Agile vortex?!

Summary

Agile work or delivery is only possible if necessary decisions can always be called up. It also does not work without appropriate governance. There is huge similarity in turnaround situations of classical projects with the approach of agile projects. The focus here is on short iterations and close coordination with the customer. The introduction of agile principles should be based on this observation. Agile principles will continue to spread differently in different industries. But whoever thinks of agility about method or technology is wrong! Early results in the project and close coordination with the real customer are not method or tool results.

Agile project management does not work without appropriate governance

Agile work or delivery is only possible if necessary decisions can always be called up. In my article “Communication Principles in a Project” it is easy to see that the short time until a decision is made is extremely important. This is often slowed down or even blocked by the middle layers of management in a company. This so-called permafrost cannot comprehend the need for agility often sensibly identified by top management. Likewise, decisions necessary in the course of the project cannot be made by the senior management themselves, as are not be placed correctly with them.

Agile project management is very similar to the approach of classic projects in turnaround situations

In both cases, the focus is on short iterations and close coordination with the customer. The introduction of agile principles should be based on this observation. The classic project plan is then usually only a reference for contract-relevant delivery items. The chain of failure in projects is the customer relationship and thus the governance structure, then the tools and processes and at the latest the employee frustration. When introducing agile principles, the sequence is exactly the other way around. In my experience, the team atmosphere in project organizations can indicate a wide variety of problems at any time, and not only that “something” is wrong, but also in which project management domains (see my article SmileyPoints). It would also be interesting to use this method when introducing agile project management.

How will the agile vortex spread now?

As can be deduced from my article “Project Manager in 2030“, the agile principles will continue to spread differently in different industries. What this “agility” will look like, whether pure SCRUM, SRUM of SRCUM, Kanban, scaled agile, SAFe, LeSS, Spotify will be shaped by the customer and company environment (i.e. products, services, industry, size, etc.). Is “classic project management” dead? Certainly not, because there are certain complex (very large programs) and complicated (repetitive projects) for which classical project management will be the better alternative. Nevertheless, it makes sense for the classic project manager to make tool picking out of the agile box. But whoever associates agility with method or technology is wrong! Early results in the project and close coordination with the real customer are not method or tool results. Concepts and planning are required in both approaches. Approaches such as scaled agile approaches e.g. SAFe take this aspect particularly into account.

The challenges for product owners or project managers

The challenge for the drivers of ventures, whether product owner, project manager or program manager, will now be that they should play different instruments in different environments. Because the dogmatic orientation “we only do agile single projects” can only take place in companies that have no need for diverse interfaces and environments. The exclusive product owner or program manager will therefore rather remain the rare species. A stigmatization of the two approaches is therefore certainly not meaningful, but the combined application or simply said the agile classical project is the future. Early and constant results and close end customer coordination are the success factor in all projects.

Project Manager in the year 2030

Summary:

Does the project manager still exist in 2030 – as we know him today? The answer in a nutshell: No. The tasks of the project managers will change in the areas of leadership, organization and project implementation.

I was tempted to take part in the German Projektmagazin’s blog parade. Because on the one hand we are talking here about a term “project manager” that has come under intense discussion (especially in the German speaking project manager community using terms project managers and project leaders slightly differentiated) and on the other hand about a period of time that is very long even for futurologists. The researchers do not believe to be capable to define changes in this time dimension.

The project manager as a term

Both parts of the word project manager are currently in great discussion as to whether they are meaningful or even contemporary. Projects as such like in BI unit of Otto are no longer seen as necessary. The (project) leader or project manager is not intended in the pure agile set. Here, leadership will be given an even more important focus than it already is today. Managers in the sense of controlling and directing will become less and less relevant due to the already visible developments.

It is problematic to give a future statement about the project manager in 2030, if already today the term as such no longer has the anchoring, as perhaps in the preceding decades. Let us dare an attempt.

