07 Apr 2023
Project management goes back as far as the pyramids, maybe even before that.
There has always been a group of people, intent on building or delivering something of value, who want to track what is happening, how that aligns with their budget, and whether their resources are being optimally utilized to deliver the thing on time and within specific cost constraints.
The interesting thing is that project management thrives in the simple and complicated space. For example, moving bricks from point A to point B (simple) and building a bridge (complicated) because we know what needs to be done, we know best to do it, and we know who are proven, tested, and reliable partners to get the job done on time and within budget.
In the complex space, where we have never solved the problem before or built the solution before, and we are confronted with heaps of uncertainty and complexity, traditional project management tends to fall over because it requires certainty upfront.
It requires that we know the answers upfront and simply plan a timeline of events and tasks to ensure a specific outcome.
Throughout history, people have dealt with complexity – building the pyramids for the first time – and uncertainty – a cm out of tolerance and the cathedral dome collapses – which required those people to navigate the unknown and discover the best way forward. Agile.
So, in those circumstances, where people didn’t know the answers upfront and had to design a hypothesis, run an experiment to validate that hypothesis, and adapt what they were doing based on data and feedback, would be considered agile project management.
Develop an idea, do the work, learn quickly, and continuously adapt and respond to data and feedback. In other domains, this is also known as OODA loops. Observe – Orient – Decide – Act. The idea that you have data to observe, a moment to find your feet and understand what your options are, make a decision about what option best serves your goals, and take the appropriate action.
So, project management and agile project management are appropriate in different problem spaces.
In a simple or complicated application, where you know all the answers upfront and simply need to follow a formula to achieve the desired outcome, project management is your go-to solution. In a complex application, where you don’t know the answers upfront and cannot be certain that your original idea will solve the problem, agile project management is appropriate.
Except, in software engineering and other creative industries, we don’t call it agile project management, we call it agile or product development. If you’re dying to bring those two words together, you could call it agile product development.
There is an increasing need and adoption of agile practices around the world because more industries are now dealing with complexity and uncertainty. The world around them has shifted, customer behaviour has changed, and competitors are more disruptive in the markets they serve.
It’s no longer business as usual and smooth sailing down the revenue stream.
I work with people in pharmaceuticals, gas, energy, petroleum, finance, government agencies, and so forth who have all begun to explore the opportunity of agile and make the shift from traditional project management to agile product development or agile project management (ahem).
Another shift in the project management space is distributed responsibilities and accountability rather than a single person being responsible and accountable for the entire project.
A project manager.
In agile, the tasks, responsibilities, and process management elements of the project or product development are owned by the experts who are doing the work. In scrum, that would be the product owner, scrum master, and the developers who are building the product or project.
In traditional project management, the project manager is often set up to fail because so many elements of the project lie outside of their influence and control. They aren’t engineers, they aren’t designers, nor are they a governance expert, yet they bear full responsibility for these elements and could be fired if the plates stop spinning and crash to the ground.
In agile, we empower the experts who are doing the work to take ownership and accountability for the work they are doing, how it is progressing, and whether it has reached the point of delivery to a customer or product stakeholder for review.
They also bear responsibility for acquiring data and feedback on that entire process, reflecting on what is working, what isn’t working, and how the team can improve in the next iteration or sprint.
Ten, deep domain experts with considerable skill, knowledge, and competence making decisions about the project/product versus a single person, who has no domain expertise, skill, knowledge or capability in the areas that they are responsible for.
Project managers are incredibly valuable people, and they possess a great deal of knowledge and expertise in valuable areas, but agile doesn’t set individuals up to fail. It empowers them to succeed, so there’s no scapegoat in an agile team. The team succeeds together, or they fail together, but either way, they live that experience as a team.
APD offer private, tailored training courses as well as business agility and coaching. Our public training courses are delivered by practicing Agilists: Product Owners, Scrum Masters and coaches who are expert trainers and facilitators.
Whether you are looking to become a #scrummaster or #agilecoach, we have a range of internationally certified and recognised #agiletraining courses that are perfect for you. Visit https://www.apd.coach/training-courses/ for more information.
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