Project Management Institute

A tale of two teams

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THE AGILE PROJECT MANAGER

BY JESSE FEWELL, CST, PMP

I recently coached two project teams implementing agile. Let's call them Team Flounder and Team Flourish. Team Flounder started with full management support, complete with expensive training and consulting help. However, six months later, the initial boost wore off and the team stabilized at a productivity level best described as okay.

Team Flourish was given the worst of circumstances. Looking to avoid any notice by stakeholders, the project sponsor ordered the team to slow its progress. Furthermore, prime and subcontractors were at war. One year later, though, the project had accomplished more than anyone had hoped.

Both teams had implemented the same methodology. Why did one succeed where the other struggled?

People Power

I'm convinced the number-one reason why projects fail is that the wrong people are on the team. Agile doesn't solve your people problems. Rather, techniques like daily stand-up meetings and retrospectives are intended to expose people issues more quickly and nudge you in the right direction.

To help filter out those who don't fit a given project team, leadership author Bill Hybels offers the following criteria:

Character: People have to possess the mettle to do the right thing—as a team.

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Team Flounder suffered under the rule of one senior know-it-all who disparaged his peers. It took six months before the project manager fired the guy for the ongoing harassment. It was a relief to have him gone, but team members were left wondering if management would take that long the next time.

Meanwhile, Team Flourish was under attack from a vendor. In response, the team formed an alliance with a few trustworthy contractors while staying firm with adversaries. It survived the sabotage and continued delivering.

Competence: Technical knowledge isn't always enough.

Team Flounder had a chief engineer who was undoubtedly smart, but she wasn't the strong leader who would help team members grow.

Team Flourish found itself in a feud with several buzzword-certified braggarts steering the project in the wrong direction. The core team spent weeks building an evidence-based case for the right strategy, and it worked.

Chemistry: Project managers often treat team chemistry as fluff and then are stumped why productivity is so low.

When Team Flounder filled the roles of product manager and process manager, it followed the methodology rules to the letter. The problem was the two people picked didn't get along. Every time one of them said something, the other felt undermined. As a result, the rest of the team was stuck without any clear direction.

Team Flourish, on the other hand, was ruthless about pruning people who didn't quite fit. The result was the strongest team dynamic I've ever seen—one that equipped its members to overcome all that weirdness of competing stakeholders and volatile project scope.

In the end, agile isn't a silver bullet. The fate of projects is determined by people, process and technology—in that order. PM

Jesse Fewell, CST, PMP, is a technology management consultant for Excella Consulting and founder of the PMI Agile Community of Practice. He can be reached at jesse.fewell@vcleader.pmi.org.

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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

APRIL 2010 PM NETWORK

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