Rolling out agile initiatives in organizations is… challenging.
Whether you are dealing with lifelong subscribers of the PMBOK Guide or the more contemporary proponents who adhere to “waterfall practices”, the latest trend in project delivery, as packaged by the Agile Manifesto, is without question, scary.
Because, as we all know, change is scary. And few people, especially leaders, welcome the unknown.
Executive or senior management still need to see a solid business case, a plan with a clear beginning and end. Project managers still need their buy-in. Despite the utopic embracing of trial and error that we are fed in change management courses and leadership training, very few of us are in a position in which we can allow for errors, and therefore it is only natural that new practices compound resistance to acceptance.
How do you get kids to eat broccoli? You get them to eat it without knowing their eating it…
So how do we get people to embark with us on the agile journey? The same way you get kids to eat their vegetables. You want a kid to eat their broccoli? Transform it into something familiar, that is at least on the surface. Make it something they like; that they are used to. For those creative enough, transform it into something rewarding.
So how do you get your team do to « do agile » without them knowing? Remind them how they are agile without telling them that’s what they’re doing…
Agile is not a panacea, but it is a solution to increasing success where traditional project management has historically failed.
In fact, people do not realize they are actually being ‘agile’ in their daily lives. How many of us use lists and check them off as we go along? Personal or work, we have to get things done. We meet to discuss priorities, dispatch and schedule. Being agile is not all that farfetched. The problem is that we slap on some fancy words, turn something familiar into something new. People get uncomfortable because they cannot recognize what is in front of them. What once made sense, now seems foreign.
Turn something familiar into something better
The best way to introduce agile practices is by keeping things simple. Take what is already being done and make a few small adjustments:
Phases become sprints: Ideally you want to break down existing phases into much shorter planning periods. The advantage of using shorter cycles means you don’t need to stick to a rigid plan for the entire duration of the project and you can change and adapt as needed. In addition, you have greater control over managing the project management triangle. The team can meet more frequently, without affecting your monthly reporting or updates.
- Take your Gantt and make it your backlog: Your first action as a team is to identify, document and list all the activities or requirements needed to move forward within the specified period (phase/sprint). Instead of calling it a “product backlog”, give it a name that people will relate to.
- Scheduled meetings are now your scrum ceremonies. Meetings broken up into specific themes, with clear objectives:
- Planning meetings = Sprint planning: Depending on how you broke up the interval of each phase (now sprint), you want to meet to plan the associated activities.
- Regular scrums = Status updates: Try to get them in weekly or bi-weekly if you’re lucky. Keep it short. The idea here is to be sure that everyone knows what they are working on and allowing you to identify problem areas quickly.
- Post Mortem = Sprint retrospective: Instead of waiting for the end of a project to address all the ways it went wrong, improve with greater efficiency by identifying and addressing problems more quickly and keeping everyone aligned.
- A new role to help manage the deliver team: An important aspect in Agile methodology is the role of a scrum master. While it may appear superfluous to many, if done correctly, serves an important purpose. It allows better communication, planning of resources and can reduce conflict. Clarity in how you want that role to collaborate with a PM is key to project success. Essentially this person has to be your righthand person in terms of quickly addressing problem areas (resources, conflict, delays).
- Documentation: Visual aids help people see the progress you’re making in your project. Team members and management will appreciate the transparency and the availability of the information in an easy-to-understand format. One such tool is the Kanban chart.
Organizations are also being faced with the impending need to scale projects to maximize resources while increasing value. The agile methodology can work on two levels:
- Make your case before committing to larger projects
- Break down complex projects into smaller increments to deliver value quickly and increase success.
Agile is also about continuous improvement and value-deliver, and it can be implemented without a radical cultural change.
Go back to that check list. How many of us also feel that satisfaction as we see the items crossed off one by one? The principles of being agile is designed to increase your ability to create value in shorter lapses of time. It is designed to help organizations achieve concrete benefits of their initiatives quicker. Employees collaborate better, increase their capacity to deliver better quality product and processes. And, like anything, the more we do something, the better we get, the quicker we get to the end result.
If you manage to implement the few simple rules outlined above, congratulations, you’ve now just turned that broccoli into a reward!
PS: if you are really are looking for ways to get your kids to eat their broccoli, here’s a good recipe for you.