Hiring for an Agile Team

Agile Team What characteristics do you look for when hiring for an agile team? Our next Calgary APLN meeting is a panel discussion on the topic and looks set be a great one.


Some broad characteristics identified in the planning emails for the panel include:

Characteristics of a high performing team:

  • Collaborative / effective communicator
  • Willing to cross boundaries
  • Work side by side / discuss work out problems real time
  • A lot of face to face communication required
  • Humility - accept feedback
  • Able to compromise / support team decisions
  • Able to reflect back on events and provide insights (critical for retrospectives)
  • Always looking to improve
  • Think about things rather than blinding moving forward…..
  • Pragmatic - Knows what “just” enough is, Do what it takes
  • Adaptive / Flexible - Change direction as required
  • Takes initiative / self motivated
  • Willing to try new things (may be evident by a desire for continuous learning)
  • Can figure out the most important thing to do next. Doesn’t need to be told what to do.
  • Risk tolerant – able to make a decision and act based on the information known
  • Able to work in fast pace / intense
  • Willing to work in a team room – little privacy, very noisy, no prestige
  • Can challenge ideas in a respectful manner
  • Work incrementally - Willing to revisit work
  • Accepting that the big picture will evolve over time

Detecting these characteristics:

  • Behavioural descriptive questions – tell me a time when….give me an example of….
  • Interests / desires may be evidence of the characteristics
  • Informal references from prior projects / peers etc.
  • Auditions – pairing on an activity
  • Trial periods

The panel members have also identified a set of technical requirements based on the various roles (developer, test, architect, etc), but I am most excited about who we have on our panel...

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Zombieland Project Management

Zombie Zombies and Project Managers; to many people the images are synonymous, fools blindly shuffling from one goal to the next. Not too smart, but a major annoyance if you are trying to get somewhere, or get something done.

Yet, as a project manager I have a weakness for zombie films, they appeal to my inner urge to cut down those who impede progress or just don’t get it. I know you can not really do that, and these feelings are more likely a reflection on my inability to communicate effectively, but none the less, a socially acceptable demographic for outpourings of frustration seems to have wide appeal, and box office success.

So, other than some people thinking project managers are lumbering dullards, and this one occasionally thinking of chainsaws, what does the film Zombieland and project management have in common?

• The Insecurity Complex
• The Goal Obsession

In the film comedy Zombieland two mismatched characters team up to survive zombie attacks, find love and pursue a goal. Our hero is Columbus, a socially awkward young man who’s obsessions and aversions in normal life had made him a lonely misfit, now keep him alive in a time when most people have succumbed to zombies. His partner is Tallahassee a hard hitting, shoot first ask questions later, type guy who is driven by an overwhelming desire to find the world’s remaining supply of “Twinkie” cakes.

The Insecurity Complex

An Insecurity Complex is a common feeling for new project managers. Linda Hill describes it well in her book “On Becoming a Manager”. She explains how people who did well in technical and sales roles often struggle and experience “Self-Doubt” when first in a management position.

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Scrum, Bikram Yoga and The Attention Economy


What do Scrum and Bikram Yoga have in common? They both cater for the attention economy. Humans derive a lot of their sense of security and confidence, what psychologist Albert Bandura calls “self-efficacy,” from predictable routines. Without these predictable routines we can feel uncomfortable and uncertain.


I was talking to a colleague, Mike McCullough, last week who was creating agile training materials and quick-start templates to help organizations adopt agile. I was teasing him on the irony of creating prescriptive templates to guide people through an adaptive process that should probably be tailored for each project. He agreed, but pointed out that definitive models (even if not optimal) are much easier to sell than open-end frameworks requiring adjustment and set-up.


This is true, known entities create buying confidence. Comforted by the certainty (or less uncertainty) of a well defined approach our mental search for predictability is satisfied. Plus, really, which is easier to explain and sell to sponsors:

  1. We are adopting Scrum, it has two-week iterations, a Product Owner role, and work prioritized in a Product Backlog.
  2. We will select a hybrid of agile and traditional approaches, based on project and organizational characteristics, and selectively add and subtract approaches based on stakeholder feedback and project performance.


Even if option 2 is better, it sounds so fuzzy and nebulous that frankly as a sponsor, I am not sure what I am buying into.



At the heart of Scrum is a simple process, obviously a great deal of skill is required to make it successful in challenging environments, but the underlying model is simple and this is a great strength. Scrum is the fastest growing and most widely used agile method, due to this simplicity. It can be quickly described, the rules are clearly defined, and there is a certainty to the process guidelines that (regardless of whether they always really apply) satisfy our urge for completeness and certainty.

  • There are clearly defined activities (Release Planning Meeting, Sprint Planning Meeting, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review)
  • Sprints are fixed time periods, traditionally 30 days, but now many teams use 2 weeks
  • Only Certified Scrum Trainers can deliver Certified Scrum Master training courses

Bikram Yoga

Bikram Yoga is a form of hot-yoga developed by Bikram Choudhury. It caused some controversy when the 26 postures were pursued under copyright and wide-scale franchising occurred. The whole commercialization of yoga for personal profit seemed, well, un-yoga -ish and spawned the “Yoga, Inc” documentary and terms like “McYoga “.  Regardless of the controversy, it has been amazingly successful. With over 600 studios worldwide, it is the fastest growing form of yoga.

  • All classes perform the same 26 Postures
  • Classes are always 90 minutes in length and conducted at 104F
  • Only certified Bikram instructors can run Bikram hot yoga classes

The Attention Economy...

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Agile Business Conference 2009

London I attended the Agile Business Conference in London this week and presented on Tracking Project Performance. I missed this conference last year and so it was especially good to catch up with people again and hear what they have been doing. Also, after working in London for six years, but then living in Canada for the last nine years, it is always interesting to see how things have changed since my last visit. This year it was video screens replacing all the paper billboards going up and down the escalators on the Underground that caught my eye.


The conference was very good, and had the general theme of “Agile Grown Up”, focussing on the organizational impacts of using agile. This may not have been as much interest to technical people, but was right up my street. On Tuesday there was a great session about agile at Nokia where 1800 software developers are using agile to develop the Symbian mobile phone platform. They are using a version of Dean Leffingwell’s “Agile Train” approach for scaling agile to such a large team and most agile practices, but not pair-programming or emerging architecture. However, the main emphasis was beyond the technical process scaling and more on the ongoing coaching, mentoring and training that is required for such a large undertaking. In a discussion with the presenter Simon Buck after the talk I learned that they aim for one full time coach/trainer for each set of 5 Scrum Teams (each about 7 people). Quite the undertaking.

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PMBOK v4 and Agile mappings

PMBOK pdf For the attendees of my recent Las Vegas course, below is a link to the PMBOK v4 to Agile mappings we discussed. My previous course material mappings were based on PMBOK v3, and before that the 2000 edition, which are out of date now.


Quite a lot changed from the PMBOK v3 to v4; all the processes were renamed into the new verb-noun format. Six of the old processes were merged into four new ones, two processes were deleted, and two new ones added. So it seemed like time to redo the mappings and post them online this time.



Process guidelines and templates are not an acceptable replacement for common sense, thought, dialog, or collaboration. A fool with a tool is still a fool, but can be especially dangerous since they give the impression that they have a potential solution to tricky problems. Beware of simply following any project guidelines that seem counter to your objectives.


So, why would you want to be mapping the PMBOK v4 to Agile techniques anyway?...

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Passion and Talent

Passion Passion is infectious; we are drawn to people who are passionate about topics and goals. We share their excitement and feel the rush, it is authentic and attractive. You cannot really fake passion, it is the raw unfiltered outflow that makes it recognizable as genuine.

I have been entertained by friends who are passionate about chess, dance and bird watching even though I have little interest in these topics. Yet when brought alive by genuine enthusiasm it is interesting. I have been talked into crazy adventures by people buzzing with excitement. I have invested in companies, enthralled by the passion for a vision described by their founders. I am not alone, it is a fundamental human urge.

