a project manager for a long time. I’ve managed large, complex multi-million dollar projects; but nothing compared to a recent project to do a major remodeling of the kitchen in our house. The project involved:

  • Knocking down a wall that separated the kitchen from the rest of the house to create a more open environment
  • Ripping up the concrete floor to re-route electrical and plumbing connections
  • Replacing all of the existing kitchen cabinets and appliances
  • Installation of new lighting fixtures
  • Moving the entrance-way to the master bedroom to be more consistent with the new floor plan
  • Removing a pantry and replacing it with a new pantry cabinet which required knocking down a wall and moving an intercom system
  • Repainting the entire area and many other cosmetic enhancements

Agile Home Remodeling – Why was this project so difficult?

  • My wife was the major stakeholder in the project, she is a perfectionist, and she has a habit of changing her mind frequently about what she wants. (Her response to that is “She doesn’t change her mind, she just decides as she goes along”)
  • Multiple outside contractors did all of the work in this project
  • A major challenge was to try to manage the costs and schedule of this project within reasonable levels

Agile Contractor Selection

The first task was to select a contractor (or contractors) to do the work. I had several choices:

Contractor “A”

Contractor “A” was the most widely-known contractor in this area. They advertise widely on television and have a good reputation for delivering a high-quality result. They would also take full responsibility for the overall solution. However, their approach is fairly rigid and controlled. Once you sign a contract with them, it is very difficult to make any changes.

Contractor “B”

Contractor “B” was much less widely-known but offered much more flexibility and willingness to work with on a design that was customized to meet our needs. They would also take overall responsibility for managing the overall solution.

Contractor “C”

Contractor “C” offered the most flexibility to meet our needs but was actually two different contractors. It was not really possible for either of them to take overall responsibility for the overall solution

  • One contractor did the demolition and prep work including electrical and plumbing to prepare the new kitchen
  • Another contractor provided the kitchen cabinets and counter-tops. They installed them after the initial demolition and prep work had been completed
  • Following the installation of the cabinets and counter-tops, the original contractor returned to do the finish work. That work included final installation of new lighting fixtures and repainting of the entire area

Choosing a Contractor

Selecting a contractor was difficult:

  • Contractor “A” was probably the lowest risk choice from a traditional project management perspective. It would require less management on my part but offered little flexibility to adapt the solution to meet our needs
  • Contractor “C” was the highest risk and involved coordinating the work of two different contractors. However, they offered the most flexibility to meet our needs
  • Contractor “B” was a compromise between those two extremes. They had the advantage that they were a single contractor who would take overall responsibility for the solution. However, their costs were considerably higher than Contractor “C”

Final Contractor Selection

We chose contractor “C” because flexibility and adaptivity to meet our needs was so important; even though contractor “C” had the highest risk and might be the most difficult to manage. However, these two contractors had a history of working together successfully on other similar projects. I also had a good feeling that I could trust and partner with these individuals to manage the overall solution. That was a key difference:

  • With contractor “A”, we would have relied on a very clear and well-defined contract to deliver the solution. However, we would have little or no flexibility to make changes (That’s what many people might call “Waterfall”)
  • Contractor “C” had a statement of work but it was understood to be flexible and subject to change. The relationship relied on a spirit of trust, partnership, and collaboration (This relationship was much more similar to Agile)

How Did the Project Work Out?

This was a difficult effort to manage.

The scope of the project changed numerous times

My wife decided that we couldn’t remodel the kitchen without replacing all the living room furniture and carpets. And, of course, other changes to the rest of the house became necessary as well which included:

  • Repainting the master bedroom,
  • Replacing pictures and reupholstering other furniture. and
  • Enhancements to other areas of the house

Nailing down the design requirements was very difficult

As I mentioned, my wife changes her mind frequently, and insists on perfection in the end-result. We looked at many different kinds of granite counter-tops and many different floor tiles before making a final selection. There were also many times when a “final selection” changed before it really became a “final selection”

This Was a Project Management Nightmare

This was not a large project but it was one of the most difficult ones that I have ever had to manage. For a traditional plan-driven project manager, this would have been a nightmare attempting to control all of these changes. It is also very challenging to be caught in the middle between a very demanding stakeholder and contractors who have to deliver the work within a given cost.

However, this is a perfect example on a small scale of what an Agile Project Manager has to do. You have to learn how to balance flexibility and adaptivity to maximize the business value of the solution with some level of planning and control,

What Were the Results?

The project turned out to be enormously successful

  • The whole project was completed in a little over three weeks from the time the work started
  • It went over the budget that that we expected to spend but the costs were still at a reasonable level
  • Most importantly, my wife was delighted with the way it came out and she is the most important stakeholder I needed to satisfy.

Finished Result

Here’s a picture of what the finished kitchen looked like:

The New Finished Kitchen

Work-In-Progress

Here’s a couple of pictures taken during the work-in-progress leading up to finishing the kitchen:

Tearing Down the Wall to the Old Kitchen
Ripping Up the Concrete Floor to Re-route Plumbing and Electrical

How Does This Apply to a Business Situation?

