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The Scrum PMO

The Scrum PMO
By Russell Whitworth

The challenge is this: How do you make Agile Scrum work in a traditional corporate environment? The problem is simple to state, but the solutions are frustratingly complex.

I am a strong believer in Agile Scrum. I like the theory, and I have plenty of experience of it succeeding in practice (having served as a team member, ScrumMaster, Product Owner and as an agile coach).

The challenge

Scrum is usually represented something like this:

Typical Scrum representation

Figure 1: How Scrum is typically represented

Part of its power is the simplicity of the model. The Product Owner sets the priorities, the ScrumMaster coaches and facilitates the team, and the self-organizing Team gets on with the work. It works very well.

Unfortunately large organizations now throw two huge spanners into the works:

  1. Governance. Meaning stage gates. Typically there will be a formal and complex corporate hoop to jump through in order to move between project phases (such as from “Feasibility” to “Detailed Design”, or “Alpha” to “Beta”, or “Planning” to “Delivery”).
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How Are We Feeling Today?

How Are We Feeling Today?
By Russell Whitworth

The concept of a “project health check” is well known, and yet not widely applied. Which is strange, because in my experience it is one of the most powerful techniques for project assurance. Perhaps would-be practitioners don’t understand how to go about it? Or could it be seen as too much of an overhead? Maybe there is confusion between a health check and an audit – resulting in fear?

In this blog post, I will describe a simple and effective health check method; one that I have applied successfully dozens if not hundreds of times.

Performing a Health Check

The basic format is this. The reviewers sit down with the project manager for a 2-3 hour meeting, and hold a structured conversation regarding the project. During the course of the conversation, the most relevant issues facing the project are discussed in detail, and brief findings and recommendations are written down. Read the Complete Article

Six Project Management Themes from 2013

Six Project Management Themes from 2013
By Russell Whitworth

Over the last year I have worked with a variety of clients, each with unique challenges. There have also been some common themes. It is the time of year for a bit of reflection, so here are the things that have struck me about project management in 2013.

  1. We’re all overworked

    Having too much to do is surely far better than getting bored. Being busy is fun, exciting, challenging and stimulating up to a point – but can ultimately lead to stress, physical and mental illness and inefficiency if it goes too far. It’s a fine line.

    The key to coping here is prioritisation, at a personal and corporate level. Corporately, the trick is to allocate scarce resources to the right projects, i.e. portfolio management. The science and discipline is well-understood, yet it is poorly executed in practice. I find this strange, since it should be obvious that investment in portfolio management can easily be justified by the savings of avoiding wasted projects.

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Coaching for Project Managers

Coaching for Project Managers
By Russell Whitworth

This week I spent some time talking to a potential client about coachin-g and project management. The discussion was split into two parts:

  1. Coaching of project managers. In other words how to set up a coaching and mentoring scheme to support the development of top PMs.
  2. Coaching for project managers. How PMs can apply coaching skills in the their day-to-day work.

This blog focusses on the the latter. The former is an even bigger topic, that I will return to on another occasion.

The ability to apply a coaching style is a management skill, not just a project management skill. Actually, it is more than that – it is a life skill… and I know I’m at risk of sounding a bit too “new age”!

Coaching is about helping an individual to unlock their potential. From that definition it should be clear that this is a valuable skill for a sports team manager, a project manager, a line manager, and indeed for a parent. Read the Complete Article

Project Start-up Meetings

Project Start-up Meetings
By Russell Whitworth

You know what they say about first impressions? Good. I won’t bother repeating it, then.

For a Project Manager, the Project Start-up Meeting is that chance to make a positive first impression with the team. So it is perhaps surprising how often PMs just seem to “wing it”, without really having thought about the objectives, purpose and process of the meeting. Even worse, some PMs simply don’t seem to bother… which rather sets the tone for the rest of the project.

In response, I offer you this five-minute guide.

The Start-up Meeting is an opportunity to:

  • Ensure everyone understands the purpose of the project. The “big picture”, if you like.
  • Gain commitment and ownership from the team, by involving them in thinking through the process and outcomes.

  • Work through and overcome perceived objections and obstacles.

  • Establish ground rules and working relationships.

  • Display and promote the project manager’s leadership abilities.

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The Sixth Essential in Project Management: Suppliers

The Sixth Essential in Project Management: Suppliers
By Russell Whitworth

This article is part of a series. You can find the previous article here.

When I have reviewed projects in the past, “supplier problem” is the most common reason I hear for projects running into difficulty. To some extent, this might be a convenient excuse: it is easy to blame something or someone outwith the project rather than admit failure within the project team. But the PM doesn’t get off the hook that easily, as there are techniques that will improve the chances of project success.

It is really difficult to generalize, as each project situation is different with respect to suppliers. Suppliers range from internal suppliers (such as a test team, office facilities, or HR) through to major sub-contractors supplying multi-millions of equipment and services.

Often, the internal suppliers are the hardest to manage. The problem is lack of accountability to the project manager. Read the Complete Article

The First Essential of Project Management: Benefits

The First Essential of Project Management: Benefits
By Russell Whitworth

This post is the first of a series of seven that will introduce The Seven Essentials of Project Management.

When I conduct a project healthcheck, I normally start quite informally by asking the project manager to tell me about their project. The response sets the tone for the rest of the meeting. Most PMs will dive into the “what?” of the project – what it is they are doing (scope), the challenges they face (risks), and the reasons they are behind schedule (plan). These are the topics that are worrying them, and without doubt need to be explored in the healthcheck.

The best PMs start by explaining the “why?” of the project. Why are we doing it at all?

There are several reasons why it is critical for the PM to understand and to be able to articulate the benefits:

  • In managing the project, the PM (in conjunction with other senior stakeholders) will often need to make priority calls.
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The Seven Essentials of Project Management

The Seven Essentials of Project Management
By Russell Whitworth

Every Project Management “methodology” comprises a number of sections, chapters or knowledge areas. These are the basic building-blocks of project management excellence – the things that a PM needs to grasp firmly on a daily basis.

PMI’s PMBOK used to have 9 knowledge areas, and in the latest version it has 10. The APM Body of Knowledge has an astonishing 52. Such an extensive set has its place and its benefits, but as mental check-list it is all too much for me. I can just about commit seven items to memory, so my personal “Seven Essentials” are these:

  1. Benefits
  2. Scope and Quality
  3. Stakeholders and Communications
  4. Plan
  5. Team
  6. Suppliers
  7. Risks

It is my contention that a project manager is truly in control if they are taking care of each of these. Also, all project management knowledge and best practice can somehow be accommodated into this structure. Read the Complete Article

Recommended PM App

Recommended PM App

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