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How to Run Lean and Agile at the Same Time?

Frameworks for projects delivery or products development are like multivitamin pills – they offer plethora of elements and compounds you can select from depending on your need or challenge. After years of practicing lean and agile frameworks I concluded that there is no conflict between the two – on the contrary, you can benefit from both in the same project depending on its stage and work requirements.

Nevertheless, let us start from the basics – fundamental approaches in project management are  either oriented on linearity, sequence orientation and processes, or  oriented on people, their expectations, priorities and management of dynamics related.

The first approach  used to be called waterfall approach, and it was well recognized in project management methodologies such as PMBOK, PRINCE, PRINCE 2 and Lean methods (all of them in recent years are incorporating principles from the second approach we will define in a second). The beauty and power of waterfall approach lies in orientation on sequence of the tasks to be performed and processes enabling them. Processes can be visualized (using e.g. Business Processes Modeling Notation language) – and what can be visualized can be discussed and improved. Switching the balance to the processes in waterfall approach makes work and teamwork constructive, if the team  acknowledge that seeing, analyzing and improving processes is what they should pursue.

I like the lean method due to its orientation on process improvement, and its mindset proving that whereas it is almost impossible to change other people’s minds, it is much more easy to agree on visualizing, aiming to understand and improve the process or solve the problem (especially so called root causes behind the problems) in continuous improvement environment. Key rituals and artifacts from lean approach I’ll keep forever, refer to them often and try to use daily are Kanban, Andon, 7/8 waste and 5/6 s. Andon is stopping the process where every next step could only accumulate defects spotted right on 7/8 waste is looking for and eliminating customer non-value adding activities from your work. To learn more about 5/6 philosophy try this lean game calculator available online and see short movie exemplifying waste elimination orientation in lean.

The second approach which proliferates worldwide in recent years used to be called agile (traditionally agility is defined as ability to move quickly, easily, intelligently). Project management methodologies in agile approach are much more than bodies of work or frameworks, as agility recommends allowing the context to determine deploying roles, rituals and tools from its repertoire. Recognized and respected agile product development methodologies  are Extreme Programming, Feature-Driven Development (FDD), Dynamic Systems Development Methodology (DSDM), Crystal and finally SCRUM. To feel the taste and right context of agile approaches I recommend you to imagine that there is a customer, which has some needs, let us call them requirements – and these requirements flow through your team. Now, in order to satisfy the customer and meet their requirements, you will organize iterative work (yes step-by-step with multiple feedback-loops and priority changes options). Key rituals and artifacts from agile approach that I try to use as often as possible are Kanban, asking for Voice of the Customer in the work (which in SCRUM is served by role of Product Owner), planning work using backlogs, and making it digestible in form of one or two week chunks (called in SCRUM sprint backlogs). Building your product basing on customer’s feedback in iterative way also key characteristic of lean start-up approach, which we wrote about some time ago (lean start-up method has much more to do with agility). Agile approaches welcome changing environment and circumstances gladly – they are oriented to respond to them quickly and effectively.

Using simplified sprint backlogs proved to me to be so effective that I even deployed it into other fields of my performance such as writing scholar papers with multiple teams and multiple quantity in the same time – SCRUM makes such contexts much more graspable and with feeling of control. I do not know any better introduction into SCRUM in timing less than 10 minutes than this movie – if you know such please do not hesitate to comment and share. One of the infographics that reflects agile approaches principles I like most can be found here. One of my favorite podcasts dedicated in great degree to understanding details of SCRUM is Manager Plus run by Mariusz Chrapko.

So – coming back to the title and beginning of this post – project delivery or product development methodologies are like multivitamin pills. Very often in one project you will work close with the customer to come out with solution (can be a new product or combination of products and services you already offer) – in this context you will benefit much from agile approach. In the same project, but at different stages like formal purchase, procurement or deployment of solution in customer’s organization you will need solid, understandable, replicable, process-oriented approach – and this is where you will benefit more using a  lean approach..

