Announcing “PM Illustrated” – The Fun Way to Prepare for Your PMP® Exam

PM Illustrated - Banner 800

I know, “Fun” and “PMP Exam” are rarely used in the same sentence. When I studied for my PMP credential in 2001, materials were text-based, process-focused, and dry! Unfortunately, not much has changed since then.

However, fun is a serious business in adult learning, it boosts retention and cuts study time. We recall facts about our favorite hobbies and sports teams much easier than boring information because our brains prioritize fun experiences for recall. It is why good trainers who can make a topic enjoyable are so valuable.

Visual Learning

90 percent visual - 400

The other secret weapon in slashing our study time is Visual Learning. Research into visual thinking by David Hyerle, reports that 90% of the information entering the brain is visual. 40% of all nerve fibers connected to the brain are connected to the retina, and a full 20% of the entire cerebral cortex is dedicated to vision - so let’s use it.

Using a combination of cartoons, images, mind maps, and explanations, we can engage the right and left hemispheres of our brain to build stronger comprehension and better recall. Tests show most people only remember 10% of what they heard three days ago. Add an image to the message, and this figure jumps to 65%.

Images Increase Retention

 

Why Animal Cartoons?

Made to stickBecause they are cute, funny, and memorable. The memorable part is valuable for exam preparation. Images that are surprising for the context, such as using animals to show project management topics, are “stickier” in our brains. In the book “Made to Stick”, authors Chip and Dan Heath explain we remember things that are simple, unexpected, and emotional.

Animal cartoons about project management do all three.

Support Diversity and Inclusion(Here, we see the herd welcoming the zebra who is a bit different, but it is all good.)

Our brains are lazy and filter out the ordinary or familiar. Recall vacations, often the first few days are memorable because everything is new and different. Then the last few days seem to pass quickly in a blur. Our brain skips the usual stuff, presumably saving space for valuable fresh information.

To help us study for exams more effectively, we can trick our brains into marking everything as new, unusual, and needing to be stored away by associating it with the unfamiliar. 

Value Servant Leadership(Be the bridge to success for others)

The good news is you will find recall much easier. The bad news is you might try and thank a snake instead of avoiding it.

 

Beta testerLooking for Beta Testers

The website is not finished yet but is mostly functional now. If you are a visual learner looking for a new way to study project management with the following features:

  • See the big picture – Navigate the scope of the PMP Exam Content Outline (ECO) via three different roadmaps
  • Chart your own adventure – travel through the topics in any order
  • Gamification – Track your progress by earning digital badges with optional leaderboards
  • Self Assessment – Check your understanding at the end of each module

I would love to hear your feedback, whether “Too many pictures”, “Too weird,” or “Awesome!” please let me know. Your feedback is valuable and review contributors will be acknowledged in the upcoming book version.

Here’s the link: PM Illustrated – A Visual Learner’s Guide to Project Management - while it works on mobile, it works best on desktop devices.

Managing projects is anything but dull, studying how to do it should not be dull either.


Agile Adoption – Left to Right is the Way to Go

Agile approaches "Crossed the Chasm" a decade ago. The organizations we see adopting it today are in the "Late Majority" and "Laggard" categories of Geoffrey Moore's Technology Adoption Life Cycle.

Crossing the Chasm
As companies adopt agile because they have to / it's now expected / the industry norm / required to stay competitive / <insert your own reason>, we see more push-back and failures than ever.

Doing something because you have to, rather than because you want to, leads to shortcuts and the wrong mindset. The image below, from Ahmed Sidky, shows agile as a mindset.

Agile as a Mindset

In the image above, agile is a mindset described by four values, defined by twelve principles and manifested through an unlimited number of practices.

The correct way to learn agile is to start on the left of this image and learn about the four agile values in the mindset. Then learn about the twelve principles that define agile. Once you understand those, you will see all the agile practices are just implementing agile principles and values in various scenarios to solve different problems. This is the correct, Left-to-Right agile adoption.

How to Adopt Agile

Unfortunately, many organizations reluctantly adopting agile are impatient. Mindsets and values sound like unnecessary fluff. "We are serious engineers and don't have time for that kumbaya nonsense. Our people are smart, just show us the practices, and we will figure out the rest." So they start on the right-hand side, and adopt a set of agile practices, not appreciating the values and principles necessary for them to work.

Some practices work; others do not. They struggle to get whole-hearted buy-in and see only patchy pockets of success. Some teams continue trying agile; others revert back to how they were. They become an "Agile? Yeah, we tried that, but it did not work well here" shop. They experienced the right-to-left copying of practices without understanding the mindset, values or principles.

How Not to Adopt Agile

Incorrect Right-to-Left adoptions of agile (or anything) fail because they copy behavior without understanding the supporting structures. The practices we see agile teams undertake are just the visible components of a much larger ecosystem. This is known as the Agile Iceberg.

Agile Iceberg

 

Supporting the visible practices above the water line is a larger, more significant commitment to the mindset, values and principles below the water line. Without investment in the below-the-waterline components, any attempts to copy and duplicate agile practices will sink and be dropped from practice.

 

Cargo Cults

Cargo Cult

Another analogy used to depict right-to-left attempts to cut and paste agile is the Cargo-cult. "Cargo cults" is the term used to explain the phenomenon of blindly replicating outward behavior, hoping that it will yield positive results. It originates from a few scattered instances of Pacific Island tribes recreating replicas of the wartime aircraft runways, control towers, and radios out of wood on remote islands, believing that they would bring back the cargo planes that brought Western goods during the war.

The islanders did not know how control towers or radios worked; they just copied what they had seen, hoping it would bring the benefits they had also seen. Implementing sprints, demos, and daily stand-up meetings without valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools is just as ineffective as an all-wood radio. All it achieves is to frustrate people and give agile a bad name.

 

The Solution

Like anything worth achieving, the solution requires some thought and hard work. We need to work one-on-one with people and provide maps, not pamphlets, of how agile works so people can make their own informed decisions at the junctions on the pathway to value delivery.

Maps

This may sound like a lot of work, but it saves time and reduces workload in the long run.

 

Making Sense of Agile

There are thousands of agile practices documented in books, blogs and presented at agile conferences every year and likely many times more that never get reported. We do not need to learn them all; because once we understand a core set, we will see the themes, grasp the goals, and help teams create their own tailored ways of working that support the agile mindset.

Let's review some popular techniques often seen on Scrum teams.

Daily Stand upDaily Stand-up meetings – These are the quick, inter-team coordination meets held daily where team members share with their colleagues:

  • What they have been working on (or completed),
  • What they plan to work on next,
  • If any issues or blockers are hampering their progress.

Agile Concepts:

  • The team owns the work – team members report to each other, not the Scrum Master or some project manager authority role
  • Transparency – openly share information, good and bad, so people stay informed and can make better decisions

 

Sprint DemoSprint Demo – At the end of every sprint (usually one or two weeks long), the team demonstrates what has been built to the business and confirms what to work on next.

Agile Concepts:

  • Frequent delivery – Deliver working software frequently. Working software is the primary indicator of progress.
  • The team owns the work – It is the team that demos the work, not the Scrum Master or Product Owner. This demonstrates and builds ownership of the evolving solution.
  • Focus on business value – Since the backlog is prioritized by business value, the team should be demonstrating the highest business value work items completed. Also, the discussions on what to work on next also focuses work by business value.
  • Transparency – Openly share information, good and bad, so people stay informed and can make better decisions.

 

Product BacklogProduct Backlog – The ordered list of work for the project/product. Prioritized by the Product Owner based on business value. Creates a single queue of work items to focus on.

Agile Concepts:

  • Focus on business value – The product backlog is prioritized by the product owner, usually a business representative, not the Scrum Master or other team member, to ensure the project focuses on business value.
  • Transparency – By putting all work items in a single, highly visible queue, everyone can see the full scope of work to be accomplished. This (hopefully) eliminates side-agreements or under-the-table agenda items being worked on. Also, since change requests are prioritized in the backlog, they bring visibility to these elements and likely completion dates.

 

Release PlanningRelease Planning – The process of the product owner and development team collectively meeting to discuss, prioritize and estimate features for the next release. By engaging the do-ers of the work in the planning process, we simultaneously: 1) get better insights into technical work involved, 2) generate better buy-in for the estimates created and a stronger commitment to meet them.

Agile Concepts:

  • Focus on business value – The business (through the product owner role) drives the planning process.
  • Transparency – Features and stories from the product backlog are refined and estimated to create a release roadmap that illustrates target dates for key components of the product or service being developed.

