Agile Transformation: 5 Changes Project Managers Can Expect

The manufacturing and software development fields have been using Lean and Agile principles for years, and service sectors like financial services and healthcare are rapidly following suit for project implementation and delivery. Companies want to find a competitive edge by delivering the most valuable product in the least amount of time, and Agile development methodology makes that a reality.

In order to succeed in Agile, it’s necessary to shift focus and thought processes around how to manage corporate initiatives. This is true across the organization, from C-suite executives and management teams to marketing, finance, and project management professionals. In fact, project managers will often need to take on new roles altogether, like “product owner” or “scrum master.”

As team members that are heavily affected by Agile processes, there are five key adjustments a project manager must prepare for in order to succeed in an Agile development transformation:

1. The Focus of the “Iron Triangle” will Change (Time, Cost, and Scope)

Traditional project management focuses on scope. It’s all about determining and defining everything that’s needed to establish budgets and deadlines. This means doing everything up front to avoid change, and a fixed scope drives the project.

The opposite approach is taken with Agile project management because scope is added and removed based on budget and schedule. When embracing an Agile mindset and using an Agile framework, scope change is welcomed and expected.

2. Empowerment, Not Control, will be Key

Traditional project management not only focuses on controlling time, cost, and scope but has rigidly defined processes that don’t easily allow teams to deviate from the original plan. An Agile framework relies instead on the Agile team to define the processes and tasks required to accomplish goals.

Team members continually provide input to the work that they’re doing. Processes aren’t standardized; they’re designed to fit the team. Consequently, Agile project management focuses on conversations and Scrum Masters must help promote the discussion.

3. Distinct Phases will be Left Behind in Favor of Iterations

Traditional project managers are trained to break projects into five distinct phases: Initiate, Plan, Execute, Control, and Closing. In theory, each of these phases are linear, distinct, and not meant to be repeated. Agile project management, on the other hand, is iterative and incremental.

Requirements emerge throughout the course of the project. Gantt charts and requirements are not pushed down from management to the teams who are actually doing the work. When using Agile software testing and Agile frameworks, users, stakeholders, and the teams are engaged throughout the entire process.

4. Up-Front Planning will become “Rolling Wave” Planning

Traditionally, planning occurs at the beginning of a project, along with defining deliverables, producing requirements, and defining test plans. In Agile project management, planning happens continually in the Product Backlog.

The Product Backlog is a list of product features, descriptions, and emergent requirements that are refined based on value and priority. Each iteration, called a “Sprint,” involves a product owner evaluating the highest priority items in the Product Backlog. Through Relative Estimation, the cross-functional team determines how much of the prioritized work they can accomplish and deliver within the given iteration time, which is usually two-to-four weeks. At the end of the sprint the items are completed and delivered to the product owner in a potentially “shippable” state.

5. Organizational Silos will be Broken Down to Build Cross-Functional Teams

Most organizations are structured in functional silos. Each area has their own purpose and they work together within their teams to achieve a common function. Agile development methodologies promote cross-functional teams composed of members from various disciplines.

A team could be made up of a front-end developer, a back-end developer, a QA tester, and a UX professional. Each team member brings their own expertise, core strengths, and perspective to the project and the setup encourages learning while eliminating bias.

Taking time to prepare for each of these similar, but altogether new, processes and strategies will not only help project managers adjust to an Agile development transformation, it will help them embrace it and deliver successful products and services.