Project Management

Modern PM

Modern PM is a blog about modern project management in all its facets: classic, agile and hybrid. I will share my thoughts about the developments, trends, problems and challenges we face in our daily routine as project workers — and hopefully some solutions.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Perfectly presenting the project status

Half-life of knowledge

Two hats in one (or: what we can learn from a children's book)

Is the minimum viable product really the answer to everything?

Thoughts about having an icebox on your Kanban board


Agile, Agile Transition, Impediment Backlog, Impediments, Jazz, Kanban, Modern PM, MVP, Philosophy, Presentations, Product, RAT, Requirements Management, Risk, Scrum, Team Building, Teams, Tuckman


The dark side of agility

What agility has to do with (much) efficiency and (often not so much) customer value, and why cookies are not always the right choice.

The dark side of agility

“Come to the dark side. We have cookies.”

First things first: I am seeing today's topic through the eyes of project management. And through that lens agility is a great idea. But what exactly is the great thing about it? Why do many people and organizations embrace "agility"? Because it is different. Another approach to getting things done. A different approach than the way many organizations are using. Because let us be honest. Even today, there is still an incredible number of companies whose leadership firmly believes that C2 - Command, and Control - is the best way to have a productive and thriving business. And if you are part of such an encrusted, sedated structure, an agile approach sounds great. Of course, it does. Daring though, but very tempting. Faster decisions, faster work-done, less time-to-market. Different.
But is different better?


I hate to be the naysayer again. But what is the dark side of an agile approach? And let us just ignore the arguments that I am hearing from a certain type of software developer over and over again ("Agility is bad because I've done well without agility for 20 years. That was a great time! We didn't bother about those customers and we spent every night fixing bugs.") - so, quotes, arguments, quotes. But I am sure you all have heard this a couple of times.
A few points that are - in my opinion - rather out of line when it comes to agility (sad to see what a buzzword this has become):

Not every company is manufacturing software

Agile methods have an insanely strong focus on software development. Yes, it is getting better. But whether if it is ASD, Scrum, DSDM, or - God forbid! - SAFe. In their origins, some of these methods were developed by programmers and most definitely had programmers in mind. And even the agile manifesto is still officially called Manifesto for Agile Software Development. And where do we see agile methods introduced in companies? In my observation, in the overwhelming majority of cases, it is the IT department or more specifically software development.

But what happens, when the IT is working and thinking agile, but the remaining 95% of my value chain is not? Chaos at the interfaces. And yes, Kanban can help a lot. But - and now I have to be careful - in my eyes (and the eyes of many others), Kanban is not part of the agile world. It is more Lean Management. Similar matter altogether, but another. Matter altogether. And yes, your magic-agility-coach told you otherwise, I know.


Kaizen and a steady improvement in small steps are fine and dandy. But every now and then it just takes a bit of Kaikaku. The big time. And I won't be able to achieve that if I am spending my time thinking in User Stories. Because that is contagious. And even if the strategy on the top level is good - the best strategy won't help me if the visions get shredded beyond recognition on their way to the implementation level. But that is what I am observing in many organizations that switch to agility: a rigid set of rules is replaced by another rigid set of rules. And then all are writing small User Stories and eventually everyone is thinking small. Good as gold. However, I will not experience any movement.

Standstill through prioritization

Agile methods live from constant prioritization. But, if only the currently most important things are implemented - who will take care of the right things? Those who may not be the most important at the current situation and time (and in my little world), but on a larger, more global scale. They fall by the wayside. And that is how I slow down my organization enormously in the long term. And at some point, I arrive back from where I started: Standstill. Standstill through prioritization.

Efficiency is not always the same as customer value

Agility creates teams that are maximally efficient. This pleases management and controlling. Agility thus also creates teams that have completely lost sight of the customer value. And that is also my main criticism of the way agile methods are often interpreted and lived.

But why is the customer value neglected? One word: velocity. At some point, teams only have this number in their heads. The average Story Points done per Sprint. The team's pace. And everything is subordinated to this team's pace. People will not rely on their own gut feeling. How much work I can accomplish as a team in the next few weeks. No, people are calculating. Because the Scrum Guide says so. (And here we are again with rigid systems.) So everyone is drawing down the line on their burn-down chart. How many Story Points have they done today? Rather than talking about what value has been generated for the customer. Instead of talking about how they have supported and advanced their own organization today. And many Scrum Masters participate in this madness, without even questioning it once. Because the Scrum Guide says so. (And yes, I'm just cynical and unfair now, I'm sorry!)

