3 Books to Begin Your Agile Product Management Journey!

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” -Mark Twain

agile image ha
Agile is one of the product development methodologies. Many organizations use it to manage software engineering projects. Agile methodology uses division of tasks in short phases with emphasis on delivering evolving product requirements. Scrum is one of the Agile frameworks. It is a flexible and holistic product development strategy where team works as a unit to deliver agreed upon requirements in short time-frame (typically weeks). Among other things, it puts greater emphasis in ongoing collaboration between team members and delivery of a working product. This article recommends three books to begin your Agile learning journey.

Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game by Alistair Cockburn
This book covers Agile methodology, principles and how to put it in practice. Agile manifesto calls for increased interactions, working software, collaboration and responding to change in requirements. Agile principles are about continuous delivery of working software, welcoming change in requirements, frequent delivery of working software, team collaboration, sustainable development practices, simplicity and ongoing reflections. Cockburn does a great job of explaining how to apply these principles in your software development projects.

You may have questions like ‘What is more important? working software -or- customer specifications?’, ‘How to balance between maintaining procedures and delivery of working product?’, ‘What is importance of effective collaboration/communication in Agile projects?’. This book addresses such questions and gives you a solid foundation to begin your Agile exploration.

Agile Project Management with Scrum, by Ken Schwaber
In this book, Schwaber covers overview of Scrum and share lessons learned. Book does a good job of describing Scrum principles, scenarios, user story writing and related concepts to give you a jump-start.

User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development by Mike Cohn, Kent Beck
Once you travel few miles on Agile journey you have to write user stories (equivalent of requirements in traditional development). You will learn an art of story writing from this book. Large requirements are broken down in multiple user stories and stories deliver tangible results (in the form of working software). This book introduces concept of user stories, art of story writing, transition to stories from requirements and effective use of stories with case studies. It also emphasizes collaboration between teams and appropriate use of stories to ensure customer requirement and product delivery are aligned.

Enjoy reading and Go Agile!

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Fortune 500 productivity gain worth $20M, 15-minutes at a time!

This infographic shows how a small act by product/project managers can result into huge productivity gain. According to one estimate, Fortune 500 companies lose $80M in unproductive/ineffective meetings. PMs can take a first step by reducing meeting duration by just 15-minutes and collectively save $20M per year. How about adjusting your meeting invites now?

Meeting Productivity Gain 10.11.2014

Small step of reducing meeting duration by 15 minutes = productivity gains of $20M/year.

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‘REALISTIC’ Project Requirements

REALISTIC Requirement 2

Requirement
“Something that is required; a necessity.”

Scenario: “You are a Project Manager and you just received a requirements document from one of the Business Analysts (or other responsible team member). You are not sure how to judge quality of requirements and you don’t have much time to refer requirements best practices manual. Where do you go?”
Spend next few minutes reading this article and you will be ready to provide meaningful feedback to your team!

Here are some of the requirement characteristics of good requirements.

Result-oriented. Requirement clearly defined a business need and guides designer/developers to build functionality to build (new functionality/feature) or improve existing functionality. As a Project Manager, you should flag requirement if requirement does not meet this criteria.

Effective. Requirement shall clearly articulate what needs to be delivered. Effective requirements clearly articulate ‘what’ needs to be delivered. Look for quantifiable measures (i.e. response time 3 seconds or less, seven reports etc) v/s ambiguous terms (i.e. as soon as possible, all reports etc).

Acceptable. Business user/stakeholders originate the requirements and assigned Business Analyst (or responsible team member) must vet all requirements with implementer. This acceptance will greatly reduce your project requirements delivery risk.

Labeled/ Categorized. Categorized requirements help scheduling, requirements elicitation, review and approval process. You can introduce project milestones per category instead of waiting for someone to complete all those five hundred requirements after three months.

Involvement/ Collaborate. Good requirements are result of collaboration between business, technology, vendor and infrastructure teams. As a Project Manager, you may have to handle additional ‘storming’ sessions during early stages. However, this will improve quality of requirements and end product.

Stakeholder Engagement. Stakeholders must be engaged in requirements elicitations process. Their role may be ‘Owner’, ’Reviewer’, ’Subject Matter Expert’ or ‘Approver’. Engaged stakeholder provides much needed business insight and guidance to make project successful.

Testable/ Verifiable. Rethink requirement if your test team cannot create test case to test the requirement. Engage test team lead early on to ensure requirements are verifiable. Do you have a Testing Lead? If not, it’s time to secure one!

Clear/Unambiguous. You may flag a requirement if it looks like algorithm instead of easy to understand english statement (i.e. use of keywords ‘or’, ’and’, ’not’, ’if then’, ’but’ etc). Such requirements may be interpreted differently by stakeholders and introduces re-work at a later stage. It is better to rewrite such requirements sooner than later.

Enjoy your requirements review journey!