Time as a yardstick

It’s 12 years till 2030. Appears long. If you think about what the world looked like 12 years ago, backwards from today 2018: There was no iPhone, no Android, no app stores, no Youtube, no Spotify, no Kindle, no Tablet, no digital full format sensor in a serial camera (to put my hobby into context). One recognizes it happens more in 10 or 12 years than one assumes. That’s why futurologists don’t calculate in years, but in weeks in order to emphasize the short-term nature and to evaluate future models and statements faster and make them more comparable. The futurologist assumes 50 weeks per year. How many weeks have passed since New Year’s Eve? Three. So less than 50 weeks to New Year. In these three weeks not many things happened according to the human feeling. In the best case, you have planned three weeks and reflected them three times. But the “cross-week” tactical themes don’t seem significant. Nevertheless, project managers, Scrum Masters or one-man companies are working on the revolutionary aspects of the future. In the next 597 weeks until the year 2030.

What will the project environment look like in 500 weeks?

What will the world look like in 500 weeks? It seems pretty certain that in 500 weeks I and 70% of the German population will no longer own a car. In 500 weeks we won’t have any smartphones anymore. In 500 weeks we will no longer be using a supermarket. In 500 weeks we will produce more electricity in our households than we consume. In 500 weeks we will eat meat bred in laboratories. In 500 weeks we will receive ears for people from the 3D printer as medical spare parts. In 500 weeks robots will support the care of elderly people. In 500 weeks, 40% of the German population will have intelligent non-medical implants. In 500 weeks …

All these endeavors – let’s call them projects here for simplicity’s sake – are accompanied by people. This is not about generating ideas, but about implementing them. The fact that the creation, definition and implementation of ideas should be close to each other in terms of personnel is supported by some and criticized by others.

Requirements for today’s project managers in 2030

What impact does this have on me and all the other project managers from 2018? The visionary project manager who drives this one idea will no longer exist. We can already see today how complex the world of work and the world as such has become. This can no longer be united by one person. So it will have to be more and more a team effort. Which is good. This naturally has an effect on the aspect of leadership. We recognize trends already in agile beginnings which do not represent however yet the end of the road. The following generations have and demand a different attitude to work. I have experienced this many times myself and already talk like my grandfathers (“The young people today”). But also this change is good, because …

“No change, no development.”
Birgit Ramlow (*1948), employee and hobby aphorist

Transformation vs. Revolution

And now a much criticized term from the business economics: Transformation. When I think in weeks and design endeavors in a manageable time frame, there are transformation aspects. It is revolutionary when we experience a complete technological or paradigm shift. The smartphone was not a revolution, but a courageous and creative combination of available technologies. The push came somewhat delayed by the apps. But even these are not a classic revolution, but a further development on another platform and therefore used by more users. Why was the smartphone ultimately perceived as revolutionary and has this outward appearance? Well, my thesis is that managers of competitors like Nokia and Siemens weren’t brave enough and didn’t listen to the market. Imagination and creativity were not lacking. Because carmakers are also being predicted the whole development today and the reactions to it are, in my opinion, too hesitant. In development periods of 4 years per real model change, i.e. 200 weeks, you can no longer act today. So what can we deduce from this for the project manager?

He will work a lot in transformation projects and will contribute to the revolution by quickly placing new projects with courageous and fast acting managers.

Company management or committees in 2030

The biggest changes will certainly be one level higher in the hierarchy (if you want to talk about it at all – today at least one level higher) required at the portfolio board, at the product owners or however a company implements strategic decision making for itself. At Otto in the product area, in the agile environment by the product owner – as a representative for the management or the portfolio board in classical project management. These committees will certainly have to meet the defined requirements even more than in my article, written in 2016, in order to enable the timing between the transformations to revolutions. And let’s be honest, in the ~ 60 weeks since this article was written, the claim is still not fulfilled. So there is a need for action.

Different demands on the project managers

Will the development depend on the type of project?

There will no longer be a project manager who can manage projects universally in all industries and project types. At least today’s challenging attitude will be less and less correct.

In the area of software development, agile approaches and hybrid mix forms will develop for large programs. A design of these hybrid forms is material for another blog post.

Investment projects will continue to be similarly organized as today. And thus also the role and tasks of the project manager. Even if today’s examples, such as Berlin Airport, are not promising.

