Value proposition


THE AGILE Project Manager

I often hear the notion that agile approaches are only for slippery-scope projects in which the sponsor piles on work and the project manager gladly adds time to the schedule—and spends more money.

But to me, that approach doesn't add much value. I need project management practices that excel in a world of hard constraints, high expectations and big-time pressure. And that's what agile approaches actually do.


Our job as project managers is to break down business objectives into a detailed scope statement, extrapolate a schedule and a budget, and then charter a project defined by those parameters. This triple constraint is executives' top concern: “What will I get, by when and for how much?”

However, once the project is underway, the sponsor wants more deliverables, and suddenly, our constraints are put to the test. When we use fancy techniques such as crashing the schedule, resource loading or utilizing reserves, many times the original baseline just isn't possible anymore.


I've noticed a frequent knee-jerk response to this problem is to ask for more time and money. Some project practitioners commit to delivering every little thing—regardless of whether it's important or not. Doing so is understandable: Often, sponsors define “value” by the completion of the entire scope, even if additions to scope bust the budget and cause delays.

However, in many cases, project success hinges on numerous factors. For example, a new piece of software can have 50 new features, but if customers don't use it, did the project really add value?


When a sponsor adds scope later in the project, you'll be glad you had this conversation early.


In fact, the reason scope creep is such a common problem is the scope originally planned no longer yields the most value, and the only change option we offer is to do more work. Therefore, project practitioners should understand the sponsor's real definition of project success so that we don't march forward blindly.


To see the sponsor's definition of value clearly, agile approaches demand we remove outdated parts of the scope. That can only happen by having an open conversation about scope before the project launches.

I say to sponsors, “In agile, I never move dates, and we have stable teams with predictable costs. However, the scope is managed differently. We need to have a collaborative conversation about what's reasonable versus what's risky, what's critical versus what's convenient.

“To make that happen, I'm offering you a dynamic scope option: You can replace any not-started deliverable with anything of equal or lesser cost. As long as we stay within our business constraints, we have options.”

The goal is not to always deliver all the details of the scope. Instead, we aim to give the sponsor more control over what we deliver within our business constraints.

That's not a scope pileup. That's not adding time or asking for more money. That's delivering value. PM


Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, is a founder of the PMI Agile Community of Practice and participated on the core team of Software Extension to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) Fifth Edition. He can be reached at [email protected].




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