It is more and more common to hear about “mindset”, especially after the Agile thunderstorm, that took over the Project Management world in the last years.
Agile methods preach for “self-managed teams” and “collaborative mindset”. By “collaborative mindset” you can take many different interpretations. I, personally believe that, the main idea here, is to have every project team member collaborating with each other, delivering what they do best in order to have the deliverables concluded accordingly with the defined in the beginning of each sprint.
That is one of the main features yelled by the Agile practitioners as one of the big differentials of the Agile Projects: More collaboration, less bureaucracy.
Less bureaucracy is, indeed, one of the biggest advantages of the Agile projects: "Working Software (or whatever your project is delivering) over comprehensive documentation", is one of the foundation stones of the Agile Manifesto, the base for all Agile approaches. This, if correctly explored, is a great gain for the project.
But, as humans, we tend to search for “breaches in the system”: When the Agile manifesto says “Something OVER other thing” it does not mean “Something IN DESPITE of other thing”. And, depending on the way this is interpreted, it can mean the success or failure of your Agile implementation. We quickly replace the “OVER” by “NO” (documentation, tools, processes and plans) at all. What turns everything in a mess.
Finding the correct balance and the right people to carry out the processes, tools, plans and documents is the key for the success of an Agile implementation. But, analyzing it deeper: Why we focus those things in Agile projects and do not give the same attention for those topics in the traditional project management approaches (PMBoK, Prince2, etc.)?
Before we get into this topic, that is the main discussion I want to present, I need to share with you my personal view on the project management discipline:
I, personally, think that the “traditional” project management (waterfall, PMBoK based) is not going to die. It is not still effective to manage, for instance, the construction of a building or a public transportation system in a totally Agile-based method. Bringing it to the financial world, where I act, we cannot also be so purists to state that “my bank PMO is full-Agile driven”. Banks, constructions, public transportation systems and a whole of other industries have regulatory, compliance, laws and norms that must be followed, which means that evidences, plans, documents and processes must be put in place in order to develop a project.
So, we need to find the balance between the two worlds – that have their own pros and cons. And here comes my main idea: The best way to find the balance is a correct mindset. In both approaches.
I’ve been reading and seeing many discussions between the defenders of each approach. Since the human being does not like to change by nature, we have the tendency to keep ourselves in our “bubble”, defending what we know best and trying to find the defects and attacking the others.
The fact is: Everything changes and the Project Management discipline is passing by its major change in decades. And, of course, we are all a bit confused with the future.
I don’t have a conclusion, yet, about how is the best “mixed approach” for this new “Agile-Traditional world”. I just know that we will need to find the balance, because the market demands this. And, since we are professionals, we need to answer the market call. Unless you do not need to work anymore ;)
One thing that I think that can help is to change our mindset. In my opinion, there is no “Agile Project Mindset”. Project is a project: “A project can be defined as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service”, as stated by PMBoK. One project can have Agile deliveries, traditional deliveries, transitions and changes during its lifecycle. And it does not matter how it is being managed. What differs a successful project form a failed one is not only the tools, processes and techniques used during its management: It is the mindset that is applied to it, since its beginning.
I address this speech mainly for the Project Managers and PMO Heads: Because they are (or should be) the responsible for the project leadership. Thus, they are the key-accountable to set-up the mindset to the whole team.
In my experience, I concluded that the best project managers are the ones who “live” their mindsets. They Walk their Talk. They are the project soul: The initiative they passes to the other stakeholders, their security, their skill to setup partnerships, commitments, to delegate and trust the teams, to listen and understand the different points of view of each side and try to conciliate the divergent opinions on behalf of the best output for the project are the key for the success.
I usually hear from many stakeholders that “PM’s are bureaucratic”. And, in fact, we tend to follow our methodologies strictly. But, times changed: We must replace our methodologies for “frameworks”: Flexible, but yet disciplined. We need to deliver the results. And also, document them. But, before deliver or document, we must understand what is more important for the project: Deliver it first, and document later or document first and deliver later? It depends on the organizational culture, the kind of project, stakeholder, desired result… but, what we cannot is to not deliver nor document.
I propose that we stop thinking about “Agile Mindset” and bring with to a wider scope. We need a “Project Management Mindset”: Able to understand that the PROJECT needs to be delivered, documented, monitored and reported, but in a more efficient and flexible manner.
Project Managers must not see Scrum masters (and vice-versa) as enemies. But team-up with them. Fit up the role with the reality of the project. There is no “right or wrong side”. The secret on this “Agile x Traditional Approach war” is the same secret that we need to apply in all aspects of our lives: Balance.
We need each time more bring the best aspects of both approaches to the practical life: Apply here the foundation of the innovation process: try and error. And, if make a mistake, we need to be ready to change things faster. With no excuses or fears: We learned that it is not good and going to change it. Until the moment that we achieve a balanced mix of formality and time-to-market.
I really don’t know if we are going to be able to setup one unique methodology for that. I think that we are going to see success cases popping-out from organizations that have customized their processes and we can pick-up some insights from these cases to apply to our own reality. But we are only going to be able to do this when we change our mindset. What, in fact, is not a change: It is just to act like a project manager should act: To be the leader of a project, helping the whole team to achieve a result.
One thing, for sure, is clear for me: The “Super-Hero Project Manager”, that thinks he is the center of the project, that cannot be replaced and the team is just a detail in the whole process is dead. And for good!
Leadership requires collaboration. And, in my opinion, collaboration must be in the center of the “Project Management Mindset”. The soft skills are each time more important in this new reality of Project Management.