 

Sprint PlanningSprint Planning – This is the planning process one level below release planning. The product owner and development team collectively meet to discuss, prioritize, and estimate the next one or two weeks' worth of development.

Agile Concepts:

  • Focus on business value – Work is prioritized by the product owner.
  • Engage the team in decision making – The team makes local decisions about how best to undertake the work, how to self-organize, and in what order to undertake technical tasks.
  • Transparency – All estimates and progress are discussed openly within the project team. Details about progress, issues, or setbacks are discussed daily at the daily stand-up meeting.

 

RetrospectiveRetrospective – A workshop held at the end of each sprint/iteration to review progress, process and people aspects of the project. These regular inspect, review and adapt sessions typically result in suggestions of things to try differently in the next sprint/iteration. By conducting frequent, short-scale experiments, teams can inspect, adapt and improve rapidly throughout delivery.

Agile Concepts:

  • Inspect and adapt – At regular intervals, the team reflects on becoming more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
  • Engage the team in decision making - The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Transparency – Be open to talking about issues and ways to improve. Acknowledge there are constantly ways to get better. Recognize and thank teams for looking to improve their delivery capabilities.

 

Kanban boardKanban/Task Boards – These are large publicly accessible displays of work done, in-process, and waiting to start. Kanban boards make the team's work visible.

Agile Concepts:

  • Transparency – It shows what is being worked on, what has been completed and what is coming next. This information is not the domain of just the project manager, everyone benefits from knowing about it.
  • Engage the team in decision making – By sharing the project plan visibly, team members can better alert us to potential problems and solutions.

 

Seeing the Agile Matrix

In the sci-fi movie "The Matrix", the hero, Neo, develops the ability to "see the code of the Matrix." This is the computer simulation he is living inside. Once he sees this, he understands how things work and can move faster and is more powerful than ever before. It is an "a-ha" moment; now things make sense, and he can see his world's structure and patterns and manipulate them.

Agile Matrix

It is the same with developing an agile mindset. Once you realize agile is based on a few core concepts, you see them repeated everywhere. These concepts include:

  • Focus on delivering value
  • Build incrementally
  • Gather early feedback
  • Inspect, adapt and learn as you go
  • Let the team decide as much as possible
  • Be transparent and show progress, good and bad

With these ideas in mind, practices such as estimating via planning poker make more sense. We are engaging the team in defining their estimates. We are using a visual, transparent process. It is iterative and incremental. There is inspection and the ability to adapt the estimates if outliers are found.

Everything agile teams do reflects these values. Information radiators are about being transparent and visual. Voting on decisions is about letting the team decide. We do not need to learn every agile practice because we will quickly be able to understand any of them once we recognize the agile mindset, values, and principles.

When making decisions, we can apply these agile concepts. Engage the team, be transparent, focus on value, get early feedback, etc. These are not complex concepts to grasp and are what many of us intuitively try to do anyway. That's why agile, for many people, feels like common sense.

However, it can be quite different from traditional project management's analytical world, which aims to specify everything up front before executing a detailed project plan. It is a mindset shift for some people, but one worth making if your work is complex, uncertain, and frequently changing. Here a Left to Right adoption of the agile mindset, values, and principles is the way to go.


Book 150<This article is an excerpt from PM Illustrated: A Visual Learners Guide to Project Management. If you are a visual learner who likes clear explanations, check out PM Illustrated here.>



Hybrid Agile Discussion

Hybrid Agile banner

Upcoming Presentation: “Hybrid Agile, Stepping Stone or Quicksand?”

How do you feel about hybrid agile – mixing agile approaches with non-agile approaches? Can it be useful sometimes, or is it the path to compromise and failure? (A great way to separate agile purists from pragmatists is to ask them what they think about hybrid agile.)

Please join me on April 26 to discuss hybrid agile with PMI San Diego Chapter. In this session, we will separate agile blends from non-agile hybrids. Then explore case studies of failures and success stories, examining patterns of problems and success factors. Topics include:

  • Left-to-right agile adoption vs right-to-left implementation
  • The Genius of the “And” vs. the Tyranny of the “Or”
  • Hybrid models (switchover, sandwich, encapsulation)
  • Case studies in success, failure and regression
  • Red flags, anti-patterns, and warning signs to stop
  • Further resources and case studies to learn from


To quote Ron Jefferies, “Agile isn’t any damn thing,” so come find out what breaks it and if we can preserve it with the combination of non-agile elements.

PMI San Diego Chapter

Registration Link


Emotional Intelligence for Scrum Masters, Team Leads and Project Managers - #3

EQ for PMs 3

<This is post 3 in a multi-post series about EI and leadership taken from my book Beyond Agile. Check out Post 1 and Post 2 first if you have not seen them. In this article, we will dive into personal growth and the power of discovering the space between stimulus and response.>

EI’s origins - Mayer and Salovey Four-Branch Model

The precursor to Goleman’s EQ and Bar-On’s EQ-i models was created by John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who published their research in 1990. The Mayer and Salovey model extends the maturing idea we looked at in post #2 and adds layers of sophistication. It is called the Four-Branch model because it describes four branches of emotional skills, going down the table vertically in terms of sophistication and maturity, and moving from left to right horizontally as a timeline from childhood to adulthood.

Four Branch Model

Continue reading "Emotional Intelligence for Scrum Masters, Team Leads and Project Managers - #3" »


Emotional Intelligence for Scrum Masters, Team Leads and Project Managers - #2

This is post #2 in a multi-post series about EI and leadership taken from my book Beyond Agile. Check out Post #1 first, if you have not seen it already. In this article, we will explore what EI is and why it’s often such a tricky topic to define due to the proliferation of different models with similar-sounding components.

 

EI - Better Results by Becoming More Effective

Let us start the EI exploration journey with a process we are all familiar with, growing up and becoming independent adults. Stephen Covey talks about a progression of maturity and effectiveness that people go through as they get older.

Stages of Development

We start as children, dependent on our parents for food, shelter, and support in life. How effective we are at accomplishing things grows, as we do, and eventually, we need less support. When we become teenagers and young adults, we become less dependent on adults and more independent. We eventually get jobs, move out of our parents’ homes (hopefully), and are more effective at accomplishing things in life than when we were children. Our level of effectiveness increases as we move from dependent to independent.

Covey says this is as far as many people progress. They learn how to be independent and contribute at an individual level. However, they are missing out on a further, more effective and productive stage called interdependent. This is what can be achieved when we partner and work with other people. When we learn how to collaborate and work with others, our personal limitations no longer hold us back. Other people can overcome our shortcomings.

So, if Mary is great at generating innovative ideas but lacks the patience or due diligence to see them through to fruition, she can partner with Dave, who thrives on detail and can transform ideas into completed products. When they can find ways to work together, they are both more effective than when working independently.

The bridge from the state of being dependent to being independent is called maturity. Parents, high schools, and the school of hard knocks move people from dependence to independence. Hopefully, there are several family members who can help with that transition.

Stages of Development with EI

The bridge from Independent to Interdependent is emotional intelligence. Learning how to interact, cooperate, and collaborate with others is not emphasized nearly enough. These practical life skills are hidden behind the unappealing label of emotional intelligence. There is much written about the process, but few people think to investigate further, at least at first. Often, family members possess it intuitively, but lack frameworks or words to effectively describe it.

Continue reading "Emotional Intelligence for Scrum Masters, Team Leads and Project Managers - #2" »


Emotional Intelligence for Scrum Masters, Team Leads and Project Managers - #1

Leadership is built on the foundation of strong EII am long overdue for posting to LeadingAnswers.com. I have been busy finishing the content and games over at PMillustrated.com. While explaining project management through cartoon animals is fun, I wanted to post some meatier content here.

This is the first in a multi-post series about emotional intelligence (EI) as the foundation for team leadership. The material comes from my Beyond Agile book and explains why a firm basis of EI is critical to becoming an effective Scrum Master, team lead, or project manager. This first post introduces EI and explains its significance.

Leadership and EI work together to create cohesive, cooperative teams. The two approaches support each other and enable organizations and team leaders to build teams that overcome problems and achieve amazing results. However, to understand these topics properly, we need to decompose the system, see how the parts fit together, then tackle them in a logical sequence, which may, from the outset, seem counterintuitive.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) involves learning how to understand ourselves, which in turn helps us work well with other people. It concerns how to communicate, support, empower, and motivate people. It’s important to understand self first, because we are not going to motivate or empower anyone by being a bully, a jerk, or getting flustered.

