Project Management

Is it a Project or Maintenance?

From the Taking the Plunge Blog
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In case you actually read this description, the beginning of the blog is about preparing for the PMP exam. It then evolved into maintaining my credential. After taking a break for a few years, I'm back and will be blogging about project management, in general, and probably a bit of agile on a regular basis.

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Categories: Agile


Since switching my mobile app "project" from Scrum to Kanban, my initial suspicions have become cemented in my mind - this project I've inherited really isn't a project.  The biggest giveaway?  Now that my Product Owners are producing roadmaps, I've found that there is no end in sight.

So, if it's not a project, what is it?

Maintenance.  It's a mix of new feature development and bug fixing.  It was assigned to me as a project, and it has a project number, but the product owners expect it to continue until the products are no longer supported.  That might be a while.

I'm not complaining.  It's providing me with the opportunity to gain experience transitioning a team from Scrum to Kanban.  It has also helped me to realize that Scrum has the ability to blur the lines between projects and maintenance. 

As I'm re-reading what I've written so far, I'm asking myself a question that you're probably asking, too.  "So what?"

I think that the first "so what" is the realization that when a company is making a transformation to Scrum, there is the potential for everything to look like Scrum.  So what? 

Mobile application maintenance does look like something that you can do in sprints.  But, all of a sudden, you go from traditional release management processes to needing a Scrum Master to accomplish something that you've been doing successfully.  Hmm… potential increase in overhead costs, but now you can say you're doing agile.  Again, so what?

This isn't to say that maintenance can't benefit from Agile processes.  It certainly can.  My primary caution is that if your company is making an agile transformation and you have selected a single flavor of agile to implement, don't try and force everything to fit the flavor you have selected.  You might also want to avoid trying to turn things into projects that are not - being able to use Scrum-like processes for ongoing maintenance does not turn maintenance into a project. 

More about our transition to Kanban…

I talked a little about switching my team to Kanban in my post in February:

https://www.projectmanagement.com/blog-post/27045/How-Flexible-is-your-Agile-

The team has been making great progress, although we're still trying to figure out meaningful metrics for our consultant development team.  There are times when I wonder if a project manager should be running this effort; it really is a long-term maintenance effort.  If this is what the PMO Director wants me to do, in addition to my SAP projects, I'm not going to argue.  There is the possibility, however, that at some point, I will either need to be more dedicated to the mobile effort, or focus on my projects that have end dates.  Either way, it's in my best interest to make sure that I have a documented process.

Posted on: June 05, 2017 03:50 PM | Permalink

Comments (23)

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Is each maintenance release, a kind of project? a start and an end!

There is a difference b/t maintenance and enhancements. Maintenance is issue/bug fix, enhancements include new feature development. May seen to be splitting hairs, but having a clearly defined product, support, and project model helps keep the pipeline clean, organized, and better prioritized.

Thanks Aaron.

Aaron, I'm a big believer in a continuous improvement team for the different applications an enterprise uses. The intention is to have a team that works more in an "operation" mindset of adding new features, dealing with bugs, etc. while the original project team rolls off and moves on to another project. Scrum and Kanban are both appropriate tools related to getting this work done, especially if the organization has dedicated implementation windows.

At this point, it may be worth having the conversation about how a project is defined for your organization. Is this a project, or is this an operation that will continue into the future? Applications need to be maintained and preferably improved, so it is useful to have the situation and processes defined to avoid confusion. If not, someday down the road someone will ask why this "project" has been going on so long, and I would want to have a solid answer.

Good luck and thanks for sharing!

Thank you for sharing. I totally agree with Andrew C.

I always worked with a clear difference between maintenance, enhancement, and project. Not also classified due to the nature of the issue (fix a bug, new features, something completely new) also defined by the man hours, resources or budget that we needed.

Thank you for your responses.

As a Project Manager, I agree that there are differences between projects, maintenance, and enhancements. There is also overlap. Businesses can have maintenance projects, enhancement projects, and combine maintenance and enhancements into either a project or ongoing improvements. The latter is probably the best description of what my team has been assigned to do - ongoing maintenance and enhancements. Technically, it is not a project, and yet agile principles and practices can still be effectively and successfully applied.

I think it is the introduction of Scrum that created the confusion. The work had been going on for several years before I was assigned to it, and I was led to believe it was a project. If it's Scrum, it needs a Scrum Master and must be a project, right?

No. As Matthew suggested, you could call it operations, and it's not that uncommon.

I admit, whether it is a project or maintenance is academic. In the end, it's work that will benefit from project management/release management/agile principles and practices. At some point, I may have to move on to formal projects, and I will be accountable for making sure that my predecessor can pick up from where I've left off.

Great article, thank you for sharing with us.

Thanks Aaron, great article!

Some interesting perspectives I haven't thought of. Thanks for the article.

Thanks for sharing.

Maintenance and enhancement (addition of new features) with no end date and as you said it has been going on for years, means it's not a project but yes agile principles and practices can be applied to to that but it's an interesting situation.

Thanks for sharing your view

Very informative. Thank you!

Thanks for sharing!

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