project management, agile

Death of the Project?

The Standish Group’s Chaos Report of 2015 stated that ‘Over the last 20 years the project management field has experienced increasing layers of project management processes, tools, governance, compliance and oversight. Yet these activities and products have done nothing to improve project success.’

As a project professional, this makes me sad (especially the ‘done nothing’ bit!). But it also makes me question the relevance of projects in today’s fast paced, constantly changing world. Are we trying to apply old thinking to a new world that needs a different approach? As a Project Manager in the early 2000s, it was pretty normal for me to be given a business case, form a team and get a project done. Over the course of the project, we would all get to know each other, work well and achieve our goals. At the end of the project we would have a boozy, teary farewell and all go our separate ways. Sometimes to be reunited on another initiative months or years later. We did great work. And we did it despite the processes, tools and governance etc. Not because of them.

The Need for Great Project Teams

Project teams are essential to achieve unique objectives. And forming a project team takes time. Forming a great project team takes a lot of time. And it’s all worth it when you achieve the result you set out to achieve. It may still be worth it if you achieve only part of the objective. But then you start all over again. Most likely with different people (or a variation). Requirements have a tendency to change, and a great project team takes those changes in their stride by staying connected to the purpose and ensuring transparency of changes.

Done well, the project can be considered successful. Regardless, the team spends time reflecting and sharing lessons with the team and the wider organisation. Hopefully, these lessons are absorbed so the same mistakes aren’t made again elsewhere in the organisation.

However… It’s a lot of work (re-work) to do. I wonder if there is a better way?

The Emergence of the Long Lived Delivery Teams

When organisations move to more Agile ways of working, they firstly formalise what project teams should be doing anyway. They plan well together, ensure transparency of progress, priorities and changes and reflect often. Teams form and start to work together on organisational priorities that may or may not be part of that thing called a project. Organisations start to see the benefit of these teams working this way and think – what if they could stay together? So when this piece of work is finished, they could roll straight on to the next project/ organisational objective?

The teams stay together and continuously improve, taking on new work. What does this mean for projects? Project Managers start to panic, thinking they’re not needed, but really they are more needed than ever. We just need to think differently about change.

The Agile Project Manager

The traditional Project Manager doesn’t automatically become a scrum master or iteration manager (or they might choose this path). The truly Agile Project Manager still works to achieve the initiative’s objectives, utilizing the team as a whole team of skilled and motivated individuals. The truly Agile Project Manager will recognise that there are a number of people in the team who can do certain tasks, and will facilitate collaboration and sharing on the critical tasks so there is no key person risk. At the same time, they engage their stakeholders well, and look to deliver small units of value early. They may have a number of long lived delivery teams working on an overall initiative. So some level of ‘orchestration’ is required to ensure the teams understand any critical dependencies. They work with the priorities and limitations within the teams, keeping outcomes highly visible.

Getting things done in the new world

… May well still be through projects. Or not… Either way, we can’t ignore the power of a team that has worked together for ‘long time’ (this could be as short as three months!). How might we harness this powerful tool to still achieve great results AND have engaged people and teams. Worth a thought?

Like what you read? I am so passionate about this I wrote a book about it. Download the first chapter for free here. Or go here to buy it for you and your friends!



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About Emma Sharrock

Emma is the author of The Agile Project Manager: Thrive in Change with Agile. An experienced change leader, Emma is passionate about working with people to facilitate successful change. Emma utilises Agile techniques, coupled with the Agile mindset to coach leaders and teams to achieve their business goals.