Agility and Project Leadership

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Bridging the gap between traditional and agile project management and leadership.

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Is Walmart going Agile? Not really…

Are PMI-ACP credentialed project managers really the highest paid?

It's more about having agility rather than being Agile

Agile is not enough! Be Anti-FrAgile

Typical withdrawal symptoms of Agile coaches

Is Walmart going Agile? Not really…

In this Wall Street Journal article, it points out the latest initiative of the retail behemoth Walmart in their attempt at being more “Agile”.  Agile that is in the traditional sense of applying this to their giant IT division for software development that is spread over 130 “Agile” teams.  
 
 
First of all, I don’t know what the size of the teams are, but if there’s 130 of them and they adopt the principle of keeping Agile teams at a reasonable size, that means a team is comprised of at least 5 people.  Since it’s Walmart, let’s assume it could be a team of 10.  That means there are around 1,300 groups of people all supposedly Agile.  I wonder if Agile was used to deploy and mobile them?  That’s definitely a Walmart sized group of Agile teams for sure!
 
Anyway, as the article further states:
 
Over the past two years, parts of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have begun to embrace a methodology known as Agile for rapid and flexible software development. Still, the methodology, now gaining ground beyond its core base of technology company practitioners, can’t be applied to everything, said a Wal-Mart employee at a conference in Silicon Valley...
 
At least in Wal-Mart’s e-commerce businesses, using the Agile approach was a response to the increasing complexity and dynamic market conditions that require solutions to be delivered faster, according to a 2013 report. Wal-Mart competitor Amazon.com Inc. began using a particular Agile methodology called Scrum nearly a decade ago. The conventional approach to building software, known as the waterfall method, often takes companies a year or more to deliver a complete feature-packed product.
 
“I am a firm believer that Agile is just one tool,” said Mark Tallman, who has worked in project management at Wal-Mart, speaking at the Strategic Execution Conference in Santa Clara. Mr. Tallman, who now works in disaster recovery at Wal-Mart, said that an Agile approach doesn’t work very well for building data centers. “There are things that have to be done waterfall,” he added.
 
So the article doesn’t go into if Walmart has witnessed any tangible evidence of faster delivery of their software projects, but it does seem as though initially they looked at the “Agile methodology” (why do people keep on perpetuating the idea that Agile is a methodology?) as a “one size fit all” approach and did not think more strategically where it could be used best, how to introduce it iteratively and incrementally (so as to be more Agile, ironically) and especially how this would impact a monolithic culture that’s trying to shoehorn a modular method that needs a modular corporate culture to thrive.
 
This outlines what I wrote about previously, in that as a movement such as Agile grows in popularity, so does the rigidity with which it is applied.  People look to incorporate tools and techniques quickly without the deeper thought as to what the underlying principles are and how to really use that to effect change.  
 
It’s about creating a culture of agility not just “doing” Agile!
Posted on: October 28, 2014 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Are PMI-ACP credentialed project managers really the highest paid?

According to a study by Edureka and Global Knowledge, PMs with the PMI-ACP are making on average $123,000 USD which is about 15% higher than those with a PMP and 28% higher than those without any PM certifications.  Of course, the sample size is pretty small if you look at how many people responded to the Global Knowledge survey:
 
In addition, the Edureka (what  a funny name) is a provider of PMI-ACP preparation courses, so both these studies violate all the criteria for good surveying such as proper sample size and in Edureka’s case, no real evidence to back their claims.
 
In my completely anecdotal experience, I have seen practically no adoption of the PMI-ACP cert in any organizations in the So California area and Los Angeles in particular.  Most organization don’t know what it is and really don’t care.
 
This indicates to me that there’s still a lot of PM certification mania being bandied about by certification providers and people probably getting duped into thinking getting one will land them their dream PM job.
 
I took the exam and found it to be a good way to review a broad overview of Agile tools, techniques and practices and to see which areas I may need to learn about more.  The credential validates that I did some study and have some discrete multiple choice based knowledge of Agile and if that’s how you approach this, then I think you have the right expectations.
 
 But if you think it will get you that awesome job as Agile PM guru or that it will increase you pay by up to 30%, then I think you need a reality check!  As they say, “Caveat Emptor” or buyer beware!
According to a study by Edureka and Global Knowledge, PMs with the PMI-ACP are making on average $123,000 USD which is about 15% higher than those with a PMP and 28% higher than those without any PM certifications.  
 
 
Of course, the sample size is pretty small if you look at how many people responded to the Global Knowledge survey, you'll notice that the respondents were quite small in comparison with the overall respondents:
 
 
In addition, the Edureka (what  a funny name) is a provider of PMI-ACP preparation courses, so both these studies violate all the criteria for good surveying such as proper sample size and in Edureka’s case, no real evidence to back their claims.
 
In my completely anecdotal experience, I have seen practically no adoption of the PMI-ACP cert in any organizations in the So California area and Los Angeles in particular.  Most organization don’t know what it is and really don’t care.
 
