Are you fixing problems or fixating on buzzwords?
If you’re confused by all the buzzwords associated with agile methods, you’re not alone. We’re told we have to track “velocity” using “sprints” towards delivering “epics”. People can get so worked up about implementing strange terms that they fail to make meaningful changes in organisational behaviour.
Agile project management refers to an iterative, incremental method of managing the design and build activities of engineering, information technology and other business areas that aim to provide new product or service development in a highly flexible and interactive manner.
Here are four examples of how the big picture can get lost during the agile approach:
Backlogs of everything. A primary driver of agile methods is preserving the executive discretion to deal with change. Whether it be misunderstood scope, dependency delays or attrition, we want to fix a strategy and flex on the details. We can do that with techniques like progressive elaboration, continuous improvement and delegating more to the team.
Unfortunately, that agile book you read only mentioned those fancy new artefacts. Here’s a tip: When creating a backlog, hold off on trying to nail down microscopic project details a full year in advance.
Self-defeating teams. The Agile Manifesto emphasizes the value of “individuals and interactions”. So it makes sense to empower and equip people with everything they could possibly need to do good work. We get so wrapped up in that methodology flowchart sometimes, we forget to ask team members what will help them excel.
If you’ve changed your title from project manager to ScrumMaster and still find yourself having to tell everyone what to do, you might be missing the point. Create the space to help team talents grow.
Non-collaborative user stories. User stories are a popular aspect of the agile approach. But if you don’t have everyone in the conversation, you’re not using stories to their full potential. Stories are most valuable when collaborating with key members of your team and the customer. To create insight and alignment, bringing people to the table is better than using a requirements template.
Slowed by sprints. Time-boxing techniques such as sprints and iterations let us gather incremental empirical feedback on the quality of work performed so problems can be fixed sooner. But these techniques don’t work if you’re waiting until the last minute to pull people together. Many projects wait to integrate anything only until after building everything. That delays value and increases risk. Instead integrating each sprint’s results and lessons learned should be an ongoing process throughout the project.
Agile approaches challenge us to develop our talent to deliver the right value as soon as possible. If you find yourself buzzword-compliant but struggling to change organisational behaviour, then your agile methods might be only skin-deep.
By Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, PM Network Contributing Editor
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