So, while our end goal is effective leadership, which is like an electric motor that drives high-performing teams, we first need to understand that it is powered by EI—the electricity that powers the motor. For this reason, we will start with EI (which starts with ourselves) and then work up to powering the leadership engine.

Leadership is built on the foundation of strong EI - 750

Why EI Is More Important than Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

To take advantage of our intelligence, our IQ, we first need good emotional intelligence EI. Regardless of how intelligent or gifted we are, if we turn others off with our offensive or abrasive behavior or cave in under minimal stress, no one will stick around long enough to notice our IQ.

A quick exercise to illustrate the importance of EI over IQ is to think of a mentor who has had a significant impact on your career. List five properties that made that person such a valuable influence for you. Now examine the list and categorize the properties as EQ or IQ related. Items such as caring about you, taking an interest in your development, and demonstrating integrity and honesty are all EQ factors. Items such as master strategist, guru-level coder/architect/statistician are more IQ based.

Chances are your most influential mentor used more EQ skills than IQ—they nearly always do. That is who we are trying to emulate. It will not happen overnight, but it is better to be on the right road, heading in the right direction, than totally unaware of the destination or direction to get there. In the June 21, 1999, issue of Fortune, cover story “Why CEOs Fail” reported that unsuccessful CEOs put strategy before people issues, while the most successful CEOs used integrity, people acumen, assertiveness, effective communication, and trust-building behavior. Projects are like mini organizations and the same skills apply.

Team leaders rarely struggle with core competencies in planning, change management, or reporting, yet they often struggle with communications, failing to see other people’s perspectives, and understanding the impacts of their actions.

 

Tackling the “Emotional” Elephant

The term emotional intelligence needs a makeover, a rebranding. The word emotion has too many negative connotations, unbefitting for the rocket fuel, the “secret sauce” that it really is. It should have a cool, powerful name like “results multiplier”, “smarts accelerator”, or “team unifier” because that is really what it does.

However, we have inherited the term emotional intelligence and it seems to be sticking around for now. That is a shame because too many people avoid it and instead stumble around researching motivation and conflict-resolution topics, hoping to get better at dealing with people, when everything they are looking for is laid out for them in the domain of EI.

So, get over any notions you may have about it being soft or too feminine to apply to your projects. If your project involves people in any way, understanding EI will improve your results. The good news is that unlike mathematical, logic, and language intelligence, which are measured in IQ tests and usually peak around age eighteen, EI develops more slowly and typically does not peak until our forties or fifties.

<To read more about EI and its relationship to effective leadership look out for the remaining posts in this series, or get the book Beyond Agile for the complete picture and supporting detail.>

Beyond Agile 150

 


January 2022 - PMI-ACP Supported Self-Study Group

PMI-ACP Supported Self-Study Group

The next 7-week PMI-ACP Supported Study Group with Mike Griffiths is starting soon. Register by January 15th for Earlybird pricing of just $99 (regular $199).

This live 7-week online book-club / self-study program works as follows:

  • Read one chapter of my PMI-ACP Exam Prep book each week
  • Join me for a one-hour Zoom call to review topics and ask any questions you may have
  • Get access to a private LinkedIn group where you can ask additional questions and discuss topics with peers
  • Receive exclusive chapter summaries, mindmaps, additional sample exam questions, and extra resources
  • A small group capped at 25 people.

At the end of the 7-week program, we will have covered all the material, and you should be ready to take the exam.

I wanted to offer a more affordable option than online training for a small group of people who are willing to self-study. This option allows people to clarify topics with me and interact with others who are also preparing for their PMI-ACP exam.

Study Group 3

Frequently asked questions:

  • Q: Does the course include a copy of my PMI-ACP Exam Prep book? A: No, you will need to have or buy your own copy of my book. We will use the latest version, the “PMI-ACP Exam Prep: Updated Second Edition.” This can be purchased, generally cheaper than Amazon, at the RMC website.
  • Q: Is the book available electronically? A: Yes, you can choose the electronic format or paperback.
  • Q: When will the weekly Zoom calls occur? The Zoom calls will be on Saturday mornings starting January 22nd at 11:00 Eastern Standard Time. See WorldTimeBuddy to convert to your local time.
  • Q: Will the Zoom calls be recorded? Can I watch one later if I miss a session?: A: Yes, the Zoom calls will be recorded and available for participants to view later.

Introductory price $99. This price includes the weekly Q&A Zoom calls, LinkedIn support group, and exclusive resources (summaries, mindmaps, extra sample exam questions, etc)

If you would like to participate or learn more, please send me an email: 

Mike <at> LeadingAnswers.com.


Beyond Agile – Relentlessly Reduce Process

Beyond Agile 150Stefan Wolpers recently reposted his survey “Would you recommend SAFe®?” on LinkedIn and it prompted some excellent discussion. One comment I liked by Maxwell Lamers summarized a common view of SAFe® succinctly as “The framework itself is built on solid ideas, and there is nothing inherently evil about the framework. The trouble comes in the implementation.” Maxwell described problems when SAFe® is not fully implemented, but I think taking on too much process and training is a problem in its own right.

Process Has Weight, but Knowledge Is Weightless

Ceremonies and processes have weight and take time to undertake. This is okay if the process adds sufficient value to warrant the expenditure. However, often they do not add enough value, or the processes continue to be used beyond the point where they are still valuable and become a net drain on a team’s efficiency.

Knowledge and Process

Knowledge, on the other hand, is weightless. There is no penalty for collecting knowledge. Understanding a wide variety of topics and techniques allows us to use only the most efficient and appropriate for our current circumstances.

We can visualize process as the baggage and tools we carry on our project journey. Like going on a hike, some small undertakings may require no additional support. We can just turn up and do them. As projects get longer and more complicated, just like a longer hike, we might be glad of a raincoat and some food and water for the trip.

Complex and hazardous endeavors may require sophisticated tools (and knowing how to use them). The goal is to take just what we need, understanding that the more we elect to bring, the better prepared we are, but the slower we will go. The more energy you use carrying a heavy backpack of tools, the less energy you have available to move toward the project goals. So, we need to balance responsible process with goal focus and progress.

 

Problems with Agile Frameworks

The agile community is abuzz with discussions of and promotions for scaling frameworks that claim to help organizations apply agile approaches to large, complex scenarios. These frameworks include SAFe, LeSS, and Nexus and offer reasonable solutions for common scaling problems. They are generally well researched and supported by a wealth of training courses, credentials, and certified consultants. However, they come with some fundamental problems as well.

  • Agile Myopia - Agile scaling frameworks suggest agile approaches as the only solution. When you have only a hammer in your toolbox, all problems look like nails. However, sometimes the best way to deal with that traditional stakeholder who wants a WBS is to give them a WBS. Likewise, maybe some aspect of your project is defined and repeatable, so why not use a traditional plan-driven approach for it? It is both arrogant and ignorant to believe agile is always the best solution.

 

  • Software Focused – The agile approaches, scaling frameworks, and tool kits grew out of the software development space. Unfortunately, they have not shed their software-focused roots and still contain concepts based on software architecture. That might be okay for consultants who can filter out these elements and convert the ideas to other industries, but it is an impediment to sharing ideas and getting a broad spectrum of stakeholders on board.

 

  • Buffet Syndrome - When faced with a buffet of tasty-looking food, there is a tendency to take more than we need. With so much information available in these tool kits, most organizations and teams try to adopt too much process leaving too little energy for the actual project goals. It is fine to understand the theory (knowledge is weightless), but when you start using these rich frameworks, the process weight overwhelms most organizations.

 

Often, speed of delivery and the ability to quickly react to changes (key agile benefits) are lost by organizations now using overly heavy frameworks. As focus shifts to training, learning new terminology, and roles like Release Train Engineer, less effort is directed to project goals, with predictable results.

Agile approaches are not always the best tools for the job. Like any good tool, agile tools are great for their intended purpose but are no panacea or silver bullet. Also, the size and depth of scaling frameworks create distractions of focus and dilute team effort from project goals. So, avoid framework consultants, training, and certification programs; we cannot afford distractions from the fundamental goal of completing a project.

 

Beyond Agile Avoids Agile Myopia and Buffet Syndrome

Unlike the large scaling frameworks, such as SAFe®, Beyond Agile avoids Agile Myopia and Buffet Syndrome by being simultaneously broader and more selective in its recommendations.

Beyond Agile recognizes that processes carry implementation weight, yet knowledge is weightless. So, it recommends learning much and implementing little—just the most relevant to retain maximum team effort toward the project goal.

