Last month, on April 19, I gave a talk entitled "Only the Agile Survive: Understanding the Business Case for Agile" 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 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 1990’s when lean principles were first introduced into software development (in the form of Agile practices), there is still much more work to do within the project management community. With the Scrum Alliance certifying thousands of Certified ScrumMasters (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owners (CSPO), 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 plus years experience and as having been traditionally trained as a PMP or Prince 2 project manager, with little or no exposure to Agile projects.
Why do I believe this? In an Agile world we emphasize the importance of the "generalist". Team members should be able to share the load and cover for each other so they can optimize the way they self organize (which 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.
Furthermore, 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 joke that in the end, “process and tools 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.
In Scrum, the Product Owner role 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 themselves, “If someone from the development team is the facilitator and the Product Owner watches the budget and reports status to senior management, then what is my role?”
A sampling of questions I received from the project managers both during and after my presentation included, "(In an Agile world) what happens with fixed priced/fixed scope contracts? and “(In an Agile world) how is an SOW handled?”. These are great questions that I would expect a veteran project manager to ask and are grounded in the reality that many project managers live in. My experience has been that many organizations don’t subscribe to the Scrum model that the Product Owner maintains the budget and does a large portion of the status reporting to management. Plus, there are parts of every project that Agile delivery methods such as Scrum and XP do not address, such as Initiating or Closing down a project. These are useful skills that project manager's can bring to the table.
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 projects managers will know from their experience, the right questions to ask to ensure project success. While it may be a steep curve for the veteran project manager to learn how to effectively lead and contribute to an Agile team (the heart of which is learning the underlying values and principles of the Agile Manifesto), the same can be said for any team member who is new to Agile development.
Unfortunately, many veteran project managers will not be able to cross the chasm because the paradigm shift is too great. Through my work with ALN Houston, Agile Cincinnati, and other organizations, I have met many who fail to grasp the basic concepts. Not because they are not able 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 had 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. I believe 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, I believe any learning curve can be overcome when approached with a "beginner’s mind".
If you are a veteran project manager, ultimately 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 (except for your time commitment, of course). Or better yet, volunteer with your local Agile group and gain the skills through practical application. Trust me, your local Agile group will be happy to have you. If management requires the adoption of Agile practices, then request the training and coaching you deserve to ensure the success of you, your team, and your company.
So take heart, veteran project manager, you have not been left behind!