Practicing different project management methodologies, frameworks and bodies of work enabled me to formulate one more conclusion – related to managing polarities (famous management consulting concept with theoretical framework developed by B. Johnson in 90’s of XX century) where both waterfall approaches and agile approaches are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent. Neither of them enables to face current business expectations on its own, and maybe business-wisdom is about trying to manage and leverage them appropriating benefits related?

What is your experience with running both lean and agile?

Project Management 3.0 and Large Scale Projects

Current definition of a project has evolved from temporary endeavors undertaken to create unique product, service or result, as described in PMBOK Guide, to collection of sustainable business values scheduled for realization as defined by dr Harold Kerzner in one of seminars at International Institute for  Learning I was privileged to attend.

So what has changed since project management (PM) emerged as an approach in professional work?

In the beginning, project managers were required to have at least a diploma or PhD degree in engineering, they reported to line managers, projects they led were measured by achieving goals in line with time, costs, and scope, project teams were usually co-located, and results were communicated in formal reports. In the beginning, top executives didn’t trust project managers as much as they trusted line managers, who were supported by project managers.

Nowadays project managers don’t need to have a diploma or PhD degree in engineering, but they need to know how to create unique business value for customers. They are working with virtual and distributed teams, and report their outcomes in informal dashboards. Today project managers are responsible for strategic projects and often report directly to senior management of companies. Executives started trusting project managers as project management has become a strategic competence of a company, needed for its survival.

For example IBM, which in 2010 officially had 26 000 project managers todays has 46 000 of them, company runs multiple centers of excellence for project management and best practice library to spread lessons learnt by the employees. It illustrates that multinational corporates are not in simple B2C, B2B or B2B2C anymore, but in project-based business, and businesses are managed by projects. I believe that solid project management skills are vital not only for multinational corporates, but any start-up, which want to scale-up and actively compete.

What has changed in project methodologies used by project managers?

In the past most of project management methodologies emphasized planning of project scope in line with project time and budget. In such circumstances project management methodologies such as PMBOK, or PRINCE 2 were sufficient to successfully deliver project with their classic project stages of initiating, planning, executing, and closing. Nowadays, even if project time and budget are known, its scope evolves and iterations in planning and execution stages become natural parts of every project. That required of project management frameworks to be more flexible and adapt philosophy of agile and techniques of scrum methodologies, which were initially used only in information and communication technology (ICT) business. Skillset of contemporary project manager needs to derive from best practices of various project management methodologies, as projects become more and more complex in terms of resources and stakeholders management and bigger in scope.

How future of project managers will look like?

Taking a look at project management evolution, we can easily say that future project managers will need to adapt to changes in projects scope quicker and without waste. In the past one of key project management principles said not to start the project unless scope is well defined upfront. Nowadays no one is surprised with evolving and changing scope, and projects are being executed even if they are not clearly defined. Project managers will be expected not only to deliver project status, progress, and forecast reports, but also assess benefits and value for project stakeholders at project’s completion.

Informed decision making will require rapid sharing of project metrics and its key performance indicators (KPI). These KPIs will be needed to create customized project dashboards illustrating the progress of a project in a way that is easily understood. In the past project’s success was measured in profitability. Today its measured in customer satisfaction and business replicability. In the future it will be measured against business value tracking metrics.

Key drivers for projects will be defined not only by costs and profitability, but also by alignment with strategic objectives of companies and maximization of benefits and values for the customer and company itself. Companies will switch from implementing individual projects to integrated portfolios of projects.

It means that project managers will have to constantly update their qualifications as well as guidelines, templates, and checklists they use. Technology and ICT-based solutions will play more important role in project management. Usage of mobile devices in project management will become more popular, and project-specific applications will be created.

Reporting of project management will switch from reporting to senior management to reporting to executive boards of companies. Whereas in the beginning expectations toward project managers in companies were rather low, in the future more and more often they’ll be expected to do the impossible.

