Articles Tagged with: project
Challenges in Agile Project Management
Gayathri Ramamoorthy

Gayathri is a proven Project Manager with experience spanning over a decade in the IT industry in all areas of the SDLC. A strong end to end technical and functional background has enabled Gayathri to perform multiple roles such as Delivery Lead, Project Manager, Solution designer and Technical Consultant over the span of her career.

In last few years, we have been hearing the word ‘Agile’ frequently in the project delivery workspace. Quite often, we had constructive debates and interesting discussions among colleagues on challenges in Agile projects. Common concerns were – lack of ownership from team, mixed signals from senior management and ineffective cost management. I would like to share my experience where we applied agile methodology to a project aiming to deliver the functionalities/features quicker for the business to use and the challenges we encountered.

The project was initiated to develop new reports for a business unit to measure their sales performance. The data required to build the report was sourced from a datawarehouse which hosted the consolidated transactional data from various source systems. The project scope was to develop reports and to implement the required business rules and data transformation. The project applied agile techniques to deliver the reports in an iterative deployment schedule. The features required in the reports were listed and prioritised by the business sponsor and the sprint period was 4 weeks. In Agile methodology, sprint is the time period within which a selected list of feature is completed and made ready for business use.

In an agile project environment where the team is set of highly skilled developers, a sponsor who was supporting the team to follow agile framework, a management team who applied the agile techniques appropriately, what could go wrong in such agile project? In spite of an optimistic agile environment, there were still challenges.

Design changes during the iterative sprints – Are you thinking of doing design, development and testing in an agile way? I would recommend to read ahead and validate if that approach would help your project to achieve the desired outcome on time.

The project started with minimal business requirements from the business and the list of features required were identified. The project included redesigning the underlying data model of an existing application and adding the new features identified to the application. The project did not have the detailed requirements at the start of the project and the design, data model, build and testing started simultaneously following agile approach. As we progressed through sprints, any design or data model changes, while developing the features down the line, eventually resulted in rework on the features completed in earlier sprints. The finished products were revisited every time there was a change in design which increased overall cost and caused delay in progressing with the remaining open activities.

From my experience in this agile project, it would be challenge to complete the sprints on time if design is evolving across sprints. If the project involves major redesign or new application development, it is worth investing initial few days in preparing high-level design with the available requirements. This would avoid rework on the features while we get into the development sprints. Development and testing goes well within a sprint timebox.

Team member sharing while sprint is in progress – The projects had a dedicated skilled team which was a key strength to get the development on time and of high quality. The project deployment was planned into multiple deployment phases so that the finished products can be released earlier. There were cross impacts due to other inflight project and the part of the development team was deviated to focus on sharing the knowledge of the project and its impact on other projects so as to enable first deploy release to go ahead as planned. As per Agile guidelines, the core sprint development team is expected not to be deviated from the locked down list of features. But in the real world, the knowledge of the skilled team is required to mitigate any risks related to that project. We had delays on the sprint that was in progress in order to accommodate risk mitigation activities. A dedicated and committed team is a key for a successful Agile project. The agile project manager should implement the two key techniques that the Scrum methodology emphasises strongly.

  1. The Scrum Master should ensure that the team is not impacted by any changes or other external influences that could potentially deviate the team from the current sprint. The Scrum master should ensure that the team remain focussed on the current sprint until the end of sprint
  2. Any changes in resource plan should be restricted while the sprint is in progress.

Requirements unclear even while sprint is in progress – Agile framework facilitates the business SMEs to change or finalise requirements while the feature is being developed. But in order for the development team to complete the development within the sprint time, the business should be clear on the requirements for the features in the current sprint to enable on time completion. Ambiguous requirements, while sprint is in progress, lead to delays in completing the feature within the sprint and may result in increased backlog.

The business subject matter experts have to have the requirements clear to enable the team to complete the project on time. Any requirement changes from the business SME impacting the sprint has to be considered as a new item in the backlog list. Requirement changes during the sprint has to be recorded and tracked to effectively manage the sprint timelines and overall project cost.

While Agile framework accepts less documentation, we need to understand the main objective of agile framework is quick delivery. Documents that enable quick delivery and better control on time and cost are still required in agile project management. As much as projects are unique, challenges within the projects are also unique. Lessons learnt from past experience always helps in the handling these challenges effectively in the future. Agile methodology also gives the opportunity to identify any challenges at the end of each sprint which will enable to apply corrective measures throughout the journey of the project. Go Agile, enjoy the continuous learning and eventually master the skill of Agile project management.

Negotiation for Project Managers

Negotiation is defined as “a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement” (Oxford). An elegant and simple definition encompassing yet a powerful and sometimes hard to master skill, especially for project managers (PMs). Here’s why:

Projects involve change. Many parties interact during a project lifecycle including stakeholders, users and delivery team. Sponsors empower PMs to deliver, however, it should be no surprise to PMs that conflicts arise in projects due to many sources including matrix organisations, conflicting priorities, expectations gap and scope creep. Without an effective way to solve conflicts in a timely manner, projects can quickly come to a standstill and may even fail.

The good news is that by mastering and applying these negotiation skills in day-to-day activities, PMs can ensure progress through even the most difficult of conflicts. Read on to take a look at how to apply negotiation skills effectively from a PM’s perspective.

