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Episode 40 – How to deal with uncertainty in Agile Project Management

In this week’s episode of Project Management Paradise, Johnny speaks with Emma Sharrock, author of The Agile Project Manager. Emma shares some great insights about how to deal with the uncertainty in Agile Project Management as well as other tips relating to Agile.

Based in Melbourne, Australia, Emma started off her career as an officer of the watch in the Royal Strand Navy where her role was to drive and navigate a ship with some elements of war fighting also involved. She admits she was tempted into the world of Project Management after running a number of projects during her time in the Navy. She loved how projects were run, the coordination of people in managing projects and also really liked the idea of working in the corporate world; all reasons behind a Project Management career decision.

Working as a PM and Change manager since the early 2000’s, Emma developed a passion for the people side of change which ultimately was a leading contributing factor to deciding to write her book. Making a number of references to her time in the Navy, Emma states that she likes to say her first agile experience was in the early 2000’s but in reality, she prefers to say her first Agile team was her bridge crew where everyone across different functions worked as a team and helped each other.

Sharrock now works for herself, coaching teams for a number of clients and running project planning workshops aiming to help organizations get clarity in what they want to do. She is also involved in training, currently working with partners to develop training material on Agile while also working as a personal coach with a number of private clients.

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Episode 40 – “How to deal with uncertainty in Agile Project Management”

When asked about the biggest challenge faced by organisations implementing Agile, people seems to be the overall recurring theme with Sharrock suggesting this is down to fear of uncertainty. “People don’t fear change but they do fear loss”, a quote which represents changing the way people have always known to something that is unknown. The biggest challenge in this is to understand the fears and helping people overcome these fears by helping them to understand that this is actually a good way of working.

Suggesting that implementation needs to be in small steps rather than revamping everything, Sharrock suggests that Agile should be introduced gradually making sure people feel “safe” with a small level of uncertainty they can get used to.

When it comes to customer needs, a frequent issue is that customers do now always know what they want, even though they might think they do. When we start to deliver what the customer tells us they want in an Agile way, they may decide they want something else when they see some, leading to confusion, uncertainty and stress. This shows the importance of showing the work to the customer regularly to stay on track.

There is a need to integrate customer activities and conversations with to reduce or avoid a technical debt where something that is quick and easy to implement is selected rather than the best solution and will possibly require redoing in the long run. “Technical teams need to be at the table with customers when work is being prioritized” says Sharrock with Johnny commenting anything else is just “kicking the can down the road and … it is just getting bigger”.

On the issue of PPM software and how it is detrimental to running a portfolio, Emma considers the benefits an organization wants to achieve by implementing a solution. Senior management want to see a nice clean report showing what’s going on at any time, current cost status, project timing/delays and risk analysis etc.

It is “important to have a single view over the portfolio to see where things are going” and it is important to have this information available to the team. Emma suggests a wall showing information on what is happening across the organization, what’s in the pipeline etc. giving transparency as part of an agile environment.

PPM Software

PPM Software allows visibility and collaboration across the organisation, engaging with the right people and involving them in the process, and it allows teams to see what is in coming through on their pipeline. Emma believes that the software must be simple to use to allow:

  • Project managers to provide reports
  • PM’s to engage with their stakeholders
  • Visibility across all stakeholders
  • Drive progress in projects.

Senior executives must be able to go to one place and see how projects are developing with snapshots of any important information that needs to be captured such as risks, timelines and milestones.

To conclude the interview, Johnny asks Emma to provide two reasons on why we should buy her book;

  • “I wrote it for myself when getting my head around running projects and managing change” suggesting readers would get useful information from it in this respect.
  • She also tells she received great feedback and suggests it will allow PM readers to connect why they do what they do!

Show Notes

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