Archive for January, 2011

I consider myself a proponent of agile methologies (such as Scrum) and agile project management.  I support and live Agile not because it is a fad but because I believe it is the right approach to running projects and develop products, especially when we are talking about developoing software.  The good news that more and more companies realize the immense value Agile brings to the table.  This is not limited to smaller projects in IT.  Whole companies such as Amazon, Google or Zappos embrace the philosophy of agile.  Such companies stress the importance of delighting customers, adding value first.  Consequently the output, i.e., money, is much better than in traditional management models.

Having introduced Agile methodologies to a number of companies such as TuneUp software my experience is that Agile works.  Or, shall I say, can work.  For you have to be aware of some pitfalls the introduction of Agile brings.  To start with, you have to understand the project and company environment.  How did it manage projects in the past? How open are people to new approaches?  How fast do requirements change? – And, how dogmatic are people about their past (and present) methodologies and beliefs?
This last question goes in both directions.  Namely, it is easy to pinpoint those who we call traditionalist, waterfall proponents.  But we should also ask us, how dogmatic are we about Agile?  If you force Agile into an organization without preparing the soil, you are likely to fail.  Not because your methodology is flawed, but because of your own flawed myopic mindset.  Agile calls for an open attitude to new and changing environments.  This is the counterpart of any dogmatic belief structure.  Hence, I have always been very skeptical of those folks who believe, for example, that Scrum can be introduced and practiced only in a certain way, i.e., by following the pure textbook.  It may work in some settings.  In environments where people, especially managers, are skeptical about anything new and resistant to change, we have to be flexible.  We may have to come up with ways to gradually introduce agile elements, avoid the typical Scrum terminology, use established planning techniques (at least for some time) rather than throwing all former templates and methodologies overboard.  It is a matter of respect and professional maturity.  Watch, listen and learn before you come up with a solution.  And best, help the customer find it.  Don’t talk about theortical constructs, show how Agile works in real life, involve the customer and let the customer realize the immense potential value Agile brings with it.

There are endless blogs about the right use of Agile.  A recent discussion on Mike Cottmeyer’s blog post “Why is Agile hard to sell?”  is especially worth mentioning.

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Follow-up on leadership seminar

On Feb 21, 2011 I conducted a one-day workshopLeadership Principles for Project Success” in Frankfurt, Germany.

It was a wonderful learning experience.  Given the highly interactive character of this workshop all participants could learn a lot about the various aspects of leadership and how to apply them in their daily project work.

Additional photos will be available soon on the website of the PMI Frankfurt Chapter.

A similar workshop will be offered on June 6, 2011 in Munich, Germany.  I will let you know as soon as more information will be available.

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As managers or project managers we regularly prepare so-called status reports.  It is supposed to be a summary of the events, accomplishments, issues and upcoming milestones.  In my experience in project management I have seen numerous formats of status reports.  In many, too many cases I am overwhelmed by the amount of information presented in such reports; often the formats make you wonder how much time the preparer has.  This is not the space to list the shortcomings of such reports.  Instead I want to outline what a good and comprehensive report should entail.

It starts with an executive summary of the report.  I am not talking about a novel.  An executive summary is short and to the point.  In 1-2 sentences you summarized the main accomplishments, issues and upcoming milestones.  Sounds easy?  Well, it isn’t.  As a matter of fact I have found that it is easier to describe a situation in paragraphs rather than say 1 or 2 sentences.  The limited space you have forces you to prioritize the many issues you are dealing with.  The question which should guide you is this:  what are my top 3 issues I am dealing with?  It is likely that you are dealing with more than “just” 3 issues.  Still, you should always be able to pinpoint the most pressing challenges.  They require your first and utmost attention.  Other issues are important, too, but how much time and resources do you have to address them.  Unless you have limitless time you have to set priorities.  Acknowledging this you have to be in the position to identify the 3 most important issues and focus on solving them first.  This does not mean that you neglect the others.  You don’t; but you start with your top 3.

On this token, the rest of the status report is almost self explaining.  List the 3 most important accomplishments (or met milestones), the top 3 upcoming milestones or deliverables.  Then you move on to the top 3 issues and risks.  Alas, it is not sufficient to list the top 3 issues and risks.  Briefly describe the impact of the issues and risks, outline how you plan to resolve or control them, who is driving this solution (i.e., who is accountable for the issue and solution) and by which date you expect a solution or at least a new update.

A word on lengths and formats.  Expectations differ, no doubt.  In my own experience I have found that a 1-page long dashboard is more than sufficient.  On 1 page it should give you a mutual, exhaustive, comprehensive and exclusive overview of what is happening in your project or organization. This can be done in Powerpoint, Word or Excel format.  And maybe you even have the luxury of using a more elaborat collaboration tool.  Regardless keep it simple and on the point.  It may actually take more time to prepare a 1-page dashboard than a 2-5 pages status report.  But chances that your 1-page dashboard is actually read and acknowledged by your sponsor our your management is greater than the longer version.

Have a look at this sample report and feel free to use it.

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Our work environments have a huge impact on our contributions, how they are perceived and valued, and how we feel.  This is not a new insight.  And yet often I hear that we cannot really change our own work environments, that they are predefined and/or influenced by others.  We were mere pawns in the grander game without any leverage.  If you, too, share this opinion you may find the following quote by Karen Tate helpful:

If I worked for some who didn’t value me or my contributions, and I couldn’t turn it around, I just moved on, whether through a transfer or going to a new company,” she says. “You have to take responsibility for yourself and your career.  You shoudl be willing to remove yourself from situations you aren’t enjoying your work.  Don’t always accept everything you’re told as true.  Do your homework, get other opinions and trust yourself.” [quote from Burba, Donovan. “Equal Ground?.” PM Network, no. September (2010): 38-42, page 42]

Your own well-being and your own career starts with you.  Trust yourself and move on.

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On January 21, 2010 I will conduct a workshop “Leadership Principles for Project Success” in Frankfurt, Germany.  It is an official PMI sanctioned workshop.  As such you can earn 6 PDUs by attending this workshop.  Workshop language will be German.

The workshop will cover all 5 principles for project success and show how you can apply them in your daily project situations.

Additional information is available at http://ping.fm/44wcW.

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