Updates from the Agile PM Front

For the last year I’ve been driving Agile adoption and use at a small but impactful organization. We sell services and data access for the railroad business in North America and, while in IT, 90%+ of our work is product related.

Early this year I initiated three major efforts: a mainframe migration — about 40 applications to be migrated over four years to a Java/Oracle environment, a Master Data Management (MDM) consolidation of our customer data, and a replacement and reengineering of our Single Sign On (SSO) services. This is in addition to still driving Agile, UX, and a brand-new services strategy that is being defined.

For the mainframe migration project we are using pure Scrum as it fits very well with the effort to be undertaken. The existing application is reviewed with the Subject Matter Expert (SME), functionality assessed; some functionality eliminated; rearchitecture decisions reached; and work defined through user stories.

The SSO and MDM effforts though are not pure software development. SSO entails acquiring a new engine, assessing how to replace the existing one, then taking the steps to deliver this functionality. User Stories (Scrum) are a bit cumbersome for this approach.

The MDM effort includes data modeling and data loading through ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) processes, the definition of data governance and quality processes, and the development of a simple application to view the data. Besides the application development (we are using Scrum for it) the other parts are cumbersome through user stories and Scrum.

Instead of Scrum we are using a modified and simplified CBPM processes. Rather than a full day planning process (Map Day) we undertook one to two hour sessions to define what we knew and got the ball rolling. As the teams are small the users for each deliverable were not defined. While modified CBPM is still very successful. We just implemented our new SSO engine and protected the first migrated application this week. For MDM we have a preliminary loading of the data and a first version of the application. The challenge with MDM has been understanding the data and how it has been loaded into the existing source systems, something that would have taken a long time through traditional data analysis processes

So, don’t be afraid to mix and match approaches and even modify them. Keep to the spirit of Agile.

Is it PM or Leadership that’s needed?

We need both the tools and techniques of project management and the skills, attributes, etc. of leadership. I’ve been working with one client. They have an excellent team but are not “performing” yet. This is typical of teams put together in an organization. They are still forming yet they are expected to perform. This challenge requires more leadership than project management skills as the question is how to get the team to quickly jell and move into the performing realm.

We’ve agreed that I’ll do a workshop on teamwork, one based on Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team. This will be a great start although it won’t solve everything as the leaders need to be cognizant of their actions and expectations to support the improved team performance.fivedysfunctions.jpg

Most organizations take for granted that once a project is authorized it should be running at full speed immediately. Reality is that it takes time to figure out what to do, staff up, get the team to perform, and then get to a good situation. What are your experiences?

It’s the People, St…d!

people.jpgUpdate: Read a related CIO magazine article: “Six Attributes of Successful Project Managers“.


The more work I do with projects, the more I realize that many PMs don’t get it: the hardest part of project management is the soft part: the people skills. Most projects flounder not because the PM doesn’t have the technical hard skills but because s/he doesn’t have the soft skills.


Let me give you an example: I was asked to go help a project in which the customer was sending emails to senior VPs as to how messed up our organization was. He told his team to ignore us whenever possible. And it got worst from there.


So, I came in and started talking to the PM and the customer to get a sense of what was going on. Was the team not delivering? Well, they were, sort of, but promises had been made and not kept and the customer had not been informed before hand! Yes, you can argue with me, they didn’t follow the communications plan (hard skill). But you should not have to have a communications plan that articulates each and every small activity to be successful. Use your common sense! If you are going to miss the deadline, don’t wait until it happens. Tell the customer right away!


Once we started improving the communications, the storm calmed and things improved dramatically.


So, I was on the phone with David Schmaltz, author of The Blind Men and the Elephant yesterday discussing this situation. His experience, just like mine, is that most project failures are due to people issues. PMs focus on getting the plan developed (WBS, activity definition, activity sequencing, and on and on) while not worrying about the setting up a vision; making sure that the team knows where they are going, why it is important, and what is expected of them. What’s up?


My belief is that the soft skills are very hard and most people have trouble with them because they are hard to articulate. Yet we’ve been doing them all of our lives! As little kids we knew if our mother was upset without saying a word! Why can’t we sense the same from our customers?


David is pulling together a group of similarly minded people. He’s started with a group in Facebook called ProjectCommunity (no space in between Project and Community) and has a site at http://www.projectcommunity.com. Come by and join in the discussion!


As a bonus, my two basic rules of PM:

  1. Under promise and over deliver
  2. If you are going to slip, slip once and slip big.


Go out and have great projects!


Jose Solera, MBA, PMP

Made to Stick – Secrets of getting your message across

made-to-stick.jpgI just finished reading Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. If you want to carry your message across; if you want to sell your story; if you want people to follow you, this book is for you.

Why do some stories stick (e.g., urban legends such as the razor blades in the Halloween candy; “It’s the economy, stupid”) while others die? This book tells you how to do it.

Next time you are faced with selling a concept, like when Stephen Denning was demoted and put in charge of Knowledge Management, something no one wanted to hear about yet he not only sold the concept but made it one of the top priorities at the World Bank, refer to this book. It is that important!

Jose Solera, MBA, PMP