Passion for a cause is powerful and while we cannot manufacture it, we can learn to channel our own genuine passion to help on projects. By opening up on what you are passionate about we can bring enthusiasm into any endeavor. Yet, we should be aware that passion is independent from talent.

Talent, the measure of proficiency, often accompanies experts who love their craft. They are focused, passionate and accomplished at their art; think of the great musicians and painters, they have passion and talent.

I have a passion, but not much of a talent for mountain biking, this is not the best combination. I love to ride, but crash more than most and as I’m getting older take longer to heal than before. I need to develop my biking skills, yet while still keen and willing to get out I have plenty of opportunities to learn and improve (or get into more trouble.)

The good news in the work environment is that a little passion about a cause goes a long way. The idea of leaders having to be charismatic rock-stars to get people to follow them is a myth. Research by Jim Collins in “Good to Great” proved this repeatedly; the Level 5 Leaders, of the “Great” companies were more often described as “quiet” and “considered” than “flamboyant” or “outspoken”. There just needs to be the occasional sparks of unprocessed joy for a goal to keep people engaged and looking for that next glimpse of passion.

PMI Agile Launch Event

Agile 2009 Chicago On Tuesday I was in Chicago for the PMI Agile Community of Practice launch event. It was hosted by Thoughtworks and kicked off by Martin Fowler and Jim Highsmith. Jesse Fewell and I introduced the community and outlined the goals.

With getting on for half a million PMI members worldwide, many in the knowledge-worker domain, agile methods have a lot to offer this already huge community. It is set to get larger too, PMI member growth progresses at about 20% per year, and PMI research indicates there are up to 20 million people engaged in knowledge-worker projects worldwide.

The spread of agile ideas to the PMI is inevitable and already happening on many fronts. I was concerned that it would be adopted incorrectly, fail and then be dismissed. This is still a risk, but with the launch event at Agile 2009 and an open invitation to Agile Alliance members to get involved and drive the initiative, the hope is that the initiative will succeed.

For an event that proposed bringing agile and PMI groups together, there was surprisingly little conflict or debate. But, then I suppose those people opposed self-selected and chose not to attend. Besides, few people subscribe to a purely agile or purely traditional approach to all projects anyway. We have to be pragmatic and chose our approach based on project and organizational circumstances.

The “PMI-Agile Community of Practice” is a free to join group aimed at “Equipping PMI members with Agile knowledge and skills".  For more details see the community wiki.

Back Blogging Again

Boomerang OK, I'm back and I really need to post here more often. Summers in Canada are so short that I try to pack a year’s worth of adventures into 3-4 short months. We (hopefully) still have plenty of summer left, but I intend to post more frequently as there is lots going on in the agile project management space too.

In a couple of weeks we have the Agile Conference in Chicago and I’m looking forward to the PMI-Agile Community Launch. (See this week’s GanttHead article). In September I’ll be teaching my 2 day class in Las Vegas (Sep. 14-15). In October I’ll be presenting at the Agile Business Conference in London (Oct 11- 15). Then training again in November in Savannah (Nov 7-11) and San Diego (Dec 12-16).


This summer’s silly idea was to try competitive mountain biking. A sport in which I quickly progressed beyond my ability and paid the penalty with crashes and injuries. So for now, I’m keeping the extreme to the projects and would like to thank Kelly Waters for pointing out that my site needed some long over due maintenance (one link was now an “off-topic” site.) Kelly runs the great site www.allaboutagile.com check it out if it is not on your regular list of sites.

Launch of the PMI Agile Community

Agile 2009 The “PMI Agile Community” will be officially launched at the Agile 2009 Conference in Chicago, August 24. This has been made possible by Jesse Fewell and the strong team of volunteers pushing through the red tape of the PMI and the help from supportive PMI members.

For over eight years now I have been promoting taking agile principles to the PMI. In 2001-2003 my proposals for the PMI Global Congress conference (that were pretty derogatory of command and control approaches) were rejected. It was not until 2004 I smartened up and was successful in getting my paper (Using Agile Alongside the PMBOK) accepted and went to Anaheim to present at the PMI conference.  That was the only agile presentation that year at the conference, but year on year since, there have been more and more agile sessions at the PMI conferences. In 2007 when I met Jesse at the PMI Global Congress in Atlanta (where I presented on Developments in Agile Project Management) there were about 10 other agile related sessions.

This year I had decided to skip the Agile Conference, only because August is prime hiking, biking and climbing season in Canada’s short summer in the mountains. Yet, I cannot miss this launch; it has been so long coming, so I’m flying in for a couple of days for the community kick-off. I am glad to be attending, if only for a short time.

The PMI Agile Community is a grass-roots initiative between a group of Agilists and the Project Management Institute (PMI) to create a new Agile Community of Practice (CoP) within the PMI, with the stated purpose "to equip PMI members with Agile knowledge and skills". To read more about the PMI Agile Community see the Community Wiki

Thanks to the Scrum Alliance for sponsoring our launch event and the Agile Alliance for helping us kick this off at the best event of the year, the Agile Conference . I am looking forward to it.

2004 PMI Paper - Using Agile Alongside the PMBOK

2007 PMI Paper - Developments in Agile Project Management

Agile Project Management Viewed from Behavioral Science

Behavioural Science Background
Earlier this year I attended an interesting talk by Tony Parrottino on Applied Behavior Analysis Science and posted a short write up. Recently I have had a couple of follow-on meetings with Tony and have become fascinated by the science of behaviour. I think it is a powerful, but under utilized resource for project managers, yet I am still trying to reconcile it with some other theories. Fortunately, Tony agreed to help outline some of the key concepts and clear up some issues.

1) Mike: Q: As a project manager I spend lots of time managing budgets and schedules, but in you say that in reality we can only hope to manage behaviour. Can you explain this?

1) Tony: A: Sure. Simply put, the “means” to all business results is “behavior” or what people do. That’s why we hire them – to produce these results. Money (budgets) for example is usually a “measure” of a result (selling value for example) or a behavior (labor cost for example). It’s not a result – we don’t actually make it, unless you’re a Counterfeiter? So if you think about it more precisely you really are “managing behavior” and the budget is really one “measure” of how well you are doing that. The same can be said about “schedules” or time in terms of managing a person’s behavior. If you’re doing that well the measure of “time” or what we call one dimension of productivity in business should improve. This is not a question of semantics either. This is a question about scientific precision and understanding what variables you have control over as a Project Manager – like behavior. Behavior Analysis Science helps managers understand how to “control” performer’s behaviors to positively enhance things like productivity and budgets. 

2) Q: Following an agile methodology approach, our team meets daily to briefly review work and issues. Everyone answers three questions: 1) What have you done since yesterday? What do you plan on working on today? What blockers or impediments do you have to progress? I recall you thought this was a sub-optimal set of questions; can you explain why, and suggest a better set?

2) A: Well Mike I apologize if I said these questions were “sub-optimal” – I didn’t mean to be so critical. This is another great question but requires an extremely lengthily answer to be complete, as it has several elements related to performance. So I will be general and brief in my answer and hope to make just a few points here. My first comment may sound strange but here it goes: “managers” tend to “over-emphasize” “asking questions of their performers” and also focusing on “removing” impediments. At the heart of performance management is the focus on not what people typically have to say, but what we want people to accomplish precisely and what we want people to do precisely. When we start there the data provided gives us objective information about how well any individual or team is performing or progressing. Also, when we focus on what we want and reinforce it we simply get it. If managers are finding they are spending a lot of time managing what they don’t want (like impediments, blockers, etc.) this is a strong sign of managing what we call “a deviation of performance”. This may not be obvious to most but I’m sure that every project manager has experienced a lot of spent time trying to manage what he doesn’t want? Just remember trying to remove what you don’t want will not ensure you will get what you do want! I would suggest if you feel there is value in asking daily questions to start with what precisely you want from your performers (results data preferably) and have clear objective measurable data on that performance. Then, here is one of my favorite questions I like to ask, after reviewing the data for progress; “How did you do that?” In this way you can reinforce the behaviors to accelerate the performance further. This may seem somewhat strange to most managers as most are constantly in problem solving mode and want to “remove” obstacles. If you find yourself doing this often I would recommend a review of your pinpoints and make sure they focus on what you want.

