May 12, 2011

Agile and the Veteran Project Manager

[caption id="attachment_8241" align="alignright" width="186" caption="Alan busting Agile myths"]PMI SW OH Mega Event[/caption] Last month, I gave a talk titled Only the Agile Survive: Understanding the Business Case for Agile (.pdf) during the PMI Southwest Ohio Chapter Mega Event. This was a great opportunity for me to return to my project management roots and have a discussion with my fellow PMI PMP’s about the relevance of Agile software development in today’s fast changing world. Special thanks to PMI SW OH for inviting me to speak! In giving this talk, I realized that while we have come a long way since the 1990s when Agile practices were first introduced into software development, there is still much more work to do within the project management community. With the Scrum Alliance certifying thousands of Certified ScrumMasters (CSMs) and Certified Scrum Product Owners (CSPOs), and all the talk of the technical aspects and benefits of Agile software development, I believe the most alienated member of the Agile project team has been the veteran project manager. (I define the veteran project manager as someone with 10+ years experience and as having been traditionally trained as a PMP or PRINCE2 project manager, with little or no exposure to Agile projects.) Veteran project managers have become alienated because we emphasize the importance of being a generalist in an Agile world. Team members should be able to share the load and cover for each other so they can optimize the way they self-organize. (This is in stark contrast to a team of specialists, which has been the norm on traditional projects.) An Agile team is also responsible for managing their own work and updating their tasks accordingly. Additionally, for those practicing Scrum, the Product Owner handles budgets and much of the status reporting, while the Scrum Master facilitates the team’s success by removing obstacles. Veteran project managers will undoubtedly ask, “If someone from the development team is the facilitator, the team manages their own work, and the Product Owner watches the budget and reports status to senior management, then what is my role?” Scrum has further exacerbated the problem by having become what seems like the de-facto enterprise Agile process, leading some in the Agile community to say that in the end, “Process won out over individuals and interactions,” which is a play on the Agile Manifesto values. But I digress. Scrum is not the problem; the problem is with the way the Agile movement has been interpreted and adopted by many organizations, further discussion of which belongs in another blog post. Project managers ask, “What happens with fixed priced/fixed scope contract in an Agile world?” and “How is an SOW handled in Agile?” These questions are grounded in the reality in which many project managers live. According to the Scrum model, the Product Owner maintains the budget and does a large portion of the status reporting to management. In my experience, however, many organizations don’t subscribe to that, and continue to assign those duties to project managers. In addition, there are parts of every project that Agile delivery methods like Scrum and XP do not address, such as initiating or closing a project. Turning a software engineer in to a Scrum Master or customer into a Product Owner when both have only served in traditional roles on traditional projects can create further problems. The point is, veteran project managers need to find out what their strengths are in an Agile world and use them to the advantage of the Agile team. Veteran project managers will know from experience what questions to ask to ensure a project’s success. It may be a steep curve for the veteran project manager learning how to effectively lead and contribute to an Agile team, but the same can be said for any team member new to Agile. Unfortunately, many veteran project managers will not be able to cross the chasm because the paradigm shift is too great. Through my work with APLN Houston, Agile Cincinnati, and other organizations, I have met many who fail to grasp the basic concepts. Not because they are unable to, but because they don't want to. However, for those who are able to cross the chasm, the rewards will be great for themselves, their teams, and their companies. In my experience, the project managers who cross the chasm the easiest are the individuals who have experience in multiple roles (such as software engineer, business analyst, etc.) prior to becoming a project manager, and either worked in multiple companies or organizations within the same company. This is because veteran project managers who have a broad range of experience are less susceptible to traditional project management or corporate dogma. That said, any learning curve can be overcome when approached with a beginner’s mind. If you are a veteran project manager, it is up to you to decide how vast your chasm is and what steps you need to take to cross it. If you survived the widespread downsizing brought on by the 2008 recession, then you are probably a valuable asset to your organization. Expand your knowledge of Agile values and principles by attending local user group meetings, many of which are free. If management requires the adoption of Agile practices, then request the Agile training and coaching you deserve to ensure the success of you, your team, and your company. Take heart, veteran project manager! You have not been left behind.