A few weeks ago I gave an Agile training session at the University of Aconcagua (UDA) in Argentina. The idea behind the workshop was to see if we could help make the university a more Agile organization, where projects achieve greater measurable success, and where the university responded more nimbly to student and market requirements.
During the event at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Administration, I was joined by 20 directors and senior management of the university to discuss how the principles of Agile project management can be used. Firstly we review the basis of a project: the project management principles and the “project manage triangle” (time, cost, scope and quality), next I introduce them into an Agile process to manage projects (Scrum). Could we implement Agile to help them manage their own (typically non-technology related) projects? The workshop consisted of both understanding the theory of Agile, as well as putting everything into practice. They played as team members of an agile team to understand how important is to plan a project, know team skills, manage the available time and think in client satisfaction. They worked during two hours to develop a new product. They really worked, thought, learned, laugh and enjoy the moment.
I want to share here some of my highlights from the session, because I think many other organizations can learn from them. As we’ll see, the principles of Agile project management can be implemented in diverse organizations (in this case a university), and not just technology departments.
Based on the principles of Agile we came to realize:
- The importance of planning and preparing projects, and understanding the purpose and scope of each project within the guidelines of the university.
- The importance of the product owner in projects. In Agile the product owner is one of the key roles, because it is the product owner who sets the vision for the project, and who provides clarity to the requirements and needs for the rest of the team. It is also the product owners’ responsibility to help keep the project on track and ensure deadlines are kept.
- The development and importance of teamwork. Together we can work towards achieving successful results, with everyone contributing their own experience and knowledge from the perspective of their own role. While individuals may be coming from different areas, it is imperative that everyone knows and understands the purpose of each project.
- Understanding the well-known story of pigs and chickens: the difference between being committed to a project and being involved in a project. In discussions with the faculty we discovered that this discussion led to them realizing they need to work on their “commitment” as counselors.
- The importance of standard and flexible working practices in order to measure performance.
- “Communication is key”. During the workshop we realized it would help the university if there was a common vocabulary so people had the same understanding of common issues. This would help create fluid dialog, while also helping councilors better serve the needs of their students.
- The faculty members came to realize the difference between those projects that would help the university meet mandatory requirements, and those which require effective change management in order to adapt to the market and new generations of students.
- At the end of the workshop we put together a “product backlog”. In Agile terminology this, very simply, means a list of things that need to be done. But in doing so, you realize the importance of first finding agreement on what needs to be done, and how the university manages scarce resources and time. It showed the importance of planning the product backlog. Based on this prioritization, we could start to use Scrum meetings, and see just how useful the daily standup meeting is, followed by the sprint review and retrospectives after delivering the final product.
From my perspective it was a very rewarding session, where we could see the progress as we put together the team, to concentrate and laugh at the decisions and results, and to discuss simple aspects but with a clear objective. It was clear at the start how individuals had different perceptions of the project/problem to be solved, but by using the framework of Agile we were able to reach consensus.
In concluding the workshop, I came away with the following thoughts and advice for other organizations:
- Keep it simple and stupid (“KISS” approach).
- We can tackle new projects, but it helps if we are working in a team and developing our own Agile processes
- We can enjoy work and at the same time look for ways to do things differently
- We need to become more involved in teams, develop patience and persistence, both for specific projects as well as for operational work
- We need to give projects greater visibility and measure success (using metrics such as return on investment and measuring the results compared to the requirements)
- To start new challenges depends on the will and attitude of each person
And finally, I saw respect for those who had intelligent proposals to solve simple problems. I saw the frustration that could occur when it was necessary to change a team member. I saw dialogue between people who usually never work together. I saw many positive changes during the workshop as they accepted the challenge to become an Agile organization.
In the words of Lao Tze, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.