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.

Free Agile Webinar for Project Managers

Transform yourself into a high impact Agile Project Manager!

This free Agile webinar will help project managers understand how to dramatically transform themselves into a very high impact Agile Project Management role!

Free Agile Webinar

Why This Agile Webinar Is Important

This Agile Webinar is very important for project managers. Agile is having a very significant impact on the project management profession:

  • Traditional, plan-driven project management has not changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s
  • Many projects are moving rapidly to an Agile approach

Weaknesses in Traditional Project Management Approach

Agile addresses several major weaknesses in a traditional plan-driven project management approach:

  • It is not well-suited for an environment with a high level of uncertainty
  • The emphasis on planning and control can stifle creativity and innovation
  • Unnecessary overhead can increase costs and slow progress

The Challenge for Project Managers

Traditional, plan-driven project management is still useful if it is done in the right context; however:

  • Any  project manager who only knows traditional plan-driven project management and force-fits all projects to that approach will have limited success
  • Project managers need to learn how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any given situation

That is exactly the challenge that this webinar will help you understand.

Agile Webinar Summary – What You Will Learn

Here’s a summary of what you will learn in this Free Agile Project Management Webinar:

1. Learn to Fit the Approach to the Nature of the Project

Agile and traditional plan-driven project management (what many people loosely call “Waterfall”) are seen as binary and mutually-exclusive choices:

  • As a result, many people tend to think they need to force-fit a project to one of those extremes
  • The right solution is to go in the other direction and fit the methodology to the nature of the project
  • That can require a lot more skill to do that but it definitely can be done

2. Develop a More Adaptive Approach

In the world we live in today:

  • Technologies tend to be much more dynamic and rapidly-changing and projects may have very high levels of uncertainty
  • That makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to successfully apply a traditional, plan-driven project management approach in many situations that call for a much more adaptive approach

3. Understand the Convergence of Agile and Traditional Project Management

The convergence of these approaches raises the bar for the project management profession and will likely have a significant impact on the careers of many project managers.

4. Learn Where PMI-ACP Fits In

PMI® has recognized the importance of Agile and has created the PMI-ACP® certification. PMI-ACP is a step in the right direction; however it has several limitations:

  • PMI-ACP doesn’t address the challenge that many project managers face of learning how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven project management
  • Agile and traditional, plan-driven project management are still treated as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two
  • It is also a general test of Agile and Lean knowledge and doesn’t focus on a specific real-world job that a project manager might play

Overall Summary

This Agile webinar will help you:

  • Better understand the challenges Agile presents to project managers, and
  • The impact on your career as a project manager
  • It will help you begin to develop a broader, high-impact view of what “project management” is

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

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 and you can’t really rely heavily on PMI-ACP to prepare you for that specific 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 at the team level

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

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

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”. Here is a summary of my recommendations:

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. 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

3. 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

4. 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.

Levels of Mastery in Agile – How Do You Measure Maturity?

I came across the diagram shown below that I think nicely summarizes different levels of mastery in Agile:

Levels of Mastery in Agile

Many people don’t seem to realize that there are these three different levels of mastery. Just learning the basic practices is only the beginning.

Levels of Mastery in Agile

The three levels of mastery are:

1. Practices (Doing)

The initial level of Practices is associated with learning the basic practices of Agile at a mechanical level.

  • There are many people who are at this level of learning.
    • They’ve received their CSM certification (or equivalent) and
    • They may have had some practice in the real world and know how to do the basics
  • The danger is that many people think that this is all they need to know. They think that their development is complete when they have mastered this level of learning
  • People who get stuck in this level of learning can become fairly ritualistic or dogmatic. They may insist that there is only one way to do Agile and that is doing it exactly by the book as they have learned to do it

2. Principles (Understanding)

People who have gone on to the “Principles” level of learning have gained a deeper understanding of the principles behind Agile. They understand why it makes sense rather than just doing it mechanically.

  • This deeper level of understanding gives people a broader perspective. Instead of seeing Agile as a mechanical process that must always be done ritualistically “by the book”; people at this level recognize that there may be a need to customize and adapt the processes to fit a given situation
  • People at this level are also able to see Agile in a much broader context.
    • They see beyond the basic team-level Agile implementation and
    • They recognize the need to make Agile work at much higher levels of complexity for large enterprise-level projects.

3. Values (Being)

Values is the highest level of mastery.

  • People at this level of learning go beyond only understanding the principles at a deeper level. They also understand the values behind those principles and have internalized those values into the way they work
  • People at this level are becoming Masters and are at the “top of their game”. They are able to:
    • Easily go beyond applying Agile to routine Agile project implementations.
    • Apply the principles and practices to much more demanding and difficult situations. They are also able to do it with much higher levels of consistency and success

The three levels of mastery shown in this diagram correspond to the “Shu-ha-ri” levels of mastery from martial arts. I have previously discussed that in this article:

Agile and Lessons Learned From the Martial Arts

How Does This Relate to Agile Project Management?

