Blog article
See all stories »

Are we doing justice with Agile?

DISCLAIMER: I AM WRITING THIS AS A PROVOCATEUR AND INTENTION IS TO STIR UP THE POT, AS IT IS ONLY THE CHAOS THAT WILL GIVE BIRTH TO INNOVATION. I WELCOME YOU TO THE DEBATE BUT, BEFORE YOU JOIN READ WHAT FOLLOWS…

If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.
. – Mario Andretti

The famous quote, has all the elements to sending chills to your spine, only if, you’re a traditional Project manager. The sole purpose of having Project Management practices in place is to manage risks, reduce risks if possible, mitigate risks, put controls & monitoring processes to ensure the goal of the successful project delivery is achieved.

Mario Andretti was a genius at the race track. He had an uncanny ability as a driver, to overcome any manageable glitches, that he may encounter with the car during the race and if the car was performing at even as good as 80% of its capacity, Mario will take it to finish line with every chance of winning the race too.

We expect our project managers to be the same. Whatever obstacles come (which will come indeed), we want our project managers to successfully steer the project in the right direction and make the successful delivery possible.

To improve the chances of it happening, there are two ways, first by getting a gifted (highly skilled) project manager, who can run the project successfully, and second is to build the processes of project management robust enough, that instead of depending on a special person to do the job, it can be managed and controlled by anyone who is at the driver’s seat as long as he/she is following the provided guidelines to follow those processes.

Project management as a discipline has evolved over generations to reach where it is today. In the past 20 years, even the PMBOK has reached a very comprehensive and deep knowledge base to break down the elements of devising the right strategy to run projects.

PMBOK’s huge text now scares people away, as it gives a projection of how much planning and preparation is needed to run & complete a project. It has earned its stripes by meticulously institutionalizing a process to be less person dependent and more process oriented that ensures successful deliveries (albeit success is subject to debate here).

Project Management as a Discipline

 

Any discipline that attracts a huge talent pool in any industry, usually have a few key elements that make people aspire to pursue it.

  1. It should achieve something tangible at the end of its function
  2. It should have a well-defined career progression stages, that will keep the engagement levels high for people who are pursuing excellence
  3. It should be well respected among other disciplines and maintain a deep & healthy interaction with other roles in the industry
  4. It should meet Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

Then, and only then, people will be motivated and focused to pursue it and remain engaged for a long time with overall high energy & motivation to keep scaling the heights and the complexities of that discipline. If the role lacks these elements then people will get disillusioned and may opt for something that inspires them to live a highly unfulfilling life, cursing the day they chose this stream.

Traditional project management evolved to be a career, that had an established roadmap for its practitioners. From a team member to a team leader, to project lead to Project manager. Once a person attains the level of a project manager there are two different paths for him/her to proceed with the next level of goals.

  1. Proceed to be a specialist Project manager – This path is for those who want to manage bigger and complex projects and have no interest in doing Operations work within the organization. These people ultimately grow in the ladder to be the Planning Heads or Engineering heads based on the nature of the firm.
  2. Another option is to move up the ladder of Project Operations by managing Programs (constitute of multiple Projects), then Portfolio (constitute of multiple Program) and take the positions of COOs in the organizations, the standard path for them is to upgrade to Program Manager Credentials and then to Portfolio Manager or Operations manager education too.

A project manager was an aspirational role by many fresh graduates as it used to reflect the maturity of the person’s skills to manage various aspects of a project and seen with regard.

Agile way of doing things

 

With the advent of Agile methodologies being adopted by many industries now though it started from IT sector for software development or shall I say Product development, more and more companies are jumping the bandwagon of following product management approach for their IT deliverables.

It is a great way of doing software/product development as the turnaround times for a working software/product gets reduced and users have a huge advantage to change the course of the development based on the changing market demands and trends, where earlier approaches seem to be a bit of out of touch by the time software used to hit the shelves for end users to use.

Scrum is the most common framework of Agile adopted by organizations, and it introduced new roles and pretty much democratized the whole project management discipline. Where the whole decision-making process was centralized with the project manager in Project approach, in Product approach this responsibility tens to sit with Product Owner.

A major difference between a Project manager and a product owner is, supposed to be that product owner knows the functional direction the product needs to take whereas Project manager used to get that direction from the Business users and requirements document, and with the help of some Business analysts he used to keep the track of the requirements and the deliveries being in sync.

This approach works great with Startups, as they work with small teams and usually have to pivot or to adapt with the changing business needs and their product positioning, this flexibility and product owner’s knowledge to read industry trends and understand what it means for the product development becomes a huge advantage.

Agile is a relatively new approach as compared to traditional Project management and thus, the role definition and general adoption are only going to go up in coming years. The industry is embracing the change from the traditional to the new way of doing things. Startups are the biggest beneficiaries of this change as now it is relatively easier for a tech start-up to hit the market with their product in a smaller timeline and that means upfront capital needed is smaller than before. This reduced the entry barrier for new founders to take the plunge in starting their own companies.