I know this is an unusual situation but I like to use unusual situations. I think it encourages “out-of-the-box” thinking rather than viewing standard, stereotypical Agile case studies. The following is a summary of how I think these lessons-learned can be applied to a business situation:

Contractual Relationships

Most businesses could not survive without some kind of contractual relationships with outside contractors. In addition, many businesses have significant supply chains that are critical to the success of their business.

  • Typically, a firm, fixed-price contract and a competitive bidding process among multiple bidders is used to get the lowest possible price.
  • That is a relatively low-risk approach from a cost-management perspective but doesn’t necessarily result in the best overall solution.
  • When there is a lot of uncertainty in the requirements, a different approach is needed to maximize the business value of the solution. It requires a collaborative partnership with a contractor to work together to maximize the value of the solution is essential

Trust

Developing that kind of relationship with contractors requires trust. For that reason, it will not be possible to develop that kind of relationship with just any contractor. That’s why it is important for a business to have strong relationships with a selected number of contractors who can be regarded as close partners.

Risk Management

I took a risk by going with contractors that I thought were the highest risk from a project management perspective. However, that risk paid off in terms of the overall quality of the solution. A similar thing is true in a business environment. Many times you have to take a risk to maximize the value of the solution.

Productivity

The project was completed in a very short time once the work was started. That was largely due to the fact that I empowered the contractors to get the job done the best way they knew how and I didn’t attempt to micro-manage what they were doing. Conventional project management might attempt to more directly manage the work being done.

Overall Summary

Here are some of the important conclusions and lessons learned from this project about applying Agile to non-software projects:

  • Agile principles and values can be applied to some extent to almost any project. However, it requires some skill to interpret these principles and perhaps combine them with traditional project management practices.
  • The overall value that the project delivers is what is most important. The key stakeholder determines “value”. Cost and schedule goals have some value but are only one component of value and not necessarily the most important,
  • A spirit of trust and partnership is important even in a contractual situation. Over-dependence on a traditional contractual relationship can severely reduce flexibility and impact the value that the solution provides.
  • Risk management is important but attempting to minimize and over-control risk can also impact the value of the solution. Taking risks may be necessary to maximize the value of the solution.

Additional Resources

For another example of applying Agile to non-software projects, check out this article:

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

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 Is Distributed Project Management? Why Does it Make Sense?

“Distributed Project Management” is a new approach to project management.   Here’s a brief overview of what it is all about.

What is Distributed Project Management?

“Distributed Project Management” is very important to help people see the relationship of “project management” and Agile in a very fresh new perspective.  It has the potential to redefine many of the heavily-ingrained notions that we have about what “project management” is.

What Is Distributed Project Management?

There are a number of people in the Agile community that believe that “project management” is not consistent with Agile. That opinion is based on:

  • A very narrow and stereotypical view of what project management is
  • An assumption that all project management functions are done by a single person called a “Project Manager”.

I think it is time to take a broader and more modern view of what “project management” is.

How Is Project Management Implemented in an Agile Team?

There is actually a lot of “project management” going on in an Agile environment, but many people won’t recognize it as “project management” because:

  1. It’s a different kind of project management, and
  2. The project management functions have been distributed among multiple people on the team

Let’s explore each of those areas individually.

1. It’s a Different Kind of “Project Management”

We need to broaden our thinking about what project management” is 

  • The traditional view is based heavily on planning and control to achieve predictability over project costs and schedules.  
  • A more modern and broader view of “project management” is based on delivering business value. 
    • That doesn’t mean that meeting cost and schedule goals is unimportant.
    • Achieving cost and schedule goals is only one component of business value and not necessarily the most important component. 
    • Creativity and innovation to maximize the value of the solution can be at least equally important

2. The Project Management Functions Have Been Distributed Among the Team

The functions that would normally be performed by someone called a “Project Manager” at the team level have been distributed among other members of the team.  As a result, you typically may not find anyone at the team level in an Agile project called a “Project Manager”.

In an Agile team, everyone on an Agile team has some kind of responsibility that might normally be performed by someone called a “Project Manager”:

RoleProject Management Function
Product Owner RoleThe Product Owner comes closest to the overall responsibilities of a project manager. However, the Product Owner role actually goes beyond a project management role. The Product Owner is expected to:
  • Take overall responsibility for the success or failure of the project
  • Make any decisions or trade-offs that might be needed to meet the project goals
Developer RoleIn an Agile environment, developers actually have responsibilities that might normally be done by a “Project Manager”. Developers are expected to:
  • Take responsibility for planning and completing the tasks that they are responsible for
  • Following through to meet commitments that they have made
  • Reporting progress and coordinating their work with other members of the team as necessary to produce an overall result
Scrum Master RoleThe Scrum Master also has responsibilities that might normally be performed by a Project Manager. The Scrum Master is expected to:
  • Facilitate the work of the team and team meetings
  • Coaching the team in Agile practices and
  • Removing any obstacles that might be impeding the team’s progress

A project manager in a traditional plan-driven environment would normally perform those functions.   A “Distributed Project Management” approach distributes these functions among multiple people.