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Assessing Your Emotional Capital

Expectation Heart Dream Trust IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and IQ tests that attempt to measure intelligence are well known. However, IQ is not a good predictor of how successful you will be in life, or how effective and valued you will be at work.

Emotional Intelligence (EI), often measured as an Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), is a different measure that describes the ability to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups.

“Research shows convincingly that EQ is more important than IQ in almost every role and many times more important in leadership roles. This finding is accentuated as we move from the control philosophy of the industrial age to an empowering release philosophy of the knowledge worker age.” - Stephen Covey

So since software is a knowledge worker activity, and agile methods promote an empowering release philosophy, for leaders of agile projects EQ is of special importance. How can we measure our EQ? Well Martyn Newman’s Emotional Capital Inventory (ECI) is a great place to start. This online assessment scores participants against the 10 EQ dimensions of:

1. Self-Awareness
2. Self-Confidence
3. Self-Reliance
4. Self-Actualization
5. Assertiveness
6. Relationships Skills
7. Empathy
8. Self-Control
9. Flexibility
10. Optimism

LeadingAnswers.com readers are invited to take the short version of the assessment for free, just follow this link. Free Emotional Capital Inventory Test.


I recently read an early release copy of Martyn Newman’s “Emotional Capitalists: The New Leaders” book and was impressed. Several years ago I finally realized that successful projects are more about people and less about processes and tools. A Computer Science degree and 20 years of technical experience had not equipped me for the role of managing teams. Since then my studies have been focussed on the higher leverage area of people and team dynamics more than project management mechanics. You definitely need the mechanics to run projects, but usually the final outcome comes down to people.

Reuven Bar-On was amongst the pioneers to write about Emotional Intelligence and Daniel Goleman helped bring the subject to the business world with his Emotional Intelligence best seller. I liked these books and agreed with all the points raised, but often finished a book without a clear action plan for what I should start doing differently tomorrow.

What I like best about Emotional Capitalists is the practical nature of the advice given. Not only are the concepts explained clearly with entertaining stories, but each chapter is followed with a one page action plan summary, the advice is very accessible whereas some other books on EQ are more theoretical.

Sample EQ Graph  

Bad News and Good News
The bad news is your IQ peaks in your teens and from there on declines. The good news is that IQ is not a great predictor of happiness or success anyway, EQ is a better predictor of these, and EQ peaks in your late forties and early fifties so we have more time to practice and improve.

(As an aside, I think it is interesting how in our optimism we gravitate towards metrics that suit our circumstances. We are getting older and not any smarter, but hey, that’s OK, here’s a different score that we look better against! Maybe this is being wiser rather than smarter. Since turning forty my chances of running a sub 3hr marathon or sub 36 minute 10K again have approached zero, however I now use Age Weighted Scores and, problem solved, I’m not getting slower (well I am) but I can now compare my times against others my own age and use that as a metric for performance.) 

Anyway, have a look at the assessment, if nothing else it will familiarize you with some aspects of Emotional Intelligence that are critical to being successful today. Thanks again to Martyn Newman for giving a free trial of the tool for readers of this blog. The book covers many great topics that I plan to write on in the future, but for now I will end with some of my favourite quotes:

"You can’t lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse" - John Peters

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others" - Jack Welch

"What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within out into the world, miracles happen" - Henry David Thoreau

"To be independent of public opinion is the first formal condition of achieving anything great" - Friedrich Hegel

“Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance” - Bruce Barton

"If leadership is ultimately the art of accomplishing extraordinary things with ordinary people then building emotional capital is how you achieve it" – Martyn Newman

Project Success?

Measuring Success What defines project success? On “time and budget”, or “to specification and quality requirements”, maybe all of these? No, we are missing some less tangible, but critical components; how do people feel about the project once it is done.

On May 12 the PMI-SAC Awards for the best projects and the best project managers will be held in Calgary and Captain James Lovell, Commander of Apollo 13 will be giving the keynote “Apollo 13 – A Successful Failure”. This year I am a judge for the awards ceremony and in reviewing the applicants I have been thinking about what constitutes a successful project which prompted the recollection of some famous projects...

Apollo 13
Let’s consider Apollo 13. The third manned mission by NASA intended to land on the moon that experienced electrical problems 2 days after liftoff. An explosion occurred resulting in the loss of oxygen and power and the "Houston, we've had a problem" quote from Lovell (that is widely misquoted as, "Houston, we have a problem".)

The crew shut down the Command Module and used the Lunar Module as a "lifeboat" during the return trip to earth. Despite great hardship caused by limited electrical power, extreme cold, and a shortage of water, the crew returned safely to Earth and while missing the main moon-based scope, it was a very successful rescue, allowing future missions. “A Successful Failure

(The 1997 film not the original ship). This film was six months late, massively over budget and finished with a bloated 194-minute running time. Seemingly not a good performance given the original schedule, budget and scope requirements. Yet the film turned into an enormous critical and commercial success, winning eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and became the highest-grossing film of all time.


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Upcoming Events

2009 Calendar After returning from teaching a PMI class in New Orleans, the PMI have added some additional venues for the course later in the year. This is a good sign for agile methods within the PMI community; the course sold out quickly which hopefully indicates that many companies are still able to invest in training.

My 2 day Agile Project Management courses will be offered:

Of course PMI events go on throughout the year (full schedule), but this year I have deliberately kept the summer free from work events to enjoy some outdoor things closer to home. I am currently signed up for the Police Half Marathon, Calgary Marathon, Canmore 24hrs of Adrenaline, The Canadian Death Race, The TransRockies Bike Race, and Half Moon Adventure Race. Time will tell if I survive them all or stub my toe on the first one and miss the rest – hopefully not! I will report any remotely work related news back here.

Other agile events that look interesting this year include:
Atern Road Shows in the UK: London May 14, Bristol June 18, Manchester June 25.
XP 2009 Sardinia, Italy May 25-29
Agile 2009 Conference, Chicago August 24-28
Agile Business Conference, London October 13, 14

So many events, so little time!

Agile in New Orleans

New Orleans Next week I’ll be teaching a two day Agile Project Management course for the PMI in New Orleans. The class sold out quickly; I only teach 3 or 4 times a year for the PMI and I wondered if registration numbers would be down this year. The fact that it filled up so quickly is very positive and perhaps more people are tuning to agile as a way to get more work done with less budget.

This year’s Agile Business Conference in London has the theme of “Driving Success in Adversity” and I have submitted a presentation outline and plan to attend. There submission system states “This year we invite presentations and tutorials emphasising how Agile practices promote efficiency in project delivery, guarantee business value and optimise return on investment.” This seems a great theme, agile is all about maximizing business value, and I am looking forward to the conference.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans next week, I am keen to hear how organizations are currently using agile methods within their organizations to add value. (I am also looking forward to sampling the food and feeling some warmer weather after a long Canadian winter!)

The "Realization, Suck, Advance" Progression

S Ski Many skills go through a familiar progression:
1) Poor Performance
2) The Point of Realization
3) The “Sucking” Phase
4) The Advancement Phase

I went through this with TDD, then with a switch from management to leadership, more recently with learning to ski down hill in control on cross-country skis.

Realization Suck Advance

1) Poor Performance – Some things you just cannot do, or you have a lack of recognition about. The end result is that performance is poor.

2) The Point Realization – this is when you realize what you are supposed to be doing and the “a-ha” moment occurs. It feels good to now know what you need to do, but usually we are not practiced at it and still continue to fail for a while.

3) The “Suck” Phase – We know what we should do, but despite our best efforts we fail at doing it. This is because we have had no practice and we have not developed our skills yet. It can be frustrating that after making the mental leap that our performance hardly improves at all. From an external view observers may see no discernable improvement between before and immediately after the Point of Realization. Yet the seed has been sown and with practice we will get better.

