Debunking Six Misconceptions About Agile
For those of us in the project management community, agile is a familiar term. But despite its prominence, it’s often misunderstood.
All too often, teams and organizations focus on the wrong things or are misinformed. And eventually, agile takes the blame.
Here are six common misconceptions that can lead to an anti-agile mindset:
These are six misconceptions I’ve seen about agile. What are the common ones you’ve encountered?
By David Wakeman
I’ve got a hypothesis I want to drop on you: Being a project manager is a lot like being a juggler.
Many of you may be scratching your heads, asking the question: “What is Dave thinking?”
Hear me out. I’ve got three examples to support my hypothesis.
1. Project managers, like jugglers, are required to keep a lot of balls in the air. You have to manage your team, communicate to your stakeholders, run changes and a whole host of other things.
A great juggler, or a crazy one, might be juggling a chainsaw or a dozen balls. Although I never learned to be a good juggler, I do know that the key skill is focusing on one ball at a time.
The same can be said for a project manager. You may have 20 things on your to-do list, but you can’t do all 20 things at once. You can only do one thing at a time.
This is important because if you’re trying to send an email to a stakeholder at the same time you’re having an in-person conversation with another stakeholder, you probably aren’t giving either of them your full attention. And you could miss the opportunity to make a point, get information or create change.
Need I say what happens if you take your attention off a chainsaw?
2. Project managers, like jugglers, are manipulators. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but instead in that they change people’s perceptions of what is happening in front of them.
Yo-yo-ing is considered a form of juggling with tricks like “sleeping,” “looping” and “walking the dog.” All of these are ways to get the yo-yo to do what the juggler wants it to do.
How is that different than what project managers do?
As a project manager, your job is to get your team to do what you need them to do to bring your projects in on time, on schedule and within scope.
You achieve this by using the tools at your disposal to motivate, encourage and guide your stakeholders and team toward your goal. That’s juggling.
3. It all comes down to results. Finally, a bad juggler gives a bad performance, and a good juggler gives a good performance … and no one knows whether they are just having a bad or good day. Ultimately, the same applies to projects and their leaders. In the end, we are judged on performance.
Did our project meet specifications? Did it come through on schedule? Were we able to get the results we needed out of our team?
For a juggler, if they aren’t entertaining, they are failing. Which I guess means that project managers actually have an easier job than jugglers because we don’t always have to entertain, but we do have to produce results.
What do you think? Are project managers like jugglers—or have I gone crazy with this metaphor? Let me know below in the comments.
by Cyndee Miller
There’s something about TED Talks that suck you in. Those big red letters on a stage signal this isn’t just another presentation. And TED’s 18-minute rule is genius. The videos are long enough to provide real substance—while feeling zero guilt about forwarding them on and building a veritable viral sensation—and short enough to keep you from checking your social feed. So I was wildly curious about what to expect walking into the closing session of this year’s EMEA Congress: As part of PMI joining forces with TED, attendees got a specially curated series of five live talks around the power of possibility.
“What’s possible in the world is really bound by two things if you think about it,” said Sally Kohh, a political pundit and TED speaker who hosted the event. “There’s what’s literally possible—what we can actually, tangibly, scientifically, physically do—and then there’s what we think is possible. And often we don’t try things—we don’t even think things—not because we can’t do them, but because we don’t think we can. We circumscribe our own aspirations and sense of the possible, and therefore actually constrict what’s possible before we even start.”
That all sounds lovely. But it also conjures up images of sunshine, kittens and unicorns. Then in walks Mona Chalabi, data editor at The Guardian, with her take on the possibility of information. Aside from my own personal addiction to news and numbers, I spend a lot of time wading through research reports. So I was instantly intrigued by what Ms. Chalabi had to say: “When it comes to numbers, especially now, you should be skeptical.”
Instead of blindly accepting (or rejecting) data, she challenged attendees to ask three questions—our very own sniff test of sorts:
Data can be powerful, but it can also be used to drive division. Boston Consulting Group’s Julia Dhar discussed ways to find common ground by reshaping the way we talk to each other. It starts by separating a person’s identity from the idea—letting us ”open up to the idea that we might be wrong.” One tip from Ms. Dhar that project and program managers can immediately put to use: Devote 10 minutes of your meeting to real debate.
Anab Jain tackled another topic familiar to almost anyone in business, including most project professionals: trying to predict the future. Her advice? Stop being so passive.
“Today it can feel like things are happening too fast—so fast that it becomes really difficult to form an understanding of our place in history,” said Ms. Jain, co-founder of design and innovation studio Superflux. It can be so overwhelming that “we let the future just happen to us,” she adds. “We think of our future selves as strangers and the future as a foreign land.”
As you might suspect based on the sunshine, kittens and unicorns comment, I don’t exactly ooze optimism. So my ears perked up once again when human rights lawyer Simone George and Mark Pollock spoke about the dance between optimism and realism—or something else. “The realists have managed to resolve the tension between acceptance and hope by running them in parallel,” he said. Mr. Pollock had lost his vision at age 22, but was still running marathons around the world when he met Ms. George. After an accident left him paralyzed, the now-married couple went on a new quest, exploring the outer edges of spinal cord injury recovery with exoskeletons.
