The introduction of Agile as a software product development approach is having a significant and positive impact upon the way IT projects are delivered. However, in our coaching interventions, we are finding some confusion among project managers. Some experienced project managers quickly learn how to adapt and integrate Agile practices into their toolset. It is just another approach, which used appropriately in the right projects increases their ability to deliver. Others move straight to denial; change-weary, they avoid or downplay the usefulness of the Agile framework– “It’s nothing new.” That is their loss! Of greater concern are the more junior project managers who, faced with Agilists, lose their bearings. “What is my role in this?” “How does the governance work?” “How do I plan?” And most worrying–“Do I need a plan?”.
When fix-on-failure is not an option
There are projects in which some, maybe even most, of the possible outcomes are so threatening that their occurrence cannot be tolerated. Should something go wrong–should it not go to plan–there is no mitigation available. If you are driving a car and the engine malfunctions, it can be annoying, even frightening, but it’ll be a whole lot more final if the engine malfunctioning is in a spacecraft!
There are degrees of criticality, ranging from safety-critical performance in a nuclear power station to life-and-death rescue missions, to correct compliance to regulations set out in legislation–and in each case project failure always incurs severe penalties.
In these projects, the avoidance of risk drives the planning. This forces a modification to the usual planning process. The focus is to avoid the possibility of events occurring that cannot be managed; it is on the use of processes where the known performance indicates very high levels of reliability with no surprises.
One of the most interesting changes is the growing involvement of project management with the delivery of innovation. It’s not that innovation within projects is new. Far from it! What is becoming more prevalent is the deliberate use of projects to create and manage innovation.
I have a memory passed down via family members that as a 9-year old when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I responded that I wanted to be an expert! I’m sure my parents find it a very irritating response and would have preferred an answer like doctor or engineer or lawyer!
Whatever I meant at that time, I am pretty clear now, that this is just not possible. Today there is so much information, so many insights and experiences that we need access to as project managers–this cannot possibly dwell in the body and spirit of one person. Karen Stephenson captures it perfectly in her phrase,“I store my [know-how] knowledge in my friends”.