A More Agile Approach to Project Management for 2013

project management.jpgIt’s been a while since we’ve done an annual wish list for project management, and while we are a few days into the new work year, it’s not too late to think about some PM rules to live by for 2013.

Fluidity is key; rigidity can stifle project progress. Traditional frameworks call for a priori definitions of roles and responsibilities. In many highly successful organizations, models have been shifting toward more collaborative structures. Efficient teams are being built of all-rounders instead of silo’ed specialists. Such a staffing model provides more opportunity for agile workload balancing over the lifecycle of a project, and may enhance the team’s ability to bring the project in on time.

Managing your stakeholders expectations is more important than managing your project team. Let’s assume you have a skilled team and a well written project plan. Should you be spending most of your time micromanaging and tracking the status of their every move, or would you add more value by communicating more often and more directly with your stakeholders? Let’s stop considering communication a “soft skill” and recognize it as a key enabler of project success.

Change is not a necessary evil. Typically, the project management framework views change requests or change control as a negative, but the level of agility required for most businesses to survive make changes in scope a GOOD thing from a business perspective. Classic project management provides a framework for executing scope changes, and good project managers embrace the change requests, calmly, cordially, and without an attitude of tension or disdain.

Collaboration tools are no substitute for interpersonal interactions with your team or stakeholders. Email alerts, project portals, tablet apps that give visibility into project status are all great tools. but sometimes the best way to stay on top of progress is still to walk around with your issues and tasks lists, cruising by cubes and offices to get status updates in the context of informal conversations. The upside is it allows you to keep a finger on the pulse of the people who are important to your project, and it promotes better engagement. A phone call to remote team members is always appreciated. This is especially important with key executives. Firing off email requests for status is not the hallmark of a good PM.

Less is more. Lean thinking is everywhere these days (and I’m not talking about post holiday diets here). In the entrepreneurial community it’s all about minimum viable product. Agile methodology has pushed projects in the lead direction, with each iteration being a minimum viable release of sorts. In 2013, let’s think about minimal project structure. Rather than adding to a methodology, think more about what we can strip away to do it better, faster, cheaper.