The Path of Least Resistance – Blended Delivery

With any consultancy project it’s important to assess the culture of the business that you are working for and then adapt the delivery method around them.  Sometimes this calls for a blend of delivery approaches.  The primary concern of the Project Manager should be to deliver.  It’s getting to the point of delivery that needs some thought.

As an Agile Project Manager/Scrum Master I want to get things done quickly, to see results quickly and to produce quality products quickly.  I find there are a number of key points to getting this done:

  • Adaptation to culture
  • People first process second
  • Delivery First Documentation second
  • Planning
  • Setting realistic Goals/targets/delivery dates

Everything becomes much easier if lines of communications are opened.  Be available to talk things through, be available to arbitrate disagreements and solve problems.  Ultimately make the team communicate better, make the team deliver things quicker by removing roadblocks, make the stakeholders agree to the scope of the Project the delivery methods and the milestones, make the plan hold and if it shifts tell the stakeholders sooner rather than later and do the same with the budget.  A bit of honesty goes a long way, plus the sooner those that need to know, know, the sooner something can be done.

The path of least resistance can mean getting involved in the doing not just the directing.  Getting involved can be a problem if it is taken to far as the Project Manager/Scrum Master you shouldn’t be creating the product but if you can see a path to getting things done, think about it, if you have the time and personal resource do it.  The team will appreciate you going out of your way to get things done for them, the stakeholders will see the extra effort and the good feeling will pay back divedends when times are hard.

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Planning and Agile are they mutually exclusive?

Agile is often seen as the excuse by clients.  The client thinks that the PM is using ‘Agile’ as an excuse not to have reports or controls.  This need not necessarily be the case.  Whilst agility is important in all of the projects that I am currently running the need for tracking and planning is also paramount.  I tend to work to the controls that the client needs.  In order to produce these it is vital that the PM sets out the planning and tracking requirements at the beginning of the project.

Get the client to scope the required tracking and planning documentation and then ask why each is required.  It could be vital for the business or just for the clients own personal requirements.  If a report is vital for the business it must be produced, however if the report is purely for personal requirements then an exercise in confidence building is clearly needed.

Every project needs a plan of some sort, it doesn’t need to be ‘the plan’ you just need to start with something even if it is very high level.  I find it good practice to baseline the plan early but to set both the client’s and the team’s expectations.  I would certainly not suggest that you commit to your plan until the scope of the project is fully understood.

Get your team and the client involved in the planning.  Teams are more likely to stick to a plan that they have been a part of creating.  Be sure to manage change in the planning process and show the consequences, point out that it is not you that will be thrown off course by a late or non-delivery of an item, it is the other team members who are relying on that part of the product.

Discuss the Project Management Triangle with the client; there are three main areas where movement is available in a project. These are Quality, Time and Cost.  Find out which of these you have the most leeway with.  This will give you a basis for future discussions.  If your planning is measured by the achievement of business objectives (which it should be) rather than specific deliverables you will have the opportunity to sacrifice functionality rather than deadlines.

Create you plan to the appropriate level for the information that is available.  You will normally find that different audiences need to see different levels of the plan and it is the job of the PM to keep the plans and reality in synch.  Remember that the right level of plan is always driven by the needs of the team rather than the need to use specific tools or software.

Be seen, and get with your team

Agile is all about efficiency and getting things done.  Part of the Agile project manager/scrum masters role is to remove the obstacles in the way of the team.  It may sound stupid but the most effective way of removing obstacles is to understand that they exist in the first place.  Once you know they are there you can dig a bit deeper to find out what they are really all about.

Being with the team and seeing what they do will give you a lot more feedback than just discussing their progress at set points in the sprint.  If you are there and available your team are more likely to tell you about their problems as they occur, giving you the opportunity to solve them quickly before the problem becomes a major blockage.

By  spending time with the team it becomes easier to recognise the signs of stress.  It is important to get on top of this before the inevitable explosion.  Smoothing the road between team members is as important as removing the externally driven obstacles.  Play the peacemaker and negotiate concessions between your team members before things really come to a head.

This interaction will also pave the road for you to deal with people when they are doing wrong.  No one reacts well to ‘being wrong’, but when you have established a relationship with your team you can criticise without being an outsider.  Your team will react more favourably to criticism when they have seen you work effectively towards resolving the issues that they have as a team and individually.

Remember your team will rarely come to find you. Don’t have favourite members of your team – speak to everyone especially the people who try to force you out. You are the’ Project Manager’ until you become part of the team:  Then you are the fixer, the solver, the soundboard and the person who knows.  Ultimately the person who delivers.

Agile and soft skills

Does Agile work more effectively when you have a good core of soft skills?

It has to. The very nature of the beast means that the PM is required to negotiate ideas and updates all day every day. A tweak here and an update there can turn a good product into a great product.

The minor adaptations that are required can be achieved easily if the PM has the right soft skills:

Can they outline the benefits?

Outlining the benefits of a change don’t just have to be functional, they can be personal, good for you, good for the developer, good for the business, good for the team.  the key is showing the change and the necessity of the change in a good light.

Can they empathise with the difficulties?

Empathy isn’t just ” There there” and on to business, some issues and difficulties need real attention, they could impact on the team, the sprint and the delivery as  a whole and if mismanaged lead to breakdowns in communication, respect and tolerance.

Can they convince in a few short statements?

I’ve said it before, but almost everything is a sales pitch, and no one likes a pushy sales person.  As a PM you have to sell it and sell it well.  People have to  have a reason to do things for you.  Empathy, respect, understanding will help and these go both ways.  Knowing your product, knowing your project and knowing what you are doing (I mean really knowing what you are doing, not just bluffing the minimum.) will give you the eloquence you require to guide people to the correct response.  It is also worth remembering to adjust the way you put your point across based on the asudience.  Are they technical or not technical?  Do they like a summary or an in depth explanation?

Soft skills are not a one time thing, you need to use them all day, every day otherwise you will come across as insincere and manipulative.  If you apply your soft skills to a project, you will certainly find that things become easier for both you and the team.

Hewlett Packard

Reporting to Sales Director EMEA – Strategy and Programme Management of EMEA wide sales and training platform linked to Siebel.  To scope, define and deliver a business programme that would improve performance across the sales process create a greater focus on revenue and give the directorate a clearer view of performance across EMEA.

Reporting to:  Hewlett Packard EMEA Sales and Marketing Director.  Budget:  €2.5M.
Development Teams:  France, Belgium, UK. Suppliers: 4. Project status: Success – increase in revenue across EMEA by +20% year on year.  The programme has been integrated with Siebel and its use is now considered ‘business as usual’.

Reporting to Sales Director Americas – Strategy and Programme Management of Global sales and training platform linked to Siebel.

Microsoft

The scope, strategy and delivery of an online business community for the EMEA Microsoft Dynamics sales and marketing staff that allowed them to interact with third party developers and sales representatives to improve sales and customer focus.  The system has to integrate with MS Dynamics.

Reporting to: Marketing Director EMEA – Microsoft Dynamics.  Budget:  £1M. Development Teams: EMAE, UK. Suppliers:  5.  Project status:  Success – High usage of the community platform led to a greater understanding of customer needs and improved sales performance in the targeted areas.