3 Techniques to Move Past the Agile vs. PM Discussion

I was honored to share the stage with some of my favorite thought leaders in the PMO, PPM, and PM space at ProjectCon earlier this month. Among the folks that I brought with me to ProjectCon / Agile Con were Mark Price Perry, Lee Lambert, Barbara Trautlein, Mike Hannan, Andy Jordan, Judy Neher, Ben Kopel, Carolyn Smith, Jesse Fewell, and Bill Dow. These talented speakers and educators shared insights on all aspects of project management across the Agile and PM spectrum. It was an absolutely transformational experience for attendees.

Jesse Fewell and I did a keynote like you’ve never seen before where we talked about the very real issues organizations and PMs and Agilists are facing as we figure out how to deliver on our organization’s strategy. We tackled the big “us and them” conversations that are happening in companies around the world and talked about ways to move past the methodology wars to solving the real business problems we are there to address.

And yes…that’s the punchline…sometimes it’s easy to lose focus on the real reason we are all gainfully employed in our organizations. We are there at the behest of the business to serve the business needs and help the organization deliver on their strategy. That could play out in a lot of ways in each organization, but the goal is to spend our energy focusing on the outcomes we are striving to achieve in our organizations instead of getting caught up in outputs.

Here are a few takeaways from that keynote that you can apply immediately to help shift the dialog to a more productive and outcome focused discussion and accelerate the IMPACT you are making in your organization on every project.

  1. Assume Positive Intent: It’s so easy to fall into the bad habit of playing the blame game when we don’t see eye to eye with someone else on the best approach to deliver projects. We tend to think things like, “they must want to do it that way because they are lazy and don’t want to do the documentation / follow the steps in the process / have the right governance or control” or “they just want to control me and remove all creative freedom from the process so they can check things off a list” when the reality could be vastly different. We can find ourselves making a lot of assumptions about the people we are working with and in the process, lose the chance to uncover the fact that we all have the same goal – to ensure this project achieves its intended outcomes for the business.Instead, we may want to look beyond the words we are hearing or the actions we think we are seeing and ask a few questions to understand intent. If you shift the conversation to focus on the fact that you all want the project to succeed, you may find that you can have a much more productive discussion about the way to get there. Remember that people generally want to do good work. They want to feel valued and they want to create value. What are the ways you can work together to create that value and enjoy the process?

    Keep this in mind with your leaders, as well. The next time your leader makes a decision that seems to make no sense to you, before you jump to “they just don’t get it” or “they are making a bad decision,” consider that they might have access to information you don’t. They might have pressures placed upon them that dictate how they must respond and make decisions. We all have a boss telling us what to do and judging us on our performance. That goes for your business leaders, as well. That boss can be someone in your organizational structure, a board of directors, or even the customers. They’re all applying pressure to all of us to achieve certain goals.  What can you do to help those business leaders accomplish their goals and support them when they are under pressure? HINT: this is a great way to become a trusted advisor in your company and ultimately advance your own career path…business leaders reward those they can count on to help them and have their back.

  2. Focus on the Outcomes more than the Outputs:In the day to day of managing projects and programs, it can be super easy to slide into the typical mindset of focusing on each deliverable, the best way to create those deliverables, and checking things off a list. Heck, I’m a list lover myself and truly enjoy seeing the products of my work. HOWEVER, if we get so laser-focused on the outputs we are creating, we can miss the chance to make the big IMPACT we’re looking to achieve.

    Instead, we must ask ourselves why we are creating the deliverables, why we want another step in the process, AND ultimately how each of these templates, steps, etc. are leading DIRECTLY to the IMPACT we will make when they are delivered. It’s not enough to create the outputs if the outputs took so long or cost so much to create that the return that was expected for that investment won’t get realized. Don’t forget, you’re there to create an outcome…a business solution that leads to some greater return, or as I like to call it, “The Worth It Factor.”

  3. Be Willing to Bend:When we get so wrapped up in our way being the right and only way to do something, we can miss a unique opportunity to flex our approach to get to an even BETTER outcome faster. There are so many opportunities to look up and out at what we are trying to do, the problem we are trying to solve, the outcome we are trying to reach AND look at all of the various ways we might get to that outcome. What if a combination of Agile and Waterfall approaches would yield a better result?Don’t think that’s doable? Whether we realize it or not, we’re already merging concepts from tons of different approaches. Are you doing a typical waterfall project? Does it have multiple releases? Might that also kinda look like iterations in an Agile environment?

    Have several test and release cycles in your development stages? Hmmm…iterations…hmmm…sound at all like an Agile/iterative framework? Yep

    Getting clearer on your requirements before you put something into a sprint or doing a little planning of the sprint cycles before you start working on the deliverables? Yep, of course, you are, that’s a little waterfall (aka plan then do) like, ya know. ?

    The point here is to make sure you don’t let yourself or your teams get caught up in the religious fight of my way is the only way and look for opportunities to merge methodologies or compromise on the approach to find ways to build trust, partnership, and an environment that will have everyone feeling like they can “see themselves” and their way of thinking and delivering value in the process. This will help everyone let go of theory and focus on the practice of making an IMPACT.

What change will you try today?

The next time you find yourself mistrusting the intentions of others, having an unbalanced focus on outputs over outcomes, or getting stuck in a rigid way of thinking, hit the pause button and look for ways to assume positive intent, shift your focus to outcomes, and be willing to bend. Together, we can accomplish a heck of a lot more than spending one more moment in an “us vs. them” mindset.

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