By Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP
Students in my recent PM training class were very excited about their role in an Agile environment. They were thrilled that management had adopted Agile and were anxious to put it in practice.
What gets you excited about it? I asked.
The flexibility. The acknowledgment of the customer. The opportunity to try new things!
And are you following the Agile Methodology and Manifesto? I inquired.
This is not the first time this has happened. In virtually every one of the client sites where I ask about Agile, the team members and managers are genuinely jazzed about the notion of implementing Agile. The only shortcoming is that they know their organization is not ready to dive in headlong into the formal (yes, it is formal) practices of the Agile environment.
In reading PMI’s Agile Practice Guide, I found it compelling (and encouraging) that PMI’s authors actually had the foresight to recognize that many practitioners are not ready for “perfect” Agile. They’re ready for Agile Lite. They’re ready for a hybrid methodology. And if that describes your organization, and you’re seeking a defense for the practice, you need look no further than the Agile Practice Guide. It not only serves as a buoying force for conventional Agile, it actually makes the first case for what I would call “Agile Agile.”
Agile Agile means that we are ready to be adaptive to the actual implementation of Agile as a practice. It means that we need to take the best aspects of Agile and adapt, adapt, adapt. (Sometimes, even adapting our way back into the world of “plan-driven” project management).
If we’re not going to adopt Agile in the purists’ sense, it may be time to (heaven forbid) set down some rules for even “Agile Agile.”
The Rules of Agile Agile
Rule #1 – Get stuff done when you say you will. Two-week sprint? Great! Accomplish something. Complete a user story (and feel free to call a user story whatever you want to call it), and declare it “done.” The real fun of Agile management is that stuff gets done. If you are one of the people that Sociologist David McClelland said has a high “need to achieve,” then getting something done within a time box is a magical thing.
Rule #2 – Get people and things out of the way. The argument over whether or not project managers exist in an Agile world is a contention for another day. Today, it’s all about removing barriers and road blocks. If the project manager takes on that role? Wonderful. If a scrummaster is going to make that happen? Fine. The key is to remove the barriers and to keep everyone apprised of both the barriers and their removal. (It should be noted that when they had a grand opening of a new span of I-95 outside Washington, about 200 people showed up. When they blew up the old span that had been a source of constant delays and frustration, 20,000 attended). Removing barriers is a massive element of Agile Agile.
Rule #3 – Produce something of value, and if nothing has yet been produced, check on regular progress. In conventional Scrum, that’s the daily scrum. In Agile Agile, it may only happen every other day. Every third day. Once a week. But no matter what, there should be bright light on the work in progress.
What Agile Agile has in Common with Conventional
No matter the approach, everyone needs to be able to see the vision and the benefits. If we can’t share that information freely, then any project will die on the vine. Does it have to follow Drucker’s classic SMART (specific, measurable, agreed-upon, realistic, time-limited) model for objectives? No. But it does need to somehow respect all of those aspects, to one degree or another. The time limit may be the sprint. The measure may be a simple declaration of value. But we need to be able to see the future so that we can tell whether or not we’re there.
Another key aspect that all approaches share is the need for flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote the book on Flow, cheering it’s benefits for individual empowerment and getting jobs done. Both conventional and adaptive project management have the potential for true work joy in accomplishment. This rolls back to the notion of knocking down barriers, but applies across the PM universe.
The last major moment of confluence between adaptive and plan-driven management comes in consistency. Whether it’s consistency in documentation and reporting or consistency in the nature of user stories/work packages, consistency counts. If team members, customers and management see a degree of consistency in practice, they’re more likely to believe that the job is being done to the best of a provider’s capabilities.
My lovely wife, Nancy, got a fortune cookie the other night that captures this quite nicely. Little and often makes much. Add a word to make it Little and often…consistently…makes much on time, and I think you have where the roads converge.
Carl Pritchard is the U.S. Correspondent for the UK Project Management Magazine, “Project Manager Today.” He’s a regular contributor to a host of corporate entities, teaches project management, and has fun with his students, his clients, his wife and his dog. Carl welcomes your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, and encourages you to take advantage of a free (topic-of-your-choosing) webinar to educate your team.