What’s an Agile PM to Do?

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development--to maximize management and technical staff productivity and to improve product quality. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects and the Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It: Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management. She is the author of the forthcoming Agile and Lean Program Management: Collaborating Across the Organization. See her blogs and more of her writing at jrothman.com.

You interviewed with team members a month ago, and you were a little concerned--it didn’t seem as if they were keeping to their iterations. Their product owner wasn’t grooming the backlog often enough to keep the backlog filled for the release meeting. They seemed to have an awful lot of defects piling up at the end of the iteration. And it sure looked as if they finished only two or three stories every four-week iteration.

But you really like the product domain--it’s where you want to go with your career. And you think you can learn a lot from your VP, so you decided to take the position. Now it’s your second day on the job and you realize that your original concerns have understated the problem. Not only does your project have all of those problems, but everyone is working on several other projects simultaneously--including the testers.

The iterations are too long. The stories are humongous. Everyone is multitasking. The product owner is not available enough. This is a rich, problem-solving environment--the project has a ton of problems. You know you can help the team fix these issues, but you just have one problem: Where do you start?

Gather Current Data
When I spoke with my colleague in this position, I suggested he start with a retrospective to help people see the current reality. “But Johanna, it’s not the end of the …

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