Viewing Posts by Kevin Korterud
By Kevin Korterud
I experienced my first agile project nearly a decade ago. At the time, agile was still an emerging concept. I remember thinking there were all sorts of activities going on that I had never seen on any of my projects. People were standing up for meetings, marker boards were filled with things called “stories” and delivery moved forward under the framework of a “sprint.”
At the center of this whirl of frenetic activity was a person who the team called a “scrum master.” At first, I thought this person was a project manager. But they were doing things that were outside of the traditional project management realm.
Since that first experience, agile has matured and continued to grow in popularity. This trend prompted me to examine the evolving role of the scrum master in complex agile delivery environments. Here are my observations:
1. Agile Delivery is Becoming Mature
Agile delivery teams used to function within isolated pockets. But, as the use of agile—as well as the size and complexity of solutions being delivered—grew, new methods, such as SAFe®, were developed to help orchestrate agile delivery across an organization.
With agile becoming more common in organizations as a delivery method, the overall need for scrum masters’ general process advice diminishes. Agile teams over time—as well as with the support of enterprise framework methods—will become more self-sufficient, which reduces the need for some of the current activities performed by scrum masters.
2. Higher Engagement and Direct Accountability
One of the guiding principles for scrum masters is that they are not supposed to intervene with the team and are not responsible for delivery outcomes.
While a focus on process advice was essential during the early days of agile, today’s larger and more complex solutions demand that delivery quality issues be identified as soon as possible. In addition, there is also a need to ensure on a more frequent basis that the solution being created will yield the desired business outcomes.
Given its proximity to agile delivery teams, the scrum master role is positioned to leverage a higher level of engagement and accountability. In addition to traditional agile process advice, scrum masters should also serve as a durable checkpoint for both delivery quality and alignment to business outcomes.
These checkpoint activities would include reviewing user story quality, monitoring non-functional requirements and checking solution designs against business needs. As other roles in agile delivery possess some form of delivery accountability, the scrum master must also become more engaged and accountable in order to remain relevant.
3. Emerging Project Managers Becoming Scrum Masters
While scrum masters are not meant to be project managers, that notion is preventing project managers from becoming scrum masters, especially earlier in their career. Emerging project managers invariably have some form of solution delivery experience. They know what makes for sound requirements (especially non-functional), designs, testing, quality and implementation plans.
As the level of complexity and scale increases with agile delivery, so does the need for some form of delivery oversight at the agile team level. With the scrum master position in their repertoire, teams would have developed competencies and know-how for scaled agile delivery, release train engineer, program manager, etc.
Scrum masters have played an essential role in the growth and adoption of agile as a practical means of delivery. Their direct interactions with agile delivery teams create a unique opportunity to expand their influence in generating valuable outcomes for end-users, consumers, customers, employees or suppliers. To do so, they need to further extend themselves— both in terms of skills and engagement—to remain relevant in today’s complex delivery environment.
How do you feel the scrum master role has evolved? Are newly minted project managers the scrum masters of tomorrow?
Great preparation goes into identifying the right project manager for the job—including determining the project’s delivery complexity, defining the role profile, selecting interview questions and validating professional certifications.
However, the interview process shouldn’t end once the new project manager is hired. A recurring interview process ensures project managers remain a good fit. It also helps showcase a project manager’s capabilities to instill confidence among leadership groups, stakeholders and team members—especially if elements drastically change, as they are wont to do.
Not every project manager is a good fit for every project. Original assumptions that lead to the initial acquisition of a project manager may not hold true as the project progresses. And poor outcomes often result from hasty decisions to get a project manager on-boarded as quickly as possible to start a project within a desired timeframe.
Here are three questions that not only ascertain the health of a project, but also the fit of the project manager. Depending on the outcome, you may choose to retain the project manager or replace them with someone who is a better fit.
1. Where are we now?
Being able to confidently articulate and identify the true position of a project and the recent progress velocity to get to that position is a foundation of project management success. Failure to know where the project currently resides puts future progress at risk.
Assisting the project manager in this determination of project position includes schedule and budget performance metrics, resource availability, dependencies, risk, issues and other inorganic position indicators. In addition, a project manager should be able to organically identify the “so what” implications and potential remedies required to create a three-dimensional view of project progress.
2. Where will we be in six weeks?
An old adage says that a point shows a current position, two points make a line and three points make a trend. Project managers should be constantly triangulating their project trajectory from their current position. If they can’t, they’re putting the project’s finish in jeopardy.
This six-week timeframe means a project manager can have a clear vision of the visible road ahead, but isn’t so far where they have to speculate well beyond a reasonable horizon.
Use of predictive quantitative methods and tools and prior project experience can help a project manager confidently state where the project is headed.
3. What changed from the original project scope?
Change is constant. It takes many forms and has diverse impacts. Additions or revisions of functional requirements, technical requirements, different implementation approaches, new expectations, supplier complexity, unfunded mandates and other events make up the aggregate, ever-changing landscape of a project.
While the project manager does his or her best to control identification, processing and action around changes, in some cases the aggregate impact of change can overwhelm.
In many cases, changes—such as leadership changes, new suppliers, as well as portfolio management actions that can merge existing projects—have nothing to do with the project manager’s capability. But when the depth and breadth of project change exceeds the capability of the project manager, it may be time to secure a replacement.
What line of questioning might you use to ensure that a project manager continues to be a good fit for the project they were hired for?
In my last post A Better Path Forward For Federal Programs , I discussed how the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act empowers the Office of Management and Budget to create a program and project management strategy for the U.S. federal government.
