What is agile project management and does it mean the same thing to everyone practising it?
To some people it’s about delivering at pace. To others, it’s a blend of Agile and more traditional approaches to project management which, with the right focus, leads to an increased pace. Different way of thinking but the same outcome.
Delivering digital products using Agile is an obvious choice, but not necessarily best to use exclusively in every project. Blending the best bits from different methods can be more effective.
For example, in an organization using PRINCE2®, project sponsors expect to know what and when the project will deliver and whether it will realize benefits. Using Agile alone may not provide the level of information they anticipate, which can affect their confidence in a project.
That said, exposure to Agile methods extends the skills of project managers: thinking differently, getting used to collaborating more, engaging more widely with stakeholders while maintaining sponsor confidence. Yes, it’s stretching, but a great way to learn.
Managing blended projects
There are a number of issues project managers should be aware of when managing projects with a blend of traditional and Agile methods:
In particular, this concerns project benefits and ensuring sponsors trust they will be achieved.
However, there is potential for conflict with the variety of roles and responsibilities such as scrum masters, product owners and project managers all making independent decisions which may impact other decisions being made.
Sponsors may ask for “too much information” according to the Agile practitioners, whose focus is on the product and progress towards benefits achievement– although the sponsor does need to know this! So, the project manager should collaborate with the Agile team/s to produce sufficient information for the sponsor to report to the board/executives.
Achieving this requires practitioners from different disciplines overcoming any prejudices, recognizing each other’s skills and collaborating. It’s as much, if not more, about the people and understanding what is right for the project or change initiative.
2. Increased stakeholder communication in a mixed method environment
Agile working uses close collaboration while project management also does but to a lesser extent. Meanwhile, stakeholders may receive less information than expected from Agile teams when posing questions about the eventual product such as “when will I get it?” and “how will I use it?”.
Project managers need to manage stakeholder expectations and keep them aligned with the proposed changes, or risk alienating them.
3. Developing an approach and skills for successful agile project management
There are some steps project managers should take when managing in a blended environment:
Step 1: Find the win/win situation – work out what’s in it for Agile product delivery teams and appreciate their ways of working, such as co-locating and collaborating.
Step 2: Participate – join the daily stand-ups to see how the Agile world works and how to work within it. Use some of the approaches will enhance skills and experience.
Step 3: Gain agreement – gain early agreement on roles and responsibilities, particularly for decision-making and reporting.
Step 4: Increase capabilities – certifying in PRINCE2 Agile®, for example, helps understand different ways of working; vital when operating in a blended world.
Companies want their project or change initiative people to be versatile across different methods, but – in the real world – there is still some way to go.
Organizations choosing one method completely over another often realize that doesn’t work. Instead, try taking the very best of Agile and traditional project management approaches as the way forward, with a healthy dose of communication and collaboration.
Read more AXELOS Blog Posts from Jane Nichols
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