4) The Advancement Phase – Now at last we start to make progress as we practice, continue to make mistakes, but get better and better. Our performance improves, we still fail occasionally, but less often and we get longer periods of high performance in between.

Applied Behavioral Analysis Science
My latest Point of Realization came during a presentation by Tony Parrottino at a recent PMI-SAC meeting. Tony was talking about Applied Behavioral Analysis Science as outlined by Aubrey Daniels.

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VUCA Lessons For Agile

Project Uncertainty Bob Johansen author of “Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present” outlines the challenges of VUCA projects. VUCA is a military term used to describe environments characterized by:


In such environments standard Command-and-Control processes are not effective.

I recently attended a great presentation by Denise Caron who outlined Bob’s description of VUCA challenges and the new leadership models that lend themselves to these circumstances. Many of today’s software projects exhibit Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity and there are numerous parallels between agile leadership and the VUCA leadership model.

Low complexity, fixed targets and “knowable” problems can be solved with a Command-and-Control approach. Here careful upfront planning and then methodical execution pay dividends. However, projects with high complexity, moving targets and initially unclear end-goals cannot be planned in detail upfront and then simply executed. This is where the advantages agile approaches come into play gaining the benefits of adaption over a traditional “Plan-the-work, work-the-plan” approach.

Johansen brings some useful parallels to the agile model, focusing on the role of a leader when faced with a dilemma involving Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. He highlights a Foresight to Insight to Action cycle as shown next...

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Agile Organizations

Agile Organizations The week before last I was in Regina teaching a two day Agile Project Leadership course for the Regina .NET User Group. One of the side conversations we had there was about Agile Organizations. Companies who not only embrace agile principles on their projects, but also within the behaviour and execution of their entire business. There is a big difference between running projects in an agile way within a traditional organization and orienting an entire company around principles that match agile values. Here are four well known and some not so well known examples:

1) Toyota
Toyota’s lean approach is well publicized. Through their passion for worker-led continual improvement they review, learn, adapt and improve at an impressive pace. Much has been written about Toyota’s capacity to innovate and nearly all of it comes from the incorporation of many small internal suggestions. In “The Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation” author Mathew May describes how Toyota implements over 1 million employee suggestions per year, that is about 3000 per working day, a truly staggering number.

The Elegant Solution
There is no big prize for the best suggestion picked each month. Instead all suggestions are valued equally and thanked in a small way. Toyota believes the biggest improvements come about from implementing thousands of small improvements, not waiting for the next big idea.

How do we learn from this? By creating ways for people to contribute, canvas their ideas frequently and recognize all suggestions for improvement; whether they are ultimately successful or not.

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Batch Size and Velocity Fluctuations

Batch Sizes I recently wrote a post on Velocity Signature Analysis and have been looking at how undertaking large chunks of work as a complete team impacts velocity. We are currently three quarters of the way through a major (4 months long) piece of functionality and velocity is finally rising. This seems a pattern; for the early portion of a new area of work we spend a lot of time understanding the business domain and checking our interpretation using mock-ups and discussions. Velocity, in terms of functionality built and approved by the business is down during this time since many of the team members are involved in understanding the new business area rather than cranking out code.

As project manager I can get jittery, did we estimate this section of work correctly? Our average velocity for the last module was 60 points per month and now we are only getting 20! Weeks and weeks go by as whiteboards get filled, designs get changed, but the tested story counts hardly moves. Compounding this Discovery Drain phenomenon is the Clean-up Drain pattern. During the early portions of a new phase, fixing up the niggling issues hanging over from the last phase seems to take a long time. This makes perfect sense, if they were easy they would probably have been done earlier. It is always the difficult to reproduce bug, the change request that necessitates a rework of established workflow or multiple stakeholder collaboration that seem to bleed into the next development phase. While there may only be 3 or 4 bugs or change requests hanging over, they take a disproportionate amount of time to resolve.

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PMI Opening the Doors to Agile

Door “To deal with complex projects there is an increased need for agile and flexible project management… In future, ‘people’ and leadership skills will be viewed as more important than technical skills.”

Statements like these hardly seem surprising to regular readers here. This is what I have been advocating for years. However, these recommendations do not come from me, but instead from this month’s PMI Today magazine. Couple this with the announcement last week at the PMI Global Congress in Denver that the next PMI Virtual Community to be created will be for Agile Methods and we begin to see a promising trend.

I reported previously that the PMBOK v4 Guide due out later this year has more iterative lifecycle coverage. Then today I heard that my Agile Project Management course has been added to the PMI Asia Pacific Congress 2009 conference in Kuala Lumpur, next February. So, while agile methods “crossed the chasm” into mainstream development a couple of years ago, I think we are only just witnessing this shift in project management.

Why has it taken so long for the managers to catch up? Well, as the popular stereotypes go, perhaps we are just a little slow, or have more change inertia, or more practices to change before embracing the new approach. Regardless, I am just glad things seem to be moving at last in the right direction.

I am looking forward to the PMI Agile Virtual Community as a great platform for bringing agile methods to project managers worldwide; (Virtual Community is the new PMI name for a Special Interest Group (SIG)). Congratulations to Jesse Fewell and the rest of the PMI Agile Board for pushing through the red tape and making this new group a reality.

Teaching in Costa Rica

Agile Costa RicaNext week I will be teaching two one-day agile workshops and an executive summary session in Costa Rica. The courses are organized by Invenio University Research and Education and will be taking place in the capital, San Jose.

I will be travelling with my friend and colleague Dustin Aleksiuk, who usefully speaks great Spanish and lived in Costa Rica for a while. Dustin has translated my slides into Spanish and the plan is for me to be viewing an English slide deck and Dustin keeping the Spanish projected slide deck in sync. We have a real-time interpreter and headsets for attendees and the whole thing should seem as if it is in Spanish. Questions and Answers will go through the interpreter too.

We will try it for a while and poll the audience, who by all accounts will likely speak good English anyway. If the majority of the audience is more comfortable in English rather than second-hand Spanish we will flip to English, but the process of translation has been fun. The Agile acronyms we use to remember key points like INVEST, CRACK, and IKIWISI just do not translate the same.

I have also been in touch with David Alfaro who lives in Costa Rica, writes the Scrum Costa Rica blog and co-ordinated the first ScrumMaster training in Costa Rica. We are organizing a separate presentation for the University after the regular courses have finished and I hope this attracts a good crowd also.

A trip to Costa Rica would be no fun if it were all work and so we have wrapped the 3 days of courses with 5 days of sight-seeing and activities. It should be great and I’ll post a report with a few photo’s when I return.

The APLN Seattle Leadership Summit

SeattleAPLN The APLN Seattle Leadership Summit is shaping up to be quite the learning event. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Collaboration Games by Luke Hohmann and Allan Shalloway
  • Kanban by David Anderson and Corey Ladas
  • Scrum by Brent Barton and Lance Young
  • Getting Started with Agile by Mitch Lacey and Julie Chickering
  • Writing Agile Contracts by Bruce Eckfeldt and Jim Benson
  • Agile Program Management by Mike Griffiths and Mike Cottmeyer
  • Real Option Theory by Chris Matts and Olav Maassen
  • Agile User Experience by Arlen Bankston and Jeff Patten

The program also includes two leadership keynotes by:

  • Lisa Haneberg, author of seven books including 10 Steps to Be a Successful Manager and Two Weeks to a Breakthrough.
  • John Yuzdepski, a partner at Management Concepts LLC specializing in product transitions and commercialization of new technology and a veteran of the mobile communications industry.

While I am involved in facilitating a session on Agile Program Management with Mike Cottmeyer, my real motivation for attending is to hear the other speakers present.

I am a big fan of Luke’s work on Collaboration Games and posted on it previously here. As too with David’s work on Kanban here and Jim’s work on Agile Contracts here. I know Mitch Lacey does a great job of explaining agile and I was introduced to Real Options as a reviewer of Preston Smith’s Flexible Product Development book and want to learn more.

(I’m sure Mike Cottmeyer can handle the session by himself, I think I’ll be sneaking out to attend some the other sessions!)

So, if you can get to Seattle July 17-18 I recommend the event as the best value agile project leadership training you will find this year. $300 for two days of leading edge knowledge and experience is excellent value (plus you could claim 16 self-directed-learning PDUs too, if you need PDUs).

Travel and Training

TravelI have been traveling and training lots recently and not had much time to post new entries here.

However, the travel time has allowed me to read more and two books I am current enjoying are Leadership Agility by Joiner, Josephs and A Leader Becomes a Leader by J. Sheehan.



Neither is specifically about Agile methods, but both highlight great ideas that are universally applicable. I will post complete reviews when I have finished them.

My traveling and training courses continue next week when I will be teaching a public 2 day Agile Project Management course in Scottsdale for the PMI. I will be repeating it in Seattle May 20-21 and Washington D.C. August 11, 12.

Other public courses coming up include a 1 day in Sacramento June 20 and a two day in Anchorage September 11-12. These courses are proving popular (Scottsdale and Seattle are sold-out) but I also offer private courses that can be tailored to company requirements. Please see here for a full list.

Once the Scottsdale course is over I will resume regular postings here.

Top 10 Team Practices

Team_practicesThere are some great books on agile team dynamics nowadays. My personal favorites include:

The problem is that most people do not get the time they want or need to read about these topics. So, I have created the following: Top 10 Team Practices list and one-page printer friendly version to remind us of some of the basic points.

If you lead a team then print the sheet and post it somewhere visible and do a mental inventory of the practices from time to time. If you are a member of a team that could do with a boost, print a copy and post it on your manager’s wall, I am sure they will thank you for it! (actual results may vary.)

1) Empower them – By giving control for local decision making and work sequencing to the team we gain the advantages of additional insights, better motivated teams, and more practical plans with less waiting. 

2) Listen to them – The team is closer to the technical details of the project and also best placed to determine the most successful solutions to project challenges and problems. Encouraging the team to solve the project problems has two main benefits. It demonstrates they are valued for their insight as well as their output, which makes people feel more involved and appreciated. Also, solutions suggested by the team are more likely to be embraced and executed with enthusiasm. It is better to have a 70% optimal solution executed with 80% enthusiasm than a 100% optimal solution executed with 40% enthusiasm.

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No Glory in “The Middle Way“

Balanced_approach (The “Balanced Blend” Manifesto takes Shape)

Don’t really buy into all the hype of agile? Think it works up to a point, but real-life is actually more complicated and demands more of a hybrid approach? – Don’t worry, you are not alone.

Since helping define DSDM in 1994, I have spent the last 14 years helping organizations adopt agile methods like DSDM, Scrum, XP, FDD, etc and have come to realize, like many others, that these methods are not the solution. Instead they are the over-simplified starting points that you need to blend into what already works within the organization. Then overlay and support with additional approaches to create successful project ecosystems.

We need simplified schematics of systems to assist comprehension and discussion. However, all too often these simplified models are put into production as the entire solution and then problems occur.  Like a simplified model of a car braking system, it is useful in helping us understand how the system works in theory, yet is full of design flaws for practical implementation.


In real life, servo’s and pumps are needed to amplify the braking force from the pedal. There is not a single shared-fluid system, but instead two diagonally opposed systems (so a leak does not result in total brake failure or pulling to one side in a left and right split system). In addition to the basic system shown here, cars also employ an array of supporting systems for fluid level monitoring, ABS, wear detection, etc.

Luckily people do not read about the basics of car braking systems and then decide to replace the one on their car with their own design. However plenty of people read about agile methods and decide to implement that as their new software production system.


The good news is that the state of existing software production systems is often very poor and so implementing any kind of better conceived system is an improvement. (A basic sub-optimal braking system is probably better than relying on throwing an anchor out the window and hoping it snags on something to stop you!) The problems occur when the current system is not optimal, but understood and working; and it is then replaced by an oversimplified alternative.

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Agile 2008 Submission Review Marathon

Agile_2008_submissions_3 Phew, I am done! We had over 120 submissions for the Agile 2008 “Leadership and Teams” stage which is a great response. However at about 5-10 minutes each to read the bio’s, proposal and submit a review it adds up to a large evaluation effort. Here’s how the stages and numbers broke down:


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Collaboration Tools

AplnlogoLast week’s Calgary APLN meeting was on Team Collaboration and afterwards an attendee volunteered a really neat and useful team assessment questionnaire. Gerard Meszaros (author of XUnit Test Patterns) who also has strong project management and team collaboration knowledge, presented on “Using Collaboration to Build Team Commitment”. It was a great presentation and referenced some of the Jean Tabaka’s work from the book “Collaboration Explained”.

I have known Jean since her facilitation work with DSDM in the mid 90’s and she really knows about teams, motivation and working effectively with people. Chapter 4 of her book talks about characteristics of high performance teams. After the presentation, Edgardo Gonzalez sent me a spreadsheet based on these criteria that allows quick and easy team assessments.


As seen from the screenshot above, the tool is a one page Excel sheet that assesses the team’s abilities in:
• Self Organizing
• Empowered to Make Decisions
• Belief in Vision and Success
• Committed Team
• Trust Each Other
• Participatory Decision Making
• Consensus-Driven
• Constructive Disagreement

In our example of a fictitious project, four people completed the questionnaire. The collective team score is shown on the left hand radar chart (indicating a weakness in the “Consensus Driven” field) and the individual scores are shown on the right hand radar diagram. Colour coding flags areas as “Red” for concern, “Yellow” for warning (“Trust…” in the example), and “Green” for good.

Not only is the spreadsheet an effective team diagnostic, but a good lesson in Excel spreadsheet formatting and validation. Thanks Edgardo for agreeing to make this available to everyone and to Gerard and Jean for their work in this important field.

You can download the spreadsheet for your own use below:

Collaborative Team Assessment.xls

Agile Project Leadership and More on Accreditation

Grasp_agileLast week I taught the “Agile Project Leadership” course with Sanjiv Augustine in Manchester, UK. The course went really well and we were looked after by Ian and Dot Tudor our hosts from TCC Training and Consultancy. They have a number of training facilities around the UK and ours was Aspen House, a converted church that retained all the arched doorways and high vaulted ceilings you would hope for.

Aspen_house_3It was a rare treat to teach in such nice surroundings and the church setting made evangelising agile all the more fun. In truth we were “preaching to the choir” as most of the delegates were already familiar with the benefits of agile and were looking for practical tools and more leadership techniques to move their organizations to the next level.

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We Don’t Want User Input!

Computer_users_2Do you really need those pesky users on your project, forever changing their minds and requesting new functionality just as you are about to be done?

When I was at school, my physic’s teacher was fond of telling us that, "if it were not for the students I would enjoy teaching." The same is true for users, they may cause us issues and headaches, but they are the reason we are there and developing software in the first place.

Why we Need User Input
The truth is that on agile projects we do not want user input we actually need user input in order to be successful. Agile projects are deliberately light on capturing initial requirements because we realize that requirements are likely to change, and evaluation of an emerging system will surface new requirements and improvements to existing requirements that we want to encourage.

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Agile 2008 – “Leadership and Teams” Stage

Agile2008This year’s Agile conference in Toronto this August will be structured slightly differently. Following a music festival structure, the conference will be divided into “stages” to cover different topics. I was able to visit the Agile 2008 conference venue in December when the last Agile Alliance Board meeting was held there and we toured the facility with the Agile 2008 Conference Committee.

Johanna Rothman and I are the “Leadership and Teams” chairs for the conference and we have been allocated a great venue; a large, bright ballroom with high ceilings and lots of natural light. This year the conference has much more space and larger mingling areas both indoors and out which I am sure will help.

On the “Leadership and Teams” stage we are looking for submissions on, you guessed it, leadership and team focused experience reports, research papers, tutorials, and presentations. Now is a great time to submit a proposal, so take a look at the submission system and propose your ideas.

The other element I am excited about is the submission system selection process. I have written previously about encouraging the agile community to prioritize our proposal backlog (list of submissions) and this year it is happening. On the Drupal based submission system anyone can write a review for a session and “up-vote” or “down-vote” a proposal. The cumulative scores for proposals help determine what gets selected.

This will not be a totally crowdsourced selection (like ideagora: Cambrian House), instead panel review will still be involved, but it is great to see the conference users (attendees) involved in prioritizing the features (proposals) for the event.

So, head over to the submission system and up-vote your buddy’s submission, down-vote anything from that guy that won’t return your emails (only kidding) or better yet, submit something valuable on Leadership and Teams for the conference, we would love to see it.

Agile Project Leadership Training Course

Agile_help_4 On February 4-5th I will be co-instructing with Sanjiv Augustine our new “Agile Project Leadership” training course in Manchester, UK. Sanjiv is the author of the excellent “Managing Agile Projects” book and fellow APLN board member.

This is a fast paced, practical focussed course that covers agile project management, leadership, and avoiding common agile project pitfalls.

You can find further details including a course outline at here.

Personal Agility – Free Webinar

Personal_agilityIs agile about new tools and techniques or more a mindset? Philippe Kruchten asserts “agility is not a technology, science, or product but a culture”. This makes sense to me; innovation comes in waves (object oriented programming, business process engineering, lean production, etc); and while they all have their merits, most fail to deliver the full potential of their benefits because people concentrate on the process rather than the mindset. At the heart of agile is a mindset not a toolset.

I was speaking to Christopher Avery today, author of “Teamwork is an Individual Skill” and he shared some thoughts on personal agility and team motivation. Christopher is great for this since he approaches agility and team work from a psychological side whereas my thoughts are usually based on observation and trial and error.

We were discussing motivation and how to motivate peers who you do not necessarily have positional power over. Bosses may try to create motivation via carrot and stick approaches, but these are weak and short lived. People grow tired of such manipulation and find ways to break the system.

Instead, Christopher talked about “Intrinsic Motivation”, a more powerful motivation that comes from within.  People want to be on a winning team, but are not sure how to find or create them. The secret lies in understanding what “winning” means for others and then creating wins around you. In practical terms this means asking people “what is in it for them?” i.e. what is it they would like to learn, do, or gain (beyond a paycheck) from the project and then provide opportunities for these things to happen.

At first this sounded a little odd to me, a bit too touchy-feely. Asking people what they did over the weekend is one thing, but asking them what they want out of a project seems, well, invasive, too personal. However when you think about it, that is backwards, after all the project is something we all have in common. What they did with their spouse over the weekend, now that could be personal!

Telling someone what you really want to get out of a project might seem a little odd too, but fears of doing so indicate a ‘scarcity model’ to information. Why should we worry if people know what we really like to do or gain, chances are they will make opportunities available for us to do them. Helping others get what they want from projects creates an upward spiral of support and co-operation, which when you think about it, is the heart of a winning team.

Chatting to Christopher is always refreshing, he shares so much useful information that I struggle to retain it all. Fortunately for us Chris has recorded a free tele-seminar on Mastering Personal Agility. I heartily recommend it, the people side of projects have the greatest leverage, even small improvements here can yield large benefits; be sure to check it out.

The DOI, Made to Slip?

SlipNearly three years on, why is the Declaration Of Interdependence (DOI) still not widely known or referenced?

The chances are that most readers will not be familiar with the DOI, yet it is a great piece of work. The DOI lists principles that, like the Agile Manifesto principles, help point the way for teams working on agile projects. It was created by the founders of the Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN) to guide agile project management and rally support for an uprising of new project management thinking.

Other than believing some of the wording was a little too clever for its own good and general consumption. I did not fully understand why it had been avoided. Then I read “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath and I realized that it has the stickiness and appeal of a greased electric eel.

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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...

Continue reading "Right-Brain Project Management" »

Developing Authentic Leadership

Developing_leadersLast night I gave a talk on “Agile Project Leadership” at the Calgary Agile Methods User Group (CAMUG). I like giving these because the questions raised make me re-examine elements of leadership and last night was no exception.

One question raised was basically “We hear about these ideas and they sound good, but in our projects the same old stuff keeps happening. How do we get real results?” I responded with some explanation about encouraging servant leadership, but in retrospect I think the underlying question was more about making the switch to authentic leadership rather than shallow imitations that bring poor results.


Some subsequent discussions with a couple of attendees have helped me straighten out my thoughts on the issue further. “Cargo cults” is the term used to explain the phenomenon of blindly replicating outward behaviour with the hope that it will yield positive results. It originates from a few scattered instances of Pacific Island tribes recreating replicas of the war time aircraft runways, control towers, and radios out of wood in the belief that they would bring back the cargo planes that brought Western goods during the war.


The equivalent cargo cult leadership pattern would be to practice techniques like team recognition in the hope that it improves morale and productivity without understanding the work undertaken, or by presenting phony “well done’s” and insincere praise. People have excellent BS radars and phony praise is quickly recognized as attempts at manipulation and has the opposite effect as desired. Likewise mechanical-only attempts at creating a common vision, challenging the process, or creating empowered teams will fall short too. These activities require deep conviction or else they will falter and fade, making genuine attempts harder to introduce later as an “antibody effect” of mistrust develops in the team.


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Popular Posts as PDFs - One year of LeadingAnswers

AgilityI have been blogging on this site for a year now and it has been lots of fun. With 82 articles and 33,000 visitors from 127 countries, I have made plenty of contacts that I would not have made otherwise and learned lots in the process.

A couple of people have commented that it is hard to print articles from this site and so I have created a separate page with some of the more popular posts as PDF documents for download or printing. Just click on the "Articles as PDF documents" link of the top right of this page.

Who knows what year 2 will bring, but I’d like to hear from you so I have added a “Suggest a Topic” email link too.  Drop me a line and if your topic catches my fancy I’ll write about it.

Thanks for reading.

How many volunteers do you have working on your project?

Volunteers While your initial reaction may be “none”, I would assert that your whole team are actually volunteers and we can benefit from recognizing this and treating them accordingly. All that paying people does is ensure that they turn up (hopefully) and then once they are at work they must want to contribute or else very little will be achieved despite all the outward appearances of them “working”.

Attending the Agile 2007 conference in Washington and witnessing the passion of people engaged in something they truly care about and volunteering on programs with likeminded people got me thinking again about the productivity of volunteers and paid team members.

Team member contribution varies on a scale ranging from being a net drain on the project, all the way up to passionate innovation.


On the left hand side of this spectrum we have instances of people actually negatively impacting the project. Either intentionally or through misguided objectives and actions, their presence on the team actually has a net drain on project productivity.

The next region “Passive Compliance” people do generally work on to-do items, but without much thought and without any passion for the task or goal. Unfortunately “Passive Compliance” is an all too common category for team members in large organizations who feel like “cogs” in a machine they have very little say in.

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New Agile Project Leadership Training Course

Tree_of_agile_knowledge_2 In September I will be co-instructing with Sanjiv Augustine the new course “Agile Project Leadership”. Sanjiv is a fellow APLN board member and author of the excellent “Managing Agile Projects” book. I’m really excited because a) we have an excellent course that will stretch attendees while engaging them, and b) co-teaching with Sanjiv will be a blast since he is such a knowledgable and personable expert.

Our first course offering will be in Manchester, UK on September 10-11th. You can find further details including a course outline at Agile University here

Developments in Agile Project Management - Part 3

Agile_project_management_2 Here’s the last instalment from my Developments in Agile Project Management Paper. Last time I wrote about Accreditation and Generation Y. Today I cover Leadership, Lean and Six Sigma, and Tool support.


You can download the full paper with the additional intro to agile and post-agile sections at the end of this post.