The young project manager in 2030

But what about the young project manager who will manage projects for the first time in 2030? He starts with a handicap. Because he himself, but also his IT architects and other colleagues, will not have experienced any more “journeyman years” here in Germany, since all “journeyman activities” were already relocated from the last century nearshore or offshore in the 1990s. It will no longer be so easy to start a career as a project manager, however shaped it may be. This can be observed today in environments that have changed for some time, such as the textile industry. Here in Germany today there are often problems to find qualified seamstresses for the sample collection. For this reason, companies themselves have to relocate business-critical areas such as design and sample collection abroad. This will also be the case with the project managers of the future. In the virtual world, with the supporting technologies, it will always be easy to carry out projects here in Germany. But also the proximity to the customer is less and less important due to the virtual support technologies. This means that in 2030 it will also be possible to carry out projects completely from a remote location (including project managers) without missing customer proximity in Germany.

Working Out Loud

Working Out Loud is particularly suitable for working in projects. It is not a classical method, but claims to be an attitude to life – with associated practical techniques. The elements are: Making work visible and improving it, making contributions, building social networks and working together purposefully.

Introduction to WOL

Working Out Loud is an approach from the USA, which is particularly suitable for employees in projects. The initial father of the idea was Bryce Williams. John Stepper skillfully generated a movement out of it. It is currently sloshing across the ocean and gaining new users in Germany. This attitude to life also leads to lived values which are not everyday in this combination. Austin Kleon also presents similar approaches in Show Your Work.

The five core elements of Working Out Loud are (as originally listed on workingoutloud.de):

  • Make work visible – publish intermediate results,
  • improve work – cross-connections and feedback help to continuously
  • improve your results, make generous contributions – offer help instead of self-portrayal,
  • build social networks – this is how broad interdisciplinary relationships emerge that advance,
  • work together purposefully – to exploit the full potential of the community.

The application in a company like T-Systems with parallel application of classical project management is presented.

Content are practical examples of the application, the success criteria of the approach and its hurdles in a project organization before.

Working Out Loud in a project management organization

How does an application work in a group like T-Systems using classic project management approaches? Isn’t that contradictory? Employees at ThyssenKrupp, Robert Bosch and T-Systems practice these attitudes and techniques.

„Working Out Loud“ means „publishing“ one’s own work, reporting progress, problems and mistakes and exchanging information with other colleagues so that everyone can benefit from what has been learned. So nothing new you think spontaneously?! A combined application of the core elements of the Working Out Loud approach requires discipline, openness and consistency.

How does this happen in practice in the project?

The exchange in „one’s own juice“, i.e. in one’s own project, is not enough. A first basic requirement is to approach central departments such as those responsible for tools or processes, or in the best case also other projects. Even with positions that are often not very popular, such as central quality management units, project management handbook managers or tool owners, is necessary. An intensive exchange about objectives, application and solution of the upcoming challenge is a must. I have lived this consistently for my current project in which we had to develop a degree of progress and forecast process and tool that did not correspond to the company standard due to special circumstances. Even the sharing of micro results with project colleagues who are not (directly) affected raises undreamt-of potentials. The integration of stakeholders such as clients, users and policymakers is common practice, but only partially increases the potential. Networking also outside the Group for the exchange of ideas is essential. Otherwise, the efficiency and effectiveness of every project will suffer. The process, the specification, the tool, the training and the rollout took an unprecedented three weeks. Just two months after the introduction, what had been created was then presented to the annual group-wide worldwide project manager community and defined as good practice in the sense of „making contributions to the community“. A degree never achieved before in this time span. Strictly speaking, it is not only the speed that is unusual, but also the „overall“ (apart from standard processes and tools). Working Out Loud opens new horizons and brings a fresh vitality and interactivity into and around the projects.

Even in large corporations, this „combined approach“ Working Out Loud is applicable from already known approaches and bears fruit beyond the individual project.

The author presents further practical examples of the application, the success criteria of the Working Out Loud approach and also its hurdles in a project management organization.

Active participation in „WOL with Group Security and NDA“ working group

If you would like to actively participate in a working group on „Working Out Loud with Corporate Security and NDAs“, please contact me.

Presentation

In the spirit of the WOL I have released the presentation of the PM-Forum Version 3.0 again for commenting. Thank you very much for all previous hints about Version 1.0 and 2.0!