Why Does Distributed Project Management Make Sense?

In an Agile environment:

  • Solutions can be much more complex and the level of uncertainty can be much higher. That makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to completely define a solution prior to the start of a project
  • That environment requires a much more flexible and adaptive approach

In that environment,

  • It is essential to further elaborate the requirements and the design of the solution as the project is in progress.
  • That calls for a very different approach to project management.

Distributing the project management functions among the different Agile team roles provides a much more dynamic approach:

  • Instead of centralized control where all decisions are made by a project manager,
  • Decision-making is more decentralized among the various roles on an Agile team
    • The team, as a whole, is self-organizing and empowered
    • That approach is very well-suited for an environment with a high level of uncertainty

Overall Summary

Distributed Project Management is a new way of thinking about how to do project management:

  • Instead of the normal project management functions being performed by a single person called a “Project Manager”
  • Those functions may be distributed among other roles

This approach may be threatening to many traditional project managers because, in many cases,

  • It could eliminate the role of a project manager at the team level in an Agile project, and
  • It also could require a significant adaptation for many project managers who are used to being in control of a project

For more on that check out this article on The Future of Project Management:

For the project management profession to continue to thrive, we need to recognize this fundamental shift in thinking and develop a broader vision of what “project management” is.

Additional Resources

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

How Do You Apply Agile to Non-Software Projects? Agile Book Publishing

Many people have asked about “Applying Agile to non-software projects”.  I’ve done a lot of that myself in using an Agile book publishing approach for publishing five books. I’ve also used similar techniques in designing and developing numerous online training courses. I thought I would summarize some of the techniques I’ve learned from doing Agile Book Publishing over the years.

Agile Common-Sense Principles

Here are some common-sense principles I’ve learned from using an Agile book publishing approach for publishing five books:

1. Just Get Started

One of the most important principles I’ve learned is “just get started”.  When you’re faced with writing a book or developing a major online training course, it can be a daunting experience. Just getting started is sometimes the hardest part:

  • We’re not sure how the final result is going to come out
  • We’re not certain how the final result will be structured – what should come first, etc.
  • We don’t want to produce something that is going to be a failure

You have to stop worrying about all of that and just get started.  I think of an Agile book publishing effort like developing a fine art sculpture.  You start with a lump of clay and you just keep molding and shaping it until it becomes a work-of-art.

How Do You Apply Agile Techniques to Non-Software Projects?

If you never get started, it will remain just a lump of clay.

  • It takes some courage and confidence in yourself to do this.  You’ve got to have courage and confidence that if you just get started, that somehow the final result is going to come out OK if you keep working at it
  • It also takes patience and commitment because you may have to go through a large number of iterations to get something useful out of it.  You may even have to throw something completely away and start over again

2. Use an Incremental and Iterative Approach

Many people don’t understand the difference between the words “incremental” and “iterative”. An Agile book publishing approach involves both:

  • “Incremental” means that you break up a solution into pieces and develop one piece (increment) at a time
  • “Iterative” means that if you’re not sure what a given piece should be, you develop something and then continue to refine that piece until you meet the customer’s expectations

Both of those are important:

Incremental Approach

Using an incremental approach is very important.  In any large effort like writing a book or developing an online course, its best to break it up into “bite-sized pieces.  If you try to take on too much at once, you’ll never finish it.  The effort to write a book can easily take well over a year and it’s easy to get discouraged in that period of time that you will never finish if you don’t see progress in the work.

Iterative Approach

Taking an iterative approach is also important.  A close corollary to “Just Get Started” is “Don’t Expect Perfection”.  A major reason for not getting started sometimes is that we’re afraid to produce something that is less than perfect. 

  • We have to accept that whatever we produce on the first iteration is certainly not going to be perfect. The final result may not be perfect either. 
  • Get something done quickly and then continue to refine it as needed to meet customer expectations.
  • There’s also a saying in Agile that is used a lot called “just barely good enough”. 
  • We shouldn’t try to “gold-plate” or over-design something. It should satisfy the need to provide value to the customer and nothing more.  Keep it simple!

3. Know  Your Customers and Listen to Them

When I first started writing books, I had a lot of people who helped me.  I had a network of people on the Internet who provided me with lots of great feedback and inputs.  I would write a chapter or two of the book and put it out to my network for feedback and comments.  Part of doing that successfully is recognizing that you “don’t know what you don’t know”.  You have to be humble, listen to other people, and respect their needs and interests.  If you think that you know it all, you probably won’t be very successful.

In the online training I develop, I get lots of feedback and inputs from students and I listen to it and take action.  As a result of that feedback, I have continuously improved all of my courses.

