Hello everyone and welcome to part two of the Agile Project Management (APM) Series where we will focus our attention on the various phases of APM. As a quick reminder, part one outlined the foundational elements of APM that are based on the principles of the Agile Project Manifesto, which consists of four principles (flexibility, working products, customer collaboration and individuals). The culmination of these factors prevents the wasting of resources usually associated with the more rigid ‘Waterfall’ project methodology.

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Continuing on from this introduction, we will look at the process and first three phases of APM. Although process is not as valuable as the people that form a project, it is far from unimportant. The process needs to embody the principles mentioned above and in part one of the series. Hence, part two reveals the process that is conducive to a flexible and collaborative agile project. This process is a manifestation of the five phases of APM that are namely: Envision, Speculate, Explore, Adapt and Close. The APM process and its phases are depicted in the diagram below.

Fig.1. Agile Project Management Process Framework

The diagram shows us that before a final product can be released, it must first go through rigorous phases encapsulated by uncertainty. We will now take a more in-depth look at what each phase entails and their implications for APM.

  1. Envision Phase: – This phase is to determine the product vision and project scope, the project community, and how the team will work together. The term ‘envision’ is a clear departure from traditional phase names such as initiate and plan, which while subtle, is also significant. This is because when envisioning you inadvertently accept a level of mishap and are therefore ready to make any necessary adjustments, in contrast to a set plan which has more rigorous connotations. The envision phase covers the ‘Who? What? And how?’

    Without a vision, all other efforts of creating a successful project will not bear fruit. The truth is, creating a compelling vision is very challenging. It takes work and leadership. Due to the myriad of paths that can be pursued it can often be daunting to create a cohesive vision. Compounding the problem is there is in fact no fixed rule for creating a great visionary statement. Hence, it is important there is an effective leader to articulate a vision. The purpose of the envisioning phase is to clearly identify what needs to be done and how it is to be accomplished. Saying this, the envisioning phase should help answer the following questions:

  • What is the customer’s product vision?
  • What is the scope of the project and its constraints?
  • Who are the right participants to include in the project community?
  • How will the team deliver the project (approach)?

During the envision phase, the vision constantly changes as new information is gathered. Moving on from this stage; however, the vision should be reviewed periodically to ensure a clear understanding by all those involved in the project. From a more technical perspective, the envision phase can be broken down into four practices (vision, scope, community and approach). When creating a vision, a product ‘vision box’ or project architecture could be used to streamline a vision. For example, a product vision box forces the project team to condense information into limited space in a box. With regards to scope, a project data sheet forcing the team to condense key scope plans and limitations on a single page. Limiting the team to a single page or box for example, increases focus and collaboration and is likely to lead to better results. Community involves identifying and attracting the right people into the team, whilst the approach stage focuses on the final delivery process of the project. The diagram below illustrates these practices in diagrammatic form. Click here for info on PMP Salaries in 2015

Fig.2. Envision Phase Practices

  1. Speculation Phase

    Unlike planning, speculating establishes a target and direction, but at the same time, it indicates that we expect much to change over the lifetime of a project. Unlike speculation, plans are usually conjectures about the future where people often expect the result to come directly from the plan. Deviations from the plan are therefore viewed as negative unlike with speculation where results are generally viewed as positive. Speculation is only one piece of information that will be examined to determine our course of action when iterating. The result after speculating is a blueprint that outlines information about the products specification, platform architecture, resources, risk analysis, defect levels, business constraints and target schedules.

    There are two crucial components of an iterative planning and development approach- short iterative time boxes and features. Short iterations help to accelerate the progress of a project by encouraging the project team to think with limited time to accomplish all aspects of product development. For example, in iterative development, quality assurance activities are completed upon iterating. Thus, quality assurance staff members have to figure out how to be more effective and efficient than the previous iteration. With regards to features, product development features are driven by first creating a product feature and then an extensive list of the features. Also, since more products are starting to include embedded software, hardware and software features are now strong contenders for feature-driven projects. The first concern for feature-based planning should be to make the process visible and understandable to the consumer team. Often, the project team have allocated their time to making product specifications target the technical and engineering teams at the expense of consumer understanding. The project team should therefore note that features act as an interface between both engineers and consumers, and should work according to the understanding of both.

    Highsmith (2004) tells us that Agile project speculating enables the project team to accomplish the following:

  • Determine how the project and its features will evolve
  • Balance anticipation of features and design with adaptation as the project unfolds
  • Focus on the highest-value features early in the project
  • Think about the project, business goals, and customer expectations
  • Provide necessary budget and schedule information to management
  • Establish priorities for trade-off decisions as changes occur
  • Coordinate interrelated activities and features across feature teams
  • Consider alternatives and adaptive actions
  • Provide a baseline for analyzing events that occur during the project

It goes without saying that everyone accepts the premise that the business world constantly changes. However, few are able to mentally reverse the psychological effects of a past ruled by rigid processes. Thus, speculative phase is a solution for this.

  1. Explore Phase

    Now that we have gained an insight into the first two phases of APM, which are largely based on planned projections, we now draw our attention to the exploratory phase, which is founded on action. What is known as a Complex Adaptive System (CAS) is a collection of agents who explore to achieve a goal by interacting with each other according to a set of rules. A CAS experiments with various paths, selects and executes viable ones, compares the results against its goals and adapts as necessary. In a more project-specific sense, the project-manager’s goal is to help the team articulate and understand the goal and constraints, to help the team interact efficiently, to facilitate an effective decision-making process, and to be prepared for the inevitable eventuality of the project going off track. The project manager as the team builder contributes in six ways to project success:

  • Focus the team on delivering results
  • Moulding a group of individuals into a team
  • Developing their capabilities
  • Providing team with required resources
  • Coaching the customers
  • Orchestrating the team’s rhythm

Thus, the purpose of the project leader is to create highly efficient exploratory teams. Exploration and experimentation are the foundations of new product development that involve the risk of making mistakes, failing, and then learning from this failure. Project managers should respond by making risk-taking a lot less risky. This can be achieved by adhering to the three explore phase practices illustrated in the diagram below.

Fig.3. Explore Phase Practices

The first practice is team related, and is to deliver on objectives facilitated by effective management of team workload. The objective of workload management is to have members themselves manage the day-to-day activities required to deliver features at the end of iterations. As for technical practices and low-cost change, the objective of low-cost change is to reduce the cost of iterative development throughout the development and on-going support phases of a product. Project teams must (WORD MISSING) to this by getting rid of any ‘technical-debt,’ which is basically the difference between the actual cost of change and the optimal cost of change. It often occurs when project managers try to hurry their way through iterations without taking full consideration of the implications. Technical debt is pictured on the diagram below.

Fig.4. Technical debt

Project community on the other hand is geared towards project towards project managers. The objective of coaching and team development is to unleash the capability of the team by helping team members continuously improve their domain knowledge, self-discipline and team skills. Other practices include daily team integrating meetings to coordinate team members’ activities on a daily basis. Participatory decision making to provide the project community with specific practices to make various analytical decisions and finally, daily interaction with the customer team including product manager to ensure the product stays on track to meet customer requirements. Thus, all practices work in synergy creating an effective strategy to explore via various iterative processes.

In this article we have seen how important envision, speculation and exploration phases are in their contribution to successful agile project management. All require numerous technical and managerial practices that increase the chance of success. In the next part of the series we will complete the 5 phases by analyzing the adapt and close phases. In addition, we will learn about the various methodologies and software used to implement APM. Hope you have enjoyed learning about the first three phases, and I look forward to revealing more about APM.