Grace Miller, PMI Houston Contributor
At the beginning of the year, most workers are revved up and ready to tackle their projects, but as summer approaches, planned projects tend to get pushed out and delayed due to people taking a vacation. Necessary approvals are harder to obtain and critical discussions are more difficult to schedule, as the most urgent and pressing issues to rise to the top of the priority list for leaders. When a waterfall framework is applied to projects, these delays in the summer months can be planned for, but if the project goes too much off track, it becomes challenging to adapt and steer the project back on course to meet the originally planned completion date.
Luckily, a new methodology in project management came onto the scene in 2001 when The Agile Manifesto was published by a group of seventeen software developers. Agile is an iterative approach to project management where projects employ a plan-and-adapt-as-you-go approach, which allows the team to spend less time planning upfront and gives more flexibility to make changes to the project as needed, maximizing value and resources in the process. This methodology appears to be gaining popularity as more and more companies have realized the benefits of employing such a strategy for their projects, especially in the software development space. According to PWC, Agile projects are 28% more effective than traditional projects and according to PMI, 70% of organizations have used an Agile approach in their projects. One of the many benefits of Agile projects is that team members are 100% dedicated to one project at a time and have ownership of the product from start to finish, which makes them more accountable to the end result.
With extra time on my hands recently, I decided to take advantage of a program put on by the Job Hackers organization and enrolled in their Agile MBA course. One of the required readings for the class is Larry Apke’s Understanding The Agile Manifesto: A Brief & Bold Guide to Agile. As Larry describes his take on the Agile principles in his book, one principle, in particular, stood out for me. In speaking to the agile principle of working software being the primary measure of progress, Larry explains that, in a more broad sense, as humans, we tend to measure “what is easy to measure, not necessarily what is important.”
In my experience working as a category manager, I considered the concept of metrics often. In procurement, the main metric used to measure your performance is how much savings you are able to achieve for the company that affects their bottom line and customer satisfaction. While customer satisfaction is always subjective, meeting a savings target is not. Yet, when your savings target isn’t met, it doesn’t always mean you weren’t successful in all of your projects since maintaining status quo is considered a successful result in some situations.
In his book, Larry says “what gets measured gets done.” This is true in many respects, as we are only able to accomplish so many things each day, so prioritization is key, especially in a project environment. With this in mind, project managers should ensure that not only all of the important elements of the project are being measured, but that they are being measured accurately through constant collaboration with team members, customers, and stakeholders. These metrics should also tie back to the project charter and stakeholder requirements.
So, moving forward, how do we take these principles and apply them to our projects this summer?
- Speak up, but also listen. It seems simple, but effective communication is essential. This reflects back to one of the key agile values, which is individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Be an advocate for change. As a project manager, you have insight that your stakeholders or sponsor may not have, so if you see an opportunity to propose a change that you feel would be beneficial, you are the absolute best person to do so. Agile projects in particular are built in a structure where this is natural, but if your project isn’t built this way, it can be more difficult to pivot in the middle of a traditional waterfall project, but not impossible.
- Make sure the metrics being used in your project can tie back to your project charter (or else you may be in dangerous territory) and can accurately reflect the progress of your project, from start to finish. Agile projects focus on taking large, complex projects and breaking them up into smaller pieces (sprints) and then continuously improving after each sprint to produce the highest quality deliverable possible. If you see something off with the metrics being used in your project, it is better to stop and adjust rather than waiting until the end and delivering an unsuccessful project outcome.