How technology can help project managers and companies to evolve into Project Management 3.0 paradigm?

At this very moment more than 10 000 software developers worldwide works on project management software and tools to make engagements of project managers smarter.

If you still feel a little bit lost with project management methodologies and frameworks, before you read further download Beginners Guide to Project Management Methodologies by Wrike free of charge.

In less than 30 pages you’ll learn about common project management methodologies incl. their advantages and disadvantages – incl. Agile, Critical Path Method, Kanban, Lean, PRINCE 2, SCRUM, or Six Sigma.

As explained earlier, today’s project manager needs to derive from best practices of different methodologies and frameworks. One of the courses addressing such requirement is offered by Simplelearn in form of a dedicated course focused on Large Scale Projects, which might be particularly useful for project managers in start-ups, which enter scale up stage. Course delivers functional knowledge mix deriving from project methodologies basing on PMP, Agile, SCRUM, Lean Six Sigma and tools such as MS Project.

One of simple, but extremely useful project management tools supporting distribution of work and time for delivery is offered by Trello, in form of a board deriving from Kanban approach, illustrating tasks as to do’s, currently being implemented, or done. With one look at Trello board project managers know where they are with tasks completion, can comments on progress, or share files from hard drive, Google Drive, or One Drive. As Trello is free of charge, our operations management students at Warsaw School of Economics use it to report progress with term papers prepared in project teams.

You can also manage your project and your team visually in a single board with Dapulse, which enables to distribute tasks in form of to do’s and turning them green when they are complete. Thanks to Dapulse project manager sees who is busy, and who is not, and can reallocate team members to tasks requiring stronger focus and support.

Another tool enabling instant project status updates for everyone, anytime and anywhere is Leankit. It’s a visual project delivery too  enabling teams to apply lean management principles to their work, applying Kanban to Waterfalls principles to eliminate waste in project and move forward continuously.

More advance tool called Confluence is offered by Altassian. It enables not only collaborating on projects but also growing teams and teams’ knowledge by capturing and managing team meeting notes.

Keeping track of work from desktop or mobile device is offered by Huddle, which is a cloud-based workspace that enables adding tasks and requesting for approvals. For project manager, who has distributed work around project team members it enables to overview who has accessed and contributed to particular items.

One of pretty advanced tools to manage and automate collaborative work is Smartsheet. It has interface of a spreadsheet that most of us are familiar with, and enables real-time collaboration and streamless communication in sharing work, collaborating on specific tasks, inviting people to collaborate, and sending them attachments, notes, and comments. All project-related content is centralized and accessible from a browser, a mobile device, or a desktop. Smartsheet utilizes alerts and reminders that automatically notify you when changes are made and when key milestones in project are started or finished. It also presents utilization of project team members, what fosters resources management.

Solution going further than Smartsheet is offered by Mavelink in form of a project delivery cloud, which not only encompasses majority of functions o project management tools described earlier, but also enables to utilize project plans into reusable templates ,that you can share with other project managers and project teams.

If your start-up has scaled-up and becomes a corp-up you’ll love Workboard. Its project management solution for business run on quarter-by-quarter basis. Workboard show you a full picture of your business, including plans and progress across your organization and results against KPIs, which will help you to stay focused on what’s important.  Thanks to Workboard you ’ll be able to visualize alignment and dependencies across organization and have all the details delivered in real time for your iPhone or iPad or web browser. It offers automated status reporting and can be integrated with other work cloud systems such as Salesforce.

But what if you are solopreneur, and all these tools seem to be too big for you?

In that case you might be interested in Handle, which helps individuals to turn emails into to-dos, make voice notes, schedule and prioritize to-dos, add reminders with due dates and locations. With Handle you’ll see to do’s and your calendar items together so you know what to do and when. Handle will also help you to distinguish things that are important from those that are urgent.

If you really into project management topic you might be interested in Project Management Days 2017 at Warsaw School of Economics in Warsaw, Poland between 19th-21st of April 2017. I hope to see you there!