The dynamic model changes based on project and organizational characteristics, recommending the highest-value-added approaches for the situation at hand. Some key concepts:

  • There is no single, simple model for complex projects.
  • Process carries weight, but knowledge is weightless.
  • Guidance needs to be dynamic based on project and organizational characteristics.

 

Chasing “Done” Drift

For most modern projects, the destination is a moving target, and it is usually moving away from us. The longer we take to deliver a project, the more likely the endpoint will move further away to keep up with new competitor products, industry expectations, sponsor requests, etc. I call this phenomenon “Done” Drift because what constitutes “Done” will likely evolve during a project or product life cycle. So, we want to get to the destination as fast as possible without diverting energy on nonessential work.

We need to analyze all activities and processes that do not contribute directly toward the project goal. In the figure below, 100 squares represent 100 percent of the team’s effort toward the team goal. If 5 percent of their time and energy is spent on non-value-adding process, such as excessive agile ceremony focus, they can only direct 95 percent net toward the project goal.

Team Focus

The more process we add, whether it is necessary corporate process or cool new team activities, the more delivery capacity we remove from the net vector of progress toward the end goal (that is always moving away from us). The final image above shows an additional 10 percent of corporate process, and the net vector of progress is reduced further.

These images illustrate the double whammy dilemma. First, the end goal is always moving away from us—the longer we take to get there, the more we will have to do to declare success. Second, every call on the team’s time takes away from their ability to make progress toward the goal.

The numbers in these examples are conservative. Think about how long you spend on your projects in value-adding activities versus non-value-adding company process, meetings, or producing three sets of time reporting, etc. All the time and focus not directed toward the end goal are distractions. Plus, when you give people enough distractions, they lose energy and start making mistakes because of the interruptions of constantly switching tasks.

Laser Focus

A 40-watt light bulb will barely light a room, while a 40-watt laser can cut through aluminum, leather, and wood. It is the same light energy, just focused instead of diffused.

So, while it is great to be aware of many different approaches, we must always be alert to the costs. Every interruption and call on your team’s time that is not directed at the project’s end goal is reducing their capacity.

While it is extremely valuable to look beyond agile for guidance, we need to maintain a strict filter on what and how much we use from any approach. So, expand your toolbox, hone your skills, become domain and tool agnostic, and then direct maximum effort toward the project goal.

Focus

This expands the familiar DevOps model:

DevOps

With a further dimension or loop as shown below:

BAMDevOps

The challenge (and skill of being a good leader) comes in using the minimum amount of the most appropriate approach for the situation to get the job done.

 

The Stage and the Spotlight

So far, we have explored two core ideas of the Beyond Agile Model (BAM). The first is that the project characteristics define the size and scope of the recommended approaches, training, and artifacts to consider for that project type. This is akin to setting or defining the stage we are working on.

The second idea is to be careful and deliberate about what to focus our attention and our team’s attention on since we can easily lose focus on the project end goals. To extend our stage metaphor, this is the spotlight that suggests what we should focus on.

These two ideas are used together in the model to define the recommendations scope—the dotted red line representing the stage encompassing everything in scope for us to call upon. Then the goal focus would be a spotlight shining on that stage, illuminating what we are to focus on.

Stage and Spotlight

The aperture of the Beyond Agile recommended-approaches scope is elastic: it is always trying to shrink, returning to a state where less is included. Project and organizational factors stretch it larger but also create tension. As soon as the approaches no longer justify their expenditure, they should be eliminated or pared back.

The spotlight is controlled by our economic view of decision-making. This means we ask, “Where is the next best dollar spent for the project?” Should we be building features, responding to issues, or answering a stakeholder request?

As project lead, we continually evaluate priorities and readjust the focus to optimize value delivery and stakeholder satisfaction. It is no use ignoring stakeholders to focus on building features or diverting the whole team to explore every new question or request. Instead, we dynamically readjust the team focus of effort to bring the most valuable outcomes.

Expansive scaling frameworks may look appealing since they appear to hold all the guidance we need. Yet this masks two silent killers of performance Agile Myopia (the tool you might best benefit from using next lies outside of the agile toolkit) and Buffet Syndrome (trying to use so much stuff and train so many people in it all will kill off any ability to deliver meaningful value.)

The solution is simple to describe but requires discipline to implement.

  • Start with agile but also look beyond it for your tools.
  • Ruthlessly refactor and keep removing process to focus team effort on the goal

 

Essentialism

It’s the same core idea as described in the book Essentialism, just applied to teams and value delivery. The book summary site Reading Graphics has an excellent visual summary.

Essentialism(Image Credit: Reading Graphics)

The Beyond Agile Model recognizes Agile Myopia and Buffet-Syndrome as real threats to performance and provides an alternative.

It is not a one size fits all solution. It cannot be boiled down and printed on a pamphlet for memorization or easy access. Instead, it is more like a map you consult on your team journey multiple times to make local decisions towards your goal.

Simple and Wrong vs Complex and Right

See more in the Beyond Agile book.


Beyond Agile Gratitude #2 - Lean Thinking and the Kanban Method

Beyond Agile 150Now that my Beyond Agile book has been published, I would like to thank people who helped shape its content and ideas. David Anderson has done much to popularize and explain lean and the Theory of Constraints thinking.

The Kanban Method can teach agile practitioners many useful ideas about incremental improvement, successful organizational change, and improved team performance. So, rather than considering it an alternative to agile approaches, I like to think of it as a compliment, another source for ideas, tools, and solutions.

We have a tendency to get attached to our personal favorite agile approach, whether that is Scrum, XP, or something else, and regard alternative approaches as somehow inferior or derivative. However, the Kanban Method has some useful additions, so let us see what it has to offer.

First, many people are confused between kanban and the Kanban Method, so it is worth some clarification. The Japanese word kanban (usually with a lowercase k) means “signal,” “sign,” or “large visual board.” Agile teams often use kanban boards to visualize their work. These kanban boards typically show queues and work in progress (WIP). They may also show WIP limits for activities and expedite paths for urgent work.

The Kanban Method (usually capitalized) is a complete process for defining, managing, and improving the execution of knowledge work. David Anderson developed it in 2007 and, like agile, has its own set of values, principles, and practices. More than just using kanban boards to track and manage your work, it is a full lifecycle approach for running and improving knowledge-work projects.

Kanban

David and I worked together in the early 2000s on the Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN) board. He appreciated the concepts of agile and combined them with concepts from Theory of Constraints and lean design to develop a method focused on the flow of work that could be applied to any knowledge-work scenario. Unlike agile approaches that suggest a complete switch to agile work execution, Kanban starts with the process you have right now and provides tools to improve its service.

This makes the Kanban Method much easier to adopt, as no big upheaval, retooling or enterprise-wide training is required. Instead, the Kanban Method principles are applied to the way things are currently done.

Kanban Principles

  • Change management
  • Start with what you do now.
  • Agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change.
  • Encourage acts of leadership at every level.
  • Service delivery
  • Understand and focus on your customers’ needs and expectations.
  • Manage the work; let people self-organize around it.
  • Evolve policies to improve customer and business outcomes.

Based on these principles, three parallel and ongoing agendas (themes of work) are employed:

Kanban Agenda

  • Service orientation: Look outward and focus on performance and customer satisfaction. Ask How can we meet and exceed customer goals?
  • Sustainability: Look inward to find a sustainable pace and improve focus. Make intangible work visible and then balance demand with capability.
  • Survivability: Look forward to remain competitive and adaptive to more change. Scan for the emergence of disruptors and value diversity to better handle change.

Throughout all the approaches, a core set of values based on respect and collaboration is embraced. These are:

Kanban Values

  • Transparency: Sharing information through straightforward terms improves the flow of work.
  • Balance: The understanding that competing elements must be balanced for effectiveness.
  • Collaboration: People must work together to be effective.
  • Customer focus. We must know the goal for the system.
  • Flow: The realization that work is a flow of value.
  • Leadership: The ability to inspire others through example, description, and reflection.
  • Understanding: Kanban is an improvement model that starts with self-knowledge.
  • Agreement: The dynamic co-commitment to move together toward goals, respecting, and where possible, accommodating differences of opinion.
  • Respect: Valuing, understanding, and showing consideration for people. A foundational value underpinning everything else.

We can use the Kanban Method to help introduce positive change into a team or organization. The “start with what you do now” and “agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change” concepts are nonthreatening and difficult to argue against. So, if faced with an organization or department that is reluctant to change its ways, the Kanban Method is an excellent approach.