4. Refactor Your Work As You Go Along

I’ve done a fair amount of software development in my career and I’ve learned a lot from it. 

  • I’ve learned the value of having clean and well-organized software because I have had to support a lot of the software I’ve developed
  • Organization and flow of the material is particularly important in books and online training as well
  • As a result, it is essential to take time to go back and clean-up your work as necessary as you go along
  • When I first write something, I get it done quickly but I may have to rewrite it and reorganize it 5-6 times before I’m satisfied with it

5. Work at a Sustainable Pace and Do a Little at a Time

When you’re doing a long project like writing a book, working at a sustainable pace is very important.  That is especially true if it requires a lot of creativity and innovation.

  • You can easily get burned out by trying to do too much too quickly and when that happens, your creativity can go downhill quickly. 
  • Sometimes you need to put it down, walk away from it for a while, and come back when you’re refreshed to start work again.

Agile Book Publishing – Overall Summary

I think all of this is just good, common-sense things to do – why do people have trouble doing this? 

  • I think many people think of Agile as Scrum and also think about doing it mechanically. They aren’t sure how they would go about applying a Scrum process to this kind of effort
  • Agile is not just Scrum – it is a way of thinking. We need to understand the principles behind Agile. Don’t just do it mechanically and “by-the-book”. Take the time to interpret how it applies to your current situation and adapt it as necessary

Additional Resources

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

For another example of applying Agile to non-software projects, check out this article:

https://managedagile.com/4782-2/

What Is the Relationship of Physics and Agile Project Management?

Physics and Agile Project Management

What can Physics teach us about Agile Project Management?   We can learn a lot from how the science of physics has evolved. I think there are a number of interesting similarities the way that Agile Project Management is evolving.

How Has the Science of Physics Evolved?

For many years until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, physics was based on what is called “Classical Physics”.

What is Classical Physics?

“Classical physics is the physics of everyday phenomena of nature, those we can observe with our unaided senses. It deals primarily with mass, force and motion.

  • While its roots go back to the earliest times, to the Ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and Archimedes,
  • It later developed into a cohesive system with the contributions of Galileo, Kepler and Newton.
  • Classical physics achieved phenomenal success, as the Calculus of Newton and Leibniz gave it the tools to tackle even problems not imagined by its pioneers.”

How Has Classical Physics Evolved?

“Around 1900, give or take a decade, surprising new experimental evidence, primarily about atoms and molecules:

  • Showed us that these small-scale phenomena behave in ways not anticipated by classical theory
  • This ushered in a new era called “modern” physics.
  • New laws and methodology were developed to deal with the rapidly expanding experimental evidence.
  • Relativity and quantum mechanics added new tools to the study of nature.”

These did not make classical physics “wrong”, for the old laws were working just as they always had, within their limited scope—which was the study of large objects (not atomic scale ones) moving relatively slowly (not near the speed of light). “

“So classical physics is still the starting point for learning about physics, and constitutes the bulk of the material in most introductory textbooks.

Simanek, Donald E., What’s Physics All About?, https://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/ideas/allabout.htm

What Happened to Cause People to Rethink Classical Physics?

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

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

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

How is This Transformation Related to Agile Project Management?

Classical Physics Is Analogous to Traditional Plan-driven Project Management

Classical Physics is analogous to traditional, plan-driven project management. Similar to the laws of classical physics:

  • The traditional, plan-driven project management approach has been widely accepted as the only way to do project management for a long time
  • The way traditional, plan-driven project management is done hasn’t changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s
  • It assumes a very predictable view of the world where it was possible to completely define a project plan with a fairly high level of certainty prior to the start of a project

Recognizing the Limitations

Physicists recognized the limitations of Classical Physics just as we are beginning to recognize the limitations of traditional plan-driven project management. The table below shows a comparison of how these two areas have evolved:

PhysicsProject Management
For many years, physicists believed that a model of the universe could be completely predicted based on some relatively simple and well-defined laws of classical physicsFor a long time, we assumed that traditional plan-driven project management was the only way to do project management and that approach would work in any project
Beginning in the early 1900’s, modern physics began to evolve and the limitations in Classical Physics began to be much more apparentIn recent years, it is apparent that we are in a much more dynamic and more complex universe with much higher levels of uncertainty
In this new environment, Classical Physics still provides a foundation however, it is no longer a universal view of how the world worksIn today’s world, we are beginning to recognize that a traditional plan-driven approach to project management is not the only way to do project management and it doesn’t work well in a very uncertain environment

What Are the Limitations of Physics and Project Management?

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

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

The never-ending conundrums of classical physics, Trent University

Limitations of Classical Physics

However, it is important to recognize the limitations that are inherent in a traditional, plan-driven project management approach. Experienced physicists have learned to recognize the limitations of classical physics. It only works reliably in a certain range of situations as shown in the figure below:

modern-physics

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

Limitations of Traditional Plan-driven Project Management

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

stacey-complexity-model

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

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

Overall Summary

The way that the science of Physics has evolved has some strong similarities to the evolution of Agile Project Management.

