Advice for an Agile Project Manager 

 August 4, 2022

By  Dave Litten

Advice for an Agile Project Manager

What would you say to a relatively inexperienced project manager running a project in an agile context, what advice would you give them?

Let me explain this in four sections, collaboration and self-organization, transparency, communication and exploration, project environment, and plan, monitor, and control.

Collaboration and Self-organization

Advice For An Agile Project Manager
  • Trust the team to deliver and not get in their way by checking up on them
  • Leave the team to get on with it so their creativity is not stifled by an interfering manager
  • Trust the people who know best how to deliver the right solution to ensure that happens
  • Ensure the project board understands what empowered means so team members will be supported, not overruled
  • Involve the team in release planning to get an honest view of when releases can happen and what is involved
  • Focus on having a stable team around me since teams are more innovative and effective than individuals
  • Insist the customer guarantees their regular involvement to remove the risk of customer unavailability
  • Ensure the agile delivery team is satisfied that the customer representative is fully engaged so the output meets the customer’s needs

Transparency, communication, and exploration

Advice For An Agile Project Manager
Agile Transparency And Communication
  • Clearly communicate the product vision to my team so they know what they are building and why they are building it
  • Deliver something that users can use and relate to quickly to get swift input from them to make sure we are on the right track
  • Ensure the whole (customer and supplier) team is involved in the process of defining and agreeing the project vision so they are engaged and motivated to realize the vision from the start
  • Ensure the project team has an MVP that is a ‘minimum ‘ so they learn something useful as soon as possible – going on to refine it
  • Ensure senior stakeholders understand that some requirements will be dropped from the list (MoSCoW) to manage expectations from the start
Advice For An Agile Project Manager
Agile Communication And Exploration
  • Try to understand and communicate the project’s planned benefits, and whether anything threatens them so that the team does not become too product fixated and understand the ultimate purpose of the project
  • Ensure that the customer representative on the team is satisfied that their needs are being addressed and that the output meets this customer’s needs
  • Ensure that the project team all attends a kick-off meeting to agree on how the management approach will be configured to meet the project requirements. In this way, the entire team understands how the project will be run and how agile behaviors and techniques will be integrated to achieve a successful outcome
  • Engage with and understand the project stakeholders so that misunderstandings are avoided, and project support increased

Project Environment

Advice For An Agile Project Manager
The Agile Project Environment
  • Work with the team managers to ensure the delivery team is having fun, in this way people bond well and their peer commitments are strengthened during an iteration
  • Make sure that the team is trained in scrum, so they have a good grounding in a core agile delivery method
  • Ensure you understand what flavor of agile is being proposed and used so you can tailor project planning, reporting, and control to suit it
  • Be clear about the delivery process and methodology with the stakeholders to set early expectations for the delivery outputs, and we will be working iteratively towards our destination
  • Read the Lean Startup to gain a viewpoint on how projects running under conditions of extreme uncertainty, could be wrong, and how PRINCE2 could support this
Advice For An Agile Project Manager
The Agile Team Project Environment

Hire a brilliant product owner and get them trained accordingly so that the project has a greater chance of being successful.

Ensure the team is set up to make releases on demand or as close to that as possible – in this way the technical infrastructure does not get in the way of delivering business value.

Collocate the entire team as much as possible so that a true team is formed working towards a common goal
Ensure the project team is aware of and understands the role of a ‘servant’ project manager, in this way the team knows what to expect throughout the project in terms of the level of control versus coaching and support.

This ensures delivery teams are empowered and collaborate, can be self-organizing within agreed tolerances, and are able to make rapid, informed decisions without unnecessary delay

Plan, monitor, and control

Advice For An Agile Project Manager
Agile Plan And Monitor
  • Touch base with everyone in the project every day so you know they are happy
  • Focus on removing problems hindering teams so they can get the work done
  • Make sure to hold frequent retrospectives so the team improves over time
  • Ensure the project team understands and has agreed on ‘what to fix and what to flex’ thereby setting tolerances for the six key project aspects so that it may benefit from agile and maximize the value delivered to the customer
  • Ensure you understand the team’s information radiators to track progress without asking for additional reporting from the agile teams
  • Ensure the project level requirements are prioritized as soon as possible so if issues arise there is little discussion needed as to what needs to be dropped
  • Everyone should see MoSCoW as a game more than a pain
Advice For An Agile Project Manager
Agile Monitor And Control
  • Use product-based planning so that expectations are aligned with deliverables
  • Link products/deliverables to benefits so that the right work is prioritized
  • Ensure you have agreed reporting metrics and frequency with the agile teams to be confident that beneficial progress is being made and that they understand why you need to know
  • Ensure you understand how the team manages and measure rework, to determine how much is ‘good’ and how much is due to mistakes – ensuring that Sprint plans make sufficient allowances for fixing defects
  • Synchronize across Sprint start and end dates across multiple agile teams because interfaces between teams’ systems can be adjusted in the following Sprint
  • Ensure agile teams are not continually deferring the ‘difficult work’ to later sprints so that the integrity and benefits of the solution are not degraded

Want to know more?

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Dave Litten

David spent 25 years as a senior project manager for USA multinationals, and has deep experience in project management. He now develops a wide range of Project Management Masterclasses, under the Projex Academy brand name. In addition, David runs project management training seminars across the world, and is a prolific writer on the many topics of project management.

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