I started life as a software developer after I graduated from university. I did about 18 months of Java development and .Net development. But quickly realized that I had a lot more strength in the delivery management or project management areas. So I really got started in project management in 2011. I started working for British Telecom in theUK, managing small projects for a small group of people- very much small scale IT development. It was all internal work for BT. Teams were of the sizes 10 or 15 or so people. That went on for a while, so I was representing a team and coordinating the effort. I was doing this for about 12 months when I started moving towards an agile way of thinking.
I picked up Ken Schwaber’s book on SCRUM and I really started changing my perception of project management to more team led, in terms of handing a lot more responsibility back to the team, allowing them to make more decisions. Trying to get the teams thinking about project management in their own way rather than one person leading it and trying to get my customers involved more.
Now you are an agile coach and consult companies. You started with the traditional approach to project management and then you moved on to agile. So if today I were to ask you what would be your vision for project management, how would you respond?
I think it is changing, I think it is changing very fast. I think certainly over the last four to five years project management is being handled in a very different way. Even large organizations (which are very project management intensive) are starting to realize that “project management” isn’t something that can be solved by a single person on one project. The issues that teams are having, the responsibilities fall in different areas.
And I see “project management” being done not necessarily by any one person; it’s more of a shared responsibility. And certainly customers and business partners need to be more project management aware and a lot more of their risks are in their own hands. And in the last four to five years business partners and customers started to realize that. They can have a lot more control themselves, rather
than have laying all that control into one person – the project manager.
My vision to how it is going to change is that it will become a lot more subtle, a lot more shared. I don’t think a lot of organizations are going to have massive amounts of project managers, in fact I see less project managers in future. More teams are going to take more responsibility and customers are going to have more control.
Project mangers will have a different focus – some project managers will be more interested in helping businesses and helping build products. Other project managers are going to move into team leadership, coaching and facilitation. There will be less of a command and control ethos around project management. It will be more of a reality based approach where teams have control of their own futures and customers ultimately drive results.
We can see that in the SCRUM teams now. With this future in mind, do you think PMs are coping well with this transition? And what are some of the things they should be doing to prepare for this future?
Good project managers will adapt. Good project managers will still see themselves as a very vital part of the future of IT development and software development. The good ones will adapt to where they are helping teams, enabling teams or maybe they are helping customers. Or some people see themselves as organization problem solvers. There is still a place for these people, I am not suggesting that they are not going to be there, but the focus is rapidly going to change. The clever and the astute project managers will see themselves as having a great skill.
What I think we will see less of is space for project managers who just want to control a Gantt chart or control people. With the rise of the agile movement, teams are starting to realize that we can still get great results from having autonomy and being trusted to get the job done. Only a very foolish project manager will see themselves out of the job. They really have to change their focus and look where their strengths are and exercise those strengths in the right way.
You mentioned autonomy. One of the challenges people face is to install this sense of autonomy in the teams. Some teams are so geared towards the traditional project management that they expect someone to tell them this is what you need to do by this date, then you do this. What are some of the things you do to take these people out of this mindset?
In my experience in being a coach and a trainer, it is a minority of people. Most people will see a benefit from this more autonomous way of working. Some people need to see it to be convinced. Other people just need time. Other people need to be constantly led. It’s about leadership, being prudent and proving to people over time that this is where we were and look at where we are now. In my experience, it’s been a small minority of people who have said that I don’t want to work this way. As adults we should be paid to think for ourselves, paid to be creative people. I think we overlook that in a very project management heavy organization where we have almost treated people a bit like children assuming that they need to be spoon-fed a requirement and constantly checked-up on.
Some people have a fundamental lack of trust for other people in the organization. You find in most cases it is the organization culture rather than the individuals themselves. I come from a big company background, where the culture of the company will eventually rub off on the individual. And sometimes it will take a longer time for these people and for the culture to change, or for those people to move out of the company.
In the coaching that you do around agile, are you primarily coaching the teams or do you also coach the management and executives?