It also brings some great insights often missed in agile approaches. For example, since knowledge work is invisible, managers may not know how much work someone has on their plate. Encouraging people to make their work visible helps them show and explain their workloads to others. It also enables coworkers to see what people are working on and then pitch in where they can…”

Beyond Agile Header

Thanks, David, for your popularization of and explanations of Theory of Constraints thinking. They are more relevant today than ever as people in organizations everywhere look to transform their work.


Beyond Agile Gratitude #1 – Weaving People and Process

Beyond Agile 150Now that my Beyond Agile book has been published, I would like to thank some people who helped shape its content and ideas. Alistair Cockburn and Joshua Kerievsky helped me appreciate the balance between people-focussed activities and effective processes.

“...Agile approaches combine a mixture and equal balance of people and process approaches to delivery. One way to picture these interwoven elements is like the twin strands of DNA. In figure 4.1, we see a blue thread of people elements such as empowerment, collaboration, and team decision-making, mixed with gold process elements such as backlogs, prioritization, and short iterations.

Fig 4.1

If you have not noticed it before, agile approaches weave people elements and process elements together through the agile mindset, values, and principles. For simplicity of understanding,  we pull these elements apart to talk about them individually, but in reality, they are inextricably linked and self-supporting, like the blue and gold elements shown in figure 4.2.

Fig 4.2

The people and process elements are present in all views of agile, no matter how you slice it. Also, they are in an equal balance. This is not a matter of coincidence or hidden code, but rather the sign of a balanced system. Let’s look further.

The Agile Manifesto has two values focused on people and two focused on process:

Fig 4.3

When we examine the 12 Agile Manifesto principles again we see six focused on people (shown in blue) and a counterbalancing six based on process (shown in gold).

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable Sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. 
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Let’s examine the frameworks of Alistair Cockburn’s Heart of Agile and Joshua Kerievsky’s Modern Agile, first looking at the original models and then superimposing views of people and processes.

Fig 4.4

In Alistair’s Heart of Agile model, the Deliver and Improve process concepts are complemented by the Collaborate and Reflect people-focused concepts. Likewise, Joshua’s people-focused Make people awesome and Make safety a prerequisite are balanced and complemented by the ideas of Deliver value continually and Experiment and learn rapidly.

Both models are evenly balanced between people and process advice; this fact, along with their clarity and simplicity, is what makes them both powerful and compelling.

We should always be aware of these two elements in the tools and approaches we use. Additionally, looking for a healthy balance of attention within teams is a useful diagnostic. People sometimes have a personal bias or natural aptitude for the people side of things, or for the process side of things. So why not ask the team if they think the system is in balance and, if not, what they suggest to restore to balance any imbalances?..."

Thank you, Alistair and Joshua. Your insights and skills in distilling ideas have helped many people increase their understanding of collaboration and teamwork.


Beyond Agile - Webinar Recording

Last month I did a 20-minute overview of my new Beyond Agile book for the Washington D.C. Lean-Agile MeetUp group hosted by Sanjiv Augustine.

I outline how Beyond Agile grew from studying high-performing teams and trying to distill what they did differently than most other teams. In the video, I cover Agile Myopia, Buffet Syndrome and the need to drop agile processes when they no longer bring enough value to warrant their use.

I would like to thank Sanjiv and the entire team at LitheSpeed for hosting me and allowing me to share this video with you here.

Anyone interested in my Beyond Agile book can get a paperback or electronic version here.

Beyond Agile Book pic 1


PMI-ACP and My New Book “Beyond Agile: Achieving Success with Situational Knowledge and Skills”

10 YearsIt has been 10 years since the PMI-ACP exam was created, and I published my PMI-ACP Exam Prep book. I recall the Steering Committee meetings where we discussed what we believed was necessary for agile practitioners and team leaders to have experience in and an understanding of.

Since then, the exam has been updated a couple of times based on Role Delineation Studies (RDS) and Job Task Analysis (JTA), which is how PMI surveys practitioners and asks what techniques are commonly used. However, the core content has mainly endured unchanged, which is testimony to its usefulness.

CommitteeI remember discussing the scope and goals for the credential among the committee that comprised: Alistair Cockburn, Mike Cottmeyer, Jim Cundiff, Jesse Fewell, Mike Griffiths, Ahmed Sidkey, Michele Sliger, Dennis Stevens and PMI researchers.

In addition to an agnostic understanding of Lean, Kanban, Scrum and other agile approaches, we also agreed people should know about the basics of servant leadership, conflict management, team decision making, and coaching. So our scope included more than just Lean and agile; it had a little leadership and emotional intelligence.

Agile and Leadership 1

At the time, someone suggested a three-tier credential consisting of something like Agile Basics, Agile Journeyman (journeyperson), Agile Consultant that mirrored Shu-Ha-Ri. PMI leadership rightly reined this in, explaining it was a good idea, but how about we just focus on getting the basic level credential created for now.

PMI was correct to focus on the universal fundamentals. As we get into more advanced topics, there is no single correct answer. So, topics like agile scaling frameworks, strategies for motivating teams, the pros and cons of different leadership approaches that get deeper into agile, leadership and emotional intelligence were never tackled but are topics that my blog readers know I care deeply about.

Agile and Leadership 2
My new Beyond Agile book is my exploration of these topics (plus others.) I dig deeper into unlocking the power of individuals and teams. How can we encourage better engagement, focus on the project goals, and ditch non-value-add mindsets and processes? These are based on my experiences and research.

You likely won’t agree with everything I suggest, and that’s fine; not everything will work for your situation. However, I am confident you will find many valuable concepts and connections between ideas you thought about separately before.

As the book title suggests, it goes beyond agile. Sometimes the best way to tackle a problem might be with a plan-driven approach. Agile Myopia is the mistaken belief that every project situation has an agile solution.

Agile Leadership and Plan Driven

I am more of a pragmatist. Sometimes, the best way to assess and analyze risk is with the risk management process from plan-driven project management approaches. We may then choose to implement the risk responses in an iterative, incremental way via our backlog and spikes, but that again is being pragmatic.

My previous post mentioned a disconnect between teams being agile and the highest-performance teams I was able to work with. These high-performing teams hardly discussed agile concepts or paid much attention to the agile ceremonies, although they lived the mindset emphatically. Often what set them apart was the deep industry experience and knowledge they had gained, making them trusted partners within the business groups they served.


Beyond Agile Model
I set out to define what sets high-performing teams apart and outline the steps to replicating them. There may be no formula but I did uncover a set of knowledge, skills and thinking tools people can use to chart their own course. It represents the What’s Next beyond the ideas in my PMI-ACP books and provides a broader landscape to explore. I hope you enjoy it.

Beyond Agile Book Image


Announcing My New Book “Beyond Agile”


Beyond Agile Book pic 1I am excited to announce my new book “Beyond Agile: Achieving success with situational knowledge and skills“ is launching. It is available now from RMC in paperback or electronic form here. This post explains the name and motivation for the book. Future posts will profile the content.

 

BackgroundBackground

Since helping create DSDM in 1994, I have been working on agile projects for 27 years. In that time, I have personally been a member of around 30 teams, coached and consulted with about 400 organizations and taught agile to over 2,000 team leads and project managers worldwide. Statistically, most were around average, a few were really dysfunctional, and less than 10 were exceptionally productive.

 

ProblemProblems

Around 8 years ago, I noticed many capable teams were adopting agile but still not being very productive. They had embraced the mindset and were doing all the right things, but success still eluded them. As someone who had dedicated their career to spreading the word about agile and helping organizations adopt it, this was extremely concerning for me. What were they doing wrong? What was I doing wrong?

 

ResearchResearching Successful Teams

So I went back to study the small number of exceptionally productive teams to look at what they did differently. While they understood agile remarkably well, they did not emphasize its use. Instead, they used a clever mix of agile, leadership, emotional intelligence and industry-specific knowledge to get the work that needed doing today done.

 

PatternsPatterns and Results Emerge

Patterns emerged, and I explored further. Using these techniques, I was able to help organizations turn around struggling projects and programs. As a result, we outperformed expectations, delighted stakeholders and won a PMI Project of the Year award. One organization documented our approach and submitted it for tax credits in the Canadian research and development SR&D program. It was successful, and they received several millions of dollars in tax credits. The Beyond Agile Model was developed, and this book documents the components.

 

RemoveThe Obvious, Non-Obvious Need to Remove Process

The Beyond Agile Model has agile at its core; it also layers in additional ideas while encouraging teams to discontinue practices that no longer add sufficient value. Since there are only so many hours in the day, focussing more effort on delivery requires dropping other activities - even if they are agile. It was obvious once I saw it. The most productive teams I studied spent more time delivering and less time on agile ceremonies and other tasks. The non-obvious part was learning what to drop since it varies from team to team, and the book explains the process.

