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4 things every project manager should know about agile

4 things every project manager should know about agile

Tips for Project Managers in a World Gone Agile

We don’t need no more stinkin’ project managers — we’re Agile now!

All you gotta do is take this class and then you’ll know everything you need to know about Agile!

Just follow this framework word-for-word and you’ll be guaranteed success!

Sound familiar? Books, blog posts, and articles with these sentiments abound. No wonder that so many classically trained project managers are confused about where they fit in a world gone agile and how they can put their best foot forward.  Let’s start to clear the confusion with four things every project manager should know about agile.

First things first, you still have a job… and a career.

It’s true that the role of team facilitator or Scrum Master is not synonymous with the role of a traditional project manager — someone most known for doling out tasks and managing schedules on behalf of the team. In order to unleash the power of a truly self-organizing team, rethinking the role is indeed required. While some project managers might be reluctant to make the shift, others have done so quite naturally and have even liked their jobs better than before. In fact, at one PMI event, a woman almost cried when she talked about adopting agile because she finally felt it wasn’t all on her anymore.

So maybe you have made the transition and you still want more. Maybe working at the team level to own the process, facilitate for the team and escalate team issues just isn’t challenging enough anymore. Or maybe someone else has that job, leaving you feeling left out in the cold. Now what?

More and more organizations are adopting agile across the enterprise, coordinating the work of teams of teams to deliver an integrated, complex solution. We not just talking about a bunch of disparate teams executing independently but truly scaling agile. Got organizational savvy? Understand how to get things done in spite of lines on the org chart? Know how to facilitate a two-day joint planning session with hundreds of people all in the same room? Skilled at bringing together people from multiple teams to facilitate solving complex problems or resolving conflicts? Understand what keeps your executive team up at night? Know how to allay their fears without promising the impossible?

What used to be considered “soft skills” are hard requirements when you go big. Don’t go anywhere, folks. We need you now, more than ever.

Next, remember to focus on agility, not Agile.

What’s your real goal in adopting agile practices? Better time to market, faster response time, increased quality? Never lose sight of the business outcomes you seek. If I hear someone say, “We made it! We’re Agile!” then alarm bells start to go off.  My fear is that they’ve received some training on a framework and perhaps have even been applying some of the practices but that they view adoption of an agile framework as the goal itself rather than a means to an end. What’s your “end”?  How does being more agile…nimble, adaptive, flexible…help get you there?

When you keep focus on those outcomes, you also retain credibility and increase buy-in. Help others to connect the dots between this new way of working and those business goals. When you do, you’ll hear more people say “Wow, changing the way we work is not exactly easy but I can see how she is trying to help us help ourselves” and less of “Oh boy. Here she comes again touting the latest fad process. I bet she just wants to beef up her resumé.”

Learn from the experiences of others.

Being familiar with agile/lean frameworks — especially those based on codifying actual experience, not just touting theory — can be extremely helpful. Frameworks can help streamline our decisions about which path to follow by benefiting from the experiences of those that have gone before and to keep us tapped into that larger community for ongoing support. Established frameworks also help to baseline terminology and set a strong foundation for working norms.

The downside of established frameworks is that they are often first presented to us as an overly prescriptive set of rules and specific practices, making it easy to forget that the good ones have a solid set of principles and values behind them. Just remember that it’s acceptance of those underlying principles and values that keep us focused on what really matters — enabling our organizations to deliver value.

Finally, don’t get comfy and don’t hold back.

Remember, solid frameworks are based on a foundation of principles and values, not just a list of practices. However, starting with a set of recommended practices, even taking a prescriptive approach, is a proven strategy when embarking on a major change effort, especially one that requires reprogramming our muscle memory. That said, practices can, will and should change based on what we learn along the way and according to our individual abilities and needs. Crawling is great for an infant who wants to move from the sofa to the coffee table but would you chastise them for testing out their balance when they decide they’re ready to try walking?

You will frustrate yourself and your organization if you blindly try to force-fit practices without considering your unique and evolving environment. We must all relentlessly pursue improvement. Don’t settle for good enough. If we stay still, entropy ensues. So in the true spirit of Agile, listen to the team. Even when things seem to be going well, ask them “What could be even better?”  It’s imperative to keep up with holding regular, meaningful retrospectives and to be prepared to act on the outcomes of those discussions. Those meaningful conversations might lead to retrofitting current practices. That’s ok. Just be sure to keep retrospecting on those changes too.

A warning to do-it-yourselfers out there: Make sure you truly understand the underpinnings of your structure before you decide to rip things out or add things in. The wall you tear down might be bearing an unseen load and could inadvertently weaken the whole structure if removed. Or add too many walls and you might impede your ability to move quickly.

We’d love to hear from you now. What else do you think classically trained project managers should know about agile? What advice would you offer them?  Please share by leaving a comment. Thanks!


Ann Konkler, CA Technologies

Source: CA Technologies

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