How does this relate to the idea of “Agile Project Management”? Many people in both the Agile and traditional plan-driven project management communities are at a very basic level of mastery of those two disciplines. They see them as firmly-defined processes to be followed. I believe that people who are at a higher level of learning and understand the principles behind these two disciplines will see things in a very different perspective. They will:

  • See these two areas as much more complementary rather than competitive
  • Recognize the reasons why one set of principles and practices makes sense in one situation and not another
  • Be able to easily blend the two sets of principles and practices together as needed to fit a given situation

Overall Summary

One of my favorite analogies for this that was originally created by Bob Wysocki is the difference between a “cook” and a “chef”:

  • A good “cook” may have the ability to create some very good meals, but those dishes may be limited to a repertoire of standard dishes. His/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals may be primarily based on following some predefined recipes out of a cookbook.
  • A “chef,” on the other hand, typically has a far greater ability to prepare a much broader range of more sophisticated dishes using much more exotic ingredients in some cases.
    • His/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals is not limited to predefined recipes, and
    • In many cases, a chef will create entirely new and innovative recipes for a given situation.
    • The best chefs are not limited to a single cuisine and are capable of combining dishes from entirely different styles of cooking

This is the challenge that I believe we face in creating a more integrated approach for Agile Project Management. We need to develop more “chefs” who are capable of seeing both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in a very different light as complementary rather than competitive alternatives.

Additional Resources

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

Agile Maturity and the Martial Arts – How Are They Similar?

There’s a definite relationship of Agile levels of maturity and the martial arts like Karate.

Agile Maturity and the Martial Arts
Young couple doing Martial Arts exercise outdoors

What Is the Similarity of Agile and the Martial Arts?

In theory, there should be a lot of similarity:

AreaSimilarity
TechniquesThere are a wide range of Martial Arts techniques that can be applied in different situations
Finesse and SkillMost Martial Arts require finesse and skill; it’s not just a brute force approach
Levels of SkillThere are different levels of skill associated with Martial Arts and it is an ongoing journey to become a “master”

How Does It Compare to Actual Practice?

In actual practice; however, I think that Agile principles and practices are at a very low level of maturity compared to Martial Arts (that’s perfectly understandable given that Martial Arts have been around for thousands of years). However, there is a lot we can learn from martial arts that can be applied to Agile:

Techniques

Agile has become synonymous with Scrum as the primary methodology for implementing Agile.

  • Our knowledge of implementing Agile successfully is heavily defined by the “mechanics” of how to implement Scrum.
  • Surely, there must be more to Agile than that.
  • That’s equivalent to saying that Karate is the only Martial Arts practice when there are many, many others.

Finesse and Skill

I’ve seen many companies take a very superficial approach to Agile.

  • They will do a few Agile practices like holding Daily Standups and putting up Kanban Boards and call it Agile.
  • In many cases, if you look under the surface, it’s still just a brute force approach to get things done.
  • They haven’t really fully implemented Agile principles and practices and
  • They haven’t mastered the skill and finesse needed to do it well.

For example:

  • People may not be dedicated to Agile teams
  • The company may still rely on overtime, weekend work, and pressure to meet unrealistic deadlines
  • There may be no Product Owner role and the business side may not be well-integrated with the project

Levels of Skill

Many people don’t seem to realize that there are different levels of skill associated with Agile (some of those levels aren’t even fully understood yet). There is a wealth of knowledge about how to do almost every aspect of Scrum at the team level but;

  • Very little is understood about how to scale Agile to an enterprise level and
  • How to integrate it with a business environment that isn’t necessarily well-suited to Agile

There are also still very wide gaps in our understanding of how to blend Agile principles and practices with more traditional project management principles and practices. Those two areas are often seen as competit1ive rather than complementary with each other.

Shu-Ha-Ri

There’s a particular concept from Martial Arts that is helpful to understand the level of maturity we are at in Agile. The concept of “Shu-ha-ri” is a Japanese concept to define different levels of proficiency in Martial Arts:

“Shu”

“Shu” means to keep, protect, keep or maintain.

  • During the “Shu” phase, the student builds the technical foundation of the art.
  • In “Shu”, the student should be working to copy the techniques as taught without modification. And, without yet attempting to make any effort to understand the rationale of the techniques of the school/teacher.
  • In this way, a lasting technical foundation is built on which the deeper understanding of the art can be based

“Ha

The second stage of the process is called “Ha”.

  • “Ha” means to detach and means that the student breaks free from traditions to some extent
  • In the “Ha” stage, the student must reflect on the meaning and purpose of everything that he/she has learned. The student thus comes to a deeper understanding of the art than pure repetitive practice can allow

“Ri”

“Ri” means to go beyond or transcend.

  • In this stage, the student is no longer a student in the normal sense, but a practitioner
  • The practitioner must think originally and develop from background knowledge original thoughts about the art. He/she tests them against the reality of his or her background knowledge and conclusions as well as the demands of everyday life
  • In the Ri stage, the art truly becomes the practitioner’s own and to some extent his or her own creation

(Source: Shu-Ha-Ri http://www.aikidofaq.com/essays/tin/shuhari.html)

Overall Summary

There’s a lot to be learned from the levels of maturity in the martial arts that are directly relevant to Agile. It provides a good way of understanding the level of maturity of Agile teams.

If you think about our current level of knowledge of Agile as it exists today:

  • Many people are still struggling with the “Shu” level to understand the mechanics of how to do Scrum. They have a long way to go to really get to higher levels of mastery
  • Many people do not realize how big this gap is
  • Many people seem to think that all there is to know is the mechanics of how to do Scrum at the team level

I think we have hardly scratched the surface of the knowledge that is needed about how to successfully do Agile Project Management. Martial Arts have been around for thousands of years and there’s still a lot to be learned so its very understandable that our level of knowledge about Agile is at a fairly low level of maturity.

For example, here is a very good article written by Patti Gilchrist on the innovations that Bruce Lee has brought to Martial Arts that has some similar thoughts to this article that I really liked:

http://www.projectmanagement.com/articles/278838/Of-Martial-Arts-and-Methodology

Additional Resources

For more on levels of mastery in Agile, check out this article:

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