 

In future posts, I will explain some of the core ideas. Until then, I just wanted to let you know the book is finally done and available here.

Beyond Agile Book pic 4


Creating a Risk-Adjusted Backlog

Risk Adjusted BacklogThis article explains what a risk-adjusted backlog is, why they are useful, how to create one and how teams work with them.

What is a Risk-Adjusted Backlog?

A risk-adjusted backlog is a backlog that contains activities relating to managing risk in addition to the usual features associated with delivering value.

Agile projects typically prioritize the backlog based on business value or perceived needs. The Product Owner or business representative prioritizes the backlog elevating the highest value features to the top, so they get delivered first.

Taking an Economic View of Decision Making

Prioritizing based on business value is an example of the lean concept of 'Taking an Economic View of Decision Making.' In deciding which feature to develop first, those with the highest economic value are selected. Taking an economic view of decision making has a couple of advantages.

Continue reading "Creating a Risk-Adjusted Backlog" »


Illuminating the Intangibles of Agile

We intuitively know that a successful agile adoption requires more than copying agile practices. It needs more than just working in short iterations and having daily stand-up meetings. But can we label those missing ingredients?

You may have seen the “agile iceberg” model that shows the visible practices agile teams perform as the tip of an enormous iceberg supported by a mindset, values and principles. However, terms like “values” and “mindset” are intangible and difficult to reconcile with traditional skillsets.

Agile Iceberg

Organizations fail when they try to switch to an agile way of working by just implementing the visible agile work practices without the invisible supporting components. They fail because they are missing two key elements:

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A New Litmus Test for Agile in 2020

Litmus TestWhen should we be using an agile approach for our project? The agile convert might claim “Always,” just as the predictive enthusiast could scream “Never!” For the rest of us, more objective tests and selection criteria are useful.

Agile suitability tools are nothing new. DSDM shipped with one in 1994, and the Agile Practice Guide published with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Sixth Edition has one as an appendix. However, this article is about short cuts, a single question that can provide a good indicator for suitability—a litmus test for agile approach suitability.

Common Destination, Different Directions
The whole “agile versus traditional” debate is mostly unnecessary when we step back and take a broader perspective. Everybody is trying to get to the same destination of successful outcomes and happy stakeholders. However, it is when we start discussing the “how-to” path for achieving these goals that passionate debate occurs. This is because “the path” does not exist. There is no single right approach; instead, it depends on the environment and project at hand.

We can learn techniques for running traditional, predictive projects and adaptive, agile ones. Then, based on the situation, use the appropriate approach. Sometimes a single process is sufficient; sometimes, a hybrid might be necessary. So, the next logical question that pops up is, “What are the project environmental factors we should be evaluating, and which point to predictive or adaptive approaches?”

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Agile Communications Plans

Project Communication PlansDolphins are easier to track than submarines. They surface more often and are usually within view of where you last saw them. Subs, on the other hand, can disappear for months or years at a time, and it is difficult to tell where they have gone.

What does this have to do with project communications? Has Mike finally gone mad?

These are valid questions, so let me explain. Many traditional project management deliverables have agile alternatives. For instance, a product backlog is somewhat analogous to a work breakdown structure. A release roadmap contains many of the elements of a Gantt chart. Yet we rarely see agile communications management plans. Why is this?

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Project Communication: Why Is It So Hard?

Communication ProblemsWe all know the theory: Communications are critical to project success. You have probably heard advice such as communicate something “five times in five different ways” for it to stick, but why is it so hard?

If people would just listen—or read what we send them—then communications would be easy, right? This may seem a reasonable assumption, but because we are part of the system, we are also part of the problem.

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The Perfect Storm for The Project Economy

Perfect StormThe winds of change were strong before the COVID-19 pandemic. Driven by three macroeconomic trends, the need for projects and project managers was increasing. These three trends are:

1) Accelerating rates of technology adoption

2) The switch to alternative energy sources to maintain GDP and meet emissions targets

3) Infrastructure projects for population growth.

These movements occurring together were spawning an explosion of projects to turn ideas into reality. This increase in project demand was christened The Project Economy by PMI in 2019.

To be fair, these trends and strategies for handling them had already existed for more than a decade. Globalization and business transformation have been discussed extensively. Eric Ries documented his lean startup methodology in 2008 as a way for organizations to adapt and experiment with new ideas and perform market tests. It provided a framework for rapid adaptation and customer-centric design that is baked into many of today’s strategies.

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Estimating Agile Projects...Or Not

Estimate Features or FlowProject managers generally like plans and estimates so we can forecast when things should be done and how much they may cost. It helps manage client expectations and answer the type of questions they ask, such as "When will it be done?" and "How much will it cost?"

So, when project managers hear about ideas such as "let's stop estimating," it can trigger a knee-jerk reaction. It sounds lazy and avoiding the hard work of having to estimate. It can seem like people want to shirk their responsibility and accountability. First, those lazy agilists wanted to stop doing documentation; now they want to stop estimating too!

There has been a debate raging since 2012 about the use and value of estimates on agile projects. It has spawned the #NoEstimates hashtag, a website, a book and countless blog posts and conference presentations.

Like many radical ideas, when we dig into “no estimates” thinking, there are some good ideas, sound logic—and a whole heap of misunderstanding around it. This article sets out to unravel some of it.

Continue reading "Estimating Agile Projects...Or Not" »


5 Tools for Team Conflict Resolution

Team ConflictIs infighting damaging your team morale and retention? Do you know what types of conflict are healthy and which are not? When you do intervene, do you have a strategy, or just ”wing it” and hope for the best?

People have different ideas; this diversity helps us overcome any individual shortcomings. It also means conflict is inevitable on projects. Whenever we have people contribute different opinions about a solution, there will be some level of conflict. Minor disagreement in the pursuit of a better solution is positive and welcome. Persistent bickering and personal attacks are destructive and need to be addressed. So how do we do that?

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Can We Still be Agile?

Can we still be agileHow does work from home impact our use of agile approaches? If co-location is no longer possible, can we still be agile?

Yes, of course we can, and in many ways, now we need to be more agile than ever as we try new approaches, learn and adapt how we work. However, let's address the co-location question and look at agile practices in remote work situations.

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Returning to the (Electronic) Cottage

Electronic CottageThis is not a post about rich people now able to visit their second homes after the lockdown, instead, a revisit of the concepts of decentralized work being the new way of undertaking projects.

In 1980, Alvin Toffler’s book The Third Wave introduced the idea of “The Electronic Cottage” as the modern workplace where information technology allows more people to work from home or wherever they want. Toffler was a futurist and businessman who did not get the attention he deserved. Even though Accenture identified him as one of the most influential voices in business leaders (along with Bill Gates and Peter Drucker), we do not hear much about him.

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Reset, Refocus: 2 Concepts and 8 Tips for Making Progress During the Pandemic

Ideas to tryIt is a dilemma. We need to move forward. Not just to make progress on projects, but also to give people something else to focus on beyond the tragedy and fear filling the news.

At the same time, we need to be sensitive to how people have been impacted. We need to demonstrate support and empathy. We need to be available to listen and help wherever we can. We need to step up and be professionals.

Context
More than ever, context is king. How to respond and lead in your environment will depend on how your project and stakeholders have been impacted. There is no universal best response. All I can do is offer some tips for consideration. You can then decide if they apply—and how to implement them for your environment.

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Regaining Trust: The Winners and Losers of a More Cautious Tomorrow

Future ProjectsPeople are smart, resourceful and inventive. We are also dumb and irrational. This combination makes forecasting nearly impossible.

People build cities, express themselves through art, and push forward our understanding of the world through science and logic. At the same time, they exhibit cognitive bias and often behave in ways that defy this same science and reasoning.

The simultaneous application of logic and defiance of logic is part of what makes humanity rich and complex. It is also why predicting how the world will change after the COVID-19 pandemic contains much uncertainty. Some effects will be the sensible results of events and reactions. Others will be nonsensical reactions (like hoarding toilet paper) due to cognitive bias. These factors will intermingle and interact with new yet unknown events to create a tomorrow that is impossible to calculate.

So, while nobody knows how our future will be different, we do have some ideas to help make an educated guess.

Continue reading "Regaining Trust: The Winners and Losers of a More Cautious Tomorrow" »


Available For Remote Work

  • Mike Griffiths Remote WorkDo you need relevant, high-quality articles for your corporate website?
  • Are you looking for an expert in leadership, agile, or project management?
  • Maybe you require some training materials, exam preparation support, or remote coaching?

