Extend Your Project Management Strategy Beyond The Dev Team

July 5th, 2018 by inflectra

When it comes to project management strategies, most people think of development teams.
Whether they’re focused software, websites, inventory, or any number of items, the intricacies of successfully developing a viable product require stringent tracking. There are many phases between brainstorming and product launch, most of which generally consist of numerous smaller tasks, which can be broken down into several more specific tasks. With so many hands in the honey pot, disorganization quickly leads to sticky situations.

This post, however, is not about development teams. It’s about introducing project management to the rest of your company to help clear up and prevent sticky situations.

Project Management 100

There are several types of project management strategies. Most people are familiar with the Waterfall system if not by title, then in practice. Other names for Waterfall are trickle down or top-down, terms that describe the system quite succinctly. Lean, a lesser known project management strategy, focuses on trimming down processes to maximize efficiency and free up valuable resources for greater innovation.

One particular strategy, however, is already rippling out from information technology into the business world at large. The Agile project management (PM) strategy is just that: flexible and adaptable, concerned more with vision outcomes than production outputs. Agile calls for small, multi-disciplinary teams to tackle complex, short-term projects. Teams break complex problems into smaller modules and tasks to be completed individually and then woven back together to resolve the initial problem. The rapid prototyping and continual communication loops increase both efficiency and productivity.

Phew, that was a mouthful. Don’t worry, it’s much easier than it sounds and you’re probably already using a variation on Agile without even realizing it.

Being Agile

Have you ever assembled a piece of furniture? Sometimes you have to put together several sections independently before bringing them together to complete the piece. If you’re working with a team, you can assign members to different sections based on priority, ability, and need. That, my friend, is the gist of Agile.

[Agile] does what bureaucracy never even attempted: it mobilizes people’s energy and enthusiasm and generates meaning both at work and in work. It goes beyond the small-minded virtues of efficiency and reliability and draws on the large-hearted virtues of the human spirit: generosity and creativity. ~ Forbes

Now that you have the gist, you may be wondering how to convert the entire company to Agile. The answer to that is easy: you don’t. The first lesson in Agile is that not every role or function requires, or is even suited to, Agile methods. In fact, some positions and processes find them more hindering than helpful.

Agile PM works best for innovative, short-term projects needing creative solutions. Making an entire company Agile—that is, the areas suited for it—is a large undertaking. Therefore, the best way to transition your business into Agile teams is to think of the transition itself as an Agile project. “Big-bang transitions are hard,” notes Harvard Business Review, “It’s often better to roll out Agile in sequenced steps, with each unit matching the implementation of opportunities to its capabilities.”

Create teams to manage the process, study the big picture and then break it down into smaller, more manageable segments. Introduce a couple of teams at a time, assess the process, review the outcomes, identify possible pain points and solutions, regroup, adapt plans to improve the next steps based on what you’ve already learned, and continue to do so as you move forward.

The Speed of Agile

Many organizations have achieved sufficient success at the single team level with Agile approaches like Scrum that they want to bring Agile to their entire enterprise. They want to reap the benefits of Agile across their whole organization, but they struggle with where to start and how to sustain the change. ~ Scrum.org

In order to create sustainable change, start by educating your leadership and key stakeholders about Agile. This is one instance where it’s pertinent to start at the top. Without the backing and understanding of leadership, the conversion is bound to hit bureaucratic walls and debilitating frustration. Build a foundation with your leadership and then cast a broad net to the entire workforce.

Once your key players are on board, examine your entire enterprise and identify problems that lend themselves well to innovative, short-term projects. Set aside time for annual planning and budgeting. Looking at the big picture in the beginning can help forestall unforeseen roadblocks in the future. In true Agile style, create a taxonomy of change, breaking larger problems into smaller segments and prioritizing progression based on need and ability. Start small. When you’ve identified your top priorities, move the rest to an active backlog to minimize distraction while ensuring future movement.

Since they are already accustomed to Agile project management methods, begin with teams, groups and projects that work closely with your development teams. Digital marketing, web content management, and sales departments generally tend to have regular working relationships with development and IT departments. Leverage those connections and dev/IT teams’ existing knowledge to create multi-disciplinary teams with built-in co-worker Agile training and guidance. And use the technology you have at hand to help introduce these teams to more Agile processes. Learn more about how marketing automation, digital content management, and customer relationship management (CRM) tools can make Agile projects easy to implement in cross-department teams.

Add, adapt, and retire teams and projects as progress and experience allow. Eventually you’ll be able to integrate teams both horizontally and vertically within your organization:

Scaling Agility has two dimensions: scaling horizontally, across large numbers of teams, and scaling vertically, integrating the work of multiple teams into a single product. Focusing on both dimensions enables organizations to achieve sustainable change by solving 3 main challenges: achieving consistency and the right Agile culture across teams without dictating behaviors, fostering the right interactions between Agile and non-Agile teams when there are dependencies between them, and adapting Agile approaches to deliver products that require a team-of-teams approach. ~ Scrum.org

Above all, don’t get discouraged. This shift will not happen overnight. Agile is a mindset and changing the way we think can take some time. Know where you want to go, but stay flexible in your journey. Continue to review and improve your teamwork and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll see results.

Chanell Alexander is a writer for TechnologyAdvice. She is a freelance writer and digital marketing strategist. She has over seven years of experience in the nonprofit field, and enjoys blending innovative technology solutions with communications. When she is not writing, Chanell enjoys traveling, contributing to video game blogs, and embracing her inner foodie. See what else Chanell has been up to on her LinkedIn profile and Twitter page.

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