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The Baking (Agile) Manifesto – Results Your Customers Will Love (#4 in the series The Baking (Agile) Manifesto)
By Melanie Carasso

Finally we’re up to the last, and most important, value in the Baking Manifesto:

Delicious results your customers will love, over Aunt Mabel’s Christmas pudding

One of the things that puzzles me about Christmas is how the Christmas pudding is still part of the ritual. Growing up in Australia, where Christmas happens in the middle of summer, we still had the traditional northern-hemisphere hot roast turkey and baked vegetables for lunch. Crazy. These days I can happily report that many Australian families like mine now head straight for the fishmarkets and serve up a fabulous cold lunch of fresh seafood, crisp salads, and cold ham or turkey, instead of the hot roast.

But in my family, we still can’t let go of the pudding. It’s a winter dessert, and there are so many better choices available (fresh mangoes, strawberries & nectarines in a salad; a lovely chilled cheesecake; premium ice cream with homemade chocolate sauce and more fruit…), but still it appears on the table every Christmas Day. I’ve called for its demise but I always get outvoted. It doesn’t even taste very good in my baking-elitist opinion.

What does this have to do with program management? Well, it took me several years to realise that the project charter I started out with at the beginning of a new project may not be the ideal scope & purpose for the project halfway through, or even towards the end. I found it all too easy to get wrapped up in the original goals, and the performance of my team, and the thousands of details that needed to be managed along the way. Sometimes we wouldn’t have much contact with the end-customer until we got to beta testing, and in waterfall-ish projects it is extremely difficult to change direction at that point, once the customer feedback starts rolling in.

Eventually I realised the limitations of this approach, and started to think much more about what our customers really wanted from the software my team was delivering. I started suggesting some ideas to the product managers, and generally being a lot more helpful (much to their surprise) when they wanted to introduce changes to my projects. In agile environments this behaviour is a way of life, and I enjoy it much more. It’s more difficult, because you have to be more broad-minded and adaptable, but I’ve found it results in software that generates much more positive feedback from customers, and that your whole team is much prouder to have worked on.

Keeping customer value in mind is vital at the program level, where you are responsible for producing strategic benefits from your company’s investments. It is tough to keep coordinating the many changing parts of the program without losing momentum, especially as the reworking of one project’s mission will almost certainly impact the other projects in the program. However, if you and the product managers are making the right choices, your customers will be delighted. Those delighted customers will result in revenue gains and a great reputation for your products. And once that happens, no one will miss Aunt Mabel’s pudding.

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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