I am available for remote work. If you like the ideas on this site or in my books, please get in touch, I would love to discuss opportunities to work together.

Details

Long before the COVID-19 crisis, I reduced traveling for consulting and training due to family health issues. I have worked mainly from home for the last five years and have been fortunate to stay busy. Now, because of COVID-19, a couple of my regular clients have suspended operations, and I have some spare capacity.

Please get in touch to discuss consulting, mentoring, courseware development, and writing opportunities. My email is Mike@LeadingAnswers.com

 


Playing in the Gray of Hybrid

Playing in the Gray of HybridGray areas occupy the transition from one world to the next. Neither black nor white, predictive nor agile, project managers are increasingly finding themselves in the gray area of hybrid project management. This can make us feel uncomfortable since we are neither faithfully following either approach—instead living a compromise between seemingly different value systems.

We could get uncomfortable, guarded and hesitant to embrace the reality we face. Or, we could welcome it, use it to our advantage and share the benefits/trade-offs with anyone willing to listen. This second option of embracing, using and sharing is “playing in the gray area,” a term I learned at a recent workshop I was giving. It nicely summarizes the idea of accepting and making the most of our reality rather than uncomfortably accommodating it and mainly keeping it to ourselves.

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How to Adapt and Flourish in the New World of Project Management

How to adapt and flourish in the new world of project managementDo you wonder how to stay current in your PM role? 

Is your industry evolving so quickly that one day you might no longer be required? 

With the rise of AI, agile, and empowered teams, are project managers even needed anymore? Maybe, but not for the reasons you might expect.

Continue reading "How to Adapt and Flourish in the New World of Project Management" »


Problem Solving: Using Visualization

Some people say we cannot manage what we cannot measure. I say we cannot solve what we cannot see, or at least visualize somehow.

Projects are problem-solving exercises. The entire project is one big problem. We might be building a new product; that's a problem to solve. Or we might be trying to create something well understood but within a challenging amount of time, to a tight budget, and demanding specification. Or we could be moving our organization forward through a change initiative. These are familiar project environments that are puzzles or problems to solve.

Visual Problem Solving for Project Managers Mike Griffiths 1

Then within this large problem environments, we have hundreds of everyday challenges to answer, too. "How are we going to manage without the installer today?" or "The pilot group has requested 400 changes, now what do we do?"

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WBS and Product Backlog: Siblings or Distant Cousins?

WBSandPBIt’s easy to believe that work breakdown structures (WBS) have been around since the pyramids were built in Egypt, and that product backlogs are new inventions by youngsters in too much of a hurry to plan correctly. However, like most things, the truth is more complicated.

In 1957, the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) approach was created by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and described organizing tasks into product-oriented categories. However, they did not use the term “work breakdown structure” or WBS until 1962 when DoD, NASA and the aerospace industry published a document about PERT that described the WBS approach.

Meanwhile, in 1960, Tom Gilb described his Evolutionary Value Delivery approach (or Evo for short) that is widely accepted to be a forerunner of agile approaches. Evo contains principles such as:

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Career Development in Overdrive

OverdriveIn his best-selling book Drive: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us, Dan Pink explains three attributes (Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose) that people need to feel satisfied and motivated at work. It is a great book, but we can do more. Drive only gets us started. As project managers, we can do more to help the people on the projects we manage.

Remember, Nobody Wants to Be Managed

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Agile Illustrated – Sample #3

Agile Illustrated - Cover smallThis is the third sample from my new Kindle book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. The book is a graphical introduction to the agile mindset and servant leadership behaviors for working with agile teams. If you missed the first two samples you can find them here and here.

Also, just in time for Christmas, Agile Illustrated is now available as a physical paperback book. So if you prefer to hold a physical book rather than read a Kindle book you can now get your hands on a copy. Or, if you would like to give a copy to a manager or executive who is unlikely to read a normal length book on the agile mindset and how to support agile teams then buy them a copy as a gift.

Agile Illustrated New Physical BookAt just 88 pages and mainly pictures it is a quick read that explains the agile values, principles and servant leadership behaviors needed to support agile teams. Available from your local Amazon online store, the US link is here.

Today we will review Team Performance. The Team Performance domain includes Team Formation, Team Empowerment, and Team Collaboration activities. (Anyone taking the PMI-ACP exam should expect to see 18-20 questions on this topic.)

Here is a mindmap showing all the tasks, we will then review them one at a time.

Domain_04_d (1)

 Team Formation

D41
 
Task 1 – Jointly create team norms

Continue reading "Agile Illustrated – Sample #3" »


5 Major Changes Coming to the PMP Exam

5 ChangesSome fundamental changes are coming to the PMP® exam. Currently slated for January 2021, the content and composition of the exam will be completely revamped. As described in the new PMP Exam Content Outline, PMI commissioned a research study into trends in the project management profession. This study, called the Global Practice Analysis, investigated which job tasks and approaches people frequently use.

The job task analysis identified the knowledge and skills required to function as a project management practitioner. Now the PMP is changing to better reflect these practices; here are some of the major changes:  

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Organizational Structures that Support Faster Innovation and Evolution

Organizational agility is the ability of an enterprise to change direction, realign and succeed in volatile, uncertain business environments. It requires sensing emerging trends and actively listening to customer requests, then acting on this information and making the changes required to position the organization for where it needs to be in the future.

Small organizations can change direction quickly because they have fewer people or processes to change. Most medium to large-scale organizations have considerable mindset inertia in the form of strategies, multi-year plans, in-flight programs, and projects, etc. When fundamental change is required, it can be difficult to turn these large elements that have gathered their own momentum through the day-to-day behaviors of staff.

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Agile Illustrated - Sample #2

Here is the second sample from my new Kindle book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. The book is a graphical introduction to the agile mindset and servant leadership behaviors for working with agile teams. If you missed the first sample on the Agile Manifesto, you can find it here.

Today we will revisit the Declaration of Interdependence. A lesser-known cousin to the Agile Manifesto, the Declaration of Interdependence was created in a few years after the Agile Manifesto to describe how to achieve an Agile Mindset in product and project leadership. It describes six principles essential to agile project teams. We will review them one by one.

 

DOI1

 

 1 – We increase return on investment by making a continuous flow of value our focus.

Amaze your customers; keep giving them what they ask for!

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Agile Illustrated – Sample #1

Cover v2Over the next few weeks, I will be featuring samples from my new Kindle book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. The book is a graphical introduction to the agile mindset and servant leadership behaviors for supporting agile teams.

Let’s start with the Agile Manifesto:

The Agile Manifesto was created during a meeting in February 2001 that brought together a number of software and methodology experts who were at the forefront of the emerging agile methods. Let’s look at the values one by one.

 

M1 - sample

Value 1 – Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools

While processes and tools will likely be necessary, we should try to focus attention on the individuals and interactions involved. This is because work is undertaken by people, not tools, and problems get solved by people, not processes. Likewise, products are accepted by people, scope is debated by people, and the definition of a successfully “done” project is negotiated by people.

What will help set up a project for success is an early focus on developing the individuals involved and an emphasis on productive and effective interactions. Processes and tools can help, yet projects are ultimately about people. So, to be successful, we need to spend the majority of our time in what may be the less comfortable, messy, and unpredictable world of people.

 

M2 - sample

Value 2 – Working software over comprehensive documentation

This value speaks to the need to deliver. It reminds us to focus on the purpose or business value we’re trying to deliver, rather than on paperwork.

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"Agile Illustrated" - Update

Confirm business participationThanks to everyone who downloaded my new eBook “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner's Guide to Agility” you made it #1 Amazon Hot New Releases for “Technical Project Management”, along with #1 Amazon Best Seller in “Computers and Technology Short Reads”, and even #1 Amazon Best Seller in “PMP Exam” - which is odd because it is not even about the PMP exam.

Amazon sales stats

Manage risk proactively

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Announcing "Agile Illustrated" Book

Agile Illustrated - Cover small

I am excited to announce a new eBook “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learners Guide to Agility”.

It is a short, graphical overview of agile and agile team leadership published as an Amazon Kindle eBook.

 

Using mind-maps, cartoons, and short summaries it covers the agile manifesto, the declaration of interdependence for agile project management, and each of the 7 Domains and 60 Tasks covered in the PMI-ACP exam.

Gain concensus on acceptance criteria

It is short and light read but a powerful study aid for anyone preparing for the PMI-ACP exam. It also serves as a great executive summary for instilling an agile mindset and teaching the leadership behaviors to serve agile teams. With over 70 illustrations, mind-maps and cartoons it engages spatial and visual memory making the points easier to recall and explain to others.