Classical Physics Is Like Traditional, Plan-driven Project Management

The foundation of Physics today is still Classical Physics, just as traditional plan-driven project management is still a foundation of project management today:

  • Classical Physics is the theory underlying the natural processes we observe everyday.
  • It is the key to understanding the motion of pulleys, machines, projectiles and planets.
  • It helps us understand geology, chemistry, astronomy, weather, tides and other natural phenomena”

Evolution of New Ways of Thinking

Just as new theories about Physics have significantly extended the notion of what “Physics” is beyond the Classical Physics, Agile will have a similar impact on project management.  The way this will probably evolve is very likely similar to the way that Physics has evolved:

Physics EvolutionProject Management Evolution
In today’s world, there are people who specialize in Classical Physics
There are also people who specialize in the more esoteric areas of Modern Physics
There will be project managers who continue to specialize in a traditional plan-driven approach to project management
There will also be project managers who specialize in Agile
However, neither one of those areas can ignore the existence of the other areaJust as in Physics, neither one of those areas can ignore the existence of the other area
A truly broad-based Physicist has a fairly solid knowledge of both Classical and Modern PhysicsA truly broad-based Agile Project Manager has a solid knowledge of both traditional plan-driven project management and Agile

Overall Summary

There is a definite relationship between the way the science of Physics has evolved and the way that Agile Project Management is currently evolving. An understanding of how Physics has evolved will help us understand how Agile Project Management is likely to evolve.

Additional Resources

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

What Is the Future of Project Management? What is the Impact of Agile?

Background

PMBOK version 6 and the new PMI Agile Practice Guide signal a new direction for the future of project management. For the first time, PMI has started to integrate Agile and traditional plan-driven project management. What does that mean for the future of project management?

Future of Project Management
A bold, red question symbol stands at the center of a light gray maze.

What’s the Impact?

I’ve written a number of articles on the future of project management and I get a lot of questions from project managers. Many are confused about the impact of Agile on project management and ask questions like “What Agile certification should I get?”.

  • Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just going out and getting another certification like PMI-ACP
  • The PMI-ACP certification is a step in the right direction and it’s not an easy certification to get. However, it’s just a test of general Lean and Agile knowledge and is not aligned with a particular role.
  • In fact, the role of an Agile Project Manager Is not well-defined. There is even some controversy about whether there is a role for an Project Manager In an Agile environment.

Confusion Over Project Management Direction

It’s totally understandable why there would be a lot of confusion among project managers about how Agile might impact their career direction.

  • There are some project managers who are in “denial”.
    • They want to assume that traditional, plan-driven project management is the only way to do project management.
    • They assume that it will go on unchanged forever unchanged and Agile isn’t really a valid form of project management at all
  • On the other hand, there are people in the Agile community who believe that there is no need at all for traditional plan-driven project management. They believe that Agile is a solution to almost any problem you might have

An Objective, Pragmatic Viewpoint

I’m not an Agile zealot – I try to take a very objective and pragmatic approach.

  • In one of my courses, I have a slide that says “Saying Agile is better than Waterfall” is like saying “A car is better than a boat”. They both have advantages and disadvantages depending on the environment.
  • You have to be able to fit the approach to the problem rather than force-fitting all problems to one of those extremes.
  • Project managers who only know how to do traditional, plan-driven project management and try to force-fit all projects to that approach will be at a severe disadvantage relative to other project managers who know how to blend Agile and traditional project management in the right proportions to fit the situation.

What’s Wrong with Traditional, Plan-driven Project Management?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the traditional, plan-driven approach to project management; the problem is in how its applied.

  • The primary problem with the traditional, plan-driven approach is that it works for situations where the requirements are well-defined. In that environment, the primary concern is planning and managing a project to meet those well-defined requirements within a given budgeted cost and schedule
  • That approach just doesn’t work well in situations where the requirements are much more uncertain. In an uncertain environment, the primary concern is not just managing costs and schedules but taking an adaptive approach to maximize the business results and value that the project produces. 
  • In today’s rapidly-changing business environment the need for taking that kind of approach is becoming increasingly common.

The Future of Project Management

There’s essentially two sides of this equation: value and cost. In the past,

  • The value side has been assumed to be well-defined by a fixed set of requirements
  • Project managers only needed to worry about the cost side

In this new environment, that is no longer true. Project managers now need to worry about both maximizing value as well as managing costs and schedules.  That’s a fundamental shift in thinking for many project managers – it means:

  • Taking a broader focus on maximizing the business value that a project produces
  • Using whatever methodology (or combination of methodologies) that makes sense to achieve those goals
  • Fitting the project management approach to the nature of the business problem rather than force-fitting all projects to a standard, plan-driven approach.

That raises the bar significantly for many project managers.

What Certification Should I Get?

