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In every industry, using Agile methods increases success rates and the overall value projects deliver to stakeholders. Between February and June 2018, the University of Maryland Project Management Center for Excellence and the PMI Southern Maryland Chapter offered a five-part short course series on “Mastering Agile Project Management” that taught why and how Agile methods work regardless of the framework or delivery approach (Hybrid, Scrum, SAFe, etc.). Each four-hour session focused on a benefit (Speed, Innovation, Leadership, Control, and Scale) that could be immediately used to deliver project objectives despite increasing constraints and uncertainty.

Above is a photo of a group of participants working on an exercise during one of the five sessions of the “Mastering Agile Project Management” series.

This series is currently being converted into an edX professional certificate in “Mastering Agile Project Management” and the first course will be available in September 2018.

Below is more information about the five-part series that was delivered in partnership with the PMI Southern Maryland Chapter.

Why These Sessions Are Important

Agile project management works. It’s been proven by survey after survey to increase project success rates for projects with high levels of uncertainty. Success rates in one 2013 survey across industries showed that Agile was successful 64% of the time, while traditionally-managed projects were successful less than half the time (49%).

Ambysoft’s 2013 survey, 173 respondents across industries, ranking Agile and Traditional methods from -10 to 10 (source:

However, with this success in Agile project management has come an explosion in variants and new hybrid methodologies. No Agile project looks the same or applies all principles or frameworks the same way. Often these adaptations of Agile are driven by the organizational structure, politics, vendor preference, levels of education and understanding of Agile, and market realities. To help you meet the challenges of this new project environment, this course will arm you with the understanding, principles, past examples, and experiences to confidently ensure you get the most value out of your projects.

Why Agile Project Management is Not New and Applies to you

Agile project management is often overly simplified as the project management practice of varying scope. This simplification loses the emphasis on the true benefits of Agile which are speed, innovation, leadership, control, and scale. Proof that Agile can deliver these benefits in even the most complex environments is shown in its history.

Agile project management can trace its roots back to World War II, when Kelly Johnson formed “Skunkworks” within Lockheed Martin. Kelly used his 14 Rules of Management to run Skunkworks and create the world’s first fighter jet, the P-80, in just 143 days. Kelly Johnson’s 14 Rules of Management mirror the Agile Manifesto and its 12 Principles, which promote: Cross-Functional, Self-Directed Teams; Response to Change with Minimal Reports; Collaboration between Owner and Vendor Incremental (and Iterative) Development.

All modern Agile project management frameworks draw on these lessons from Kelly Johnson’s work. Other influences include Total Quality Management (TQM), Lean Six Sigma
(LSS), and the Theory of Constraints (TOC).

These approaches can appear to be very different, but at their core is the same driving purpose: to improve project impacts on the organization. Emphasizing the value of the project’s output over its cost efficiency, understanding that speed and innovation change the value of that output, and that the most important organizational resources are its people and its customer relationships. Companies that are embracing these principles continue to set record earnings and stock prices (e.g. AMZN, APPL, Netflix); and those that ignore them find themselves unable to compete.

Description of Each Session

Session 1: Speed

Speed is by far the most sought-after benefit of Agile. First mover advantages, the economic cost of delays, and the enabling effect on innovation drive the search for speed. Agile offers the fastest means of attaining speed: managing scope. But beyond the hype over scope management, there are key principles of non-traditional task management that ensure the scope chosen is delivered as efficiently as possible. Methods such as a Kanban boards to limit work-in-progress (WIP), and timeboxes with backlogs over integrated master schedules (IMS). This session educates on both planning and work efficiencies that can drive speed into any project.

Concepts: timeboxes, buffer propagation theory, task variance, multi-tasking, priorities & Pareto

Session 2: Innovation

If speed is the primary focus of leading companies, innovation differentiates the products produced. Innovation can enable speed and vice versa, through a learning cycle where faster delivery leads to faster feedback for learning; and learning leads to faster, simpler solutions for speed. But beyond the emphasis on fast iterative development, there are the practices that create structure and space for innovation in Agile that are missing from traditional management. Solutioning focuses on business capabilities, not technical scope. Cross-functional teams provide wide-band input on business needs and capability solutions to improve design through diversity. And timeboxes provide the sustainable space to enable teams to spend the required time solutioning, with an emphasis on test-driven development for verification and validation.

Concepts: knowledge gap, capability vs. scope, paradox of structure, test-driven development

Session 3: Leadership

Where Agile challenges many project managers is in the realm of leadership. Old styles of command-control are now a thing of the past, except for the most conservative organizations. But Agile takes self-empowerment to new levels and challenges traditional beliefs in what leadership means. Leadership that enables, empowers, and puts the team in the role of being responsible for delivery requires the project manager to be a facilitator, not the dictator or even the sage. Facilitating leadership acts like a supercharger to the Agile process, turn one internally motivated and critically thinking mind into many; and driving speed and innovation through leveraging all talents on the team. At the heart of these processes are decision making, tasking, and continuous improvement that must be well facilitated to create a sustainable and adaptable team.

Concepts: self-organizing teams, facilitating leadership, decision science, continuous improvement

Session 4: Control

Agile provides more control for project managers and executives than Traditional management. This statement is hard to believe, since the greatest criticism and challenge today for many organizations is Agile Governance. But upon inspection, Agile provides greater opportunities of control and risk management. Transparency with daily standup meetings, validation with regular deliveries of working product, and the ability to re-direct efforts based feedback at regular intervals (e.g. sprints). These levers of control far exceed traditional management methods of earned value management (EVM), which relies on estimates and no changes in scope. The key to unlocking the control potential is to learn what to manage, and how to measure it. The answer varies across levels of management, separating the concerns between the organization and the team. For the organization, the focus is on what capabilities are delivered and how to measure return on investment (ROI) capabilities provide. For teams, it’s a focus on team velocity and how to ensure its measurement is useful for diagnosing internal and external productivity constraints.

Concepts: team velocity, process improvement, EVM, earned capabilities, portfolio management

Session 5: Scale

Scaling Agile projects over time and multiple teams requires new approaches to engineering and coordination, unlocking the potential to scale organizations with stability. Agile offers methods for ensuring team sustainability through timeboxes and continuous improvement, integrating efforts through vertical and service-oriented architectures, and maximizing efficiencies for support teams (e.g. architects, operations, subject matter experts, etc.) through lean-scaling. Methods of delivering just-in-time (JIT) and the use of automating communication offer new levels of productivity when coordinating teams with shared resources. Agile practices such as cross-training, component reuse, and sprint reviews drive sharing across otherwise siloed teams. And the overall practice of continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) forces teams across product lifecycle to interact and consider up- and down-stream implications. Together these practices build on team- level Agile competencies and cutting-edge engineering methods to achieve delivery stability across the organization with sustainable speed, innovation, leadership, and control.

Concepts: team sustainability, agile systems engineering, support teams, integration and testing


Posted by Kathy Frankle on June 4, 2018