People power



Agile can not only help you deliver projects—it can help you make the most of the talented people behind those projects, too. In past columns, I've written about the core tenets of Agile methodology. Now, let's look at how they address the people side of projects:

“Deliver early and often” is about giving people what they paid for. Too many project managers deliver to the letter of a contract yet completely miss the objective of customer satisfaction. And then customers complain that project managers deliver “what I asked for, but not what I want.” Usually, this is because the customer honestly didn't know any better. Delivering a website exactly to a poorly written specification does no one any good: Even if you get paid, you've built product to be ashamed of, and your customer will never cite you as a reference.

We must recognize that our stakeholders aren't buying a scope statement; they're funding a project to meet business objectives. Coach your customers to understand the difference between implementing all the scope versus achieving business goals. Yes, our sponsors have a responsibility to understand their own scope, but as project professionals who see these problems every day, we're the ones who should know better.

“Empower your teams” is about treating people with respect. Let's say team members put forward an honest estimate. Then the manager answers back, “You're exaggerating—it should be half that cost.” That undermines the contributions of fellow professionals. When a subject matter expert mandates a specialized product design and then complains when the team “doesn't get it,” that's judgmental. When we refuse to give our technical people the tools and resources they request, and then blame them for the resulting product defects, that's tyranny.

Instead, we must empower our teams to take full ownership of their work so accountability can have full meaning. Being a project manager isn't about you being right—it's about helping your team find its own right answer to the problem at hand.

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“Inspect and adapt” is about helping people solve problems. As project managers, we are trained to build robust, well-structured plans, yet somehow we forget the lesson about the plan being a living instrument. We implement policies, but forget to measure whether they're achieving the intended results.

Innovation doesn't happen through compliance—whether it's compliance to the original scope statement or to corporate policies. Certainly, we're expected to steer a project within some common-sense boundaries, but we do so with the license to discover new opportunities. A team member might request a waiver for a costly process document, for example, or a sponsor might learn of a more marketable set of system features. A good project manager will use process not as a means to control, but rather as a means to innovate.

In the end, project managers are in the people business. We are given a budget of other people's money and entrusted to support skilled and trained professionals to craft solutions to real problems. As an Agile project manager, you are expected to recognize the human responsibility you have and lead accordingly. In short, it becomes a moral imperative. PM

Jesse Fewell, CST, PMP, is the managing director for offshore agile projects at Ripple-Rock India and founder of the PMI Agile Community of Practice He can be reached at [email protected].





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