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Signpost of TimeOooh, it’s dangerous to make predictions for the future, but I thought I’d give it a go. Project management seems to be changing quite a lot at the moment, and it certainly feels like over the last couple of years we have (finally) taken some leaps forward in thinking and, as a profession, deciding where we should be headed. So, time to lay my neck on the line and tell you where I think project management is going.

Creativity takes teams back to the office

There’s been a lot of talk about flexibility, work/life balance and all that. And we’ve made great advances in managing virtual teams. I work from home some of the time, and from hotel rooms at other times, or on the train. My workspace isn’t just my office desk.

Having said that, there is something to be said for hanging out with your colleagues. You can get more creative and solve problems more quickly. I just don’t think the technology is there to enable the sort of creativity that you get with the whole project team in a room together.

There will always be a need to work apart, especially as we draw on expertise wherever it is based in the world, but I think there will be a drive towards getting people back together as much as possible.

More Agile

This is, apparently, where the conversation is at. Waterfall is dead, long live Agile. Actually, I don’t think it is that extreme. There are thousands of companies who haven’t adopted Agile but plenty more that have opted for an agile-light approach, with just enough process and just enough release management to get changes and features into projects without being able to say that they are truly Agile with a capital A.

I think we’ll see more of this hybrid agile taking off as companies need to move more quickly and get products to market even faster. And ‘proper’ Agile will also grow in adoption.

Metric-driven project management

This year it’s been all about reframing stakeholders as customers. Next year (while that customer focus will continue) it’s all about metrics. KPIs and dashboards aren’t new tools but at the ‘professional’ end of project management (in comparison to the ‘accidental’ end), we’ll be managing by metrics more and more.

Leadership and beyond

Career paths at the top will take you out of project management.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion in the past about how project managers need to be project leaders as well. As a discussion topic this is now evolving further thanks to the work that PMI is doing on trying to get a project focus in the boardroom and in discussions on project strategy. I think we’ll see more talk about how project leaders can evolve into project executives and sit at the boardroom table. There will also be further discussions about career paths at the top and how they will take you out of project management as a discipline. After all, the skills you need to be a good project leader or project executive are the same skills you would need to manage any functional or operational team. Project management isn’t a dead end any longer, and is certainly not something that narrows your business career.

Sustainability

Sustainability has been on agenda for a while but it’s now linked to profitability. Businesses have previously been able to pick and choose green projects because they helped improve their local reputation or because they satisfied some audit requirement. But now, with budgets being even more squeezed, sustainability supports profitability.

For project managers, this means more projects with a green focus and more weight being given to sustainability on other types of projects too – look out for green project metrics and business cases with green benefits.

OK, so that’s what I think is going to be important. How about you? What trends have you seen and where do you think project management is going? Let us know in the comments below.

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Agile for NonprofitsI was a volunteer. I lost count of how many hours of community service I donated over 13 years of providing first aid cover at school fetes, amateur dramatic theatre productions, Remembrance parades, or in teaching others. But I don’t volunteer any more. Instead, I have a standing order that pays an amount to charity monthly. I don’t even think about it, except to wonder, during the worst of the financial crisis, whether I should cancel it (I didn’t).

If I’m typical, the face of charity support has changed drastically, and that’s what PMI Fellow Karen R. J. White’s new book is about – how nonprofits can do more with limited resources by applying Agile project management principles.

The book aims to help nonprofits “learn how to apply just enough project management to assist in your decision making as you face continuing economic pressures.” It’s a niche book, but useful to those in the sector.

What makes your nonprofit agile?

The book acknowledges the evolution in volunteerism and addresses the ‘what’s in it for me’ component that is so important today. Understanding these things are the first step to moving your nonprofit to agile thinking. Other important shifts, according to White, are:

  • To include social media outreach
  • To minimise bureaucracy
  • To recognise volunteers’ efforts
  • To embrace business practices which make the best use of the available volunteers, wherever they happen to be based.

This last one is important as she talks about tapping into volunteers around the country and further afield, whereas previously charities relied on local support.

The book doesn’t pack any punches. “Nonprofits often don’t focus their efforts on what truly matters,” White writes. “Instead they focus on the projects that volunteers want to undertake.” She goes on: “Their resources are spread too thin and the most important projects suffer because of that lack of focus.”

Portfolio management, she says, is the way to address this. Another way to make sure you’re making the most of your resources is to create a resource pool that details volunteer interests to ensure volunteers are matched with projects they will enjoy and be good at without losing the focus on what is strategic.

Covering the basics

Chapter 5 is an introduction to the project management lifecycle including a project charter-style and status report template. Other chapters have more templates like a communications matrix, risk log and milestone schedule.

The next chapter covers planning, with new terms like project artifact and scope defined in clear boxes through the text. You can tell this book is aimed at non-experienced project managers – people who have probably just been given the job title and need to get things done within a nonprofit setting.

White really starts to talk about agile in Chapter 7. She says that a project manager in this kind of environment needs to be:

  • An active leader
  • Efficient
  • Communicative
  • Decisive
  • Honest
  • Results-focused
  • Tech savvy
  • Intelligent
  • Confident
  • And with good technical project management skills.

