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Managing Agile Projects: How to Manage an Agile Project

How is Managing Agile Projects different to Traditional Projects? The democratic composition of a Team in Agile Development causes a dilemma for Companies that are used to the Traditional Command-and-Control regime of Project Management. However, the Stakeholders and the CFO still need to know how the Company’s money is being spent. There is no Project Manager Scoping the Project, handing out Work and reporting progress. We will use a common Scrum Team Organisation to look at how efficient Project Management can be attained. We will discuss which Roles participate and what needs to be Delivered.

Managing Agile Projects: Finding the Right Balance

Even in a Small Project, there is a need to monitor progress and Risk. Change must be Managed and appropriate action taken where needed. This must all be reported back to and Communicated with Stakeholders. While the Role of the Project Manager appears to fall away, there is still a requirement to perform all the activities associated with the Role. This can Work well where a Project is Nuclear; and where it comprises multiple Teams. It gets gradually more difficult to Manage the Project to the expected level. There are several reasons for this, including:-

  • ‘Company Structure and Culture’. If a Company still has strong “Command-and-Control” values and is extremely hierarchical, the proper authority required to drive the Project might not have actually been granted.
  • ‘Clash of Objectives’. The Scrum’s main goal is to provide a Valuable Product, not perform Project Management activities, even if they do add to the success of the Project. As Scrums are Time-boxed, Project Management needs to come 2nd to Product delivery.
  • ‘Team Cohesion’. Where a Team does not mix, and Collaboration is not taking place, it may be needed to Change the Team structure. While this Task falls under the Scrum Master’s aegis, they might not have the necessary authority and HR might have to step in.
  • ‘Management by Committee’. If there are 5 Scrum Teams, it cannot be expected that there will be the same level or consistency in Project Management throughout Teams; after all, there is No De Facto Project Manager.

Managing Agile Projects: Allocating the Work.

When it comes to authority, the Product Owner has the most responsibility and the strongest Voice. As the steward of the Product design and specs, which are housed in the Product Backlog, they have the most Control over what is Delivered. They are also the external spokesman for the Scrum Team.

The Scrum Master is often erroneously considered a Project Manager; they are in truth a Coach, Facilitator and Scrum subject matter specialist. Their Role is mainly internal to the Project, Mentoring and helping the Development Team.

The Development Team are defined as “Self-Managing”. They choose which Work to carry out, in consultation with the Product Owner. Any Project Work that they are anticipated to satisfy can either be carried out by someone experienced in the Team or shared out, reliant on the overall Team capability.

Even in a simple Scrum, it can be seen that Project Management is a bit of an irritable subject. Here is a summary of Project Management-Related activities during a Scrum and who is involved.

Project Initiation.

Activity: Create the Vision and designate Scrum Team.

Roleplayers: The Stakeholders and Program Management; Project Product Owner.

Description: The Stakeholders and resources at Programme Level (Program Product Owner and Program Scrum Master) produce a Vision for the Project and identify the Project Product Owner. Together with the Project Product Owner, the Team is recognised and the Vision is communicated to the new Team.

Activity: Create the Product Backlog and Develop Epics. Prioritise the Product Backlog.

Roleplayers: Product Owner, helped by the rest of the Team.

Description: The Product Owner develops the Product Backlog and populates it with Epics, broad-brush User Stories about the Product components, prioritised in order of criticality. The Backlog can be equated to the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in Plan-Driven Projects.

Activity: Perform Release Planning.

Roleplayers: The Product Owner, Scrum team, and Stakeholders.

Description: The Planned release date is tabled and the favored length of a Sprint is agreed (e.g. 2 weeks).

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Planning and Estimation.

Activity: Create User Stories.

Roleplayers: Product Owner, Scrum team (optional).

Description: A User story is an atomic component of an Epic which can not be divided into a smaller sized Story. While the onus is on the Product Owner to create the Stories, there is a benefit in getting the Team included – it enhances their Product understanding and develops a relationship with the Users. The Product Owner will nevertheless identify the Acceptance Criteria that must be fulfilled to confirm that each User Story is Completed (or “Done”).

Activity: Plan Sprint.

Roleplayers: Product Owner, Scrum Master, Scrum Team.

Description: A Sprint Planning Meeting is held where the Work to be Done throughout the Sprint is gone over and committed to by the Team. The Scrum Master Facilitates the Estimation by the Team and Time-Boxes the Meeting.

Project Progress – the Sprint.

Activity: Create Deliverables.

Roleplayers: Scrum Team.

Description: The Team Develops and Tests the User Stories, possibly utilizing a technique like Test-Driven Development. There is a Daily 15-minute Project Meeting, called the Stand-up, where progress and Plans for the next day’s Work are Reviewed. A graph, called the Burndown Chart, gives Stakeholders a visual impression of where the Sprint is at any time, and is updated by one of the Team members.

Project Progress – Feedback and Managing Risk.

Activity: Review and Retrospect.

Roleplayers: Product Owner, Scrum Master, Scrum Team, Stakeholders.

Description: The Product Owner identifies whether the Acceptance Criteria have been satisfied for each piece of Work. A Sprint Review Meeting is convened by the Scrum Master, where the Team Demonstrates to the Stakeholders what has actually been accomplished, ideally with a prototype, or by means of a Demonstration. This is where additional Artefacts, such as an Earned Value Analysis (EVA), and/or a Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD) are produced for Review by Stakeholders. The obligation for producing these Artefacts is not clear. It could be a Team member with Project experience. The Product Owner has enough on his plate and this is not an activity for the Scrum Master. A Retrospective Meeting is also held, with the aim of enhancing the Sprint Process.

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Project Progress – Deployment.

Activity: Release the Product.

Roleplayers: Product Owner.

Description: The Product Owner identifies whether the Product is all set for Release, based upon whether the Work is “Done”. The Release is carried out in accordance with the Release Plan.

Project Close-out.

Activity: Terminate the Scrum.

Roleplayers: Product Owner, Scrum Master, Scrum Team.

Description: A last Retrospective is held and the Scrum Team is either disbanded or redeployed.

Managing Agile Projects: Is there Justification for Including a Project Manager?

If you visualise the above activities being duplicated by each Scrum Team for say, 5 or 10 Teams, it is apparent that this is not the optimal way of Managing a Project. There could be a Chief Product Owner Managing the Scrum of Scrums; alternatively the responsibility could fall on the Programme Product Owner. However, even if one provided templates and standards for reporting, there will be variances in the Quality and completeness of reporting across the Teams.

Perhaps there is a case for an experienced Project Administrator who Works across the Teams, gathering the information required to give an overall view of the Project. If there is a Mature PMO, they could be co-opted into administrative Project Duties, thus freeing the Scrum Team to focus purely on Development.

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