Agile Project Management

Gary Chin, in Agile Project Management: How to Succeed in the Face of Changing Project Requirements (AMACOM 2004), challenges traditional project management in his discussion of keeping the process flexible. His admonitions are especially applicable to quality issues in new product development.

Here are the salient points in Chin's book:

1. Estimates of resources and work versus commitment. While classic project management focuses on resources and time, agile project management focuses more on team commitment and key milestones. Less attention is paid to tight resource allocations, and more to ensuring that team members do whatever they need to do to get the whole project completed.

2. The project manager takes an external perspective, not internal, and sees business risks. Program and project managers are seen not simply as "task masters" over schedules and budgets, but rather representatives of the business, extensions of the business in the project environment. The external perspective places the project and program manager both in the world of translating, communicating, and negotiating with project sponsors, sensing market and global changes affecting the project deliverable, and adjusting to change.

3. Achievements versus activities. The emphasis is on achievement of the project objectives, with less attention on strict enforcement of work activities and tasks. In other words, team members are empowered to change the way work is conceived and done in the agile environment. This gives team members the challenge of owning the key deliverables and outcomes of the project and shifting job tasks and redefining and reinventing work processes to get the job done faster and better.

4. Shorten the time horizons. Because of the changes in project variables and competitive forces, the time horizon for planning becomes shorter and more focused. The 80-hour rule becomes the approach, while longer-term planning and milestones are left more vague and undetermined. The assumption here is that project risk is increased if a project locks into a structured approach over the long term and cannot adjust when necessary. The focus is on "cost to complete" and remaining work, looking ahead to redefine and redirect the project work given the situation at any given project review point.

5. Technical skills versus adaptability. Agile project management requires a stronger concentration on adaptability than technical skills. Team members are recruited and developed not simply to perform technical work, but to be able to adjust and play a variety of roles across many technical interfaces, e.g., electrical engineers are expected to understand software engineering; mechanical engineers work with electrical and software engineers in "seamless" teams to integrate products and get them to market.

6. Variances in external forces versus variance in plans. More attention to external influences, e.g., the price and quality of contract supplies, changes in market demand and customer requirements, and less attention to variance in plans, schedule, and cost. This does not mean that earned value and variance are no longer useful; rather, that short-term shifts and variances are seen as indicators of the future rather than strict guidelines.

7. Achieving business results versus managing schedule, scope, and resources. Program and project managers are encouraged to look at business results, e.g., cash flow projections for marketing the project deliverable, profitability and cost reduction, and sponsor satisfaction. Team members are delegated more responsibility to manage day-to-day work schedules and variances with their eyes on the project outcome.

8. Achievement-based networks rather than Gantt charts. Track network diagrams and "project paths and interdependencies," rather than standard Gantt chart schedules. Achievements are seen as key "gateways" or milestones that must be reached.

9. Look at decisions rather than activities. More emphasis on decisions made in a project and less on activities per se. This trend has more project managers looking at decision trees and key options at various project crossroads, rather than assuming project tasks are settled and pose no decision challenges. In other words, if a project manager must make a decision to deal with a future risk and there are important implications for taking one or another decision path, those decision paths are mapped into the schedule and team members contribute to the decision-making process. Chin's "Project Data Sheet" helps to integrated network diagram and decision milestones into project planning.

10. Successful product versus successful project; more emphasis on the outcomes and products of the project than the project itself. Projects that meet schedule and cost goals but do not produce marketable and profitable deliverables are not considered successful projects.

11. Integrating the project and the business. Rather than seeing projects as separate from the business, agile project managers consider themselves the business. In practice this means that project managers are aware of business considerations, e.g., market share, product cost and pricing, competition, quality, and customer satisfaction, and reflect them in project decisions.

12. Build contingencies into schedules and plans. This approach gives more priority to looking at key risk decisions and options and building contingencies into the baseline schedule rather than keeping them outside the project circle until needed.

13. Alternative pathways to deliverable versus shortest path. Program and project managers encourage team members and support staff, including the project management office, to identify shorter pathways to task and project outcomes, loosening up the work breakdown structure and schedule and "authorizing" different ways of accomplishing the work.

14. Expect versus discourage change. Project changes are encouraged as the project team and the customer learn from the project, and change management practices and procedures take on more significance. The built-in bias against change is transformed into a "learning environment" that adjusts to change and new insights especially in new product development.

15. Reinventing project boundaries versus enforcing them. Boundaries between functional managers and project managers are blurred as team members cross technical and project boundaries to get the job done, e.g., professional engineers help technicians understand and complete testing requirements; purchasing agents spend time with team members to understand supply and equipment needs and issues to allow them to serve the project team more effectively.

16. Risk-based infrastructure for the agile company. The agile project management company builds a supporting culture for risk-based scheduling and decision making. Support systems encourage tight short-term management but provide for analysis of future options in project reviews.

17. Balance innovation and process. Barriers to innovation and creativity are removed in the project planning and execution process; premium is placed on finding better ways to get the work done and to redefining the work with "work arounds" and "out of the box" thinking.

18. Emphasis on the execution stage versus emphasis on the planning stage. Risk and uncertainty encourage more focus on execution, corrective action, and agility, less on long-term planning. Rather than spending 20 percent of the project life cycle on planning and getting to a baseline, work is initiated with skeletal scheduling (5 percent) and cost information. More emphasis is placed on midstream adjustments and realignments of tasks to new forces that surface during project execution.

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Chapter 8

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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