So what does that all mean?

What can I do better when talking about the above points? How can I avoid the negative and reinforce the positive?

The most important thing first. If I want to change my organization, I should consider whether agile project management methods are generally the right ones for the change part (ie the projects). If I am not better off looking from project to project - where am I on the complexity matrix? - and then deciding which approach to choose. Predictive, incremental, iterative, whatever.
And the second most important point for me: those who agilize organizational units are completely wrong in my eyes. What has to be agilized is products and services. Or their production. And here I am talking less about a set of rules, but more about a philosophy, a mental attitude. Since I have to convince people, not just send them. But to whom am I telling this.

All in all, agility is certainly a good thing - as long as I am using it for the right problems. And it's not outdated (even if agile project management methods are much older than the trend would have us believe). But maybe there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to project management. And so maybe it is time for something new again. This time, not something different, but something better.

Posted on: May 18, 2019 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

A plea for change

Agility and why some organizations fail. A train of thought.

Some organizations are like a pond. And someday they are trying to install a circulation system into this pond with lots of effort and money. Because there has to be more movement in here. So they are asking external consultants to explain to them why this one circulation plant - and only this one - is the best and most awesome. And they are asking vendors to install the machine. And then they need those external consultants again to explain to them that the instructions should be followed exactly. Otherwise fire and sulfur. And we can't forget all those additional people that are hired to operate the machine. They have no experience whatsoever in running a circulating system, but they are young and dynamic and they know their stuff. Because they are millenials.

And then it is here, the big day. The circulation plant is put into operation. All the controls are turned on, the machine rumbles and spits smoke and is loud and eats loads of electricity. And the water in the pond is whirled and mixed up. And somehow the machine does not whirl as the organization has imagined. And somehow the machine coughs and sputters every now and then. Although they have followed the instructions so closely. So they call for more external consultants. And with those come the conversions on the machine. And then the circulation plant is thrown away and replaced by a new one - now really the best and most awesome one. At least that's what the external consultants are saying. And they have to know, they are building circulating systems in and out day in day out. So it's being rebuilt a bit more. And at some point, the circulation system is bigger than the pond and it is still coughing up smoke and is still eating electricity and millenials and is still making noise and is still whirling around the water in the pond wildly. And everyone is standing on the shore saying, "So much movement. Great!"

Only: if you come back a year later, the pond is still in the same place. And in five years. And in 30 years: the pond is still in the same place. And there, leaning on a tree on the shore, are a few shovels. And you just have to pick up those shovels and dig and then you would have a river. Without circulating system. Without a consultant. Without additional people. At no extra cost.

Then why do some organizations incorporate circulation equipment instead of shoveling? Why do they deceive themselves that the whirls in their pond are movement? Because these organizations are full of people who do not want to change a thing. People who have come to their positions because they do not change a thing. People who shape the culture of their organization with this attitude: Change is evil. These people are not stupid now. They notice that the carousel turns faster and faster. They feel the winds of change constantly changing directions. They know exactly what that means: disruption. And they know that only those who change are flourishing. That only those who live change are surviving. No big jumps planned for years. Small, constant steps. More kaizen, less kaikaku. More river, less pond.

But these people do not want change. Deep inside, everything is balking against it. Of course, they have been doing well for many years - often for decades - while avoiding change. That things would have gone even better with an open attitude? They know deep inside. That they do not exist because they deny change, but because coincidence meant well for them? They suspect deep inside. But still: better, we leave everything as it is. As it always has been. And so circulation systems are installed. And so external consultants live a fine life. And so people stand on the bank of a stagnant water and say, "Great! So much movement." Only they will not be getting anywhere.

Let us convert these people. Let's open their eyes. Let's take the shovels and dig. Let us be the river.

Posted on: May 11, 2019 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

You know what I love? How there's two nuts named after people: Hazel and Filbert.

- George Costanza