Some people seem to think that it is only a matter of getting another certification. I’ve participated in several discussions lately where project managers were asking questions like:

  • “What certification should I get in order to get into Agile (CSM/PSM, CSPO, or ACP)?” 
  • The answer to the question of “what certification should I get” depends on what role you want to play. It requires some thought because there is no well-defined role for a project manager in Agile at the team level

There are several possible career directions for project managers with regard to Agile. You may not:

  • Have to completely throw away your project management skills. However, you may ave to rethink them considerably in a very different context
  • Use some traditional project management skills very fully at all depending on the role you choose

Potential Agile Project Management Roles

There are several potential migration paths for project managers who want to develop into an Agile Project Management role:

1. Become a Scrum Master

A Scrum Master:

  • Ensures that the team is fully functional and productive
  • Enables close cooperation across all roles and functions
  • Removes barriers
  • Shields the team from external interferences
  • Ensures that the process is followed, including issuing invitations to daily scrums, sprint reviews, and sprint planning
  • Facilitates the daily scrums

There’s a few project management skills that might be useful (at least indirectly) for that role. However, it doesn’t utilize much of the planning and management skills that a project manager typically has.  For that reason, becoming a ScrumMaster may or may not make sense as a career direction for many project managers.

2. Become a Product Owner

The Scrum Alliance defines the primary responsibilities of a Product Owner as follows:

  • The product owner decides what will be built and in which order
  • Defines the features of the product or desired outcomes of the project
  • Chooses release date and content
  • Ensures profitability (ROI)
  • Prioritizes features/outcomes according to market value
  • Adjusts features/outcomes and priority as needed
  • Accepts or rejects work results
  • Facilitates scrum planning ceremony

The Product Owner role actually includes a lot of project management functions. However, it is actually much more similar to a Product Manager than a Project Manager.  The major differences are that:

  1. The Product Owner is a business decision-maker and requires some business domain knowledge that a project manager may not have.
  2. The Product Owner role doesn’t typically include many team leadership skills. In an Agile environment, team leadership is more a function of the ScrumMaster and the team itself.

3. Hybrid Agile Project Management Role

For a lot of good reasons, many companies will choose to implement a hybrid Agile approach that blends the right level of traditional plan-driven project management with Agile.

  • This is a very challenging role for a project manager to play.
  • It requires a deep understanding of both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management to know how to blend these two seemingly disparate approaches together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

4. Project/Program Management of Large, Complex Enterprise-level Agile Projects

There is a legitimate role for project managers in managing large, complex enterprise-level projects; however, there are several things to consider about planning your career in that direction:

  • This role is limited to large, complex projects that typically require multiple Agile teams
  • It also may require blending together some level of traditional plan-driven and Agile principles and practices in the right proportions to fit the situation
  • This role doesn’t exist at all on most small, single-team Agile projects

This role requires some very significant skills that can be very difficult to attain. Many people may assume that the PMI-ACP certification qualifies you to perform this role. It is a step in the right direction, but a lot more experience and knowledge is needed to perform this role including:

  • Knowing how to blend traditional, plan-driven principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given project,
  • Adapting an agile approach to fit a business environment, and
  • Scaling Agile to an enterprise level.

You have to be a “rock star” Agile Project Manager to perform this role.

Overall Summary

Agile will have a big impact on the future of the project management profession:

  • In many industries and application areas, the project management role associated with small, single-team projects may be completely eliminated by Agile
  • There may be some project managers who are not significantly impacted by this such as project managers in the construction industry, but even in those industries some knowledge of Agile principles and practices may be essential

This creates difficult choices for a Project Manager to make. Agile may force project managers to make some significant choices about their career direction. It isn’t as simple as just going out and getting another certification (like PMI-ACP).

Additional Resources

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

Why Is Agile Important to Project Managers?

I think a lot of people are confused about “What is ‘Agile'” and the importance of Agile to project managers:

  • The word “Agile” has many different connotations
  • Many project managers think that it is something that only applies to software development and doesn’t apply to them at all.

For more detail on that, here’s an article with more detail on “What is Agile?”:

What is Agile?

Different Meanings of “Agile”

“Agile” means a lot of different things to different people. To some people:

  • It means just developing software faster, or
  • It means creating a more people-oriented project environment,
  • To others, it means making the project management process a lot more efficient by streamlining the whole process and eliminating unnecessary documentation

Those are only a few different connotations – there are many, many more. In addition, there are also many more stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions about what Agile is.

All of those things are potential outcomes of an Agile process but that’s not the fundamental essence of what an Agile process is all about in my opinion.  The fundamental essence of an Agile process is adaptivity.

What’s Wrong With the Typical Project Management Approach?

Many project management processes, as we know them today, were designed around what is called a “traditional plan-driven project management” model (what many people loosely call “Waterfall“). 

