As I sit down to write this, it is Halloween so I couldn’t resist putting “killer” into my title. My SEO monkeys would tell me my word choice matters and the title should read “4 Strategies for Successful Agile Project Management” instead. But me, I’m a rebel and like the box at the bottom of the article says, I am the boss and what I say goes.
I just got off of a phone interview with a potential employer who gets project management. I loved talking shop with him. It was nice to be asked about my personal project management style and what I felt the most valuable trait a PM can have. He also asked me what I felt are the three most important global strategies that a PM can have to make sure their projects are successful. As I thought about my answer, the typical responses of team player, attention to detail, and technical skills came to mind. But I decided to go in a different direction with my answer.
What I came up with serves as the basis of this article. I feel there are four universal concepts that a PM in any industry — be it IT, finance, healthcare, industrial, or good ole consumer-based — can utilize to improve their effectiveness and their ability to successfully lead a project to its completion. There could be more and I would appreciate you taking the time to detail what you think should be added to the list in the comments section. If we get enough material, we could write a book; I think we should call it the Seven Habits of High Effective Project Managers. My SEO monkeys should be happy with that one.
- Know when to be rigid and know when to be flexible. This sounds a little wishy-washy, right? It actually is a good concept. Let me explain. Once you have your project scope written and signed-off by your sponsor or product owner, your project planning can get started for real. As your start your project planning — like drawing up your requirements documentation or budget — you need to be rigid as a PM or ScrumMaster and make sure you will fulfill your project charter. Don’t plan activities outside of your scope. Once you get into your project, you will need to remain flexible. Regardless of the type of methodology you use, you need to focus on delivering quality and value to the customer. Once into building your product, your needs may change because of external or internal forces. As a PM, your ability to manage change and your attitude towards any shift in direction will spread to your team. If you are flexible, your team will be as well.
- Trust your instincts. As you gain more experience, your instincts will be honed and become a tool that will help you through the project planning and implementation stages. If you are working on deadline driven work packages and you feel you won’t be making a deadline, examine what you and your team can do to try and hit your goal. If you budgeted 10 hours for a particular task and a member of your Scrum feels it will take four times that long, trust their instincts and give them more resources or help or know that piece may end up taking more time.
- When in doubt, ask. There are lots of times that as a PM I have come to a point that I really don’t know what to do. As the PM we are supposed to be the rock, the picture of strength for the rest of our team. But there will always be some point that you come to that you will not know the answers. It isn’t shameful to ask someone for help — it is worse in my book to guess wrong and kill your project timelines because you were too proud to consult someone else. That is when it is always good to have a mentor or friend in project management who you can bounce ideas off of. Personally I keep lots of friends around because I have lots of questions.
- Prioritize value and quality over scope, budget, and timelines. My PMBOK instructor will probably hunt me down for that statement. When you are in the middle of a project that is customer driven, you need to be focused on delivering a product that provides your customer with value and quality. Now sometimes changes in the requirements document may cost them, but if you want to continue doing business with a customer, you need to give them what they want. Agile and specifically Scrum methodology supports this concept well.
There are additional concepts that I had in my notes for this article that could have been included by didn’t make the cut for whatever reason. But I think you will agree with me that these four reasons are a good start for this list of traits fantastic project managers have and use.