The final talk came from Ingrid Fetell Lee, who dug into the science behind joy. Sure, sometimes it’s just a superfluous extra driven by the inconsequential—ice cream cones, fireworks, bubbles—but Ms. Lee argues it helps create lifetime of happiness. “What we should be doing is embracing joy, and finding ways to put ourselves in the path of it more often.”
Check out more insights and info at PMI @ TEDSummit 2019 on 21-35 July in Edinburgh, Scotland and at the big PMI Global Conference on 5-7 October in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
And see you at next year’s EMEA Congress, happening 4-6 May in Prague, Czech Republic. Brzy se uvidíme
By Cyndee Miller
Going to PMI EMEA Congress is a little bit like going back to school. You pick your sessions, learn a ton and (hopefully) come out with some new ideas on how you want to do things. But sometimes it’s good to be in on the action, too.
I personally was ready to bust out for some real-world adventure, so I headed over to One Microsoft Place. Part of Dublin’s burgeoning tech scene, Microsoft’s European HQ in Leopardstown, Dublin is still relatively new—it only made its grand debut last year. Home to some 2,000 staff members of roughly 70 nationalities, it was specifically designed to be a physical manifestation of the company’s digital transformation. So along with a rooftop garden with some pretty sweet views, the 34,000 square-meter (365,973 square-foot) digs include a “digital lake” comprised of 125,000 LEDs, a DreamSpace for teaching school kids all about tech—and plenty of collaborative spaces aimed at uniting the company under a common vision.
I wasn’t the only one checking out Dublin’s project scene. Some other adventurers headed over to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. That one had to be interesting. I was there last summer to film a video case study about how the 235-year-old school revolutionized its training program—winning a 2018 PMI Award for Project Excellence along the way. Yet another group of congress attendees ventured over to Teeling Distillery to get all the technical details on how the upstart makes a whiskey good enough to take on local stalwarts like Jameson. (Probably best I left that one to others.)
Back at the convention center, my fellow attendees engaged in some more immersive sessions.
Opening keynoter Jamil Qureshi kicked off his interactive workshop with quite the question: If everyone in the world were to suddenly change genders, how would that transform how we act? How we lead? The decisions we make? Would there be more parity for women? Would there be less war? The workshop put into practice one of the key concepts from his Monday presentation: To act differently, you must first think differently.
Mr. Qureshi wasn’t the only one pushing attendees to change the way they think. Karin Hurt and David Dye of Let’s Grow Leaders challenged attendees to root out what incites a fear of speaking up at their organizations. Project managers drew those fears on index cards, then looked for commonalities among their fellow attendees. One thing that doesn’t work? An open-door policy, said Mr. Dye. Instead, leaders should get out there and ask questions—not wait for answers to come to them.
In another workshop, attendees faced a whole other kind of adventure with Mission Possible: Escape from Earth—Agile Edition. Santi Alcaide, PMP, of Play To Growth, and Alfred Maeso Aztarain, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP, of Netmind, used the game to spark new ways of leading virtual teams.
And Maria Fafard, PMP, of Capital One introduced role-playing scenarios to teach project professionals how to be better facilitators, especially when conflict or tensions arise. “Before you facilitate any meeting, consider and mitigate any risks that may take your discussion off track,” she said.
The common denominator in all this immersion therapy? Project leaders are faced with a barrage of change, forcing fundamental shifts in how we think, work, play—and lead. How have you changed your leadership style?
by Cyndee Miller
The rogue monkey gets the banana. Researchers first made the discovery in the late 1970s, but the lesson remains for project leaders looking to keep pace with disruption.
Let’s peel this one back: In Jamil Qureshi’s opening keynote at PMI EMEA Congress in Dublin, Ireland, he told the tale of one monkey that chose not to believe the evidence put forth by its monkey colleagues that came before. It questioned the bias of its environment, adjusted its mindset—and was rewarded for its defiance. Seeing any parallels?
“I cannot tell you the value of a rogue monkey in your organization,” said Mr. Qureshi, a psychologist and performance coach. “Every single thing worth having on this earth has come from rogue monkey thinking.”
The greatest inhibitor to human performance, Mr. Qureshi said, is a steadfast adherence to our belief systems. (We all have them. Trust me, you’re no magical exception.) “We prove ourselves right even when we’re wrong, and that’s the problem.”
We must be willing to change the way we think. It’s the foundation of our decision-making process. “We think, we feel and then we act,” he said.
Hold off on the grand gestures, though.
“Proving ourselves as leaders is not about doing something dramatic. It’s about doing something a little bit more, more consistently,” said Mr. Qureshi. True leaders look inward, find what they already do well—and do more of it.
None of this will go very far without proper motivation, however. We’re drawn toward our most dominant thoughts, he says. And if those thoughts sound like “don’t fail” …? Um, we’re in trouble—our subconscious will only hear “fail.”
“People who are truly disruptive are motivated by what they seek to achieve, not by what they seek to avoid,” he said.
That’s how you move teams “from transactional to transformational.” The really bold ideas come from making the connection between two previously unconnected things. Look at PayPal, Spotify or Skype. “It took someone outside the sectors to give us what we wanted,” said Mr. Qureshi. Too often, companies and project teams are bad at being different—but the future demands it. “The only way to stay future relevant and future literate is to think about what the customer is valuing all the time, not what we wish to sell.”
So, are you ready to go rogue?