This indicates to me that there’s still a lot of PM certification mania being bandied about by certification providers and people probably getting duped into thinking getting one will land them their dream PM job.
 
I took the exam and found it to be a good way to review a broad overview of Agile tools, techniques and practices and to see which areas I may need to learn about more.  The credential validates that I did some study and have some discrete multiple choice based knowledge of Agile and if that’s how you approach this, then I think you have the right expectations.
 
But if you think it will get you that awesome job as Agile PM guru or that it will increase you pay by up to 30%, then I think you need a reality check!  As they say, “Caveat Emptor” or buyer beware!
 
Posted on: October 20, 2014 12:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

It's more about having agility rather than being Agile

I can't help butII can't help but to notice that the more popular and commonplace Agile has become, that the more rigid it is becoming.  The whole point of this movement and their popular progeny such as Scrum, XP, etc. was to overcome the rigidity of traditional project and software development methods.  Unfortunately, its popularity and explosive growth has kind of been its own enemy in that now you have competing bodies of knowledge, terms and definitions and stringent certification programs all claiming to train you in the “proper” methods and practices of Agile.

I can't help but to notice that the more popular and commonplace Agile has become, that the more rigid it is becoming.  The whole point of this movement and their popular progeny such as Scrum, XP, etc. was to overcome the rigidity of traditional project management and software development methods.  Unfortunately, its popularity and explosive growth has kind of been its own enemy in that now you have competing bodies of knowledge, terms and definitions and stringent certification programs all claiming to train you in the “proper” methods and practices of Agile.

Someday Agile as we know it will disappear, but the need for “agility” will never go out of date.  In fact it is the opposite, in that there will be a need for hyper-agility!  Nevertheless, let’s not forget that whatever you want to call it (I like the idea of “Anti-FrAgility” as the next evolution myself) don’t forgot the need for agility.

Someday Agile as we know it will disappear, but the need for “agility” will never go out of date.  In fact it is the opposite, in that there will be a need for hyper-agility!  Nevertheless, let’s not forget that whatever you want to call it (I like the idea of “Anti-FrAgility” as the next evolution myself) don’t forgot the need for agility. can't help but to notice that the more popular and commonplace Agile has become, that the more rigid it is becoming.  The whole point of this movement and their popular progeny such as Scrum, XP, etc. was to overcome the rigidity of traditional project and software development methods.  Unfortunately, its popularity and explosive growth has kind of been its own enemy in that now you have competing bodies of knowledge, terms and definitions and stringent certification programs all claiming to train you in the “proper” methods and practices of Agile.
 
Someday Agile as we know it will disappear, but the need for “agility” will never go out of date.  In fact it is the opposite, in that there will be a need for hyper-agility!  Nevertheless, let’s not forget that whatever you want to call it (I like the idea of “Anti-FrAgility” as the next evolution myself) don’t forgot the need for agility.to notice that the more popular and commonplace Agile has become, that the more rigid it is becoming.  The whole point of this movement and their popular progeny such as Scrum, XP, etc. was to overcome the rigidity of traditional project and software development methods.  Unfortunately, its popularity and explosive growth has kind of been its own enemy in that now you have competing bodies of knowledge, terms and definitions and stringent certification programs all claiming to train you in the “proper” methods and practices of Agile.
 
Someday Agile as we know it will disappear, but the need for “agility” will never go out of date.  In fact it is the opposite, in that there will be a need for hyper-agility!  Nevertheless, let’s not forget that whatever you want to call it (I like the idea of “Anti-FrAgility” as the next evolution myself) don’t forgot the need for agility.
Posted on: September 30, 2014 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Agile is not enough! Be Anti-FrAgile

Some time back I wrote about the idea of being FrAgile rather than Agile, in which one seeks out complexity and chaos rather than the traditional route of avoiding them at all costs.  Back then I wrote that:

This is very new and I’m still thinking it through, but rather than the reductive process of extrapolating out the clearly defined project activities in a controlled iteration, could there be a way to let these “run loose” so to speak, see what kind of behavioral patterns and team dynamics result and just help facilitate the team to channel the flow patterns till they deliver what they need?

Well, after having read Taleb’s book “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder”, it dawned on me that this interesting thinker had already come to a similar conclusion.  This idea ties in nicely with his other books such as “Fooled by Randomness” and “Black Swan” in that it outlines a strategy where one can actually thrive in a world run by uncertainty.  As Taleb states, Antifragile is a blueprint for living in a Black Swan world. . . . The antifragile, and only the antifragile, will make it.”

As this PwC study outlines quite nicely:

The idea that businesses might be experiencing an unprecedented amount of “stress and disorder” should come as no surprise. CEOs and other senior executives consistently describe uncertain future business conditions as a key concern.

The term “antifragility,” coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, is defined by the source of its strength. Like the human body, whose immune system gets stronger from exposure to germs and diseases, the antifragile system improves or responds positively when shocked.

