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!

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.

What’s The Future of Project Management?

Background

What is the next generation of project management? What is the impact of Agile on the future of project management?

  • Does it mean that project managers who are heavily trained in a traditional plan-driven project approach will become obsolete over some period of time?
  • What do project managers need to do to adjust their career direction to adapt to the future direction of project management?

I believe that the project management profession is at a major turning point that requires:

  • Broadening our view of what “project management” is and
  • Reshaping the direction of the project management profession for the future

The new direction should fully embrace and integrate both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as complementary approaches within an overall project management portfolio.

Reinventing Project Management

What sort of image comes to your mind when you think of the words “project management”? Does it have any relationship to Agile?

  • My guess is that many people have a very well-ingrained image of what “project management” is and
  • Many people wouldn’t associate “project management” with Agile at all

In fact, some people still see those two disciplines as polar opposites. To see things differently,

  • We have to broaden our thinking about what “project management” is and
  • Get past many of the well-established stereotypes of what “project management” is.

Why Is Reinvention Important?

Long-lasting companies have learned to “reinvent” themselves from time-to-time to keep up with changes in technology and the business environment they operate in. Here’s an excerpt from Harvard Business Review on that topic:

Harvard Business Review Excerpt

Sooner or later, all businesses, even the most successful, run out of room to grow. Faced with this unpleasant reality, they are compelled to reinvent themselves periodically. The ability to pull off this difficult feat—to jump from the maturity stage of one business to the growth stage of the next—is what separates high performers from those whose time at the top is all too brief.

“The potential consequences are dire for any organization that fails to reinvent itself in time. As Matthew S. Olson and Derek van Bever demonstrate in their book Stall Points, once a company runs up against a major stall in its growth, it has less than a 10% chance of ever fully recovering. Those odds are certainly daunting, and they do much to explain why two-thirds of stalled companies are later acquired, taken private, or forced into bankruptcy.”

Source: “Reinvent Your Business Before It’s Too Late”, Harvard Business Review, January 2011,

Another Excellent Article

Here’s another excellent article on that subject:

“A successful company is like a great white shark. In its prime, it chews up the competition, but if it dares to sit still for too long, it dies. Some of the world’s most profitable and enduring companies have achieved their long track record of success by constantly reinventing themselves.”

“Cell phone maker Nokia started off selling rubber boots. The oil giant Shell used to import and sell actual shells. But these companies and the eight others on our list adapted with the times, evolving their product lines and business strategies to stay one step ahead of their customers’ needs. In business, it’s better to be a chameleon than a great white.”

Source: How Stuff Works, “10 Companies That Completely Reinvented Themselves”

Check out the link above for some great examples of companies that have done that successfully. As the article points out, the trick is recognizing that you are at a “stall point” and taking action before you have stalled for very long and that can be a difficult thing to do.

Project Management History

To understand the transformation that is going on, its useful to look at the history of project management and how we got to where we are today:

Early History

Project Management could probably be considered to be one of the world’s oldest professions. Think of the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall of China:

  • The level of “project management” at that time may have been very crude and they probably didn’t call it “project management” at all but large efforts like that don’t just happen without some kind of planning and organization behind them
  • In the US, the development of the Transcontinental Railway in the late 1800’s is another example of a very large effort that had to have some kind of planning and organization behind it.

Scientific Management Approach

Around the turn of the century, along came Frederick Taylor and his co-worker, Henry Gantt. Frederick Taylor started developing new theories on how to organize workers and Henry Gantt created his famous Gantt Charts to describe the order of operations in work.

World War II and the 50’s and 60’s

World War II resulted in the Manhattan project which was another huge effort and the 1950’s and 1960’s had more large scale efforts such as the Polaris missile program and the Apollo program to put a man on the moon. PERT and CPM were invented and then in 1969, PMI was founded.

The Next Generation of Project Management

The general approach for doing project management hasn’t changed significantly since that time and the big question is “What’s next?” and also “Why Now?”

  • Has the project management profession reached its peak or is there yet another major phase of growth that is just beginning to take place? I believe it is the latter.
  • Here’s why I believe it there is some level of urgency to rethink the way we think about “project management”. The diagram below shows how the adoption rate of new technologies has changed over the last century.
Consumption of New Technology Trends

“Source: Mulbrandon, Catherine, Visualizing Economics – Adoption of New Technology Since 1900, http://visualizingeconomics.com/blog/2008/02/18/adoption-of-new-technology-since-1900

This data only goes through 2005, but you can be sure this trend hasn’t slowed down since then. (Think of how quickly smartphones have evolved as an example) This rapid proliferation of new technology calls for a new approach to project management. The traditional, heavily plan-driven approaches of the past can’t keep pace with the speed that technology is changing in many areas.

This dynamic and rapidly changing environment calls for a more adaptive project management approach in many areas. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that

  • We need to throw out everything we’ve learned about traditional, plan-driven project management and
  • Start over again

However, it does create some significant challenges for individual project managers and for the project management profession, as a whole.

What’s the Impact on Project Managers?

This “raises the bar” for project managers significantly:

  • In the past, if you had a PMP certificate, that was as far as you needed to go for many project management roles
  • PMI has now created the Agile Certified Professional (ACP) certification and that’s not an easy certification to get, but that’s only the beginning, in my opinion

I think the PMI-ACP exam is good certification but it doesn’t go far enough:

  • It is really a test of general knowledge related to Agile and Lean
  • It doesn’t really test whether you know how to integrate Agile and traditional project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation. That’s the real challenge for project managers, in my opinion
  • It also doesn’t prepare a project manager for a specific job role. And, the role that an Agile Project Manager might play in the real-world is not well-defined

What Needs to be Done to Address These Challenges?

This is a huge challenge to transform the project management profession and broaden our thinking of what a “project manager” is and it will take some time. However, the alternative of ignoring these trends and continuing to think of a project manager in the narrow context of someone who only does traditional, plan-driven project management will seriously degrade and undermine the project management profession over time. Here’s what I think needs to be done to address this challenge:

1. Acknowledge the Need to Make a Change

The first step is to acknowledge that we have a problem. We cannot deny the impact of Agile on the project management profession and think that:

  • A traditional, plan-driven project management approach, as we know it, is the only way to do project management and
  • Agile is just a fad that will go away.

2. Get Past Sterotypes

There are many stereotypes about what traditional project management is and about what Agile is that we need to overcome. And, we need to change our thinking to see both Agile and traditional project management approaches as complementary to each other rather than competitive.

3. Redefine Project Management

We have to better define and develop the concept of what an “Agile Project Manager” is and better define the role that an “Agile Project Manager” might play. In my view,

  • An “Agile Project Manager” is not someone who only does Agile projects
  • It is someone who has a deep knowledge of both Agile and traditional plan-driven principles and practices and knows how to blend them together in the right proportions to fit a given situationIndent1

4. Develop Agile Project Management Training

We need to develop training programs and resources to help project managers reach the goal of becoming an “Agile Project Manager”.

5. Influence Enterprise-level Management Practices

Project Managers are a product of the environment that they work in. For example,

  • Many project managers take a heavily plan-driven approach to controlling costs and schedules of a project because that’s what their organizations expect of them
  • To change the behavior of project managers, we must change what companies expect of project managers and that can require some significant changes in organizational culture

Overall Summary

The Project Management profession is going through some very rapid and profound changes that will radically shift the way we think about project management. This will present a challenge to many project managers to adapt to these changes

Additional Resources

Here’s a related article on comparing the evolution of the science of Physics to the evolution of project management. There are many parallels:

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

I encourage any project manager who needs help in making this transformation to check into my online training courses and to contact me directly if I can be of help.