As the saying goes, the best laid plans are bound to go astray. When it comes down to it, project management is all about managing the twists and turns of collaborative development. The ability to adapt and respond to these inevitable changes will determine whether the project in question will be successful.
In his book, Managing Agile Projects, Sanjiv Augustine explains how projects can benefit from a change in philosophy and approach known as agile project management (APM). APM is based on the idea that management should revolve around enabling project teams to create and respond to change. A sample chapter from his book is available as a TechRepublic download.
In the following, interview Sanjiv Augustine discusses the benefits of APM and how a transition to this management philosophy can be accomplished especially with regard to modifications to the organization culture and the elusion of management control.
Managing Agile Projects
Published by Prentice Hall PTR
Chapter 8: Light Touch
ISBN: 0131240714; Published: May 12, 2005; Copyright 2005
[TechRepublic] In chapter 1 of your book you go to great lengths to define the concept of agile management. Could you take a moment to summarize your definition of agile management for the TechRepublic audience and the benefits derived from it when compared to conventional project management techniques?
[Augustine] In the book, I present this general definition for Agile Project Management (APM): "the work of energizing, empowering and enabling project teams to rapidly and reliably deliver business value by engaging customers and continuously learning and adapting to their changing needs and environments." Another concise definition is this: enabling project teams to create and respond to change.
Here are the some benefits of agile management:
- Iterative and incremental delivery for rapid business results
- Increased teamwork and collaboration for reduced waste; and increased productivity and team morale
- Learning and adaptation for increased quality and flexibility to change
[TechRepublic] Traditional project management is not agile management. However, that fact also means that project managers will have to alter their behavior in very significant ways before the advantages of agile management can be realized. What steps should a traditional project manager take if he/she is attempting to migrate to an agile management style? What changes in philosophy will he/she need to make personally to adjust to an agile management environment?
[Augustine] Chapter 10, Transitioning from the Familiar, of the book covers several transitions that I feel that managers need to make in order to alter their behavior to realize the benefits of APM. Some of these are:
- Recognize that people are the longer-term project
- Use Features Breakdown Structures instead of Work Breakdown Structures
- Acknowledge that the Perfect Plan is a Myth
- Replace Predictive Planning with Adaptive Planning
- Stress Execution Over Planning
- Respond to Change with Adaptive, not Corrective Action
The biggest change in philosophy that s/he needs to make (if they haven't already) is to give up on the idea of command-and-control. Good, experienced managers know that control is only an illusion and people do what they want to do. So, APM accepts this and presents simple ways to work with this reality.
That said, many traditional management tools can find application on agile projects. The difference lies not in the tools, but in the way they are applied: with different assumptions about uncertainty, risk and control; and with a different, evolutionary approach to planning and execution.
[TechRepublic] Many large corporations have made attempts at changing their culture to foster the common principles you espouse for agile management: alignment and cooperation, emergence and self-organization, and learning and collaboration. Unfortunately, many of us on the front lines look upon these proposed changes with jaded, cynical eyes because management almost always reverts to their previous, non-agile, behavior. How do you suggest organizations approach changes in management culture, like agile management, that can make the principles a lasting part of the environment rather than a nice thought that gets thrown out because there is "work" to be done?
[Augustine] Any organization contemplating changing to agile management needs to make the change incrementally, and with the full participation of those affected: managers, team members and executives alike. The reasons that change initiatives fail are quite well known: top-down imposition of change, a "big-bang" rollout that tries to do too much too soon, and a lack of awareness of how people are supposed to accommodate change. Also, we must remember, people change only what they want to change. So the answer lies in making managers want APM.
Another key factor is time. Changes do not happen overnight, and everyone involved needs to be prepared to commit to several months or even a couple of years to effect lasting change in organizational culture.
As for reverting to "work to be done," the best motivation to sustain agile and APM comes from business partners and customers on agile projects—they love the new way of operation and simply don't want to go back.
[TechRepublic] Are there certain projects where agile management would not be the best choice? Are there famous problem or failed projects that could have been saved with the principles of agile management? How would agile management change the outcome?
[Augustine] Projects that do not have the commitment of a business customer are not good choices for agile management. Also, if we take this up a level, there are organizations that have difficulty adopting APM. See Chapter 6, Simple Rules, for a tool that helps identifying and classifying organizational culture.
I'm not familiar with famous failures that might have benefited from agile management. The only comment I would make here is to say that large projects have the odds against them (I think something like an 80% failure rate). So, small is beautiful: if you're managing a large project, start breaking it into many small projects today!
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.