  • In this model, achieving predictability over the outcome of a project and the costs and schedule associated with achieving that outcome is very important
  • Therefore, it is also very important to have clearly-defined requirements as well as an adequate level of planning to be able to somewhat accurately predict the outcome, costs, and schedule of the project

That’s the predominant way that project management has worked since the 1950’s and 1960’s. A project was considered successful if it delivered what the requirements for the project within the defined budget and schedule.

That kind of predictability can be important. For large investments, it allows a company to:

  • Attempt to calculate with some level of certainty what the return on their investment is likely to be from a project, and
  • Make a go/no-go decision as to whether the project should be funded or not based on that information.

The primary problem with that approach is that it requires developing a fairly detailed plan for the project upfront. That is very difficult, if not impossible to do in projects with a very high level of uncertainty.

Why Is Adaptivity Important?

We live in a different world today from the world that existed in the 1950’s and 1960’s when formalized project management approaches were first defined. 

Higher Levels of Uncertainty

There is a much higher level of uncertainty:

  • Technology is rapidly changing,
  • Solutions are much more complex, and
  • The business environment that we operate in is dynamic and constantly changing.

In that kind  of environment,

  • Developing a detailed plan for a project with a lot of uncertainty upfront will typically require you to make a lot of assumptions.
  • And, many times those assumptions will be wrong  and may require significant re-planning and possible rework later.

Rather than force-fitting a project that has a high level of uncertainty to a traditional plan-driven approach;

  • it’s much better to fit the methodology to the nature of the project and that’s where a more adaptive approach really makes sense. 
  • That doesn’t mean that you don’t do any upfront planning; it means that you use a level of planning that is appropriate to the level of uncertainty in the project:
Traditional Plan-driven ApproachAdaptive (Agile) Approach
Atempt to develop a detailed set of requirements and a detailed project plan for the project upfrontLimit the amount of upfront planning based on the level of uncertainty in the project and use a “rolling-wave” planning approach to further define the requirements and plan for the project as the project is in place

Need for Creativity and Innovation

Another important factor in today’s environment is that there is a greater need for creativity and innovation to develop truly leading-edge products. An over-emphasis on planning and control can stifle creativity and innovation.

What’s an Example of a Project Requiring an Adaptive Approach?

A Simple Example

I use an example in my Agile Project Management training that is somewhat extreme but it gets the point across. The example I use is:

  • Suppose you were given the task to find a cure for cancer and you were asked to outline:
    • What the solution will be,
    • How long it will take to develop it, and
    • What the total cost of the research will be to develop the solution
  • In that situation, it would be ridiculous to attempt to develop a detailed project plan with accurate cost and schedule estimates – there is just way too many uncertainties to resolve
  • So what would you do? Give up and do nothing? That doesn’t make sense either

It’s important to recognize that we do know some things about finding a cure for cancer based on years of research that have gone into that area.

  • However, there are still way too many unknowns to develop a detailed project plan for a solution
  • What you would do is take advantage of what is known as much as possible and then take an iterative, trial-and-error approach to find a solution

Thomas Edison and the Light Bulb

That’s the way Edison invented the light bulb…here’s a quote from Edison on that subject:

“I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed three thousand different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory. My chief difficulty, as perhaps you know, was in constructing the carbon filament, the incandescence of which is the source of the light.”

(1890 Interview in Harper’s Magazine)

In a 1910 autobiography of Edison, Edison’s friend and associate Walter S. Mallory is quoted as asking

“Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?”  The book goes on to say that “

Edison turned on him like a flash, and with a smile replied:

“Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

What Makes This Kind of Project Different?

There are two things that make this kind of project fundamentally different:

  1. The level of uncertainty is very high and makes it impractical or impossible to develop a detailed plan for the project upfront
  2. Creativity and innovation required for finding a good solution are far more important than predictability

How Does an Agile Approach Solve This Problem?

An Agile process is built on an “Empirical” Process Control model. The word “empirical” means “based on observation”. In the context of an Agile development process, “Empirical” means that during the course of a project, both the product as well as the process to produce the product are continuously refined as the project is in progress. The goal is to produce the right product and to optimize the value of the product being produced.

Empirical Process Control Model

Why Is This Important to Project Managers?

You might ask “Why is this important to project managers?”

  • Isn’t Agile something that only applies to software development? (That’s a common misconception)
  • The truth is that all projects have some level of uncertainty associated with them

If you try to force-fit all projects to a traditional plan-driven project management approach, its just not going to work in many cases. Imagine, for example,

  • Trying to develop the next generation of the iPhone or any other new and innovative product
  • In that kind of project, creativity and innovation is just as important, if not more important, than predictability.

In this new environment, a project manager who only knows how to do a traditional plan-driven approach to project management will be at a serious disadvantage. What makes this even more difficult is that:

  • That this is not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” as many people seem to think.
  • It’s a matter of figuring out how to blend a traditional plan-driven approach with an adaptive (Agile) approach in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

Overall Summary

Agile will have a profound impact on the project management profession that will cause us to rethink many things we have taken for granted for a long time about what “project management” is.

