This post is unabashedly about adaptability and agility.
We all want to make a difference. We also want the things we work on and create through our work to make a difference. In order for the things we create to make a difference to our business clients, they have to reflect the knowledge and insights of what is needed we gain as we work on creating products. This recognizes that we can't know everything up front.
One of the challenges with traditional approaches is how to address change to reflect the new knowledge and insights that the business acquires along the way. We know how it works - create a change request, fill in all the necessary sections to talk about what the change means to cost, schedule, scope. risks, who needs to approve, etc. It gets even more complicated and onerous, and expensive when we are dealing with vendors. It often makes you wonder if it's even worth the effort as most changes get rejected due to their cost or schedule implications anyway. Near the end of the project the change requests are often focused on removing things from the project to stay within budgets, timelines, or both.
In my experience, some the things that get dropped under such conditions can have significant value, while some of the things that were done early on actually had far less value, as the delivery approach is not based on an incremental highest value first model.
However, when agile approaches are practiced correctly, change can be free. No really. They can be free.
How can I possibly say that?
Let's use Scrum as the premise. When teams use Scrum they do the highest value things first. The backlog has everything they know so far about what they intend to build into the product. It is a statement of intent though - it is not cast in stone. It can be changed for the next and future Sprints based on new information, changes in team and business understanding of what is possible with the product, as well as priority changes of what is highest value by the business and the Product Owner.
The Product Owner is the one that talks to the business about what the product mus do, how long it will take to build it (the number of Sprints) and the cost. It is not uncommon to fix the number of Sprints and hence the costs at the outset. A good reason for doing this is so that everyone develops a laser-focus on what is truly of highest value first. The premise for this post is this was done.
The Sprint demo is where the business gets to see what was done so far in the latest increment of the product. They also get to reflect on the choices so far about what is in the product. Their reflection is also about what to do next.
The team has a cadence to which it develops and delivers. If you can agree on the number of total points that the product will contain based on the agreed number of Sprints, then any changes you need to make along the way, as long you drop items with the same number of points as the ones you are adding, then the actual cost of a change is free.
This is one of the ways to look at what is so paradoxically different about the thinking in agile versus traditional approaches. It forces you to really think about what matters most and to truly get the idea of being adaptable to what emerges. If something emerges that has a higher business value than what you had previously identified then it must take precedence.
Remember it's about what is valued most, not everything that may have value. What is valued most is based on what we currently know, which can be quite different than what we knew a month or two ago.
So whether it is an internal Scrum team, or one that as put in place through a procurement process, if you're really willing to focus on what has the highest value and willing to drop items that are of lesser value, then you should be able to make changes for free!
Jeff Sutherland, co-author of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and the Scrum Guide first suggested the idea of change for free in a class in the Netherlands in 2006.
What do you think - can we do a better job of facilitating others to make a difference today so that our organizations benefit now and continue to do so in the long run?
If you’d like to talk strategic intent, adaptive strategy, back-casting over forecasting, outcomes over outputs, any of the agilities, or pretty much anything you think I may be able to help you with in making a difference in your world, here is my availability during the conference:
You can also connect with me at:
The countdown to the Global Conference in Chicago is on! If you're already planning what you're going to be doing in Chicago via the Events App or by checking out the list of speakers, don't forget to look at the symposium where the "Ask the Experts" will be.
Take a look below and see where I could help you with any of your questions or concerns about your career, the next step or coaching you through any issues that you might be having in your project at the moment. I'm also around outside of these times if you want to talk Marathon training, the best running routes in Chicago or Baking 101.
Hi PMI family,
I am super excited and looking forward to experiencing PMI Global Conference 2017 [aka #PMIcon17] with you in Chicago and being a true #DifferenceMaker. I have been to many PMI events over the years. PMI staff goes out of their way to make events a great learning experience for all of us. So, forget everything else for few days and come in for an immersive experience. Conference has a connotation of speakers, conference rooms etc. Yes, you can listen to fabulous speakers, but I have found the PMI events to be a great place to network and make it an interactive learning experience. From breakfast till you are so tired from hanging out with new friends at night that you have to get sleep before getting back at it again.
Bit about myself so that you can relate to the fact that I am with you in the trenches. After my grad school in Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, I started my career with Exxon-Mobil. Then I got into consulting and made it my home. Over the last two decades I have worked in the ‘Big 4’ [PWC/IBM Global Services/Accenture] consulting environment providing services to a wide range of clients from startups to fortune 500 companies. Over the years, I have worked with and walked the halls of many big brand names that you can think of including but not limited to Wal Mart, GM, Ford, Chrysler, GE, Costco, Walgreens, HP, Cardinal Health, Microsoft, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Dow, Caterpillar, Merck, 3M, Kraft-Heinz, Kellogg, Stanley, Black & Decker; Estee Lauder, Polo Ralph Lauren; Campbell Soup Company, Harley-Davidson.
I have had the privilege of running large complex global transformation programs. I help organizations identify technology driven projects that would have a business case [and ideally help them deliver after the $$s are approved by their Boards ]. In the last few years, digital transformation has been the focus.
