Managing Programs with Agile and Traditional Projects

Imagine you are transitioning to agile. You are a program manager with a few agile projects and a traditional project. How do you manage the program? Possible Technical Program with Communities of Practice Above is my drawing of what a technical program team looks like. Sally’s project is actually a small program itself. Sally is not the program manager in the middle. She is project manager, managing a subproject that happens to be quite large. She has six small teams, all working on one large feature set. For example, they could be working on the platform for a large program. All the “S” people working with her are Scrum Masters, working on their feature sets. They are coordinating the work of their Scrum teams to deliver the work of Sally’s project into the entire program. Joe, Tim and Henry’s teams all need to coordinate with Sally’s teams. Let’s assume Joe and Tim are working in an agile way. They are all working on the same product. But maybe Henry doesn’t know anything about agile. Henry’s team is still working on a feature set. It’s just that Henry’s team is working in a waterfall way. If you are the technical program manager, how do you manage the program? If you work in iterations, what happens at the end of every two weeks? Henry has nothing useful to say and is bored. He can’t tell you anything about risks; he wants specs. Sally’s program wants to know when Henry’s team is going to be ready to integrate, and of course there is risk with Joe’s and Tim’s team. You know that if...

Workshop: Topics in Advanced Project Management: Selecting Pragmatic Approaches for Your Project

Workshop Objective: After this experiential workshop, you will be able to organize and manage a project using the best of traditional, agile, and lean approaches to project management. This workshop is based on my project management book: Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management. Workshop Overview: We will discuss and practice a variety of approaches (traditional, lean, and agile) to starting a project, estimating and scheduling the project, measuring project progress and closing a project. These approaches are useful for not only software projects, but also software/hardware combination projects. We discuss many initiation, estimating, and scheduling approaches, in the context of your potential software lifecycles so that you can make good choices that fit your project. We will discuss typical problems (schedule games) at each part of the lifecycle, how to anticipate, avoid, and work around them. We will address what you could measure and when—and what you’ll learn from those measurements. We will practice on a project in the workshop. Target Audience: Project Managers and any other managers experienced and interested in project managers. Prerequisites: Attendees should have experienced at least 1 years of project management on a completed project, or at least 4 completed projects in one year. Workshop Duration: 2 days. I can customize this workshop with you. Workshop Outline Introduction Elicit concerns from participants Short introduction to agile and lean Activity Initiating a project Typical project pressures Approaches to organizing the project taking into account the product, team, customers Dealing with geographically distributed teams Activity Estimation approaches Explanations, pros/cons, practices/discussion for a variety of estimation approaches: Manager estimates, technical staff estimates, several Delphi approaches,  separating sizing from...

Are You Making Progress or Spinning Your Wheels?

Summary: While managing a long project, it’s easy to lose track of progress. And, when that happens, how do you even know whether you’re still making progress? In this article, Johanna Rothman offers suggestions to help you take your project one step at a time and keep it under control. When I coach managers or leads, one of the most frequent questions I hear is: “How do I know I’m making progress?” Typically, the manager or lead is working on a long project or a long initiative, such as transitioning to agile, and it can be difficult to know if you are making progress or spinning your wheels. Plan in Small Chunks No matter what project you are working on, plan in small chunks. Sure, keep the vision of the end product in mind, but know that you can only do so much in a given time period and plan what you can do for the short term. One way to do this is with rolling-wave planning. As an example, suppose you want to plan a large Web application release. You would note your major milestones, such as “UI walkthrough for shopping interface,” “financial integration with financials package,” or “limited release to trusted users,” in addition to “release for general public.” Now, take the first milestone and ask yourself and the project team, what do we need to do—in detail—to get to that milestone? I like making rolling-wave plans on sticky notes on the wall, not in Gantt charts. I ask people to plan in inch pebbles—one- or two-day tasks that are either done or not done. With inch...

How Much Work Can You Do? Developing and Managing Your Project Portfolio

Summary: Knowing how much work your group can accomplish–and how much it takes to complete that work–is critical to your success as a manager. In this week’s column, Johanna Rothman explains how to ascertain your team’s potential and how to use that information to define and manage your project portfolio so it doesn’t manage you. I meet many managers in the course of my work, and they all share a common complaint: They have too much work to do. I ask how they know there’s too much work to do, and they look at me as if I’ve sprouted another head or two. “My staff and I are spread too thin–that’s how I know,” they answer. I ask if more people would help. “Of course,” they answer. While they look at me as if I’m an idiot, I ask the question that too few managers can answer right then and there, “How many more people would you need, and for how long?” I have sympathy for those of you trying to work in organizations with too few people and too many projects. So, I recommend you develop an answer to the “how many people” question. Once you have the answer to that question, you can then deal with the trade-off question with your managers, “If I take on this new project, which work would you like me to stop?” Define the Universe of Work I develop and manage a project portfolio by first defining all the work (the “universe of work”), organizing the work by seeing when each person starts and stops each project or piece of the project, and...

Eliminating the 90 Percent Done Game

Imagine you’re a project manager. You talk to your technical lead and ask how far along the team is. “Oh, we’re about 90 percent done,” he says. If you’re like most project managers, your heart sinks. You’ve been here before. Ninety percent done means the other 90 percent is left to do. But what can you do to eliminate—or at least reduce—the 90 Percent Done schedule game? Isn’t it just a fact of life for software projects? No, it’s not. You can avoid this schedule game entirely. But you do need to work differently. Plan in Inch-Pebbles The first thing you can do as a project manager is to organize the tasks differently. If your team members like to estimate in one-week or larger chunks, work with each team member to break down the work into inch-pebbles, one- or two-day tasks. That way, everyone knows when each deliverable is due—something is due every day, or at the most, every other day. An inch-pebble either is done or not done—there’s no “percentage complete” for an inch-pebble. If you’re accustomed to managing the schedule with a Gantt chart, be forewarned: Don’t put the inch-pebbles into a Gantt chart. You’ll have so many details that you won’t be able to see what’s really going on in the chart. Instead, each person manages his or her own inch-pebbles and reports problems to you. Use Rolling-Wave Planning at the Inch-Pebble Level Daily schedules are fluid, whether you’re using inch-pebbles or not. To manage that fluidity, I like to ask people to generate two to four weeks of inch-pebbles at a time. I don’t expect...