Agile Project Management
The focus on applying agile techniques to project management practices is well and good, but there is perhaps an even more impactful use of lean thinking when it comes to project management practices: the role of the project manager as lean coach and value stream advocate. As agile techniques have proven to be effective in many environments, many project managers have been banished as self-directed teams have said, “We don’t need you!”
We strongly disagree. There is certainly a place for an effective project manager on agile software development, infrastructure, process improvement, and change management teams. Agile teams need to ask, “What is the role of the Project Manager in this environment?” The impactful use of lean thinking for project management is for the project manager to take on the role of lean coach and value stream advocate.
When the term agile project management 26 is used, it typically implies the application of core lean (agile) concepts including:
- ? Customer value focus—As we’re sure you’ve noticed, a central theme of lean is creating value for the customer and stakeholders. Agile project management stresses this concept and the supporting principle of systemic thinking: All activities that make up the stream of events that deliver a product or service 27 are interrelated and interdependent. You cannot change one element without impacting one or more of the other elements. Project managers who appreciate this insight play a key role on the team, ensuring that people see the whole and avoid local optimization at the expense of enterprise.
- ? Emphasize the business problem—Someone once said, “All IT projects are business projects or they should not be performed!” We endorse this sentiment and believe the key message is that it is the business problem/opportunity that informs the IT project and not the other way around. All too often, we see IT project proposals that are rich in technical benefits (e.g., a database upgrade,28 more robust connectivity) that fail to identify and advocate for the business benefits the project will deliver.
- ? Collaboration—Shared learning is at the heart of any effective team. Very often, informative communication is an elusive objective. Anyone who has ever endured a project planning meeting or weekly status meeting can attest to this! Agile practices popularized daily standup meetings (also called Scrums or huddles) that have significantly increased collaborative discovery, commitment, and timely communication among team members and project stakeholders.
? Value creation over task execution—We’ve all been on projects where there was intense focus on task completion at the expense of value creation and emphasis was placed on documented precision, not actual reality.
Agile project management is about acknowledging that the project plan is a static snapshot of our understanding of the problem or opportunity right now. The focus is on accuracy over the life of the project, not precision at any given point in time. We expect our understanding to change as we validate our speculation on how to proceed (see the section on Lean Startup and validated learning). Instead of mindlessly following a plan that we know is based on an incomplete understanding, we anticipate the plan will change as we learn more.
? Plan-Do-Check-Act—Building on the concept of learn-as-you-go, agile project management is applying the scientific method of learning to make course corrections grounded on fact-based discovery. This cycle is often referred to as PDCA. 29 Although this model is well known, it
is deceptively simple and quite difficult to accomplish effectively. We’ll explore PDCA thinking throughout this book.
? Changing role of the project manager—Lean project management extends agile project management practices beyond methods and tools and moves toward the realm of lean coaching. In a lean enterprise, project managers take on a more extensive role of coaching team members to apply new ways of behaving in order to learn for themselves how lean IT impacts the entire organization.