Over last decade, I have been involved with PMI in many ways – chapter roles, CoPs and last few years I started with few other folks the Change Management Webinar Series that has been running consistently every month and providing 1000s of PDUs to members. I love our Change Management audience. They have seen us make mistakes, learn from them and get better. If you are one of them, I want to give you a big hug for hanging in with us. So, please stop by and get your hug that I owe you.
At this year's PMI Global Conference, I am also part of the Ask the Expert program. If you want to discuss about career, actual problems you are trying to solve, or anything in the world of Project Management, feel free to sign up for a discussion slot.
Our official scheduled hours where you can sign up for a discussion are below:
If you want to talk outside of this, please let me know and we can try and work something out. I look forward to seeing you there.
In the mean time feel free to connect:
Whenever there is an open forum to talk about things – one of the questions I have is what topics are acceptable and which ones should I avoid?
I want to make the challenge that almost anything is fair game is this discussion forum. I did a little brainstorming and created the graphic above – it’s hardly intended to be an exhaustive list, but hopefully it presents the mindset that we (speaking for all “experts”) are open to professional discussion. It may or may not be directly related to project management (although most topics can be correlated to PM work) but feel free to start the dialog.
I Couldn’t Care Less…
…about understanding specific requirements and success criteria
…about collaboration and cooperation
…about the integration of systems, processes, and data
…about learning new ways to improve my work
…about allowing changes to the project
…about communicating with others on a daily basis
…about teaching others ways to improve their work
Too frequently I hear statements such as, “Managing projects is easy” or, “The PM can take the minutes. Isn’t that why they are here?”
These statements typically precede the speaker’s next statement, where they decide that one of their analysts, database administrators, field engineers, or assistants should be assigned as the project manager for their mission-critical project.
How do you overcome these types of stereotypes about project managers and as importantly, our chosen field of expertise?
There is never a silver bullet to overcome stereotypes, regardless of the target of the bias, but you can whittle away at it by patiently educating our leaders and staff about the value that project managers bring to the organization. This can be accomplished through several methods, including (but not limited to) following our own processes, demonstrating that you really do care (through our actions) about the elements listed at the start of this post, and by coaching the accidental project managers to improve their project outcomes.
Following Your Own Processes
It is critical that as the figurehead, spokesperson, or evangelist for project management within your organization that you actually follow the practices, processes, and workflows that you define for others. Whether you are the PMO or a staff project manager, you should always be considering what impact you and your actions will have on project management, as a discipline, at your organization.
It is difficult to “sell” the value you bring to the organization if you simply run projects using the same half-hazard techniques as those without training or experience. Following your processes should also improve project success rates, but if they do not then you need to review if your tools and processes are actually improving the project outcomes overall. If not, do not be stubborn about finding ways to improve upon them, even if the advice or suggestion is coming from those with less experience.
Demonstrate the Value of …
…understanding specific requirements and the project’s success criteria
…high levels of collaboration and cooperation
…integration of systems, processes, and data
…learning new ways to improve my work
…managing changes to the project
…communicating with others on a daily basis
…teaching others ways to improve their work, and
Of course, you must demonstrate how focusing on the above can improve the success of your projects. For example, even the executive sponsor will appreciate that any changes that they suggest must follow a defined change approval process when you show them the value this control will bring. Note that you must be careful that the change control process does not take more time than the change itself would have required to implement. This does not mean you skip the process in these cases, but it does mean that your process should be efficient, adaptable, and tailored to the type/size of change being requested. In all cases the change process must include an analysis of the impact the change will have on resources, scope/requirements, risk, schedules, budgets, and staffing, otherwise it will be no different from someone winging the change.
You must be sure that while proving value of the above elements that you are actually adding value by doing them. Frequently we apply a technique, follow a process, or fill out a form because it is part of our process. We need to be more adaptable if we are to survive as a profession, and improve our processes when they no longer can prove value.
Coaching the Accidental Project Manager
Frequently when we are told that a non-PM will be assigned as project manager we get a bit defensive. Our first response may be to walk away and hope that they fail, if for no other reason than to prove our value to the organization. However, a better approach may be to offer to coach and mentor that newly assigned non-PM so that they can be successful.
Aside from protecting the assets of the organization (part of your job!), you are earning the trust of that new non-PM and perhaps building another advocate for the value of project management. Even if the mentee does not become that advocate that you hope for, you are growing the profession by spreading knowledge. This will also help you grow as a professional, and help you determine where there is fat in the process as helping others follow a process they are not familiar with will invoke questions about the value of certain steps.
Come See Us at the 2017 PMI Global Congress
Have questions about a practice, technique, tool, or process that you want to ask?
Want to share a story or some great tips with us that you have learned?
Please come visit us at the upcoming Congress, where you can schedule 1:1 sessions with a variety of subject matter experts in a variety of areas of Project Management. You can schedule as many meetings as you wish with our Group of Nine! To see more information, please visit https://www.pmi.org/global-conference/career-series
Although we recommend scheduling a time slot, you are also free to just drop by and chat! I look forward to meeting you!
You can find me in our booth during the following times:
Saturday, October 28: 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Sunday, October 29: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Sunday, October 29: 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Monday, October 30: 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm