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.>



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 - 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.

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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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New Trends in Online Learning

New Trends in Online Learning SmallFinished Netflix? Done with “doom-scrolling” social media? Maybe it’s time to gain those skills you have been putting off.

The expansion of online learning was booming before COVID-19 emerged. Now, with the rise of work from home and homeschooling, the switch to online study has been massively accelerated.

However, before enrolling in some uninspired port of traditional course content to an online platform, let's see what else is out there. What are the emerging trends and good practices? What can we look forward to seeing in the world of online learning for project managers?

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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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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

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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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