Your Greatest Risk Is Poor Project Leadership

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Systemation writes in their blog about poor project management being the biggest project risk. I agree. Yet I think the blog fails to recognize that the project manager centred and plan driven approach itself is also a major risk for project success. Just like typical waterfall projects (or ones with long increments) omit the most cost effective risk mitigation strategy of incremental development, traditional project management typically omits building collective commitment as a source for getting visibility and low level actions to project risks.

But I won’t belabor the Agile/Traditional divide. What I want to look at is lack of good project leadership as a risk for Agile projects. Given that I agree on the risk, let’s look at corresponding five steps to improve Agile project leadership (note – leadership, not management).

  1. All Scrum team members (I’m using the term in the broad sense as that includes the product owner, ScrumMaster and all the development team members) must receive training in the fundamentals. While some of that training can be given in typical training environment (CSM/CSPO classes, etc.), some is most effectively given in a coaching format within the project itself. Too many projects and organization omit the last item, but it actually happens to be the most cost efficient form of training/coaching.
  2. The organization and people working in it must agree on some standard framework for project leadership and management. One size doesn’t fit everyone, so the framework must allow appropriate project level modifications. There should be sufficient internal mentoring to ensure appropriate following of the agreed framework and to ensure all project members have sufficient skills to use it effectively. Also there should be a mechanism by which the project organization routinely reflects on the framework and adapts it to changing business environment and needs.
  3. All project members should have access to the tools needed to manage the work and use the framework effectively. Note that I didn’t say “software tools”. Many most effective project management tools aren’t software based. But when the organization decides to use a tool, it must support the agreed process (and not the other way around – the organization adapts to the tool).
  4. Projects should strive to deliver fully working functionality in every iteration. The ruthless visibility this provides into real progress is the basis for estimation and tracking.
  5. The organization must support the projects in their leadership. The teams must be given appropriate time and resources to do their work right and must not be requested to do shortcuts or disregard good practices. Product owners must have support for their long-term planning and vision setting. ScrumMasters need to be supported in their activities for improving project leadership and removing obstacles from getting work done. This is MUCH more involved than most organizations think. It really means understanding what Agile is, what it takes to do it right, and what is needed from the management itself.

Just like the five actions the Systemation CEO believed will improve project management, I believe that the above five actions will improve Agile project leadership. However, action 5 needs significant clarification in Agile context.

Let me know if you want me to expand on that. Also let me know if you agree / disagree with my comments.

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