All over the world, educators, parents, and political leaders are working toward continued improvements in Education Programs. This continued development is needed to keep pace with opportunities presented by technological advances, new ideas and new knowledge about how students learn.
The process of developing an education program is complex with numerous stakeholders; learners, teachers, parents, administrators, employers and the government. Each stakeholder has competing priorities with; schedule, scope, quality, risks, resources and cost constraints. Large complex projects require the management of a skilled and experience project manager. However, there is a gap between individuals who are working in the education field with their academic background and business people who look at the deliverables at the end of the education program. This gap can be filled by professional project managers who have a background in both education programs and a project and business management.
Looking at the development and improvement of education programs as a project or a program (a group of projects) allows us to apply proven project management methodologies to managing these efforts. Selecting the right approach and methodology is critical to meeting the needs of the education program and the various stakeholders. The most common methods are; the traditional waterfall method, the Agile Project Management method or a hybrid model, using both methods.
The traditional waterfall approach is adequate to define, manage and control the scope, schedule, quality and budget in the stable environment. The waterfall approach requires a complex communication plan. There are numerous stakeholders when developing an education program; learners, teachers, parents, administrators, employers and the government. Each of these stakeholders has their own definition of success and often with competing priorities. Add to these challenges the dynamic, fast-paced environment where the needs of the learners can change before the education program is developed. The waterfall approach can lead to delivering obsolete knowledge to the learners or an old fashion delivery technique which does not match the new skills that the new generations master.
Agile Project Management reduces complexity by breaking down the longer development cycle into smaller usable segments, Agile “stories”. These “stories” can be prioritized based on the needs, student level, environment, available resources, technology and others. Agile also creates different “personas” for the various stakeholders and analyzes the impact of the education program before it is completed.
The iterative approach of Agile Project Management delivers a part of the program, tests it, collects feedback and adapts the deliverables. This allows the development of the new education programs to adjust quickly and align with all the dynamic changes in the education environment. With each iteration you can apply the changes based on student’s ability to understand, maximizing the value. This value driven approach can lead us to invent new ways to improve the value to the students without delivering obsolete knowledge.
In 2012, I worked with a team of six to evaluate using the Agile approach for education programs. We developed and executed an education program to teach eight to twelve-year olds “Project Management”. The first pilot project was one-month, divided into four “sprints” of one-week each. Each “sprint” had its own set of objectives. We developed the Agile “personas” based on the nature of students, parents, teachers, and others to know exactly how can we deliver value which matched their needs.
Each week we would develop and deliver the curriculum and exercises based on the previous week’s feedback from the students, parents and team. The Agile approach allowed us to quickly incorporate the feedback and deliver a new program to be tested and evaluated each week.
The team and I did a second test. In the pilot project, we used the students going to a circus as the project theme, in the second program we used creating a Lego educational kit as the project theme. This allowed us to further test our approach. The Agile Project Management test has been done with the same approach in different countries, each time the team was able to deliver the value without compromising the quality. This is one of many of examples of how to use Agile Project Management in Education.
Working on these test projects was a learning journey for the students and the test team. Having completed these test projects, we now know we can use the Agile methodology to manage any educational project. Agile enables us start earlier and adapt quickly. The methodology creates an environment that encourages an open approach, soliciting new ideas and options. It builds a strong team who believe in the value.
The Agile Project Management approach is well suited for developing education programs. It is important that we as project, program and portfolio managers educate the academic staff and the individuals working in Education about the new tools and techniques of Agile. As project managers when we develop any new education program we should consider Agile approach or hybrid approach to deliver a real and updated value to the learners.
Author : Mohamed Khalifa Hassan
Since seventeen people met in February 2001 at Wasatch mountains of Utah to discuss and draft the Agile Manifesto, software projects have been the main focus of Agile. Since this time, Agile became one of the hottest topics in the project management world, mainly due to its proven success on software projects and its ability to deliver quick and real value to customers, reduce the risks and increase collaboration between different stakeholders.
After years of using agile methodologies, tools and techniques many professionals around the world started looking at the Agile Manifesto through lenses other than software development. They proclaimed to very clearly see that the Agile Manifesto, principles, tools and techniques can make same level of success on different type of projects in addition to software development.
In the current turbulent and fast changing world, we need to go back to the basics, back to the reason which made agile successful which is "be Agile, be Adaptive". If we start referring to the main Agile Manifesto and do small changes in the statements, we will find that they will work fine with projects of different types. Let us have a look at the Agile Manifesto which requires preference of:
The above can work in any project and can be adopted as an organization’s philosophy to deliver fast, reduce the risks, solve the conflict between different stakeholders and clarify the requirements as we work on projects.
To successfully execute non-software projects using Agile we can use the Agile principles in Non-Software projects set clear expectations with stakeholders, bring sanity to project execution, and mine the benefits of Agile. While this approach may look similar to the principles followed in an Agile software delivery project, their applications are quite different when it comes to non-software projects like Define “Working Product or Service” it can be used to refer to any deliverable that is produced by the project and brings value to the customer, define “Customer” this can help us to define who is the 'right' Product Owner, Define 'Done': Work with the sponsors and product owner to identify 'done' for each story/deliverable. Measure Business Value: Measuring or establishing the business value of the work done is a key for any project. Since most of the deliverables exist as theories or prototypes, it is important to prepare a business case at the start of the initiative that clearly provides the cost benefit for this initiative followed by articulating the benefits achieved at regular intervals, preferably at the ends of iterations, Expect the Unexpected: Project scope, objective, and goals are liable to change frequently and drastically. Therefore, go for shorter iterations, joint workshops, paired development of deliverables, continuous expert and peer reviews, and proper socialization of theories and ideas. Having senior strategists, architects, or consultants is helpful, especially if they have a deep experience on the subject matter as well as with the overall organization.
If you have an idea or experience in applying Agile methodologies, tools or techniques for a non Software projects why you don’t share it with us here so we can all get benefits? Even if it is not working please share it so we can discuss it and have lessons learned.