Agile working and product-based planning

A man at home agile working and product-based planning

Lockdown for project managers has been almost like a forced training exercise: how to respond to the unexpected in the right way.

That has meant understanding the risks when there are so many unknowns and what we need to do to manage an ever-changing situation.

However, having a project management exception plan compels you to stop and think about what might happen, what you can do to mitigate it and to revisit the business case.

Transitioning to the new normal

Project management is a valuable approach to manage the uncertainties and the transition activities that will take us to whatever the new normal looks like.

First and foremost, it involves communicating clearly to your organization about what will happen, along with creating clear milestones for what activities you’re working on.

In our business, for example, setting up staff in their home offices is a multi-national project to ensure they have the equipment to work. At the same time, we have a project to re-open our various offices and update our company travel guidelines.

It is essential to create a framework to manage the difficulties of the moment while giving people a feeling of safety and security as we progress.

Agile working methods

Since the start of lockdown, the way we plan our projects has definitely changed to incorporate more agile ways of working. These underpin our overall strategy of “assess, adapt and anticipate”.

Our business operates in different hemispheres and each of them is at a different point in its recovery from the pandemic.

So, as things are changing quickly and constantly, we are using agile approaches: breaking down the plan into smaller chunks, such as two-week cycles; setting clear, short-term milestones but then continually revising the plan. We’re clear about the benefits we want to achieve and are re-using what we learn as we move to longer-term milestones.

For our project managers, the “assess, adapt and anticipate” framework can be applied on every level (e.g. homeworking, travel) to manage changing risks.

Training, development and PRINCE2® 

The current circumstances have driven a lot more interest in training and development in our company. So, I’ve been providing project management training to a large number of colleagues, with particular focus on how to manage time, smart working and general project management.

I think the product-based planning in PRINCE2 helps to focus on the benefits you want to achieve. This is really important in an environment where timelines are changing, therefore we’re moving away from timeline-focused planning, especially when the time element is so uncertain.

Understanding the benefits clearly is a better way of thinking about a project: what are the most important products? How do you translate those to mission critical objectives which become the focus for your plan?

And taking a lead from the PRINCE2 Agile guidance, we need to keep a focus on quality. Yes, we want to get things done but, at a time of less efficient and productive working, it’s vital to retain the concept of quality, focus on benefits and flex the scope.

This period has also given me a new goal: studying ITIL 4 Foundation to help understand how we need to improve our company’s IT strategy, especially as IT and digital have become so much more important to our lives in recent months.

So, I think my new normal is already going to be very busy!

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