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September 2007
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November 2007

Calgary APLN Planning Session

Aplnlogo Last week we had the planning session for the 2007/2008 Calgary APLN Chapter. The goal was to create a prioritized list of topics to explore this season and demonstrate some of the values and practices of agile project leadership along the way.

We started by using the Speedboat game in small groups to identify impediments and propellers towards our goal of “Connecting, developing, and supporting great project leaders”. Speedboat is a group exercise for “Issue” and “Enabler” brainstorming that can be used with any group. It helps people to clarify goals, air their concerns, and suggest options for avoiding risks and moving forward. My colleague and co-host for the session, Janice Aston, wrote up these useful notes on using Speedboat and the outputs from the group.

Download Speed_Boat_Instructions.doc

Download Session_Results_10-17-07.doc

I previously wrote an account on Speedboat and other Innovation Games in an earlier post.

Following the Speedboat exercise we brainstormed presentation topics for the upcoming year. The thought process was: “Given the issues and enablers you just identified with agile leadership, what are the topics you would most like to see presented and discussed this year?”

Each group wrote ideas on sticky notes and we then posted them on the wall. Went through an affinity grouping exercise that sorted them into themed groups and removed duplicate suggestions. We all then went through a dot voting exercise where we assigned three votes among the topic suggestions. The topics and votes counts (shown in brackets) are shown below:

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Agile In Atlanta – PMBOK to LWOK

Atlanta_2I have just got back from the 2007 PMI Global Congress conference held in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a good conference and while I may question the applicability of traditional project management approaches for software development projects; for organizing a conference it is hard to question the results. I experienced no line-ups; good speaker support and a well thought out and organized conference.

My presentation on “Developments in Agile Project Management” was over subscribed and I was asked back to do an encore presentation which is a great endorsement for the level of interest in agile project management, especially from within the traditional PM community. When I presented on agile methods at the 2004 PMI Global Congress in Anaheim, I was the only presenter on agile methods there. Since then I have seen an increase year on year. Last year I counted four agile topics and this year six, which is a promising trend.

I met up with Mitch Lacey and Stein Dolan who were also presenting on agile methods at the conference and it was great to chat and discover we had a similar philosophy. This is that agile methods are merely additional tools for the project toolbox that work well given certain circumstances. They do not replace traditional methods, but instead can exist alongside them and can be used very effectively when the circumstances warrant. This is what Jim Collins calls” The Genius of the And” and the “Tyranny of the Or” by using a smart mix of traditional methods And agile we can better respond to project challenges and avoid the limitations of “either / Or” thinking.

It is good that the PMI is incorporating more agile content; lots of of today’s projects really need these techniques to be successful. Yet many agile practitioners are reluctant to take their message to the PMI, and prefer to focus on agile conferences. However as Henry David Thoreau reminds us “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root” Not that the PMI is evil, but if we are to change the world of project management, then the PMI is a great place to start.

My talk covered what’s new with Agile Project management and I was glad to be able to announce the Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN) LWOK program approved just a few days before.

While the PMI has its Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK) as its core set of agreed practices, little exists yet for agile project leaders. There are great resources scattered around different web sites, but no place we can point people to and say “go and start here, it will get you on your way”.

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Right-Brain Project Management

Right_brain_pm Last week I attended an excellent presentation on “Right-Brain Project Management” by Dr Michael Aucoin. I attend lots of presentations during the course of a year, mainly at North America events but a sprinkling of international conferences too, and few presentations stand out as being excellent. This one was exceptional from the content (that connected some loose ends in my Agile-Leadership-Project Management mental model) to the materials and delivery.

So, what was so good about it and what does it have to do with Agile Leadership? Well it outlined a parallel view of project management that supports and reinforces agile leadership and fills in some gaps along the way.

Michael started off by talking about today’s Stretch projects. He defined a Stretch project as a project that causes traditional project management challenges. They are characterized by:

• Schedule challenges and resource challenges
• Ambiguous specifications
• Dealing with new technology, new groups, new people
• Dispersed teams
• Many mid-project scope changes
• Challenging people issues

In these circumstances the old project management approaches that are good for predictable projects break down. Michael did not use the words Traditional and Agile, but he might as well have been giving an agile presentation because through his research he had arrived at the same conclusions, but interestingly, offered additional insights.

Why Does Project Management Fail?
Many people are frustrated by the mismatch between project management theory and its application on real-life projects. This is due largely to trying to employ approaches designed for predictable projects on today’s Stretch projects and seeing them come up short.

Yet, in many walks of life outside of project management, people succeed in unpredictable environments everyday. Doctors, farmers, and teachers all work in difficult to predict environments yet, on the whole, are successful. So why do project manager’s struggle with stretch projects? There are three main reasons.

1. Mismatched project model and environment
2. Projects lack emotional involvement
3. Personal challenges created by stretch projects

Let's look at each in turn...

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