Nov 17, 2008

Hard Times Call for Agility

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin in Culture & Change Management, Project & Program Management | 8 Comments

For an old-time print-publishing dinosaur like myself, publishing on a blog is the very essence of agility. The ability to “converse” with readers in real time seems as magical to me as the telephone must have seemed to a generation of folks accustomed to the pace of letter-writing. It also has an element of collaboration that enriches the usually solitary existence of this writer and editor: a “newsroom” feel, in which thoughts, opinions and resources can be shared at lightning speed.

(And then there is the thrilling ability to fix typos after you’ve gone to press--!)

Karen White wrote a couple weeks ago about the definition of agility, incorporating the ideas of teamwork and agency and iterative change; to this, I’d add that agility is a thing of our present internetworked age, a process deeply interwoven with the ability to collaborate, correct, and plan online or at e-speed.

The deep connection between the way we work now, and the tools that facilitate work, is the reason why IT has shown itself to be somewhat recession-proof over the past decade. And even now, in the face of what many forecasters are now calling “depression” rather than recession, I’ll go out on the limb and bet that those in IT who focus on the ways technology can facilitate agile collaboration and innovation will continue to thrive.

Likewise, project management has a tendency to flourish in rocky ground. Rework and missed deadlines, overrun budgets … all seem less drastic in a boom-times environment. When the mantra becomes “better, faster, cheaper,” project management—and project managers—have important contributions to make.

What’s really piquing my interest these days are the ways in which we can combine project management, agile methods, and collaborative technology to really pour alternative fuel on the fire (to coin a new phrase). At the CBP’s Strategy & Projects Summit last June, the CIO of the Kennedy Center, Alan Shapiro, delivered a presentation on the innovative ways his organization is using technologies we often associate with leisure time—Twitter, social networking, blogging, text messaging, wikis, Flickr, YouTube—to create community and manage projects at warp speed.

Such technologies are disruptive, said Shapiro, because they force project managers to think differently about process. “They can no longer see projects with a beginning, middle and end, but as a process of constant ongoing development.”

Given the shifting economic scene, I don’t think we will have the luxury to rest on our old laurels. Challenging times demand new tools. Here are just a few of the mentions I’ve found online of the ways companies are using new tech:

I’m curious to hear from others who are using these technologies in a business/project setting.


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    8 Comments on Hard Times Call for Agility

    Michael Beshears says:

    Jeanette, I am somewhat a PM dinosaur albeit I’ve found myself internally consulting in this space for the last 8 or so years.  I haven’t yet fully embraced the notion of Agile project management mainly because of the fear of quality degradation.  The whole world seems to be looking at faster, faster, faster as if we are all A.D.D. now! smile  Many of the projects I’ve worked in are process-related, infrastructure (non-application) and corporate real estate, and it’s not as clear to me how Agile methods could also work in those areas.  When there is still a need for thorough planning and analysis in project management, it seems that Agile poses an opportunity to “breeze through” what we know takes thoughtful planning.  It seems that the same ole issues that have caused projects to either get into trouble or perhaps fail, lead back to insufficient, ineffective means to gather what is truly needed and ensure a common and shared understanding of those needs as a means to develop a solution.  I guess it’s now boiling down to what is acceptable to our customers.  Is it now ok to have something a factor less than we expected in order to get it faster, cheaper at the expense of better?  I surely hope not and don’t think so.
    I know Agile has it’s place and quite honestly, I believe the buzz about it has been because folks want another wrapper around what is still fundamentally sound principles for project management; they’ve just not mastered those and looking for a quicker way to results.
    I appreciate the Blog and will be interested in where this goes.  In the end, I may need to be better educated in Agile principles!!!

    Posted on November 19, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Charlie says:

    Excellent!  Agile and Lean are in!
    Faster and Cheaper is definately the trend.  We must all drive out waste and rework.  Buracracy must go.  Better may take a back seat in 09.  A certain level of quality is required but fast, easy, and cheap are the drivers.

