8 Tips for Project Managers Transitioning to Agile

project integration management scope management Dec 06, 2020
8 Tips for Project Managers Transitioning to Agile

With a growing number of organizations shifting to agile methods for projects, those in the traditional project management role may want to consider how to transition from predictive to agile projects.  In the future, the best project managers will operate more flexibly and manage projects with either waterfall or agile methods as needed. 

While many project management fundamentals stay the same, project managers moving from a traditional project management role will experience the need for some change in their management efforts and styles. Building new skills and learning new techniques is essential.  When managing an agile project, you will no longer be the single focal point.  The team will be more self-organizing and reliant on the product owner even more than on you.

Here are 8 tips for a smooth transition from traditional to agile project management.

  1. Know when to apply agile methods and when to avoid them. Agile methods are often touted as a project "cure-all," but they are not.  Agile methods are best when you need to provide constant or earlier client value through incremental delivery of project components.  They are essential when client feedback is critical to ensure the project continuously stays on the right track. 

On the other hand, predictive methods (also known as traditional or waterfall projects) focus on controlling costs and schedules and managing change.  This means that they will still be relevant for managing any projects with "fixed" constraints, such as fixed cost or fixed scope. 

  1. Understand that agile is about flexibility, not speed. While one benefit of agile is that clients can get early access to project value and benefits, it is not the sole focus. Agile is much more about flexibility than speed.  This includes the flexibility to embrace new requirements at any point in the project and actively listen for any shifts in client needs. 

The client and the team jointly decide when the project is done, not the project manager. The project manager's style also needs to be flexible to allow the team to be creative and provide their best work.

  1. Shift your management style from leader to servant leader. The agile project manager's role requires more coaching and mentoring skills to motivate the team and get things done.  The agile project manager needs to be a servant leader.

As a servant leader, you will need to be more concerned about the people involved's growth and success than accumulating power and managing by influence.  Everyone will need to have a focus on providing value to the client and project.  If you have never been in this type of role, it will be essential to read a good book about servant leadership or get some servant leadership training.

  1. Get comfortable with lighter and less documentation. Unlike predictive projects that have all requirements and designs completed upfront, many agile projects start with only a high-level scope. As requirements evolve, they are documented in user stories and product backlogs.  Provide support to the product owner by organizing and prioritizing the lighter requirements at the start of each iteration or sprint. 

Project documentation will generally be lighter as well.  Agile is not always an easy transition for organizations that run on schedules and budgets, so understand what project documentation is critical and what can be less formal.

  1. Learn the most important new tools. I have already mentioned user stories and product backlogs for requirements, and you will have other new tools to learn.  Here are just a few:

Daily stand-up meeting: You will need to facilitate a daily and brief discussion to understand progress and get new commitments for the day. Know how to use them to keep the team focused.

Retrospective: Like lessons learned, you will need to facilitate a retrospective at the end of each iteration or sprint.  These are important since they will help with continuous improvement.

Demonstration: At the end of each iteration or sprint, the team needs to demonstrate their work to the client.  This is an opportunity for active listening and recording any new needs or requirements.

Burndown Chart:  The burndown chart provides essential metrics to help you and others measure team progress.  Be sure you know how to create these charts and what needs to be measured for your projects.

  1. Collaboration is essential and consists of multiple skills. With the product owner present with the team regularly, collaboration is an essential skill. Collaboration is really a superset of skills, including facilitation, active listening, communication, and creativity.  Be sure to brush up on all soft skills, as agile projects will require many.
  2. Learn to address risks earlier. Because agile is iterative, the project manager and team must address risks sooner than usual. You will also likely want to avoid or mitigate more risks than is normal for more traditional projects.  Unaddressed risks in the agile environment can lead to increased waste and decreased client value. One way to stay on top of risk is to include it as a discussion topic when creating or maintaining the product backlog.
  3. Treat continuous improvement as your ongoing journey. Continuous improvement is a journey and not a destination.  It is also vital that agile project teams continuously improve.  Document retrospectives and be sure the learnings are applied to the next sprint.  Just as with predictive projects, conduct lessons learned at the end of the project and integrate them into the next project, too.


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