Agile Project Management – Some Home Truths!

Rob Thomsett, author and consultant, got the graveyard shift at the Agile Business Conference in London today. Rob says, above all, implementing agile is first and foremost a culture change. For sure, it changes the role of project managers in software development. But it doesn’t eradicate the need for project managers. Project management is absolutely still needed.

I’ve blogged quite a bit recently about how I believe the same. More work can be done as Business As Usual when using agile methods. But for larger projects, agile software development needs to be augmented with good project management practices. In these cases, agile software development alone is not enough.

Rob is a very entertaining speaker – no sleeping here! Some really interesting home truths. About executives’ view of projects, and how the IT industry has so consistently failed to deliver on projects for the last 40 years.

One of the biggest challenge with any project, agile or not, is managing scope. Rob has never believed that requirements can be fully defined up-front. Getting Project Sponsors to pay any attention to their projects is also a big challenge. Sponsors need to clear a space in their diaries, and play an active role in their projects!

Rob says he hates the term ‘Users’. He remembers in the IT dark ages, when everyone thought Users were stupid. On the evolutionary scale, somewhere between pigeon and monkey! Agile development changes this. It builds trust. Trust between the Experts and ‘Users’. It starts to create a partnership. A real partnership between IT and business people.

Projects must have an open relationship with stakeholders. The only purpose of delivering projects is to deliver what the stakeholders want. Stakeholders are not the enemy. Projects must engage stakeholders as allies.

On his website, Rob has some estimating games. Things like “guess the number your boss is thinking of”, “double it because the boss will halve it”, stuff like that. They sound fun!

Agile Project Management principles should be openness, honesty, integrity. Also simplicity, face-to-face communication and no bureaucracy!

Rob says the software development model (analyse, design, develop, test and implement) is still right. It’s the artefacts that are wrong. Don’t throw out the model. Agile still needs these processes. But do throw out the artefacts. Remove the bureaucracy!

He also talked about an idea he has for a reality TV programme – Bureaucrats Survivor! where bureaucrats are stranded on a desert island and have to survive. He said they’d probably start by cutting down all the trees, so they can make forms! Only then would they realise they needed them for fruit :-)

Rob showed an interesting tool for defining the success criteria for projects. He called it “Success Sliders”. It’s a tool to help facilitate a conversation with stakeholders about what’s important for them on the project. A way to align stakeholder expectations. Looks really interesting if well facilitated – well worth a look!


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