Advantage through early warning in the project – team spirit as an indicator

– Methodical usage of emotions in the project –

Summary

As a project portfolio manager you want to avoid full blown up project audits in all of your projects to identify potential deviations. Therefore you may use a very simple survey to avoid any surprises.

As a project or program manager you want to compare your current endeavor with previous engagements in a very simple way.

There are multiple ways to gather the team morale in project teams. I am using following approach for a few years now with reliable and sound results.

There is a systematic way in doing so by gathering “SmileyPoints” via an online survey tool. Examples for free tools are kwiksurveys.com, the free version of surveymonkey.com or Google Forms.

Questions to gather in the survey

  1. “How happy are you being on the program/project?” Then the below picture should be attached to this question.
  2. “What can Program / Project Management do to improve?”
  3. “What can you do yourself do to improve?”
  4. “Rumor Box: If there are rumors around and you have any questions related to these please let us know here to clarify.”

In larger programs you may add a question to identify the participant’s team assignment to be able to give indication on the discrepancies between the different teams within the program.

The survey should be run every second week in case of a longer lasting projects or programs. It can be a good trend indication during the project life cycle. The minimum participation of project members should exceed at least 10% of all project team members. Less will not be representative. For smaller teams a higher minimum participation ratio must be achieved.

Result interpretations

The average and the standard deviation of all results of responses to question number one gives you a clear indication on the team morale within the program or project team.

The higher the standard deviation of all values to question one the more obvious are
– a lack of communication within the team
(especially from top to down and bottom to up)
– roles and responsibilities not well defined or not transparent to the team and
– the scope not well defined or not transparent – at least to the extended team

The lower the average value of the results to question one is the less attractive is the project for the team members. Therefore the enthusiasm being part of the project is lower too. In very critical project situations (e. g. work life balance not achievable due to work load) the average tends to be low.

Now the question comes up of there is a *correlation between standard deviation and average”? Not really in all instances. The standard deviation should be low in a well-organized program. In the same over-worked organization if such things as structures, roles and responsibilities, communication channels, scope are well defined and transparent to the team the standard deviation should be still low.

The next questions is what is low and what is high”? A good one! Experience shows that values between +2 and +4 as an *averageare very common for projects in good shape. Of course there is a tendency for new joiners in a project to rate their personal happiness in areas of +6 to +10. These artifacts need a critical mass of responses to balance out.

This does not support the hypothesis that a new project with new team does automatically mean a good SmileyPoint average value. The team as a whole is well observing all team quality criteria before providing their SmileyPoints and in average the rating will be again to the “real” value.

On the other end of the SmileyPoint scale low average values as -6 to -2 indicate projects which are in a turnaround mode or at least in a need to turnaround. Immediate actions need to take place.

For standard deviation following pattern can be identified. Values of 6 show massive deficit of structures implemented, missing role definitions or at least transparency on it. Criteria e) to i) from below listing do impact the standard deviation up to my experience. Programs in a good shape show a standard deviation of less than 3. 

Of course a survey like this will not replace individual talks and interviews but it gives you a very precise supporting evidence of your findings in conversation or at least an initial feeling in case you did not have any contact to the program at all.

In a next posting I will list a couple of elements and ideas on what to implement to improve the SmileyPoints in your team.

Your comments and participation to improve SmileyPoints

Use SmileyPoints actively in your projects!

Your comments and active participation are welcome. Both can be entered in the following survey and you will be informed about new findings on request.

This values shall be gathered
– average and
– standard deviations
– number of participants out of total number of team members

from some of your projects and programs. Especially helpful would be if you can add a typical auditors or your personal rating on the same scale from below on following topic clusters:
a. team morale within the extended team
b. program financials in good shape and transparent to the project management
c. infrastructure well established (e. g. printers, office space)
d. right skills on board
e. architecture and solution well defined
f. methodologies applied properly
(e. g. project planning, issue and risk management)
g. roles and responsibilities and structure well defined
h. scope and acceptance and completion criteria well defined and transparent
i. governance well defined and in place

Please use this form to submit your feedback to improve SmileyPoints.

This article was originally published on 23.07.2011 on GooglePlus.