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Using agile in project management

As a project manager, I have delivered many complex initiatives, from re-platforming a consumer products website to doubling the size of a line of business. My most successful projects have one thing in common; I used an agile approach to deliver them.


According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), a project:

  • is a temporary endeavor with a beginning and an end

  • creates a unique product, service or result


Although agile frameworks are most helpful when they remain in place over the long term as product teams delivering and maintaining complex products, we can use agile within the project management process as well, which this article will discuss.


The Project Management Process


* The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines the five process groups as Initiate, Planning, Execution, Monitor & Control and Closing.


Initiate

The initiation phase in the project management process aims to determine whether you can meet the business case and includes high-level planning to validate initial constraints (dates, dollars and deliverables). We also create the project charter during this phase. The project charter typically provides an overview of the project’s purpose and goal and might include scope and high-level requirements.


Tips for agile delivery:

If you plan to use a predictive (waterfall) project approach, the charter will contain detailed scope and high-level requirements. The scope will be more general if you’re using an adaptive or agile approach and may translate more into planned epics and features rather than detailed scope or requirements. An agile charter will focus more on vision and measures of success rather than detailed requirements.


Planning and Execution

The project management planning and execution phases are the two steps most impacted by the project approach (predictive vs. adaptive). Using a predictive approach, your team first creates a detailed project plan. Then, they analyze what work needs to be done, document detailed requirements and design a technical solution approach. You will then move into the execution phase when the team builds and tests the product, service or planned result.


In my experience, agile project teams typically combine these two phases. Using agile, you will plan, analyze, design, build and test the product, service or result, but you do so in smaller increments repeated throughout the project. Similar to climbing a staircase, an agile team performs work in smaller deliverables.




Tips for Agile Delivery


If you plan to use Scrum to deliver your project, it’s critical all team members have agile training before beginning work. I recommend that project teams take the Applying Professional Scrum class together to learn the basics of the Scrum framework. In addition, the individual or individuals who will fulfill the Scrum Master accountability should take the Professional Scrum Master course, and the individual fulfilling the Product Owner accountability should take the Professional Scrum Product Owner course. Managers supporting individuals on an agile team will find the Professional Agile Leadership course helpful.


Rather than creating a project plan in the planning and execution phase, you will identify a Product Owner who creates the Product Backlog. The Product Backlog is the plan for delivery, and it grows as the team learns more about what is required. A Product Backlog is different from a project plan in several ways. While a project plan may include information about how the team will deliver items of work by identifying the names of who will complete each task, a Product Backlog does not. The Product Backlog contains a list of what the customer wants, not how the team will deliver it. Agile teams control how they will deliver their work.


During the execution phase, the Scrum Team will begin Sprinting. During each Sprint, the team will create an Increment of usable product.


As the team begins delivering the work in the Product Backlog, it is possible to get a sense of the delivery pace. You can use this information to create a delivery forecast. A forecast is a visual representation showing how much work you expect the team to deliver over time, updated each Sprint. The project manager can use the forecast to monitor the progress of the goals you identified in the project charter.


Monitoring and Controlling

Using a predictive approach, you will monitor the percent of work completed and compare it to the timeline and budget run-rate. An adaptive approach is more straightforward and logical when it comes to monitoring. At the end of each Sprint, everyone involved in the project will come together in a Sprint Review to provide feedback to the team about what it produced. It is much easier to monitor progress toward the charter goals when we have delivered something tangible to examine.


Tips for Agile Delivery

Risk and issues management are central to the monitoring and controlling phases of the project management process. These items are critical to both agile and predictive process projects. When the team raises impediments with the project manager, they add them to the issues log and create an appropriate response. The project manager should also meet regularly with the Product Owner and Scrum Master to identify risks and develop mitigation plans. Agile teams have one benefit over predictive approaches, because agile teams may add mitigation or response plans to the Product Backlog as Product Backlog items.


Closing

When a project comes to a close, we create a plan to transition ownership of the product, service or result to an operational team. If you’re using a predictive process, this may mean the work transitions to another team that will own the maintenance of the project’s product, service or result. In contrast, an agile project team may convert to a permanent agile product team at the end of the project which means that in some cases, projects can result in agile teams which remain in place long after the project has closed.


Conclusion

I have always turned to agile frameworks for my most challenging projects. The business areas affected flourished because the agile teams involved owned and drove continuous product improvement.


If you are a project manager considering using Scrum to deliver your product, I strongly recommend the Applying Professional Scrum class for the project team members. Taking this class together can be a powerful team-building experience. It can also ensure that all team members–even those with Scrum experience–align their expectations for how they will work together to deliver your agile project. Contact me to schedule a private training class for your team, or signup for one of my upcoming public classes.