But this approach has its own challenges. Like PMI there are certain training organizations and bodies that have taken the mantle to equip the budding professionals with the skills needed to fill in the roles that are required by an Agile organization. Knowledge bases, Certifications, books on different approaches and even workshops have been organized and planned. But I feel there is a big part we all are missing in the whole excitement and hype of the new way of doing things. I’ve tried to list a few of them below for you to think:

  1. No clear authority on the subject matter expertise. Multiple bodies claiming to be the de-facto standard for the Certifications for Agile. Scrum Alliance has the most authentic or comprehensive curriculum to be true.
  2. Entry barrier to the skills too high. If we take Scrum Alliance as the leader and take their study material as the major source of information, then the certification and training cost is way higher than what a fresh graduate can afford to pay, making this skill hard to attain.
  3. Big organization adoption strategies are not yet mature. Agile methodologies were built to assist product development companies to keep their product development process short and crisp. No one has fully developed the agile adoption strategy for organizations yet. Work is in progress, but the success rate is dismal.
  4. Roles of an Agile organization haven’t reached an aspirational level yet. Like any profession, people should look up to the higher roles in a discipline to put in a genuine effort to reach them. The current roles are the entry-level basic roles of the Agile model, how will a role develop within the organization in a few years is still unclear.
  5. Trying to fit Agile model in Project-based organizations. All our current organizations underwent a huge transformation half a century back, to remodel everything according to the Project management framework. The timelines, the budgets, the overall costing models, the procurement cycles are all project oriented. All these support functions face a huge challenge to meet the Agile model’s demands to adhere to the rapid turnarounds.

Career Roadmap is unclear

As Agile adoption increase in the industry so will the demand to know more about what next for personal development. People used to know their growth and skills maturity levels in the traditional form of working, but with Agile proposing a flat structure in the teams to reduce knowledge gaps, the skills maturity and personal growth piece are still not yet fully defined.

People can still see the skills maturity in the specific things they do, for example, a developer would still seek to become a full stack developer if his area of expertise or exposure was limited to only one dimension of the code development. But in terms of the Agile model, he still is a team member. How will his personal promotion and career aspirations be factored in on a still annual promotion or salary increment cycle?

What is the next level of maturity for a Scrum Master or a Product Owner? No one knew. Some vague ideas about a Scrum Master becoming a Coach in long run is floated, but it doesn’t hold any scientific backing that it is a well thought of career roadmap. The loose comparison people put in place is from the sports industry. A player aspires to be a coach once his playing career is over. But people miss considering that in the sports industry there is a very strong statistical reference to figure out if a player was good, bad or average. But in the case of Scrum Masters and Product Owners, this metrics is still missing as there is not enough data to start creating statistical parallels, at least not yet.

Scrum alliance did create a certification layer where they offer the maturity by providing a sort of separate tracks for each role, but I see it as a more certificate selling exercise than actual maturity of the professionals.

 

Also, I personally feel Scrum Master is a poorly named role. The whole idea to call someone a master is to reflect on how much time he/she has devoted in acquiring the mastery of that subject matter. By giving this title or role to someone who may be very fresh to Agile itself and may have done the certification just by spending 3-4 days of preparatory training is quite appalling.

In vain of this, I see Scrum Alliance’s track roadmap is even shakier, where a professional title is put on top of a master. Maybe I am just a geek for the wordplay. A more appropriate roadmap could’ve been Scrum Coordinator, to Scrum Manager, to Scrum Expert and finally to Scrum Master. People should aspire to become a Scrum Master rather than the title handed over to all on day one.

I talk to a lot of fresh graduates and even technology and management students. I remember back when I was starting Project manager was a respected milestone and all of us fresh graduates used to look up to the Project Manager as a role we would like to achieve someday. If I ask the same about today’s fresh graduates, they don’t want to be scrum masters. Only a few readily take up the challenge as they may see it as an easy entry point to the organization.

Another perspective that people have about scrum masters, is that it is a makeshift role. A developer with not 100% utilization in the team is asked to double hat as a scrum master, or even a BA can be a Scrum Master as well, which further trivializes the role to something that anyone can do. Why would anyone aspire to take a role that is not seen with respect or with seriousness?

Conclusion

We’re moving towards Agile methodologies as a major adoption and there is no denying it. Better we start looking at Agile not as a band-aid fix to our traditional problems but by working towards defining and evolving the roles as part of the real Project management discipline. A lot of work is to be done and better our academia starts looking into this more holistically than just coming out with certifications.    

9127
External | what does this mean?
This content is provided by an external author without editing by Finextra. It expresses the views and opinions of the author.

Comments: (1)

Prasoon Mukherjee
Prasoon Mukherjee - Societe Generale Bank - Bangalore 19 February, 2019, 16:271 like 1 like

Very well summarized Shailendra. . 

Shailendra Malik

Shailendra Malik

Vice President - IT Platform (Audit)

DBS Bank

Member since

25 Apr 2016

Location

Singapore

Blog posts

42

Comments

18

This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Banking Strategy, Digital and Transformation

Latest thinking in respect to Banking Strategy, Digital and Transformation. Harnessing our collective wisdom to make banking better. Ambrish Parmar


See all