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10 agile project management tips from the masters
Even if you can talk the agile project management talk, mastering the walk requires hard work. Agile experts share pro tips to take your efforts to the next level
How comfortable are you with agile concepts? If you can easily describe what agile is and talk about it with your peers, and if you understand the benefits of agile as well as the roadblocks, you might assume your team looks primed to reap the rewards. Knowing is half the battle, after all.
But the devil is in the details, agile experts say, and there is a wide gap between comprehension and mastery.
“As the Scrum Guide states, ‘Understanding agile is easy, but mastery is difficult,’” says Alan Zucker, founding principal of Project Management Essentials. “Agile is primarily a cultural and organizational change. Agile is not a methodology, but rather a mindset. Implementing agile practices and frameworks are merely a path to enabling agility.”
[ Want a primer? Read Agile project management, explained. ]
Leaders who truly want to transform their culture around agile should look to the masters. We tapped several experts to ask for the one piece of advice they’d give IT leaders to help them succeed with agile project management in their organizations. From training to prioritization to rewarding teams, read on for tips to help you take your agile efforts to the next level.
1. Don’t skimp on training
“The agile methodology may seem straightforward on the surface, but there is a lot of complexity hidden away in each piece. Organizations that don’t train their teams on agile are sending their troops into battle with butter knives. Training and doing are the two antidotes to this problem. Send key team members off to receive proper training on agile so they can come back and inject that knowledge into the team’s process. Also, start small on a few non-critical projects to get your feet wet. Do a post-mortem after each to evaluate your team on what went right and what went wrong. Consider hiring an agile expert to help jump-start your team.” - Mark Runyon, principal consultant at Improving
2. Do proper onboarding
“Agile approaches may vary from company to company. When new people join the team, it’s important to onboard them with the company’s approach to agile and how they are expected to participate in the role they are playing. Failure to do so will result in time-consuming misunderstandings, which could have been avoided with the time taken upfront for proper onboarding.” - Holly Knoll, business coach and creator of The Consultant Code
3. Try pairing agile with lean development
“While we practice agile methodologies, it’s important to recognize that agile is not enough. Sure, it tells you how to build fast and with less risk, but it doesn’t tell you what to build or why to build it. This is where lean comes in. Lean is all about is figuring the optimum set of features to produce maximum ROI. For us, life or death occurs in the backlog – not the ‘done’ lane – which is why we pair agile with lean development.
“Lean development is all about validating assumptions through experimentation and market data. The goal is to increase efficiency while reducing the amount of waste we create during the process. Lean development was inspired by, and draws directly from, lean manufacturing.” - Ben Wald, co-founder, Very
[ What tools can help? Read also: Top 7 open source project management tools for agile teams. ]
4. Know when agile doesn’t suit your organization
“It can be a tough realization to come to, but some companies just don’t have what it takes to implement agile well. Does your department love to fight fires? You may not be right for agile. Do you try to micro-manage every chance you get? You may not be right for agile. Make an honest assessment of your department’s strengths and weaknesses before making the commitment to agile and diving in.” - Mark Runyon, principal consultant at Improving
5. Lead by example
“Leaders need to lead by example by executing core agile practices themselves:
- Visualize all work in an open and transparent manner inviting conversation and feedback.
- Hold retrospectives early and regularly to drive continuous improvement and course-correction.
- Encourage daily synchronization of team members with each other.”
- Tim Beattie, engagement lead for Red Hat Open Innovation Labs