I get the business rationale for agile, but what’s in it for ME?

what-about-meWhen we read about the rationale for an agile approach to project delivery, the focus is often on the benefits realized by the company or by their customers.

While we can’t marginalize the benefits of early and frequent realization of business value there is a compelling case to be made about higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement for the team members working on successful agile projects when compared with their counterparts on equally successful traditional projects.

Self-organization can certainly contribute – no one enjoys being told what to do, so collaborating with like-minded individuals to come up with the best way to achieve a set of goals is appreciated. Working in a psychologically safe environment and team will also boost job satisfaction by encouraging team members to safely challenge their assumptions about their capabilities. And becoming generalizing specialists through opportunities to perform different types of work will encourage personal development.

But no one says that these practices must remain limited to agile projects. Traditional project delivery approaches don’t discourage a project team from acting in a similar manner to an agile team. Even the agile pattern of long-lived teams works equally well on traditional projects.

But a few agile delivery characteristics stand out.

  • Frequent interaction with customers and other key stakeholders help to reinforce a team member’s appreciation for the importance of the work they are performing. Knowing that the work we are doing matters to someone and getting direct, regular feedback is critical. Of course this requires those interactions to be positive! There’s no reason a savvy project manager couldn’t attempt to create such opportunities on a traditional project, but it might be challenging to match the natural feel and cadence of showcases and similar ceremonies.
  • The culture of continuous improvement generated by a team acting on ideas from successful, blameless retrospectives can be very positive for team members. This coupled with a team lead or project manager’s focus on removing hurdles should encourage a team to maximize their productivity and quality. Understanding that we are performing at our peak can also be a powerful motivator.
  • Witnessing the business value created regularly through our combined work efforts is important. Knowing that what we have worked on has an immediate impact at the end of one or a few sprints can be much more encouraging than having to wait months or even years to see the fruits of our labor.

Never lose sight of the fact that projects and products are delivered by people – the happier they are, the better the outcomes.






Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The not so minimum Minimum Viable Product

fatbabyThrough their Lean Startup work, Steve Blank and Eric Ries have popularized the idea of focusing on delivering a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) which will meet a customer’s core needs while minimize investment and providing opportunities for learning, refinement and the ability to fail fast. Organizations have latched on to MVP principles and reworked development approaches as a means to avoid gold-plating and to achieve time to market and early ROI benefits.

But minimum is very context-specific.

If we are developing a product to address a newly expressed or generated customer need, expectations will be low.

For example, when the first personal quadcopter kits became available, expectations centred around attributes such as stability of flight, range or battery life. But now that these devices are commonplace, the expected set of features for a new entrant into the market are much richer. The barrier to entry for a new competitor is much higher.

Even if you are an entrant into an emerging market, if there is a well established product or service which you are attempting to disrupt, you will need to meet that product or service’s base requirements to effectively compete. You might attract some early adopters who are willing to sacrifice features which don’t specifically address their core needs but it will be very difficult to cross the chasm to mainstream adoption. Electric cars are a good example of this. While the market is still new, attempting to release an electric vehicle without power doors and windows is unlikely to satisfy most potential buyers.

And the same applies to projects.

If our project goal is to deliver a new business capability, it might be possible to develop and release a minimum feature set and then incrementally evolve the capability. For example, when developing a new business process, we could deliver the happy path first and then implement exception cases in subsequent releases. But when the goal of our project is to replace an existing capability, the size of the first release might represent the lion share of the project’s cost or schedule.

Minimizing investment and failing fast and cheap are no longer feasible.

But this shouldn’t prevent us from applying MVP principles when planning such projects. We should still defer those features which don’t directly address our stakeholders’ needs for the first release.

Let’s just be realistic that minimum isn’t the same as small.


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Anything worth doing is in the eyes of your team members!

climbing-mount-everestmountRemember the saying “Anything worth doing is worth doing well”? But worth doing for WHOM?

We expect our team members to commit themselves to delivering the scope of the projects we lead in an efficient, effective and quality-focused manner, but will they do so if they don’t truly appreciate why the project is critical? There are few staff who will do their work regardless of how mind-numbing or tedious it is, as for them, the job is merely something to fill a few hours each day to get a regular paycheque. But for the majority of folks who perform knowledge work, there’s got to be more than just getting paid to encourage excellence.

Most companies have a widely diverse portfolio of work. For staff who are fortunate enough to work on those projects which are tightly aligned to the organization’s strategic objectives, so long as they have a vested interest in the company’s success, the rationale supporting their hard work is evident. But what about those tactical, bread and butter initiatives which don’t receive visibility from the executive floor or which won’t make the difference between a mediocre and a stellar quarter?

With such projects, the project managers will need to work extra hard to motivate their teams to excel. If the team members don’t buy in to the importance of what they are working towards, it will be harder to get them to strive for excellence, and the longer the duration of such projects, the greater the likelihood of reduced motivation and premature attrition.

Practices which can reduce such issues include:

  • Making sure YOU believe in the benefits of the project. If the project manager is unable to act as an authentic cheerleader for their project they shouldn’t expect their team members to be. This requires taking the time when first assigned to the project to get a full understanding of the business case from the sponsor and other key stakeholders.
  • Reducing distance between your team members and those who will directly benefit from the project. If we have never met anyone who will be positively impacted by the work we do, it can be challenging to see how we are making a difference. Seeking out opportunities for team members to meet stakeholders and to hear directly from them how they will benefit from the team’s hard work will make it meaningful. Let them live a day in the life of the processes they are changing to experience pain points personally.
  • Deliver early and frequently. The earlier and more regular the pace of delivery, the more team members will see the fruits of their labor being consumed, regardless of whether an agile or a traditional approach is used.

Last week’s article emphasized the importance of psychological safety in the formation of high performance teams. While that is significant, it can’t stand alone. A few years back, I’d written about the 3 C’s of successful project teams – Capability, Capacity and Commitment. The first two emphasize the importance of competency and availability of team members to perform the work, but I feel the last attribute is the most critical as it reinforces the importance of meaning in everything we do.

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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