    Posted on November 19, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    New Strategy & Projects Blog « Crossderr says:

    [...] SAP.  Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin notes the increased use of social media in the project environment (here), which we already use in large parts of SAP and are expanding into new areas this [...]

    Posted on November 20, 2008 at 9:24 am

    Dennis Luhn says:


    I think you understand the problem! Agile isn’t necessarly about being faster, but rather about doing the right things sooner. The practices associated with “agile” are intended to tighten (and shorten) the feedback loop so not a lot of time (and money, of course) are wasted on completing activities instead of providing value. So who determines whether or not value is being provided? That would be the customers and/or the sponsors (the writers of the check(s) funding the effort). Most of the movers and shakers in the “agile” movement come from the world of Java programming, they tend to see the world their their “coding” filters.“If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.  The advanage software developers have is they can make large changes in functionality rather quickly with their code. The rest of us are left with solutions that are not quite so easily and quickly changed. Having said that, do not despair, “agile” concepts work quite well on the types of efforts you describe and can deliver amazing results. If your work requires careful planning and analysis up front, and it works, don’t change a thing. The evidence that I have seen, in person and in writing, seem to show that quality does not suffer a bit (there are always exceptions, of course). If your looking for a couple of resources that aren’t software specific: “Managing Agile Projects” by Sanjiv Augustine and “Agile Project Management” by Jim Highsmith. And, of course, this blog site.

    Posted on November 26, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Karen RJ White says:

    I, too, am perhaps a “PM dinosaur” given the years that I have spent delivering projects to organizations, so I read your comment several times before replying. You say: “I haven’t yet fully embraced the notion of Agile project management mainly because of the fear of quality degradation. The whole world seems to be looking at faster, faster, faster as if we are all A.D.D. now!” I too was a bit cautious in fully embracing agile approaches, taking pride in successfully delivering projects.

    I took some time to study and read, and explore and pilot, before I found approaches that I could comfortably apply to projects without risking project failure. After all, the whole reason organizations embrace project management is to mitigate the risk of a series of activities not delivering on some business objective smile  But, I had to also face the reality that yes, the pace of the business world is a WHOLE LOT faster than it was 25 years ago. Imagine if we had to do snail-mail or inter-office mail for all our correspondence!! (Separate topic there about the impact of technology on how we do business….)

    The approaches I ended up adopting for my projects mirrored concepts of lean product development - that is I questioned the value of every process I imposed on myself or on my project teams - did that activity contribute to the final project deliverable or did it help mitigate some risk? If the answer was yes, I then questioned HOW I did that activity. That in turn led me to adapting some of the concepts from visual planning and agile software development. And, for you CMMI readers, I did this in a Level 3 organization - through effective authorised tailoring of the accepted processes.

    It can be done - just requires honest discussions about effort and risk, and the willingness to try something new. One word of advice - no skunk-works! Engage your management and project sponsors in the discussions and get their buy-in and support.


    Posted on November 28, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    Kristen Kent says:

    I whole heartedly agree with your sentiments that as hard times get harder, PM’s roles become increasingly important. As companies tighten their budgets and keep a close eye on the bottom line, they can’t afford to allow for sliding deadlines and cost overrun.

    The only way to stand out is to be able to do projects that bring a company immediate and real value. The Project Management Professional certification is the one credential that can help you get in doors fast during these times when companies are seeking out top performers that will get the job done.

    Thanks Jeannette,


    Posted on December 17, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    PM Hut says:

    This year seems to be the year of Agile. Last month Toyota, as well as several other high profile companies, said they’re going to adopt Agile as PM Methodology. Clearly there is a lot of skepticism, but we shall see.

    I have to say though that Project Management, in general, is becoming more important by the day, and it’s currently the hot thing (there are Project Managers jobs in every field, education, IT, health, construction).

    PM Hut -

    Posted on February 10, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Ex Back says:

    After reading   this article, I just feel that I really need more information on the topic. Could you share some more resources please?

    Posted on April 8, 2009 at 7:55 pm

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