Agile project management - Everything you wanted to know, but were too afraid to ask, 9th September 2014

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Posted by APM on 17th Sep 2014

Corporate Member Atkins were the host for this event at their excellent facilities at the Hub, Aztec West.

Our speaker, Adrian Pyne, has many years of experience across a range of industries and has contributed widely to APM and the profession. Adrian is passionate about promoting agile PM.   He explained that his goal tonight was to explain the value of agile, to explode a few myths, explain the principles and culture needed for success and to highlight how to avoid some wreckage on the road to agile PM.

Adrian is keen on history and he used Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul to explain how Caesar understood the need to be agile, to be flexible and to adapt his tactics in the field. He built a culture throughout the leadership structure with self organising teams having delegated authority to meet the overall objective.
Various research studies had shown the value of using agile approaches, including PWC’s  3rd Global survey on the state of project management, which found project success rates of 59% with agile approaches, compared to 30-40% without.  Other research had found significant increases in productivity, quality and cost reduction.

Adrian exploded his first myth: agile is not a silver bullet!. It is not appropriate for all circumstances, and does not have to be applied throughout a project or programme, but it should be used for those work packages which would benefit from it.  Agile can be seen as one tool in a PM toolbox.

The detailed principles of agile are discussed in the Agile Manifesto of 2001, Adrian highlighted his key ones which are: satisfying the customer, to produce outcomes that provide benefits for the user, embrace changing requirements as part of iterative development, provide the right environment of collaboration and trust, keep it simple and regularly take stock to reflect, learn and adjust.

Adrian then exploded his second myth: ‘Scrum’ is not a PM method; it is a software development method. Adrian explained his theory of the ‘agile camel’ with two humps.  Hump one deals with agile development methods, which are not PM methods.  Hump two deals with agile PM approaches.  The two should not be confused, but recognised for what they are, the challenge it to integrate the two and use agile PM to manage agile.

Adrian’s third myth: that there is such a thing as agile PM, was exploded. Nothing that he has read about agile has ever presented anything new. Julius Caesar used agile PM, and the same approaches are still used by PM Professionals today who adapt the tools to meet the specific needs of a project.  Good Project Management is agile??.

For the fourth myth: that agile cannot be used in my organisation, Adrian discussed a list of why not’s, including that agile does not have any requirements, any documentation and it is not disciplined or measurable.  Adrian argued that it is disciplined and it is measurable, and it does need requirements.
What agile does need is an enabling culture and mind set.  He use the typical cultural iceberg model to explain  how the top level ‘visible’ stuff, is heavily influenced by the invisible unwritten rules, beliefs, relationships below the water line, which all contribute to peoples actual behaviours.  An agile culture needs to be aware of and address the whole cultural iceberg, to enable the agile principles to be met.  An agile culture needs trust, to be collaborative, to have devolved governance, to be adaptive and flexible, to continuously learn and to accept ambiguity at all levels.

Adrian discussed how to avoid the wreckage of failed agile approaches. The main point was that agile is not a silver bullet. Agile is not about lack of control, but trust is needed to delegate responsibility to self organising teams.  If not lack of confidence will result in escalation of decision making and inertia. An agile mindset it essential at all organisational levels, if senior leaders are not brought in, and only playing lip service, it will fail.
To avoid the rocky road, Adrian emphasised the need for iterative working, having a clear picture, good leadership and a strong focus on delivery. A good agile project has a Project Manager who is adaptable, flexible, and collaborative, has clear prioritised requirements, lean decision making, enough documentation, looks ahead and continuously plans and learns.

Successful implementation of agile must be done as a major change programme, driven by senior leaders who understand the value that agile offers. Change is needed to processes, tools and most importantly people and their behaviours. Kotter’s step change model is useful as is Eric Abrahamson - Creative Recombination approach, which emphasises not throwing the baby out with the bath water!

In summary, Adrian’s message was to start with your own professionalism and how your behaviours match the agile principles, including trust and self empowered teams. A final challenge from Adrian is that in one sense, we don’t need to develop an Agile Project Management method,  because good project professionals are agile by their very nature and behaviours.

A copy of Adrian’s presentation can be seen below, and includes useful links to other resources.

Martin Gosden
Branch Chairman

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