Additional Resources

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

How to Make a Hybrid Agile Process Work

Have you given any thought to “How to make a hybrid agile process work”? Some people claim that hybrid Agile projects don’t work at all. For example, I recently saw an article on LinkedIn entitled “Why Hybrid Agile-Waterfall Projects Fail” that caught my eye.  I’m not surprised at this article:

  • It takes some skill to make a hybrid Agile process work successfully and
  • Anyone who would literally try to combine an Agile methodology with a Waterfall methodology to create a hybrid methodology is asking for failure

That’s not the way to do it

Blending Two Recipes

This should not be a matter of literally combining an Agile methodology and a Waterfall methodology.

  • That would be like trying to take a recipe for Italian food with a recipe for Chinese food and literally trying to mix the steps and ingredients from the two recipes together to create “Italian-Chinese” food
  • A good chef would never even attempt to do that. However, he/she might create an entirely new recipe that blends together some of the aspects of Italian food with some aspects of Chinese food

Creating a Hybrid Approach

It takes a lot of skill to create an effective hybrid approach and doing it effectively is like the difference between a “chef” and a “cook”. 

When I talk about creating a hybrid approach, I try to avoid the words “Agile” and “Waterfall” if possible. Those words give people the impression that you are literally combining two different methodologies together like combining two food recipes: 

  • I prefer to think of a hybrid approach as the appropriate blend of an adaptive approach and a plan-driven approach
  • The words “adaptive” and “plan-driven” convey an entirely different meaning than “Agile” and “Waterfall”

Creating a hybrid Agile approach:

  • Doesn’t mean that you’re trying to literally combine two very different methodologies by mixing them together
  • Means that you’re creating a blended approach with the appropriate amount of emphasis on being “adaptive” versus being “plan-driven”

An Example of a Real Hybrid Approach

Some years ago, I was responsible for managing a very large development program for a US Federal Government agency:

  • It had a fixed-price contract associated with it and a fairly aggressive delivery schedule
  • However, the customer wanted some level of flexibility in the details associated with defining requirements 
  • I created an approach for this situation that was very successful that I have called “The Managed Agile Development Framework“.

The Managed Agile Development approach:

  • Does not attempt to literally combine an Agile methodology and a Waterfall methodology
  • Instead, it wraps a plan-driven layer at the “macro” level around a standard Agile/Scrum process at the micro level

Here’s a diagram that shows what it looks like:

Hybrid Agile Process

You might say:

  • “That’s not a hybrid Agile-Waterfall model”
  • “It’s only a standard Agile development process with a plan-driven layer wrapped around it”

And, that would be correct.  There has been no attempt to actually mix-and match a phase-gate Waterfall methodology with an Agile methodology.

How To Make a Hybrid Agile Process Work

This is a very flexible model – that is why I call it a “framework” rather than a “methodology”.

1. Project Planning

You would start out a project by at least developing high-level requirements with estimates of the costs and schedule for completing the project.  Those estimates can be as detailed as you want them to be. That’s what makes this model so flexible.

  • You can have a relatively “thin” layer of planning with very high-level requirements and less-detailed plans or
  • A “thicker” layer of planning with more detailed requirements and planning

The most important thing is that there has to be a common understanding between the development team and the customer about how detailed the requirements and plan are:

This model will not work without a spirit of trust and partnership between the customer and the project team.  The customer and the project team must agree to working collaboratively as the project is in progress to:

  • Further elaborate requirements,

  • Continuously refine the plan for completing the project, and

  • Resolve any trade-offs that may be necessary to stay within the budgeted cost and schedule.

2. Managing Changes

As the project is in progress, any changes to the project requirements made at the “micro” level need to be fed back into the planning at the “macro” level.

By agreement with the customer, there should be enough slack built into the plan so that minor changes can be absorbed easily without a change to the overall plan. Only more significant changes might require trade-offs and adjustments. When trade-offs are needed to stay within the budgeted cost and schedule, the customer may need to either:

  • Adjust the planned cost and schedule as necessary, or
  • Reduce the scope of some of the requirements if necessary to fit within the planned cost and schedule.

This is a fairly simple model but it works and it can be easily adapted to a wide variety of projects. However, note that this is not a simple step-by-step cookbook approach. It takes some skill to make this model work successfully.

Matching the Level of Uncertainty in the Project

A good strategy is to match the design of the hybrid approach to the level of uncertainty in the project:

  • A project with a lower level of uncertainty might lend itself to a more plan-driven approach particularly if predictability is important to the customer of the project.  That would mean putting a higher level of emphasis on developing a “thicker” layer of planning at the  macro-level
  • A project with a higher level of uncertainty would probably require a more adaptive approach to further elaborate the plan as the project is in progress.  That would mean that the level of planning at the macro-level would probably be much “thinner”.

Overall Summary

It is very possible to create a hybrid Agile approach that blends Agile principles and practices with traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation but it can require a considerable amount of skill to do that.

Additional Resources

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