Agile and project management – Advice from the warriors

Agile is as agile does. There has been a lot of press and hype about agile software development since the Agile Manifesto in 2001was made public. Well, those visionary ideas are a decade old now. So, I thought I would glance around the web and see the comments and advice from experienced practitioners of non-traditional management. I have written on this topic before (Agile Project Management in April 2010), but have continued to read thoughts on the subject from esteemed colleagues.

First: A couple key points from the original Agile Manifesto:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Deliver working software frequently.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

Comments from Practitioners:
Here are some of the practitioner’s comments from my readings:

George Mattie
“As I understand it, agile as a methodology does not allow you to overcome the basic physics outlined in the triple constraint (ed. cost, time, scope.) Agile simply prioritizes the tradeoff as one of scope rather than time or quality.”

“On teams that work in creative services, like those found in advertising and in consulting agencies, often the person who serves as the project lead is not a project manager.”

Bill Krebs
Have short daily meetings addressing three questions:

  1. What did they do yesterday?
  2. What will they do today?
  3. What roadblocks stand in their way?

From A New Take on Standup Meetings offered by Bill Krebs.

Glen Alleman
There is an initiative to connect Agile Software Development with Earned Value Management. I’ve talked a couple of times on this topic…..  The critical issue is what is wrong with the agile software development process you are using now? Is Scrum working to deliver products on time, on budget, and meeting customer needs? If so, then what can EV add to the mix? Not much would be my contribution, on programs that do not have an EV mandate?
Excerpt from Glen’s BLOG, Herding Cats.

Alan Bustamante
(paraphrasing) Veteran project managers may find the paradigm shift, from being a specialist to needing to be a generalist, too much, and become alienated from project management or their project role.

This theme continues with a comment from Ferrix Hovi on PM Tips, “When I close my eyes, I can hear the roar of a giant waterfall. As a scrum practitioner, I feel there is little justification for a project manager role doing the specified things.”

Countering Ferrix’s suggestion to retire all project managers were these comments (with which I agree) from Donna Burgess, “Self-managing’ teams still need a leader, a protector, a decision maker, a planner, a shield, a guide, a problem solver. Sadly, many Agile evangelists will only understand the value of a PM when they don’t have one.”

My recommendations for moving to Agile would be to try it on a small to medium project. Agile is best suited for small teams, no more than 7-10 people. If working a large project, it is recommended that you break down to small groups and manage a Scrum of Scrums.… Get the team indoctrinated in Agile before starting if at all possible. It puts everyone on the same page from the beginning.”  Jim Skinner, PMP, North Carolina Department of Insurance

“Every conversation about Agile project management eventually turns to the question of estimating. Rick Freedman explains why estimation in an Agile environment is not as mysterious as many PMs think.” (thoughtful article in TechRepublic.)

“Incorporating Agile management techniques into projects fosters a focus on the benefits of each feature. In traditional project management, the teams strive to finish the project on time and under budget and often lose sight of the overall benefits the entire effort is intended to bring the organization. It’s important to remember the strategy the project is expected to advance as well as the total cost of ownership and not just the project costs.” Kathleen B. Hass, PMP writing for Project Management World, The Blending of Traditional and Agile Project Management.

If this Agile stuff is something you want to explore, here are a few other resources:

More Details about PMI’s Agile Certification 120 question, multiple choice; 3 hr exam; pilot begins May 2011.

Top 20 Best Agile Development Books by Jurgen Appelo; June 2008

 

I hope you will add comments, resources, or thoughts on Agile development.

The Secret to Effective Management Communication – Practice, Practice, Practice

Few skills rival the importance of effective communication for project and senior managers. The ability to communicate ideas clearly to a diverse group of stakeholders gets you noticed as an individual contributor or team leader. The inability to communicate, either verbally or in writing, can stall your career. The Wisconsin Business Alumni Association estimates that project managers spend 70 to 80 percent of their time communicating — and I believe it.

Has Management Communication Become More Difficult?
Yes, I think communication has become more challenging, as team members work remotely and awareness of diversity must influence what you say and how you say it. When you only talk with engineers and developers, you make assumptions about their knowledge of core concepts and terminology — assumptions that no longer hold true when talking to those in other areas of the organization or stakeholders.

As corporate cultures have moved toward an era of expected transparency, customers and senior management no longer accept, "because I said so" — (IMPLIED: and I am the expert here). They want to understand. They need answers to "why" questions and that makes communication challenging.

Further, the reliance on email, texting and voice mail, rather than face-to-face meetings, reduces the nonverbal support to help others understand your communications.

PMBOK on Project Communication Management
Chapter 10 of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge is solely devoted to communication management. Encompassing presenting, negotiating, writing and public speaking, PMBOK suggests (and not surprisingly) that you begin communication management with a plan. Your communication management plan should identify all project stakeholders and their information needs, including the type of information to be communicated, the level of detail needed and a preferred method of communication.

In addition to communicating project plans, status and financial information, PMBOK suggests keeping an issue log that includes causes of issues, reasoning behind corrective actions and lessons learned. A refresher from the issues log should be part of formal project reviews and training for new team members or stakeholders.

PMBOK recommends that your communication plan include a specified period or frequency for distributing information to stakeholders and communication format guidelines for staff meetings, status meetings, website-based communications and approved communication support software.

Best Practices to Improve Your Communication
Warren Buffett thinks deeply about many things in addition to making money for Berkshire Hathaway clients. One skill he is known for and has thought about is effective communication — its importance and best methods. In a "Harvard Business Review" blog post recently, the following observations on Buffett’s communication style are instructive:

  • Use numbers to explain conclusions, not just by themselves on a graph or bullet list that requires to listener to figure out what they mean.
  • Explain your technical terms parenthetically and informally. In their example from Buffett’s presentation, "Our $58.5 billion of insurance ‘float’ — money that doesn’t belong to us but that we hold and invest for our own benefit — cost us less than zero."
  • Use analogies and metaphors. A great example is Buffett’s description of people felt after the economic collapse in 2008: "By yearend, investors of all stripes were bloodied and confused, much as if they were small birds that had strayed into a badminton game." Everyone can understand that graphic communication.

Some other communication management best practices:

  • For formal reports, ask for and use suggestions from a technical writer or editor. Alternatively, use the spelling and grammar checker built into your word processor or submit documents for review from a service such as Grammarly — unless restricted by intellectual property claims.
  • Ask for feedback. If the body language of the person or group you are talking with do not seem be tracking with you, ask questions or re-phrase. On the other side, learn to ask questions that improve your understanding.
  • As a manager, ensure that the culture accepts and encourages honest communication – do not punish the messenger.
  • Learn to summarize key ideas in your communication or when listening to others. Use the summary to check understanding.
  • Sometimes it is best to let a communication set for a while – an hour or a day — before hitting the send button.
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