Continue reading "Developments in Agile Project Management - Part 3" »

Be Enthusiastic – It’s Contagious

JoyA couple of weeks ago I wrote a post called “The True Role of a PM on Agile Projects”. An attribute I did not include was “Be Enthusiastic – it’s Contagious” one reason for this omission is that it is a skill that I struggle with and I did not feel qualified to talk about. My style is more reserved and I have to go outside of my comfort zone to outwardly project my eagerness. However, the fact remains that it is an important role. 

If the leader of the project does not appear to show a passion for the cause then why should the other team members? Also the “- it’s contagious” portion is very important, as a social group team members easily feed off of each other’s energy levels. This is demonstrated by the presence or absence of those rare individuals who have the personality to be able to lift a group. When they are present everyone feels the lift and buzz, when they are absent there is hole, and everyone comes down a notch.

By introducing a positive, enthusiastic approach we nudge the team mood in the right direction. Nobody wants to work in pessimistic drudgery. We are happier, get more done, and overcome obstacles easier when people are enthusiastic. Obviously, it needs to be genuine and in character with your true nature. Some phony “Woo-hoo’s” will fool no one and undermine your credibility, but even if you tend to be quiet, true enthusiasm can be conveyed in the way in which you engage with the team and other stakeholders.

The reason I’m writing about this today is something I picked up last night from the PMISAC awards. Tana Goertz, finalist from “The Apprentice 3” gave a keynote speech that provided the tip “fake-it until you make-it”. Now I know I have just said we should not be fake when showing enthusiasm, but that was not her point. Tana’s message was that if you realize that something is important then you should do it, even if you struggle, until you can do it well. By practicing this awkward, but important skill, it will become easier.

Another take on this is, is “if something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly”, it took me a while to understand this oxymoron. However, it means if something is good and important we should try to do it (even if we are bad at it) because at least a little is better than nothing at all. (Another favourite oxymoron truism is “You lead people by standing behind them”, physically impossible, but correct in principle.)

So, if you are a little like me and struggle to project enthusiasm give it a try, do it anyway. Be sincere and express it in your own way, enthusiasm is contagious and brings the energy to push through setbacks.

Blog Award

Pmisac_2To my surprise, this blog won the PMISAC award for Project Management Literature last night at the 2007 Awards Gala Dinner. This is a great endorsement, I work on the blog in my spare time and it provides a large encouragement to continue and do more.

I also think having a blog considered for a literary award demonstrates how progressive the PMISAC is. It was not long ago that blogs were more the domain of developers than project managers. It is very encouraging to see alternative media branches recognized.

Team Solving: The Under Utilized Power

Team_solver_2 All projects face problems, but fortunately your team members have the best solutions.

Projects rarely go exactly to plan; they have a nasty habit of uncovering gnarly problems that were not anticipated, but need to be solved. This is illustrated nicely by Doug DeCarlo in his book Extreme Project Management.


The top black line depicts the planned approach moving in orderly fashion from start to finish. The lower blue line depicts how projects really progress with side tracks and setbacks as obstacles are encountered and overcome.

Yet, in attempting to solve these problems project managers too often overlook the best source of solutions, the project team. In this post I will outline why the team has the best practical solutions even when they may not be the best theoretical solutions. An example will probably help about now.

While managing a government project during an IT vendor change, we needed to quickly build rapport with the business users of the system and subject matter experts (SME) in order to maintain the development pace from the previous team. The problem faced was how do we get to know the business folks better and connect the team members and SME’s . Rather than contriving some project social event and trying to get buy-in from the business and team I presented the problem to the team in a planning meeting.

After some back and forth a team member suggested, that since quite a few of the business people went 10-pin bowling, then perhaps we should arrange a bowling social event. Others concurred, ideas for mixing the teams up (not us vs. them) were brainstormed and we ran the event. It went really well and led to other activities all of which greatly contributed to a strong relationship and a successful project.

As the PM I could have instead consulted the PMO, HR, or social psychology experts to determine the optimal team building event, but then I would have had to have sold it to the team. Here lies the first power of team solving:

Team Solving Power #1: By asking the team for a solution we inherit consensus for the proposal

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The True Role of a PM on Agile Projects

Team_2So, what does the PM do on agile projects? If the team self organizes and selects their own work from the prioritized feature list, should the PM just buy pizza and keep out of the way? Well they are short changing the team if that is all they do. Rather than a fear of role erosion, PM’s should be maximizing business value delivery and looking to broaden their skill set with more leadership practices.  This post outlines four core roles and ten core principles managers of agile projects should practise. 

Working in Parallel
Before we start, the transition to agile does not happen overnight. There will be a long and sometimes awkward transition period as all the project stakeholders adopt a more collaborative and empowered approach to work. Some people will be quicker than others to make the transition and the PM often has to continue with traditional PM activities, behind the scenes, to ensure no balls are dropped on the project.

Ideas not new to agile, just a renewed emphasis
The Agile PM traits of a downward serving model and Leadership rather than Management were not invented by Agile guru’s. Instead agile teams found that the management styles that favoured people over process, collaboration over command-and-control worked best on agile projects. Leadership that moves the emphasis from doing-things-right to doing-the-right-things is a better complement to agile methods than the detail oriented task management popularized by modern project management. Interestingly, project management (emphasising achieving things through task control) is a relatively new phenomenon based on Fredrick Taylor’s Transformation View of task decomposition (1900). Whereas Leadership (emphasising achieving things through collaboration and shared vision) is as old as human collaboration itself. "When the best leader's work is done, the people say, We did it ourselves." - Lao-Tzu (604 BC)

Agile PM Role 1: Obstacle Removal


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Lighter Grip and More Awareness: Lessons in collaboration from Boeing

Control vs Communication

Learning_to_rideWhen you first learn to ride a bike it is normal to grip the handlebars really tightly and look at your hands or feet as you concentrate hard on the new “riding” task and try not to fall off. The problem with looking at your hands or feet while cycling is that you will not see the rock or pothole in the road ahead until it is too late and so, despite your best efforts, you will fall off. It is actually safer to relax, loosen your grip on the handlebars a little, and look further up the road to spot obstacles in plenty of time to avoid them.

The same goes for project management, when we are new to the role it is normal to focus on the project plans, progress against the plan, and budget consumed too closely. We focus so much on these project management tasks that we fail to see the issues and risks (rocks and potholes) the project is headed towards, until it is too late. While plans, progress and budgets are all critical elements, we can bring more value to the project by releasing our obsession on these project metrics slightly and focussing more of our attention down the road to items like sponsor satisfaction and team morale. There is little point having a perfectly executed project plan and a full set of EVA metrics if the project gets cancelled or half the team quits.

Specification vs Collaboration
Closely linked to Control and Communication is Specification and Collaboration. We can try to specify everything down to the nth degree of detail and then hope we got the spec right and whoever is developing the product develops exactly to specification. Or, we can explain our goals at a high level and then work in closer collaboration with the developer to achieve our desired results.  Agile methods recommend the second option, getting the customer working in closer collaboration with the developer to ensure the right product gets built. This works well for many types of software project where it is difficult to fully articulate the complete requirements upfront. However, it is not just the software world that is switching to collaboration over specification.

Today’s aircraft are highly complex networks of sub-systems, parts and software; and Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner is about as big and complex as commercial aircraft currently get. From its ground breaking remote diagnostics that communicate component usage, wear and failure statistics to the ground in real time via satellite communications; to its novel composite material wings that save weight, the aircraft is new and extremely complex.

When Boeing sent the specifications to the electronics supplier for the 777 (the predecessor to the 787) the document was over 2500 pages. The equivalent specification document for the 787 is a mere 20 pages, how is this possible? Boeing, who are experts in specification and control, learned that to tackle a project of this magnitude they had to form closer relations with their suppliers and learn how to co-create and collaborate like never before. While it would be wrong to say: “Gone are all the detailed specs” the major shift is to increased collaboration with suppliers and less reliance upon specification.

