Project Managers in Agile Organizations? An oxymoron?

 

Traditionally, the practice of project management has taken a linear approach.

But this dramatically ignores the fact about how disruptive exponential change can be and how it is going to disrupt their businesses, as the World gets on its feet in a post-pandemic mindset.  The balance of the 21st century will be the equivalent of 1,000 years of progress at pre-pandemic’s rate of progress.  This unprecedented pace and scope of change require executives of all organizations to shift and adapt their approach toward leadership, employee selection, and retention.

Today, how to prepare and deal with the massive disruptions coming from transformational change is an essential skill.   Accordingly, the selection and development of Project Managers must be focused on identifying and building leaders with critical thinking skills, the ability to innovate, a passion for continual learning, resourcefulness, and adaptability.

At Kreativa, we have invested at least as much attention to the design, content, and training of talent Project Managers as sales and marketing do to customer acquisition. The good news is that we started using assessments and other metrics years ago to identify, nurture and grow future Project Managers.

Few of our clients have generally internal Project Managers been trained to work towards explicit and pre-defined deadlines, budgets, and scopes. But that assumption is becoming increasingly inaccurate.

As agile becomes the norm, our client’s work processes modernization is becoming continuous, rather than fixed.  The definition of a “project completed” is quickly becoming irrelevant.   Ask yourself, “When is ‘Shopper Understanding’, ‘Supply Chain Modernization’ or ‘Go-to-Market’ done?” and you start to get a sense of the growing irrelevance of the concept of a finished project. And without a target end state, traditional project management tools such as Gantt charts, fixed budgets, or strict roadmaps are not only impossible to implement — they are a waste of time.

Instead, organizations large and small are increasingly moving towards a model of small teams that work in short cycles and learn continuously. These teams pursue outcomes rather than output, collecting evidence and making real-time prioritization decisions to determine their next steps rather than religiously following a predefined plan. This process fundamentally defies predictability. It embraces the uncertainty of rapidly evolving technologies and customer behaviors, and as such, it is incompatible with a traditional management approach that’s focused on meeting predetermined project requirements.

Given these challenges, what are Project Managers to do? Do they become product managers? Scrum masters? What happens to the years of experience and insight they have acquired?

Agile demands a transformation of the practice. Specifically, there are three things that Kreativa project management do to stay relevant and ahead of the curve in an increasingly agile world:

Identify goals, needs & project opportunities

Our clients may have provided a corporate training program on agile or may have asked to read their own project documentation— but that does not mean we know what the specific team hopes to achieve by transitioning to an agile mindset. Instead of stopping at the surface level, dig deeper to understand why the organization is adopting agile. Is it to decrease the time it takes to get new products to market? Is it to reduce dependence on external vendors or partners? Or perhaps the organization implemented agile simply because “everyone else is doing it.” If that is the case, Kreativa’s Project Managers can help define the business goals and demonstrate how organizational agility can help the project team achieve them.

Importantly, it is not always obvious what our client’s goals are. If we do not know why the company adopted agile, we will ask.  Challenge the project leaders, colleagues, and other stakeholders to answer the question, “If we get this right, what gets better?” Follow up with, “How can we use our unique skills to help make that happen?”

Think out of the box for project success

In the past, a project manager was considered successful if they delivered a specified quantity of work, on time and on budget. But in an agile world, the way Project Managers measure their success needs to change. Kreativa Project Managers focus on metrics such as cycle time — that is, the amount of time it takes an item of work to go all the way through a team’s R&D process. Cycle time is a direct reflection of a team’s capacity to learn and adapt quickly, and it can be applied not only to the delivery of a product or feature but also to the length of time it takes a team to learn new skills.

For example, think about quantifying how long it takes an idea to go from a proposal to production. And more importantly, how quickly does your team determine whether an idea even worth investing in? Cycle time can reflect how quickly a feature gets into customers’ hands, which of course is an important metric in and of itself. But what is even more critical is how quickly the team can learn and decide whether to stay the course or pursue another idea.

In addition, Project Managers should strive to increase the percentage of decisions being made based on objective evidence such as customer input, rather than subjective, arbitrary assumptions. Consider measuring how many new initiative proposals are backed by analytics, rather than just someone’s opinion that it is a good idea. While it is not always possible to precisely quantify how decisions are being made, even just regularly thinking about the question can help keep Project Managers on track.

Continuous collaboration to create value

One of the core guiding principles of agile is empiricism: a philosophy of evidence-based pursuit of knowledge. As Project Managers navigate their roles in this new agile world, their success will hinge on continuously trying out ideas, evaluating what worked and what did not, and iterating accordingly. Some of the traditional tools and techniques that Project Managers are already familiar with will work well in an agile setting. Others might not.

Sometimes our years of experience and expertise blind us to opportunities for improvement. Continuously seek feedback on how you can improve your processes to fit the current organizational context. Talk to colleagues to understand how your work is helping them, and where you could be adding more value. Facilitate retrospectives with your team, and do not fear criticism. Learn from it and adapt your approach to better meet the needs of your coworkers and your customers. Some of these changes will inevitably conflict with “how we’ve always done things” — but this is exactly the kind of evolution that is necessary to keep teams responsive, agile, and building products and services that are relevant in an ever-changing marketplace.

Project Managers in Agile Organizations is not an oxymoron?  It does mean Project Managers have to adapt — or risk becoming obsolete. To be successful in an agile workplace, project management professionals must seek to understand their organization’s goals, rethink their own success metrics considering those goals, and bring a mindset of continuous growth and iteration to their own development.

Kreativa’s Project Managers enable you to reap the benefits of having remote talented resources managed as they were collocated with your project team, allowing you to focus on running a successful operation, giving you absolute control!

Kreativa’s goal is to focus on the project team’s performance, delivering agile core capabilities to you!

 

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 (*) José Ignacio is Kreativa’s VP Digital Transformation based in San Antonio, Texas, USA.

 

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