While fragile systems are easily injured and suffer from volatility, antifragile systems grow stronger in response to volatility. So-called robust systems remain unchanged.

The fragile are susceptible to large lethal shocks.
The robust can handle adversity but stay the same.
The agile move and adapt rapidly.
The antifragile grow and improve (evolve) from external shocks.

Antifragile is beyond stable, beyond robust; stable and robust systems resist shocks but stay the same . . . antifragile systems as those capable of absorbing shocks and being changed by them in positive ways . . stable systems, because they don’t change, eventually experience shocks large enough to cause catastrophic failure. Antifragile systems break a little all the time but evolve as a result, becoming less prone to catastrophic failure. . . . Antifragile systems adapt and evolve in response to stress and changes to their environment.

When the magnitude of change stays within a normal range, robustness can be a state that seems resilient. During periods of unusual change, only the antifragile organizations prove to be resilient.

Life, Taleb says, is not as predictable or explainable as the rationalists would have us believe; instead, simple sets of rules help us to navigate through a complex and constantly changing landscape. He argues, “We have been fragilizing our economy, our health, education, almost everything—by suppressing randomness and volatility…If about everything top down fragilizes and blocks antifragility and growth, everything bottom up thrives under the right amount of stress and disorder.”

I think the disparities resides in the fact that we live in volatile world, yet rather than using this fact of our business existence to our advantage, organizations seek to do everything to possible to avoid or at best minimize it.  Agile was on method created to address this by breaking up projects into smaller chunks so as to adapt, iterate and deploy quicker so as to better manage this volatility.  But this is not enough!  I think one has to adopt the mindset of proactively introducing targeted disruptive shocks which are enough to induce and promote growth and innovation, but not so much as to completely damage the project and teams. 

Basically, it is no different that the health benefits of doing weight resistant exercises that actually cause micro-fractures in the bones and micro-tears in the muscle that in turn cause them to heal, the result of which is stronger more robust bones and muscle and overall health.  Too much of this is bad since you don’t allow the body to heal, too little and you won’t gain the health benefits, but there’s a point that becomes just right.  Furthermore, your body will adjust causing you to gradually up your game, which in turn further strengthens your body and overall health.

I’ll be writing more about this Anti-FrAgility which I think is the next big evolution.

Posted on: September 26, 2014 11:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Typical withdrawal symptoms of Agile coaches

It seems some Agile coaches are getting withdrawal symptoms from having to manage self-organizing teams who, how shall we say… don’t exactly self-organize.  So what’s the solution?  According to this article on InfoQ, just what the good doctor ordered: Some prescription processes!  Actually I meant prescriptive, but prescription sounded better and both words pretty much have the same connotation which is if something is not going right, it may be best to prescribe a formal directing process to get your team on track. 

Though the Agile camp has a tendency to mock the “command and control” mentality of the traditional crowd, the realities are that not all teams can be handled in such a “hands-off” way.  As quote from Mike Carey:

Pure Agilists have always pushed for a more "hands-off" approach. It's interesting to me how married some of agilists become to a certain methodology - conversations with these people usually boil down to "you should let people do whatever they want, but if you're a good coach and they really get the principles then they're most likely going to go with my favorite methodology.(…) The problem is, they've got a point about the coaching. You can't leave teams all to themselves; you have to support them somehow. I'm not saying all Agile teams need a dedicated Agile Coach, but they need the resources necessary to ensure the direction in which they adapt is in accordance with Agile principles and the environment that will support them when (not if) they fail.

Or this one from Robert Galen:

I honestly get the importance of self-directed teams within agility. I want teams to sort out things on their own. But I also think that we should occasionally provide some direction as coaches instead of always deferring to “it depends”—especially if we’re dealing with brand new teams that don’t have a whole lot of experience

My feeling is that the pendulum swung too far on the side of an exuberant call to action to facilitate the self-organization of the teams early in the evangelization of Agile, which I’m pretty sure many Agile project managers, coaches, ScrumMasters, or whatever, took to mean I need to be “hands-off”.  As any good project manager would know regardless of your religious affiliation to a particular method whether Agile or not, is the fact that one could easily cross the line and abuse this sentiment by just being plain lazy with directing and coaching your teams.

It would become a vicious circular exercise in that if you were to ask such a person why is the team so disorganized, such a person would answer because they are managed “hands-off”.  This would beg the question to ask them, “why are you so ‘hands-off’ in the way you manage them?”  The reply from the person would be “because I’m an Agile coach and Agile coaches are ‘hands-off’”.  Such replies would make any manager cringe.

To avoid these withdrawal symptoms, you sometimes need to prescribe some good old fashion style of leading and directing your teams towards the goal of completing the project and delivering value to your customers.  The best ones know how to push and pull back to find the perfect balance of directing and being hands-off.  We all could use a little good medicine!

Posted on: September 11, 2014 03:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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