As you talk to the people who are on the periphery of project management, when you ask them what type of project management strategies they use they will often reply with, “agile project management“. I just finished reading the book Agile Project Management by Jim Highsmith, one of the original architects of the agile movement. The book was a super interesting read and detailed some of the misconceptions about Agile PM, one of which being that Agile is a methodology (it is not) and can be used half-heartedly by an organization to improve the rate of project completion (it can’t).
Agile PM is not a methodology in and of itself — it is more of a strategy and a way of thinking. There are several project management methodologies that have been formalized in structure and approach that can help support project implementation and the achievement of project goals and objectives. It is predominantly used by IT project managers where a deliverable must be produced for a customer (internal or external) that requires some flexibility to provide the required value and quality. Plan driven project management works well if you are working a project that is well-defined and unlikely to undergo any significant change.
While there are several agile methodologies, Scrum Project Management is by far the most popular at this time. Scrum is used by PMO’s that are dealing with variability and uncertainty, like within the IT industry. The four platforms that have been used to describe Scrum are: embrace helpful variability, employ iterative and incremental development, leverage variability through constant evaluation, transparency, and adaptation, and reduce all forms of uncertainty simultaneously. Let’s discuss each and how they may apply in your organization.
- Embrace helpful variability: As part of the PM process, we are not looking to infinitely replicate the same inputs and outputs — we are trying to produce a unique product that will be relevant and provide value to our customer once it is finished. As a result, there will be unique challenges that come up throughout the process. Instead of ignoring them, Scrum PM provides you with the framework to evaluate these variables and to determine if they should be integrated into your product.
- Employ Iterative and Incremental Development: This is what healthcare.gov got wrong and why it failed when they waited until the end to bring the product from 55 different contractors together at the end of the process. When developing a new product, we will probably get some things right, and we will probably get some things wrong. Iterative development allows us to evaluate components throughout the development process so you can determine which features you really want and to conduct quality checks. Incremental development allows you to build a portion of your product, test, conduct quality checks, and when it passes your evaluation criteria, move on to the next piece. You end up working on one feature at a time.
- Leverage Variability through Constant Evaluation, Transparency and Adaptation: During each iteration, or sprint, of your project, your team will test and retest each of the features of your product. The results of your evaluations will provide you with the data you need to make a decision on product adaptations to deliver the required value and quality to your customer. Project transparency is imperative to successfully using the Scrum PM methodology. You must provide all relevant project information to the members of your team so they can contribute to project related decision-making.
- Reduce All Forms of Uncertainty Simultaneously: How is this possible you ask? The solution is so simple that it almost seems silly. The Scrum PM model addresses uncertainty through its constant evaluation and iterative project timelines. The methodology addresses uncertainties related to the product produced and how it will be produced by incremental development.
I will be getting my CSM (Certified ScrumMaster) certification from the Scrum Alliance in December 2013, which I am very excited for. If you want to look into adopting the Scrum methodology to improve the quality of the products your company is producing, then I suggest looking into this organization and the various certifications and symposiums they offer. I know when I have used Scrum PM strategies and methodologies with my clients that we have improved the relevance and value of the outcomes of our project.