Why PMs Need (to Understand) Agile

This year I had the honor of providing some opening thoughts at the NTPM conference. As the conference is aimed at Program Managers, but has a lot of Agile content, I chose to give three reasons why PMs should understand Agile. I’m rehashing them here.

Common Language with Delivery Teams

At the end of the day, PMs and delivery teams* have the same goal – maximize the value delivered as part of the project. To be able to determine what maximizes the value and how to best deliver it requires a dialog between the PM (especially if playing a PO-type role) and the team. You can’t have a good dialog without a shared language.

* I use the term delivery teams as Agile has grown far beyond software development teams.

Personal Efficiency

Practitioners of Agile quickly realized that they see benefits not only to team efficiency, but also personal efficiency. Be it through following concepts like limiting WIP, maximizing work not done or reflecting on how we work or implementing specific techniques like Personal Kanban.

Agile Adoption

The least obvious (but most dangerous) reason is that PMs are often chosen to lead Agile adoptions. To management this seems like a no-brainer – Agile adoption is an internal project, so it should be managed by PMs. But we know that projects are more effective, when PMs have an understanding of the subject domain (even if cursory). And an Agile adoption is so invasive into culture and the way people work that it’s very easy to mess it up or bend it to optimize the PMs job, not maximize value delivery.


Highlights from NTPM 2018

This year I had the pleasure to attend the New Trends in Program Management conference in Gdańsk and the honor to give a presentation. As I mentioned in my opening address, the conference provides an interesting blend of Program Management and Agile topics. I’d like to highlight three presentations that I found most interesting.

Frank Turley gave a very interactive talk on “Top 10 persuasion techniques for PM”. The title is actually a lie, because there were 12 techniques. While formally a talk, this was more a workshop that quite engaged the audience.

Thiago Ayres gave us a fascinating look into the future of the world: work, education, technology, projects. This was the most energetic presentation. Again, with very active audience engagement. This was worth attending even to to see an excellent speaker put on a show.

Henny Portman – rounded out the conference by giving a whirlwind tour of Agile practices and frameworks from the viewpoint of Program/Project Managers, giving hints on how they need to adapt to this new world.

Special mention goes to the speaker dinner on Sunday. The hotel restaurant (Magiel) served a delicious four course dinner and I will happily visit it again.

PS. For those interested, I posted my slides.

Adopting Agile using Waterfall

Something that bothers me, is when organizations go out to adopt Agile, but try to do it using traditional program management or waterfall methods. “It’s the only thing they know” – you might say. But if it is, how are you doing the adoption? You have to have Agile coaches or Scrum Masters or Agile practitioners. Someone who knows how Agile works. And why wouldn’t you ask them to organize the adoption.

If you see value in adopting Agile, why not do it correctly? And if you don’t, and treat it as a fad – just don’t do it. Or better yet, let those that want to, do it and let it grow and spread organically. Otherwise, you’ll alienate both the practitioners as well as those that don’t want to change.

Is this just an anti-pattern of “those that can’t do, teach”?

(Note: I do say anti-pattern. I’ve had many amazing teachers throughout my life).