The Perks of Agility

A Project Management Article by Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, CEO, Cheetah Learning LLC (PMI® REP)

Are you a “doer” or a “planner”? If you are a “planner”, you know who you are. You probably have the next few weeks planned out in your day calendar, and may tend to get a little bit nervous if people throw a curve ball your way in the form of an unplanned event. If you are a “doer” you may like to have more freedom when it comes to your calendar, and would rather make plans as you go than be tied down to a pre-set agenda.

Whether you are an all out planner, or a devoted doer, or somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, you are a valuable asset as a Project Manager. The fact is, both skills are crucial when it comes to project success. A good solid plan is needed to ensure organization, and the planned action items need to eventually be executed to create any value.

PMI has recently recognized a new certification that validates a practice that brings together planners and doers in a brand new way. This certification is called the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)sm.

The Agile Philosophy 

So what exactly is Agile, and why has there been so much talk about it as of late? Agile is a philosophy that uses organizational modules based on people, collaboration and shared values. In 2001, a group of software project managers wrote first the Agile Manifesto, which describes the agile philosophy. In February of that year, these independent-minded practitioners found a consensus around four main values, which are:

 

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

 

While it may seem like the Agile philosophy is endorsing “doers” over “planners”, what they are really saying is that while there is value in the items on the right, Agile values the items on the left more.

So while Agile values a good set of plans, they value the action of “doing” these plans even more. And when you think about it, that just makes good sense. What are a set of plans after all if you have nothing to show for it?

Planners, this means that there is still room for you in the Agile realm to be very valuable contributors. You are actually a necessity. In Agile, teams plan in “Sprints,” which is exactly what it sounds like – planning in small, fast bursts. Before every sprint there is a “Sprint Planning” meeting where the team meets with the products owner and decides what needs to get done in the next sprint. After the sprint the team goes through a “Sprint Review” where the team will demonstrate the incremental value that was attained during the sprint.

Using this method, planning and doing go back and forth in rapid succession to create clear transparency in what everyone is doing and what the project team should be focusing on.

Agile & Traditional Project Management

As you already know, the PMBOK® Guide contains principles of Project Management process that describe what should be done during the management of a project. Conversely, Agile methodologies describe how to do the things that should be done.  The two approaches are compatible and can be used together as project managers can layer the "how" on top of the "what” when managing projects. It is up to the project manager to determine which principles and practices to apply to any specific project. Where Agile practices come in especially handy is with projects that require quick responses to change along with intensive communication with customers.

If you take a look at how you manage your own project, you might be surprised at what you discover. Many Project Managers find that they are already applying Agile principles and practices, but either calling it something else OR not recognizing these as "Agile.”

For example, Agile methods break tasks into small increments (project phases) with minimal planning and do not directly involve long- term planning. Iterations are short time frames called time boxes that typically last from one to four weeks. Team composition in an agile project is usually cross- functional and self-organizing, without consideration for any existing corporate hierarchy or the corporate roles of team members. Which of these practices do you already do?

PMI-ACPsm Certification

If you use agile practices on your projects, or your organization is adopting agile approaches to project management, you might want to consider the PMI-ACPsm certification as it recognizes your knowledge of agile principles, practices and tool and techniques across agile methodologies.

Knowledge of both agile practices and PMBOK® processes gives a project manager a greater breadth and depth. The PMI-ACPsm certification is positioned to recognize and validate knowledge of the Agile approach, as well as demonstrate a practitioner's value and professionalism to employers. The certification shows the practitioner's ability to lead teams using Agile principles ad practices, and is appealing to a wide, rapidly growing audience as more organizations adopt agile principles and practices. Take some time to decide if PMI-ACPsm could be right for you.

Agile and YOU!

PMI market research shows that project management practitioners are embracing agile principles and practices as a technique for successfully managing projects because of the value that agile can have in decreasing product defects, improving team productivity, and increasing delivery of business value.

PMI’s research shows that the use of Agile methodologies has tripled from December 2008 to May 2011. In fact, it’s predicted that by the end of 2012, Agile development will be used on 80% of all projects involving software development. But it’s not just about software anymore. Agile methods are being use more and more by industries other than software because of its proven ability to decrease product defects, improve team productivity, and increase the delivery of business value.

Attend any PMI meeting and you'll hear for yourself the conversations indicating the growing popularity of Agile within the Project Management Institute, including the relatively new PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner certification.

Agile Fun Facts

As Agile is a relatively new philosophy and practice, we are going to help you get more acquainted. Did you know that:

  • Agile is not considered a methodology of its own; rather there are several methodologies, frameworks and processes which are considered agile (examples of these frameworks: lean, scrum, XP, feature-driven development, crystal and more).
  • "Agile" is a philosophy based on people, collaboration and shared values. Where as the PMBOK® guides us on what to do, Agile is more about "how to do it" or "how to be.”
  • The "Agile Manifesto" is a public declaration that outlines the philosophy and principles.
  • "Agile principles" are the fundamental truths and shared values that drive behavior in agile methodologies.
  • “Agile practices" are application of these principles.
  • Agile principles and practices are important in project management because using/applying them assists PMs in managing change, improving communications, reducing cost, increasing efficiency and demonstrating value to customers and stakeholders.
  • People and organizations using agile principles and practices are highly adaptive to changing business needs so they can quickly add, change, remove requirements; work in self-directed empowered teams; deliver value to the customer fast, and provide incremental value to create a very speedy return on investment that is seen throughout the project, not just at the end.
  • Agile teams expect change rather than following a clearly defined plan. They collaborate with the customer early and throughout product development so they end up with an end product that the customer will want and use. Their work efforts and communications remain highly visible leading to early detection of problems.
  • While it is not mentioned in the PMBOK®, the PMBOK® and Agile are compatible. The "how" of Agile can be layered on top of the "what" of the PMBOK®.

 

The Numbers Talk

According to the 2011 CHAOS Manifesto from the Standish Group, Agile projects were shown to succeed three times more than non-agile/waterfall projects.

Their report goes on to say that “the Agile process is the universal remedy for software development project failure. Software applications developed through the agile process have three times the success rate of the traditional waterfall method and a much lower percentage of time and cost overruns.” While this report doesn’t include how many projects are in the study, they do reveal that the results are from projects done 2002 - 2010. The report defined a successful project in terms of being on budget, on time, and with all of the planned features.

The improved project performance cause by Agile is not only being realized by the technology industry, though, as many other industries are beginning to adopt Agile as a very practical and results-driven process for managing projects. Give Agile a try to see how the numbers talk for you.

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, CEO, Cheetah Learning LLC (PMI® REP)

CheetahLearningMichelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast.  She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses.

Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 30,000 people have become “Cheetahs” using Cheetah Learning’s innovative Project Management and accelerated learning techniques.  

Recently honored by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Cheetah Learning was named Professional Development Provider of the Year at the 2008 PMI® Global Congress.  A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought leader, Michelle was previously recognized by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

Michelle’s articles have appeared in over 100 publications and web sites around the world. Her monthly column, the Know How Network is carried by over 400 publications, and her monthly newsletter goes out to more than 50,000 people.  

She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Manager’s (OPM) program and also holds engineering degrees from Syracuse University and the University of Dayton.

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