Both. What I do now is I coach all the way through. So I will be coaching teams on how to do SCRUM effectively, how to be more agile, what benefits they can get, what are the improvements to their teams. I am also working with the coaches, so I coach other coaches to help them become more agile. I also talk to senior managers – CEOS, CIOS – who maybe have mandated a change and getting a wrong response from the people. Maybe they are becoming agile for the wrong reasons. So it is really try and define it for those senior managers, what benefit you are trying to get from changing the organization, why you need to change? What’s changed in the last three to five years? People will only change if there is a genuine reason to do so.
You are the first people I am speaking to about project management from the UK. I was just curious to know what your sense of adoption of agile is. What type of companies are using agile, what kind of projects?
I came from BT, which is regarded as one of the largest agile transformations to date. BT is a global organization of 100,000 people or more. Many other big companies inUKare taking on a very similar approach. It does range to all the way down to some of the smaller companies. I was just yesterday working on a company of no more than 20-30 people. For those companies the transformation can happen a lot quicker. It can certainly be communicated a lot quicker, and can be understood a lot easier.
The UK generally is a very traditional country. We like tradition; in fact I would even say we love tradition. In a lot of our public sector the government agencies are very resistant to any type of change. The way that projects have been done in a public sector and government projects has been the same for a great many years. InUKwe have a lot of older companies, where change becomes a lot more difficult and a lot more uncomfortable.
We also have some small successes. There are still some very big companies doing some very waterfall projects. That will change over time – either their approach will change or those companies will disappear. There is a lot more competition now from smaller, more agile start-ups in theUK.
What would you consider some of the critical success factors for introducing agile at an enterprise level?
At that level you certainly need some senior support to transform a way of working and thinking. People need to understand the vision for why they are doing it; people need to understand what the goal is. The more we have to change, the more consistent the message needs to be, the more well understood the principles of agile needs to be. So you need both a driving force at the top of the organization and you need a supportive structure whereby feedback from the teams on the ground is noted and acted upon. How the policies need to change, how the structure needs to change needs to be heard.
And you also need solid engineering foundation. In a large organization where you are building and scaling and deploying multiple complex products, teams need to have a well-established foundation in quality code. Quality software, quality build and deployment practices where by they can effectively build production standard code in every SPRINT.
So those are the things I think you need – a very strong message from the top, an enabling support structure and solid engineering practices on the ground.
Looking back at your own career, can you identify any tipping points or decisions because of which you went to the next level? Does anything bubble up to the top?
How about working with certain people in certain organizations? At BT at the time there was one guy who told me to read a book, told me to try out and said you will some benefit from doing this. At that point there was no one else doing agile in the company; it was very much a gamble. But luckily that changed my direction completely at that point in time. Had I not read that book, had I not done those things, I would probably still be in the same organization now doing the same things in the same way. And from there I have been “catapulted” into a different way of thinking and tried to help other people think in that way too. I never thought of myself as someone who would be teaching and coaching right now.
I am very grateful for that, that I took that risk and listened to the advice at that time. That scaled from there, BT went on a much bigger agile journey and I was part of that, a dedicated team doing agile coaching. From there I have gone on to work at Nokia, a place where people wanted to hear about my experience and learn from them. And now as an independent trainer and coach, I meet people that are very much starting out on this agile journey. And it really shocks me that this is a journey that I started in 2002 – along time ago. It’s crazy how my world has changed in these last 8 – 9 years as a result of trying one project differently. The book I read was Ken Schwaber’s Agile Software Development with SCRUM.
When you proposed this agile approach to your team for the first time, what was their reaction?
I was lucky; it was a team I was working with for a while. We had some resistance, don’t get me wrong, some people needed to be convinced and some thought it was just more overhead. But when they saw the joy of delivering something that the customer wanted and liked to see, ahead of the predicted timescales, it increased the team morale, it bought the customer into our team too. Everyone started looking at what we were doing and wanted to know more.
Other than your day job, what are some of your hobbies and other interests?
When I am not working I am trying to make time for my two children. I have two young children – two and a half and five months old. My hands are full when I am not at the keyboard or at a client location. Besides enjoying family life I play rugby, volleyball, I like to fish, and go to the cinema with friends.
Paul’s Website: http://www.agilify.co.uk