Project Management, the Agile Way
By Corina Ciechanow
VP Women & Technology
Projects are easy to manage when they are well defined ;-) and there are neither changes nor interferences with their planning. Let’s be realistic, it’s almost never the case.
Today, projects are intertwined with one another, dependent on other projects or divisions in the same company, and that makes management more complex: a small impact in one of the linked projects may have devastating results on the planning of your project.
Agile management is a methodology that allows plans to be quickly adapted as the situation evolves. This is great for a continuously changing environment. It is also well suited for complex projects or for situations with unknowns, where variables are not well defined. This is the reality for almost all projects today.
To be honest, this is not (completely) an article about project management following the ‘Agile’ way. For me, adopting Agile principles is also and more importantly, a way of re-instating good values in our business environment. I will describe for you that Agile embraces great values I’m convinced we must encourage, that will not only improve the economy, but also transform our society for the better, making us happier!
What is the Agile way?
The basic change from classical Project Management is going from a hierarchical organization to a more collaborative environment. For an agile methodology to work, we must empower the participants, letting them know:
- That each member is professionally responsible for his task;
- She/he will be entrusted to work autonomously;
- All the different skills are needed to complete the project, so each member is as valuable as any other one.
- He/She deserves (and will get) respect from everyone.
Thus, by creating a sentiment of trust between members
, they will be motivated to do their best, and feel safe enough to open up and have the courage to say when things go wrong
. The project also gains in transparency and risks can be better managed.
To adopt it you have firstly to brief all the participants on the spirit of respect, openness, transparency and collaboration
that you expect them to show. Make them embrace these values, give them autonomy
and create a safe environment of trust and confidence, so that they get the courage needed to be transparent. And show them the benefits for the business but also for them at a personal level.
What are the gains for the business?
An Agile project management methodology is a great tool for risk management. Not only because of its transparency, but also because it promotes cutting the project into small but complete deliverable features and uses them to make many rapid deliveries.
When a risk materializes, you can take a tactical move and change direction without losing all the time and effort already invested in the project. It is also particularly well suited to implement any Change management project because you can implement in sizeable parts, and adapt the plan based on feedback from previous iterations.
The picture below illustrates a typical SCRUM process: from the full list of things to do (the ‘product backlog’), there are only a subset of tasks chosen to be done on an iteration (this is the ‘sprint backlog’).
In this diagram the iteration is 2 to 4 weeks long to deliver a potentially shippable product. Each day of those 2-4 weeks there is a ‘daily SCRUM meeting’ that usually takes place in the mornings where each member talks about what they did the day before, what they intend to do today, and any problem they encountered. These meetings force the team members to communicate with each other, and facilitate the discovery of blocking points. And good communication is one of the foundations for success.
Chart 1- SCRUM process
The tools used on an Agile methodology vary from one method to another, but to give you an example coming from the SCRUM method, you can make visible the advancement of the project for all stake-holders with the SCRUM-board and the Burn-down chart.
Hereunder is a drawing of a SCRUM-board with the 3 important columns: the 1rst. one is for TO-DO tasks (labeled here NOT CHECKED OUT), under the 2nd. column are the things in hand (CHECKED OUT, or also usually labeled DOING) and in the 3rd. column, the tasks that are finished (DONE).
The Burn-down chart shows the theoretical decrease in workload (usually a straight line) and the actual situation.
Chart 2- Image of a SCRUM-board and also a Burn-down chart
This way of working makes the team more professional, making each individual responsible for the result, the planning and the budget.
And it improves continually, as at the end of each iteration there is a ‘Retrospective’ session
where people reflect on the pitfalls and understand their lessons learned, which allows them to be more accurate for their next estimates.
What is in it for the team members?
The method defines clearly the roles and responsibilities, so everyone is explicitly reminded of what he is expected to do, but he/she also knows what the other members’ responsibilities are. In SCRUM there is a special role: the SCRUM-Master who has as one of their attributes the protection against external interferences. He takes care that the other team members are not distracted or interrupted by any interference, or at least he makes this distraction visible, explicitly indicating it to all stakeholders. This allows the other team members to concentrate on their task. There is also much more autonomy as each member can choose the task he wants to work on from the list of tasks to do, (obviously he has to choose among the ones for which he is competent :- ). There are regular contacts with the client, so there is more visibility of the business objectives for the team members, and the satisfaction of getting direct feedback for their work. It also empowers the team by giving them the possibility to question their own organization, and to change the way the team works based on the team feedback. This leads to self-management.
And what do I see as the impact on our society?
As I mentioned already, as this method reacts quicker, there is less waste of resources by not doing things that were in the original plan but are not adapted or needed anymore in the actual situation.
Also the gain in visibility allows for a better allocation of resources. As we clearly see the flow of work, we can move resources to where there is a bottleneck, improving the overall productivity by better balancing the teams.
At an individual level, with self-managed professionals, respected by everyone, being in control of their work, each of the members will be working in the flow. I’m convinced that we will have happier people at work, their self-esteem boosted, and that will reflect on all the other aspects of their life.
I hope I have convinced you to give it a try! And if you are still not sure, you can also ask us at PWI to organize a workshop on Agile methodology, to take place next year, or ask me, I will be happy to explain it in more detail. You’re right as you guessed I’m a fan of this method!
Do not hesitate to comment or ask your questions by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may find more details on these technological subjects in my blog at bitsofknowledge.waterloohills.com
Since 2008 Corina Ciechanow is the owner and managing partner of Waterloo Hills, an IT consultancy company focusing on project management, data science and Internet businesses. She helps companies to cope with the challenge of managing IT projects in a highly connected, culturally diverse and very dynamic society, and also making seminars and blogging about data science and crowdsourcing.
She is a Board member at PWI, leading the ‘Women & Technology’ program. The objective is to raise awareness on technological advances that have an impact on our society and on our current business environment.
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PWI, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.