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The Baking (Agile) Manifesto – Collaboration and Creativity (#1 in the series The Baking (Agile) Manifesto)
By Melanie Carasso

Today I present the guiding principles of my project & program management career, neatly captured in the Baking Manifesto. Inspired by the well-known Agile Manifesto, these are the core values I’ve been forming and adapting over the past eight years to boost the success of my software projects and programs.

  • Collaboration and creativity over silos and cookie-cutting
  • Trust and a light touch over frequent temperature checks and thorough mixing
  • Adapting to changing conditions over following a recipe
  • Delicious results your customers will love over Aunt Mabel’s Christmas pudding

That is, while there is value in the items on the right for some programs, I value the items on the left more.

I know what you’re thinking. “Is this just another lame analogy, or are there useful tips and lessons in the Baking Manifesto that could actually help me?” Read on!

Collaboration and creativity over silos and cookie-cutting

Years ago I knew of a project manager who spent most of his day staring at his computer screen, making infinitesimal adjustments to his project’s Gantt chart until it was time to go home. He was rarely seen talking to the developers on his team, or to anyone else. His schedule may have been perfectly correct, but since he skipped over the part where you ask the team for their input in creating the schedule; omitted to tell them about the tasks they should be working on; and forgot to share any status updates with management, the team, or the customer, the schedule was useless. The project failed, and the project manager was politely shown the door.

Collaboration is one of the most important skills you’ll need if you want to be a good project manager. To move up to program management, it is essential. The more you seek input from your team, your peers, your sponsors, your managers, and your customers, the stronger your project’s performance will be. Collaboration helps establish buy-in to your project, makes your plans more accurate now and more adaptable later, builds positive relationships that will be helpful in future, and generates ideas you would not have thought of on your own. You can ask your team members for their opinions and still be a strong leader. You can confer with your peers and still be the guy in charge of the project. Too shy to collaborate? Ask your manager for specific communications training and support. Once you step away from the Gantt chart and start talking to people, you’ll find out much more about how your projects are really going, and you’ll also have a lot more fun.

Creativity might be seen as contrary to the disciplines of project- and program-management. If you’ve studied for the Project Management Institute’s PMP Exam, or read their Standard for Program Management, you’ll know how much value is placed on rote-learning the knowledge areas, process groups, inputs, outputs, tools, techniques…. I’m not saying all that stuff is bad – I think it provides a decent basic framework – but without a nice thick layer of creative thinking and experimentation on top of your textbook knowledge, you’ll find yourself taking the same approach for each new project, managing your team in the same old way year after year, and submitting the same tired project reports until not even the CFO wants to read them anymore. Where’s the flavour explosion in that?

So try to mix it up as often as possible, and maximise the chances of new ideas sprouting. Throw away those stodgy risk and change register templates, trial a new scheduling tool, send yourself off to a funky user conference, talk to your customers, subscribe to a new blog. And, just like collaborating, that generous frosting of creativity will make work a lot more fun. Seriously.

Time to whip up a batch of blueberry pancakes now, but in my next article we’ll look at the second value in the Baking Manifesto – “Trust and a light touch over frequent temperature checks and thorough mixing”. In the meantime, may your pastry be light and your egg wash golden.

Melanie Carasso is the program manager at Atlassian, an Australian software company that develops collaboration and development tools including JIRA and Confluence. Melanie has been managing software projects and programs for the past 8 years in various regions of the waterfall-agile spectrum, at telecommunications, medical management and industrial automation companies. Before diving into software project management, Melanie worked as a research scientist in microelectronics and fiber optics at Bell Labs and IBM in the US. She holds a PhD in chemistry from the University of Sydney and is PMP certified. In her blog, The Agile Program Manager, she shares her thoughts on managing programs in an agile way.

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