The legislation also requires the heads of several U.S. government agencies—including the Departments of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy and Department of Education—to designate one senior team member to serve as its program management improvement officer. In this role, the senior team member will be responsible for implementing program management policies established by the agency and developing a strategy for enhancing the role of program managers within the agency.
The program management improvement officer also has another set of responsibilities that I find particularly interesting. The law says the project management improvement officer must develop a strategy for enhancing the role of program managers within the agency. This includes expanding training and educational opportunities for program managers. This portion of the legislation creates a formal process for program managers to strengthen their existing competencies and allows project managers to develop into program managers (I once wrote a post on this topic).
Given the complexities inherent to contemporary program management, professional development initiatives will successfully prepare program managers for progressively larger delivery responsibilities. In addition, they will create an opportunity to centralize lessons learned on existing delivery programs for even more effective future program management.
Admittedly, when I first heard of this legislation, I was somewhat doubtful of its ability to influence program management results. However, after diving into the details, I’ve become an advocate. I’m excited about the new standard it will set for federal program delivery—and the prospects it holds for building similar program management capabilities in the private sector.
We may jest about the effectiveness of government regulations, policies and practices—but this legislation has the potential to significantly boost program management innovation in the public sector.
Do you believe the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act will spur program delivery improvements in your workplace?
By Kevin Korterud
Program management made news in December (though perhaps not front-page headlines) when the United States Senate unanimously approved the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act. The legislation enacted a number of initiatives for improving federal program delivery, which has suffered from past budget, schedule and quality challenges.
While government legislation is not necessarily my weekend reading of choice, I recently spent time reviewing the new law. It quickly became apparent to me that, although targeted at improving the delivery of U.S. federal programs, it includes many considerations that are universally relevant to program delivery, even if you’re working in the private sector.
As part of the legislation, the deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget has been tasked with several new functions related to program and project management. Let’s take a look at two that I find particularly exciting and relevant to program managers around the world.
1. Chart A Strategic Course
Executives often tell me they don’t know where to start when it comes to improving program delivery. There are typically so many interrelated issues that it’s difficult to determine which actions would have the greatest impact on delivery results.
Other disciplines, such as technology architecture, business change management and customer satisfaction, typically work from some sort of strategic or transformational roadmap. The roadmaps identify common issues, solution strategies and transformational initiatives that drive success for that discipline.
The new federal legislation requires the deputy director of management to “establish a 5-year strategic plan for program and project management.” A program management maturity roadmap will provide a common vision around necessary improvements. And given the size and complexity of federal programs, it will also help teams avoid repeating prior delivery missteps, and enhance the performance of program management processes.
2. Lay a Solid Foundation
Early in my project and program management career, it was common for companies to have a homogenous, centralized employee workforce with strong business and technical domain knowledge that was built over many years. Today, the landscape of program delivery is much more fragmented and fragile.
Global delivery centers, various delivery approaches (waterfall vs. agile), business leaders that rotate every few years, contractors that play a larger role in delivery and emerging technologies are all components that complicate program delivery. It is a wonder that program delivery is ever successful!
The new federal legislation says the deputy director must also, “oversee implementation of program and project management for the standards, policies, and guidelines…” The creation of program management standards, policies and guidelines will serve as a foundation to harmonize the discordant realities of modern program delivery. By establishing unified rules, boundaries, practices and performance metrics that drive a cohesive approach, the inherent complexities of today’s programs can be successfully addressed.
What elements of the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act do you find most intriguing? I look forward to discussing.
By Kevin Korterud
Beware: Strategic initiatives aren’t the same as typical projects—they tend to be considerably more complex. For example, strategic initiatives are usually bound by some form of dramatic urgency around schedule (regulatory, market), costs (process improvement) or consumer satisfaction (subscription, satisfaction).
But the differences don’t end there. Let’s look at some other complex dimensions that must be considered when leading a strategic initiative:
1. Stakeholder Management
The stakeholder landscape is much more broad on a strategic initiative than a project. In strategic initiatives, stakeholders typically span multiple departments within a company, creating multiple primary stakeholder groups. And these stakeholder groups will often have nearly equal shares in the success of the initiative, thus creating potential authority conflicts.
In addition, there are also governance functions—risk management, legal, etc.—that will have either a primary or secondary stakeholder role.
The complex stakeholder landscape necessitates communication processes that serve vastly different audiences. There exists both a two-dimensional communications problem: one dimension is horizontal (i.e., across stakeholders) and the other is vertical (i.e., involving higher levels of leadership). What once was a linear communication process on a project now becomes more of a matrix process to deal with the breadth and depth of stakeholders.
Communications will need to be carefully tailored to different functions and levels of stakeholders. For example, more detail for operational functions, and simple, high-level summaries for leadership consumption.
3. Progress Tracking
Strategic initiatives bring with them inherent complexities that can quickly overpower the progress report tracking processes that are commonly used to manage projects.
For example, strategic initiatives will typically have more suppliers than on a typical project. These additional suppliers bring with them different commercial arrangements, delivery methods, status reporting formats and progress metrics. On top of that, all of these progress tracking components need to be harmonized across the various suppliers in order to achieve a cohesive and durable view of progress position.
Project managers will need to review, refine and agree on common progress tracking processes, reporting and metrics that are universally accepted by all suppliers. By creating this single harmonized view of progress tracking, you are more readily able to identify and address delivery volatility.
When first presented with the prospect of leading a strategic initiative, project managers need to balance the excitement of leading a high-visibility engagement with the practical realities of effectively and efficiently managing delivery. By putting essentials in place, project managers can successfully move on to the next step in the career journey: leading their second strategic initiative!
What essentials can your share with project managers new to strategic initiatives that will put them on the path to success?