Posts Tagged With: improving project management

How many concurrent projects following an agile delivery approach can your company sustain?

Organizations that are in the midst of an agile transformation will often track how many projects within their portfolios are being delivered following an agile lifecycle. Obsessing over this number or using it as a basis of comparison, or worse, competition between departments will make it a vanity metric. However, used appropriately, it can be a useful data point for assessing the progress of the transformation.

Knowing how many concurrent projects can be delivered using agile approaches is important because if the organization attempts to execute more than its capacity to deliver, a slew of issues will emerge.

Mandating that core team members will be dedicated to a project or product is important so that many of the beneficial outcomes of agile approaches such as predictable velocity, reduced context switching and increased team cohesion can be achieved. Dedicated product ownership is also needed to ensure that stakeholders needs and wants are being actively solicited and the team is not delayed waiting on decisions or requirement clarification.

But is that enough?

Having sufficient agile leads (e.g. Scrum Masters, XP Coaches) and coaches is also critical to meet increased delivery expectations from business sponsors.

Agile leads need to be focused on a single project. Within that project, they can be supporting more than one team, but to have them juggle different projects will impede their ability to remove blockers, increase alignment and build high-performing teams.

Coaching is needed at the delivery team level but it is equally important to have key stakeholders such as functional managers coached to achieve the necessary mindset and behaviors shifts required for successful adoption. Without this, teams are likely to stall in their agile evolution.

Procuring and retaining competent agile leads and coaches is not easy. They are in high demand due to accelerating demand for agile delivery and finding qualified candidates who have both the experience and cultural fit with your organization is challenging. Like any other hot skill, there will be a limited supply of full-time talent in a geographic area given the number of companies simultaneously conducting agile transformations.

You should certainly have plans being executed to build these skills internally, but this won’t happen overnight and if your company has compensation or cultural shortfalls relative to others in the local market, it will be very difficult to build sustained bench strength. You could use contingent staffing to address peaks in demand this is not a long-term, financially viable strategy if increasing organizational agility is truly a strategic objective and not just the “fad du jour”. 

But not tackling this will just prove Peter Drucker right “In most organizations, the bottleneck is at the top of the bottle.



Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Does your PMO hinder or help your agile transformation?

An agile project management office might sound to some like an oxymoron, right?

This might be a reasonable assertion as many PMOs were first formed to provide oversight over a portfolio of projects and enforcing standards sounds like the antithesis to agility. But many successful PMOs have evolved beyond governance and control to helping their company reach higher levels of organizational project management maturity, and increasing agility should be complementary and not contradictory to this pursuit.

There are many ways in which PMOs can hamper progress towards greater agility including:

  • Enforcing standards over principles
  • Continuing to apply traditional funding models and prerequisites to agile investments
  • Obsessing over vanity metrics such as velocity or time to market rather than business value delivered or shipped features utilized
  • Evangelizing agile from the ivory tower instead of actively engaging with and supporting teams
  • Failing to inspect and adapt

So what can a PMO do to actively support an agile transformation?

  • Collecting chronic impediments from agile teams, curating and prioritizing them, and championing their elimination by the appropriate senior leaders
  • Having the courage to say “NO!” when a given context is not suitable for using an adaptive approach
  • Advocating for funding to incent early adopters to try new delivery approaches
  • Encouraging staff who possess the right expertise, behaviors and attitude to train and take on Agile Lead/Scrum Master or Product Owner roles with coaching support
  • Examining their own operational processes and leaning them out as much as possible
  • Shifting portfolio reporting from being a manual, onerous process to the automated consumption of information radiators
  • Migrating from an artifact-centric delivery approach to an information-centric model
  • Transforming heavy, gate-based governance to a metrics-driven, exception-based process
  • Working actively with functional managers, procurement, HR and other key stakeholders to change their project engagement models to be more support of adaptive approaches
  • Helping portfolio governance committees to make their investment selection, evaluation and prioritization processes more agile

An agile transformation provides the leadership of a PMO with a good opportunity to review their charter and service catalog – are these still relevant, and if not, what can be changed to ensure that the PMO is not identified as common impediment by agile teams!







Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management, Project Portfolio Management | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s your project management personal best?

Outside of professional arenas, in sports such as weight-lifting, our competition is from within and not without.

Committed gym rats are keenly aware of how much weight they can lift, push or pull for each of the muscle groups in their workout rotation. Even though their overall goal might be to maintain their fitness level, they will try to add more weight.

So long as continuous improvement doesn’t become an obsession, this internal competition is healthy since it facilitates positive social interactions with our gym buddies as we all strive to help each other beat their own personal bests.

So can this concept also apply to project management?

Competing against other project managers is as futile as comparing our workout performance with another.

Just as there is always someone at your gym who is bigger, stronger or leaner than you, there are going to be project managers who will perform better than you do within a given context. While it is possible to reach a performance peak for specific hard skills such as scheduling or budgeting through a combination of education and experience, improving our competencies with soft skills and business knowledge knows no limits.

Our people managers will always need to assess us for annual evaluation or incentive purposes but with an almost infinite range of influencing variables which can affect project performance it will be very challenging to identify minor differences in competency. This is why subjectivity often drives decisions such as who gets the highest bonus in a team where everyone is performing well.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t observe how other project managers are practicing their trade and identify and mimic the patterns which seem to bring them success. I might observe a fellow gym user who is using a different stance for a particular exercise than mine which seems to enable him to lift more weight than I can. I could give that stance a try if I think it will help but I need to remember that the stance which works for one person given their height, weight and skeletal and muscular structure might not be suitable for me.

The same model of work out machine will feel different when one goes from one gym to another. Each project is unique hence what causes someone to be successful on project A might result in mediocre outcomes on project B. Knowing that our personal bests are constrained by context, if we can isolate or reduce the number of variables, we can then establish a baseline against which we can measure improvements in performance. If we have had a trying relationship with a given group of stakeholders, on subsequent projects we can attempt to reduce the number of conflicts we have with them.

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do – John Wooden



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

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