What is negotiation for PMs?

Negotiation in projects is about finding timely solutions to conflicts that arise between people linked to the project and/or impact it in some way. Negotiation is a highly effective interpersonal skill that PMs must master to move projects progressively. Finding an ‘agreed’ solution that either:

  • Benefits all parties – means everyone got, or at least feels they got, what they were after from negotiations. A solution acceptable to all is usually the one that builds great teams and enjoys best support afterwards
  • Benefits some of the parties or one only – means someone had to compromise (take one for the team) probably for the greater good of the project
  • Just escalates the conflict to next level in project governance since the negotiations could not reach any agreement

An agreed solution that benefits all parties is also often called a ‘win-win’ scenario and is the most desirable outcome PMs want from their project negotiations.

Why do PMs negotiate

Temporary endeavors to achieve something unique, projects typically require some form of ‘agreement’ from time to time between those delivering change and those who will use or benefit from it in future (like users, stakeholders and outside world). To name a few:

  • Requirements, scope and resources agreed during Planning & Initiation
  • Deliverables and milestones accepted during Delivery & Implementation
  • Changes to scope controlled and agreed during Monitoring & Control
  • Sign-offs and project handover at Closing

Who do PMs negotiate with

For PMs, formal and/or informal negotiations happens everyday. With project’s success as focus all the time – PMs are always negotiating solutions. Engage these groups throughout the lifecycle of the project and negotiate timely solutions to any conflicts that risk your project:

  • Users (requirements management) – negotiate project requirements with users (or their representatives) to finalise scope. Being the end beneficiary of what your project will deliver, effective negotiations with users help set right expectations from start and will make acceptance, handover and closing smooth.

  • Suppliers and vendors (contract management) – formal negotiations to select best supplier/vendor for delivery and after a contract is awarded, negotiations continue in matters of contractual compliance, performance and any changes needed. It is best for PMs to seek specialist support from Legal and Procurement during these negotiations.
  • Team members (and their managers) – your project team is the centre of it all, moving the team together as one unit requires regular internal sync ups, prioritisation calls and agreements on the implementation strategies. Negotiations here are very informal but lead to highly effective collaborative work. As PM, you should also expect to negotiate with line managers of the project team in a matrix environment.
  • Stakeholders (stakeholder management) – negotiate project scope, time, cost and quality with stakeholders as well as seek their buy-in on scope changes, risk mitigations, contingency funds (if needed) and commitments on organisational resources for the project. Honest and open communications here are necessary to manage stakeholder expectations.

How to negotiate
Now we get into the mechanics of how should PMs negotiate in a typical project setting. Project negotiations could be segregated into following distinct phases:

 


Let’s see what happens within each:

  • Plan: Plan for negotiations ahead – do your homework. Gather background information on the topic, set targets, know your tolerances around the targets.
  • Discuss: That’s where the actual negotiations start. PMs lead the discussion – keep them from digressing off topic. Open negotiations by setting the scene – introduce key issues to discuss. Remember to listen, paraphrase key points to ensure common understanding and keep driving the discussions forward.
  • Propose: Brainstorm, propose solutions and listen to solutions being proposed. Focus on reaching agreements. Communicate clearly and openly.
  • Bargain: Be prepared to trade-offs and give & take. Show flexibility to reach a plausible agreement. Your homework of knowing your tolerances will pay off here.
  • Agree: Reaching an agreeable solution is the real goal. Be mindful of the fact that the agreement could be one of many types explained above. In all cases, ensure you get it in-writing/signed-off from participants. Summarise conclusions for all and later distribute minutes appropriately.
  • Review: Following up on the resolution of agreement is essential. Ensure all parties are kept informed of next steps taken. Update any impacted project documents.

By now you should have a good sense of how important negotiation skills are for the successful delivery of projects. Effective negotiations could literally turn people in opposition of the change your project delivers to its biggest supporters. They could be the missing link to get those stumbling blocks out of your project’s way to success. Take time to prepare well for your negotiations, be reasonable and respectful, listen to others’ views and remain focused and calm all the time. A proven ability and a track record to reach ‘win-win’ solutions – of which there are sometimes many in difficult situations – is a hard sought after skill in Project Managers. I hope these thoughts will help you master this skill.

I leave you with a question: Have you faced a situation where it was difficult to make everyone happy, but yet, you were able to carve out a ‘win-win’ scenario? Reiterating points of common benefit could sometimes help people let go a little to reach an agreement – please share your thoughts. Cheers.

Some information here is sourced from articles in Association of Project Management.

Rana Ali Saeed – Rana is a Project Manager and Technology Solutions professional, having served clients in IT, telecommunications and academia sectors for past thirteen years. These years have probably experienced the fastest wave of technological change. The explosion of digital data touched almost every industry and the demand of data speeds grew exponentially. Telcos evolved from 2G to 5G and smartphones became a commodity from once a luxury. Having ridden this wave of change, Rana has a passion for taking on new challenges. He is enthusiastic about Data Science (analytics, visualisation, presentation) and currently spends his leisure time as a student of Machine Learning, Deep Learning and Inferential Statistics.