Project Management Institute

How much?

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THE AGILE PROJECT MANAGER

BY JESSE FEWELL, CST, PMP

How much up-front planning should we do? How many people should we hire? How many meetings, documents and procedures do we need?

No matter what field or what project, we all face the “how much?” questions over and over.

To avoid getting bogged down, project managers should heed three golden rules: Just Enough, Just in Time and Just Because. I first heard these from Mike Griffiths, PMP, one of the earliest council members of the PMI Agile Community of Practice, when we were struggling with a lengthy document. After much debate, Mike interrupted with a seminal insight in agile efficiency: “When it comes to documents, I coach my teams to generate just enough, just in time and occasionally just because. I think this document fits the last category. Our client has asked us for this document, and even if we consider it excessive, the project will simply never get launched unless we use it.”

Let's take a closer look at these three tenets of agile productivity:

GOLDEN RULE NUMBER 1: Just Enough. Only do enough prep or support work to achieve the primary goal of delivering business value. The problem is that we so easily intertwine this work with the bottom-line deliverable we're paid to generate. With that confusion comes the temptation to do more prep and support work than is necessary or required.

Yes, we need a project roadmap, but rather than spend time building a yearlong plan down to the hourly resource requirements, we're going to provide just enough detail to communicate a vision to stakeholders.

Yes, our IT staff needs some technical direction, but rather than waiting to architect every layer of every interface of every system up front, we're going to provide just enough direction to get started.

Yes, we need to pass the certification and accreditation audit. But rather than defensively launching an avalanche of paperwork, we're going to collaborate with the auditors to deliver just enough documentation to satisfy them.

image No matter what field or what project, we all face the “how much?” questions over and over.

GOLDEN RULE NUMBER 2: Just in Time. You could be crafting lightweight documents, lightweight architecture and lightweight processes—and still be doing all that lightweight work way too prematurely. Of course we could need that architecture component, but let's invest the time to implement it only when we know for sure we'll need it.

Of course we'll need a detailed action plan for next year's project phase, but let's devote time to crafting that detailed plan when we get to that phase.

Of course we'll need to generate some documentation, but let's wait until we get the documentation requirements before we waste our time on unnecessary write-ups.

GOLDEN RULE NUMBER 3: Just Because. This is the constraint that keeps us grounded in reality. I know the 40-page template violates “just enough documentation,” but we're going to use it, just because we won't get sign-off without it.

I know forecasting the full project cost up-front violates “just-in-time planning,” but we're going to do it, just because we won't get funding without it.

I know triple-entering our hours into the timesheet system violates “just enough administration,” but we're going to do it anyway, just because we won't get paid if we don't.

The next time you're faced with a dilemma over “how much” of something you should do, rely on these three rules to generate an agile response. PM

 

Jesse Fewell, CST, PMP, is the managing director for offshore agile projects at RippleRock India and founder of the PMI Agile Community of Practice. He can be reached at jesse.fewell@vcleader.pmi.org.

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JANUARY 2011 PM NETWORK

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