One of these tech project management skills mentioned is the ability to integrate social media in projects (for more on this, you can have a look at one of my books, Social Media for Project Managers). This is particularly important in a nonprofit environment as it helps engage with younger volunteers and also to tap into current ways to communicate outside your local area.

Managing a volunteer workforce

One issue that nonprofit project managers have that many other project managers don’t have is that their project teams are mainly made up of volunteers. White dedicates Part 3 of the book to managing volunteers, particular the resource issues projects suffer when including volunteers on the team.

She talks about providing the opportunity for motivating volunteers through leadership opportunities, taking account of local law (for example, not using volunteers as a reason to terminate employed staff), and the inevitable churn. I imagine staff turnover is higher in some volunteer groups than it is on projects with a fully employed team.

She also talks about recruiting and retaining good, reliable volunteers and avoiding ‘warm body syndrome’ where you simply end up with a human assigned to the task but they have no skills or interest in the job at hand.

Using your PMO

The PMO has a role to play in nonprofits as well. This can be in the form of training, making sure that appropriate training and mentoring is given to volunteer project team members so they don’t give up as it is ‘too hard’. White says it is not essential for nonprofits to have a PMO function but believes it will help standardise things and ensure best practices are shared, which seems very sensible to me.

Finally the book talks about portfolio management and how an overall approach can help keep the focus on projects that contribute to the strategic objectives. “The lack of a project portfolio management approach can result in an organization that’s chaotic, misses opportunities, burns through resources, and doesn’t achieve its strategic goals,” she writes.

Whatever you decide to do, she encourages you to make an agile approach that works for you by following the basic project management phases but tweaking it to suit your workforce and environment.

Despite the fact that this book is not aimed at people like me, I enjoyed it. It’s well laid out, it makes logical sense and doesn’t jump around and it is very, very practical. There is no pretence at living in a perfect world where all volunteers immediately answer their phone and dedicate their time to the most mundane of project tasks. The heavy dose of realism ensures that this will be a very useful desk reference for people who’ve been asked to get things done with no money and practically no permanent staff. Even if you don’t work in a nonprofit, if that description fits you, you’ll probably find something in here that you can use yourself.

Buy on Amazon.com
Buy on Amazon.co.uk

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The video of me at Øredev speaking about how customer centricity improves success is available online on the conference website. It’s a presentation about the case study in the book I co-wrote with Phil Peplow last year, Customer-Centric Project Management, but it also includes an updated project case study and some material that didn’t appear in the book.

Credit: KenLee Fre S3 Recording on 2012-11-09 1258-Vimeo1 from Øredev Conference on Vimeo.

The video is about 40 minutes long.

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5 Team structures for Agile teams

Catherine Powell presenting at Oredev

Catherine Powell presenting at Oredev

Catherine Powell, principal at Abakas, a Boston based firm, spoke about agile team structures at Øredev, the software development conference in Sweden at the end of last year. She provided 5 sample team structures as examples that we could use them putting together Agile project teams of our own.

1. Team generalist

In this team, “anybody can pick up any task at any time,” Catherine said. This works most effectively on a well understood project and with people who are good in diverse roles. “The people are hard to find and kind of expensive,” she said. It works well if you avoid groupthink: no ‘us versus them’ because there is no ‘them’. This approach is hard to scale and works best in small companies with passionate people.

2. Team specialist

“Everyone on the team has a different specialty,” Catherine said. This gives you high quality software, tests and data analysis but in her experience project managers don’t find this structure easy to work within because there is no predictability. You often end up with resources with nothing to do. She said that specialist teams miss their Sprint target on 70% of sprints. “If you can avoid this level of specialty, avoid it,” she advised. It works most effectively with larger teams, and if you have to have this structure she recommended that you put in place some cross-training to minimise the periods where some team members are really busy and others have nothing to do.

3. Team relay

“This is common for teams that are transitioning to scrum,” Catherine said. It is seen in companies who are trying to move from the waterfall philosophy to an agile mentality. She recommended that this type of team do some test sprints where the sprints are broken down by discipline. Long-term, all this structure and approach to sprints does is extend the delivery timescales.

4. Team biathlon

In this team, everyone changes jobs per sprint. Everyone writes code, then everyone moves to test it. This set up is good for cross-training, but you have cross-sprint release cycles.

5. Team handoff

In this final team structure, the work is handed off between teams over time. You hand off the product from team to team. This works well when scrum is in use over the whole organisation. For example, the product is designed by one team and given to another team to do the implementation and installation. This is an organisational level team model and so it would work effectively in companies used to doing things in an agile way.

Your team

“Ask questions about your own organisation as that is key to a successful agile team,” Catherine said. “Everything you read is generic, so it is only kind of like your organisation.” Find out what you want from your team. “What is that shared goal?” she said. “How much can we change and still be agile?” She recommended building your agile team to meet you own organisational needs and to change whatever you wanted in order to achieve that.

Have you ever put together an agile project team? Which of these models was it most like, or did you come up with something totally different?

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