If you think in pictures and like to see how ideas fit together this will be a valuable resource.

Tailor process to environment

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PMI Organizational Agility Presentation

PMI Organizational Agility Conference

Please join me on Thursday, September 12th for the PMI Organizational Agility Conference. This free, online event for PMI members awards viewers PDUs. I will be presenting on the topic of becoming a Change Resilient Professional.

 

As rates of change increase, building strategies and skills for adapting to change are becoming more important than ever. We will explore beyond agile models and the power of a “Yes, and…” mindset. I will be profiling the increasing pace of change and what the best organizations are doing to keep up with it, drive it forward, and future proof their employees.

 

There is a great lineup of presentations scheduled for the day. Check out the full program and register here.

OrgAgility19_792x200

 


Innovation: Running Experiments and Learning

Experiment DesignIn my last article on Incubating Innovation, we explored the culture and mindset of accountable experimentation. This article focuses on actionable tools and approaches.

Within agile frameworks, the team retrospective is the primary workshop for planning and evaluating experiments. Yet most team retrospectives I see are broken.

Teams spend too much time recording viewpoints and information—but not enough time reviewing or planning experiments. It is common to see the majority of the time spent gathering what went well, what did not go well, and appreciations. Yet where’s the focus on experiments, the learning process and trials for the next iteration?

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Let’s Rewrite the PMBOK

Future PMBOK
Phew, the wait is over! I have been wanting to talk about this for what seems like ages and now the official announcement is out! If you have ever been frustrated by the PMBOK Guide now here’s your chance to fix it.

We are looking for volunteers to write and review the next edition of the PMBOK Guide. However, this will not be just an update, instead a radical departure from all previous editions aligned with PMI’s new digital transformation strategy. That’s all I can explain for now, but more details will be announced when I can say more.

Meanwhile, we would like people with knowledge of the full value delivery spectrum (waterfall, hybrid, agile, lean, etc.) to participate.

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Incubating Innovation

InnovationIf success goes to those who can innovate the fastest, how do we nurture innovation? The basics are simple to understand—but difficult to implement and stick with in the face of adversity. We need to create an environment that encourages experimentation while also tolerating, investigating and learning from the inevitable failures.

It may sound easy, but executives and shareholders demand results, not “learning opportunities.” We need an approach that fosters experimentation and learning in a defendable way, with a bias for results. To innovate faster than our competitors, we need to maximize our learning potential. This means that by design, 50% of our experiments should fail since we are seeking knowledge expansion, not validation of things we already know. The trick is keeping people engaged and motivated when half of their experiment time is spent failing.

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Review of Product Development Books

Product Development CycleNow that a software “Done” Milestone is more like a Tombstone

If you work in an industry that has digital products and services then the Product Development trend will impact you. As software becomes more critical to business operations and product offerings we are seeing that software projects do not end.

Many organizations are transitioning to become software focussed organizations that offer specialized services. Amazon is a software company with retail (and cloud) offerings. Banks are increasingly digital companies with financial services. The same with insurance, travel, music and even commercial goods. The cost of developing the software in new vehicles is now greater than the cost of the engine. It has become the single most expensive component, even in internal combustion engine vehicles with no autonomous driving features.

These websites and software services will only be “done” development when the company stops being competitive, offering new services or keeping up with technology evolution. At one time getting to "Done" on your software project was a relief, a goal, a milestone, now it is more of a tombstone. It means the product is no longer competing or actively being maintained as technology continues to evolve.

Switching from projects (that are temporary in nature) to products that are designed to be ongoing sounds easy enough - just keep funding the team, but for many organizations it is not that simple. Also, organizations that embrace the whole digital product view still need help governing the ongoing process.

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Agile 2019 Presentations

DC ConferenceI learned this week that two of my presentation submissions for the Agile 2019 conference in Washington D.C. August 6-10 have been accepted. I was very lucky to get two accepted as they received nearly 2,000 submissions for around 250 slots. It should be fun and I am really looking forward to it.

My talks will be on moving beyond agile approaches and case studies in transitioning from projects to products.  Here are the outlines:

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New PM - The What?, Why?, and How? of Project Charters

Project CharterCreating a great project charter is an art and a science. Anyone new to the profession of project management needs to learn how to create a project charter. It is not only an important early project deliverable, but it also sets the tone and lays out the foundation for the rest of the project.

While we can spend our careers improving our ability to craft effective project charters, we can get to a 70% good-enough state by addressing some basic topics. This article explains those basics.

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New PM, New Choices

Choices(Over at ProjectManagement.com January’s theme was “New PMs”. I wrote this article about the choices of approach we have and ways for new PMs to navigate them.)

These days, new project managers are exposed to conflicting guidance. On the one hand, there is a plethora of traditional “Plan the work, work the plan” literature. On the other, media is full of light-touch, self-organizing team advice. These sets of recommendations often appear to be at odds, so what is the new PM to do? Consultants will say, “Oh, it depends…” and start a lengthy (aka expensive) conversation. I say let’s examine the basics so we can make an informed decision ourselves.

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Focusing on Results, Not Agile Approaches

Focus on Business Value


Quarter Century

25 Years Agile2019 marks the 25 year anniversary of Scrum and DSDM. I was involved in the creation of DSDM in 1994 and was an early adopter of Scrum and FDD shortly afterward. Now, having been at this for a quarter of a century I am reflecting on where my journey has taken me compared to others.

I am agnostic about agile. I value the mindset and goals more than approaches that preach a single path. This has had mixed blessings for me. I remain agnostic and impartial, but I have not jumped on any of the approach bandwagons.

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DIPMF 2018

Dubai SkylineI have just returned from the 2018 Dubai International Project Management Forum (DIPMF). It was my second year presenting there and this year I hosted a session called “Agile: Not New, but Now Necessary”. It traced several techniques back through history and explained how lean, agile, and design thinking approaches share common guidance for building high performing teams.

During the conference, I mainly attended the agile and artificial intelligence (AI) sessions. Having written about AI augmented project management previously I was interested to learn more about Microsoft’s PMOtto assistant that uses Azure Machine Learning Studio. PMOtto has a chat-bot interface that uses their LUIS (Language Understanding) machine learning based natural language system to understand questions. It integrates with Office 365 tools, a cognitive services model for learning about projects, and business intelligence tools for analysis. Like having a project assistant who is always getting smarter, PMOtto will track, trend, and answer questions for project managers and PMOs.

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What’s in your Backlog?

Let’s explore what you do and do not put in a backlog. How do these sound?

  • Features and non-functional requirements – Absolutely
  • Bug fixes and change requests – Yes, probably
  • Risk avoidance and risk reduction activities – Sure, maybe
  • Opportunity exploitation activities and marketing ideas – Now you’re just getting weird!
  • Team building and social events – Erm, no!

Yet, if it’s all just stuff for the team to do, then why not put it in the backlog? Maybe because the customer has not asked for it and the product owner has to own and order it, but let’s look further.

If we used a backlog metaphor for prioritizing backlog work items. It may look like this.

Backlog of Backlog Items

I am not suggesting these are the correct elements for including in a backlog, I am just showing the common ones. However, I am probably getting too abstract too quickly. Let’s start at the beginning.

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Certification Proliferation and Confusion

Cert ProliferationLike TV channels, the choice of project management credentials has exploded recently. 20 years ago things were much simpler, in North America, the PMP was the dominant credential, in the UK and ex British Empire countries it was PRINCE2. Life was straightforward, career paths defined, and credentials well understood.

In 1983 in the US, over 100M people watched the finale of the TV series M.A.S.H. Outside of the Apollo moon landing and sports events, it remains the most watched US TV broadcast of all time. Chances were most people in the office watched it and everyone had something in common to talk about. That was Peak TV, viewer counts have increased since but program choice has exploded much faster. These days there are so many cable choices, on-demand services, YouTube channels, and Periscope sub-streams it seems as if everyone watches something different.

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GOAT18

Shaw-center_0I am excited to be a keynote speaker at the Gatineau-Ottawa Agile Tour (GOAT) conference on November 30th. Along with Mary Poppendieck, we will be leading a day dedicated to learning about agile culture and collaboration.

The Gatineau Ottawa Agile Tour is an annual conference in the heart of the nation’s capital, focused on sharing and learning. GOAT has run for 7 years and is part of the Agile Tour that takes place in 90 cities worldwide.

Click to see the Keynotes Overview and the Sessions Previews.

I hope to see you there.