Many industries are tapping into the benefits of increased collaboration over contract negotiation that are also embraced by agile methods. With increased collaboration comes shared decision making as well. In the past, Boeing gave the orders like a drill sergeant, and suppliers complied. Rarely did it matter if the supplier had a better idea – Boeing wanted components built exactly to specification. This time, Boeing has given all of its partners a vote on matters that affect them. Boeing and its partners are reaping the benefits as they work together on solutions and adapt to realize unanticipated benefits.

So, if you get a chance to fly on a new 787 Dreamliner any time soon, consider the new collaboration process that enabled its creation (and let’s hope they did not lose any of those story cards!)

You can read more about emerging trends in collaboration and Boeing’s new work practices in Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. By Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams.

Team Decision Making

Decisions How quickly we make decisions and the team member’s level of agreement to these decisions impacts project performance and team cohesion. Software development is an exercise in information exchange and decision making. Also, since software projects have no tangible, emerging product moving down a production line, the communication and decision making process becomes more critical to keep everyone informed and engaged.

Agile methods utilize many tools to promote effective communications including: co-location, daily stand-up meetings, planning workshops, retrospectives, etc, but less is written or taught about decision making. However, if team members are not canvassed for their opinions we run the risk of alienating portions of the team leading to reduced levels of commitment and participation, and potentially missing an important new perspective that could help avoid pitfalls further on. This post outlines the importance of team based decision making and outlines a couple of simple tools to get you started.

Agile methods favour more team empowerment and less command-and-control direction. This increases satisfaction and productivity, but raises the need for effective decision making. Without a project dictator, how do teams make decisions and move forward?...

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Don’t (Just) Drink The Kool-Aid

Kool_aidThe next CAMUG meeting looks very interesting. Jonathan Kohl will be presenting "Don't Drink the Kool-Aid! Avoiding Process Pitfalls". Here is an excerpt from his presentation outline:

“… merely applying an Agile (or any other) process is not a guarantee of success. As with anything else in life, there are trade-offs, and unintended consequences when applying a tool or process. This talk will explore some common Agile process practices that may work well in some contexts, and have unintended consequences in others.

The intention of this talk is to encourage us all to keep striving to build the best software we can. It's tempting to think we have the formula for success, but in a rapidly changing industry, we must adapt and change accordingly.

Amen to that, there is no standard recipe for successful projects, instead, as the DOI advises, solutions need to be “context specific”, or as Alistair Cockburn reminds us, a new methodology per project.

This is not to say we should discourage passionate implementation of agile methods. Following my Agile Project Management Assessment Quiz post I was contacted by Simon Baker of Think Box who scored an impressive “Uber Agile” score. You can read an account of his project team practices and successes following the quiz and I commend him and his team on their work.

Rather, the point I want to make, is that our intent should focus on successful stakeholder engagement and better software. If this is achieved via agile methods then great, or if, say, via better communications, then so be it. We run the risk of ignoring the “Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools” value if we focus only on process.

For the last couple of months I have been reviewing draft chapters from Preston Smith’s new book “Flexible Product Development” due to be published later this year. I met Preston through the APLN board and I have learned a lot from reading the draft chapters. A portion that really hit home for me was his description of people over process...

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Agile Leadership Pattern: Project Obituary Exercise

Zombies Try this exercise with your team to identify, overcome, and avoid potential project “gottchas”.

Get the team to write a project obituary; ask them to imagine the project is nearly over and has failed; their job for the next 45 minutes is to describe all the things that went wrong contributing to its eventual demise. Often people who are difficult to engage in regular vision exercises relish the opportunity to list all the things that could go wrong. Perhaps given a slightly pessimistic slant on life, they can generate an exhaustive list of possible, albeit gloomy, outcomes for the project. These might include communication failures that lead to mismatched expectations, vendor delays, team morale issues, etc, anything that could negatively impact the project.

Run the session as you would a brainstorming session with someone in a facilitator role recording the ailments on a white board or via sticky pad notes and prompting submitters for more detail to clarify understanding where required. If you used sticky notes, group related problems under broad categories. Review the lists with the group and then ask people to quietly think through potential solutions to these problems and take a break for 15 minutes.

Then, after the break, solicit solutions (vaccines) to each of the problems (ailments) from the team. Usually there will be more than one suggested solution for each problem so make sure you have plenty of white board space, or wall space if using stickies. Creating solutions for problems is an energising process and often generates many creative and unanticipated suggestions. For example, on a past project, if I had suggested a 10 pin-bowling social with the Finance group I am sure it would have been met with groans of objection from my team, but when they came up with the idea, it had instant approval (it was their idea after all!) and I was happy to oblige and organize it.

The whole obituary idea sounds a little morbid, and there may be instances when it is not appropriate for a team. However, by asking people to consider problems and then how each could be avoided, the team creates a mental image of overcoming likely issues. So then if any occur on the project they already have some sample solutions in mind. As the old saying goes: “forewarned is forearmed” i.e. we will be ready for it.

This exercise is related to the Merlin backwards planning exercise I described earlier and is also used in the Toyota Production System. Toyota used the obituary approach when creating their “Toyota University” program and engaged the team in a larger exercise to create a full report entitled “The University of Toyota calls it Quits; A Requiem for a Noble Concept”. In the book “The Elegant Solution” author Mathew May describes how the article detailed the path to failure. Created as an expose set three years in the future, it described a corporate university that was everything management didn’t want the University of Toyota to be with fat brochures and academic papers. It worked. The university team clarified the main issue that could be their demise: failure to align to around real business needs. The article was a call to arms that set imaginative wheels in motion. The group redrafted the article, not as an obituary, but as a front page story trumpeting the success of the university and created the framework for its success.

So, when next starting a project (or corporate) endeavour consider the obituary exercise. It might be just the tool for giving the naysayer’s their voice and then uniting the team around appropriate risk mitigation and avoidance strategies. I really believe the team has all the best answers; we just need to create opportunities for them to be heard more.

Update on PMI Dinner Talk ‘Agile Project Leadership”

My last two posts outlined a talk I was preparing for the Calgary PMI chapter. The presentation went well, the event was full at 125 people and the audience was very receptive to the message. This was pretty much expected, as nothing was meant to be confrontational. I positioned leadership as the human-centric extension to management that I believe it is. We had some good questions after the talk and I was invited back by the organizers to present at their PMI Conference in November which was a nice endorsement.

(I enjoyed the event, but need to get faster at creating these presentations. I use a lot of graphics and team-room photographs and these currently take me much too long to create, organize and turn into presentations. I keep thinking that I will get quicker as I build up a library of collateral, but every time it takes me days to prepare. I think it’s time to seek some help and I will chat to Ole Jepsen about this when we meet for the APLN planning meeting in Salt Lake. He used to create courseware for a living and apparently has a method or system for created them that saves lots of time – I will see if he can help me.)

An introduction to Agile Project Leadership – Part 2

Pmi_apln_logos_1 In Part 1 I explored the humanistic side of leadership and two leadership practices:
1. Modeling desired behaviour
2. Creating and communicating a vision

In this post I will explain three more practices:
3. Enable others to act
4. Willingness to challenge the status quo
5. Encouraging each other

And wrap up discussion of the presentation “Agile Project Leadership” I will be delivering tomorrow evening.

3) Enable others to act – We need to foster collaboration by building trust and strengthen others by sharing power. When we have a trusting work place people can be more productive since people need not fear reprisal or ridicule if they make a mistake. I visualize it like this, if you need one hand to cover your rear it only leaves one hand free to work. When we can create an open, forgiving work environment, without the need to CYA, people are much more productive.

We can do this by setting an example. Admit mistakes publicly to the team, show people it is good to learn and move on. Hold information sessions to share knowledge, we want an abundant mentality to information not a scarcity based model where people protect knowledge. Ask the team searching questions such as:

  • Do you have what you need?
  • Where do you think we are vulnerable?
  • Where are we not meeting goals?

Get the team in on risk management and the things that the traditional project manager has to worry about individually. Not only will people feel valued for being consulted, but a slew of valuable input will be created.

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