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Software Development Methodologies I

Software dev methodology pic 4

“No matter how good the team or how efficient the methodology, if we’re not solving the right problem, the project fails.” – Woody Williams

This brief article outlines four popular software development methodologies including different approaches and some common themes. Each methodology has its own pros and cons and having some background on this subject will help you determine best path forward.

Waterfall. This methodology works best when you follow fairly sequential path from project initiation through deployment. Waterfall requires scope and requirements definition at the beginning of the project and design, development, testing and deployment follows. It requires comprehensive change management effort especially if scope/requirements change during later stages. This is a conventional methodology mostly used in large-scale enterprise projects. While it offers predictable project delivery it lacks speed and agility required to execute fast-paced product development.

Unified Processes (UP). UP phases include Inception (scope definition), Elaboration (architecture and risk identification/mitigation), Construction (basic function/features are available and product may require fine tuning) and Transition (product ready for end users). UP uses structured and rigorous documentation process including use cases and user scenario to define requirements. During design and architecture stages, UP uses component-based architecture, similar to object oriented programming, and UML (Unified Modeling Language) to document architecture and design. Many of the large enterprises use UP to streamline their project delivery capabilities.

Agile/Scrum. As name suggests, this methodology is ideal for fast-paced product development. It is highly adaptable, flexible and capable of delivering product even if product requirements continue to evolve. This methodology relies on regular team communication (often daily standup meeting) and quicker issue identification and resolution. Team continuously selects subset of requirements and delivers those within defined timeframe (aka Sprint).
Scrum is one of the Agile methodologies. Basic building blocks of Scrum includes team collaboration, functional product and process flexibility to cater to ever changing business needs. Typical Scrum roles are Product Owner, Scrum Master and Team Members. Product Owner creates vision and define/prioritize requirements. Scrum Master facilitates Sprint and ensures effective issue resolutions to meet Sprint goals. Team members have flexibility to choose their own ways to complete the tasks as long as their delivery support Sprint goals/objectives.

Extreme Programming (XP). XP relies on incremental planning, design refinement / product performance improvement, rapid development cycles, ongoing communication and immediate end user/customer feedback. All of these stages rely of team members’ commonsense (oftentimes extreme commonsense and hence methodology is called Extreme!). XP teams are generally self-managed with reduced emphasis on management and governance during product development lifecycle. Some other interesting aspects of XP includes ‘Team programming’ (one computer and two programmers), ‘Team ownership of product source code’ (anyone can change part of the code if necessary) and ‘Ongoing integration’ (code integration with rest of the system as soon as new code is ready and tested). You can leverage XP if you are in-charge of innovative product development.

Hope this article helps you put your priorities in order.
1)  Attempt to solve a ‘right problem’.
2) Define customer requirements, engage stakeholder(s) and deliver value to the customer.
3) Debate about and choose correct methodology to maximize your project success!

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Five ways for Project Manager to celebrate Earth Day

Celebrate Earth Day

“The supreme reality of our time is the vulnerability of our planet. ”
                                                                                          – John F. Kennedy

Earth Day is around the corner (April 22, 2013) so it’s time to review our project plans and see how can we do our part to help the planet. As a Project Manager, you are in unique position to integrate sustainability in your project planning and celebrate true spirit of the Earth Day.

Earth Day EEnvironmental Considerations / E-Waste Reduction. Include environmental considerations and electronic waste reduction goals in your project planning. You can help environment by optimizing project communications and deliverables to reduce number of emails and documents. It eventually reduces your computing/storage hardware needs and thus helps the environment. In addition, you may want to consider donating your used computing resources and gadgets to qualified organization if possible. Give yourself a STAR if you already follow these practices.

Earth Day AAdaptive Printing Practices. Do you know ‘How many trees we can save by not printing 500 pages?’ Approximately 5%. If twenty of colleagues follow this practice then you end up saving a tree. It is hard to resist temptation of printing but you can help environment by adapting reduced printing strategy. Use shared folder and other collaborative tools to share project documents instead of printing a big stack prior to your meetings. You may consider buying a projector (if you don’t have it already) so you can share documents with meeting participants. You can claim another STAR if you follow all these practices.

Earth Day RRenewable Resources/ Recycle. It’s time to have an environmental KPI (Key Performance Indicator) in your project measurement plan. This means using recycle paper (if you must print), partnering with eco-friendly vendors/suppliers, use of Energy Star rated computing devices and promote use of Hybrid/Electric vehicles for business travel. It’s time to award yourself another STAR if you already follow these practices.

Earth Day TTravel Reduction. It may be necessary to have face-to-face meetings, and associated travel, when you are in process of forming a team –or- working with a new client. However, you can leverage collaborative technologies (including audio/video conferencing) to work with establish teams (i.e. performing teams) and clients. This will reduce burden on your budget as well as help the environment. It is best to think about it upfront and include associated risks/benefits during project planning phase. You qualify for one more STAR if you follow these practices.

Earth Day HHibernate. That’s right – Hibernation is a good practice when your computing resources are not in use. Idea here is to extend this concept beyond your computing resources and save energy wherever possible. Be aware of your energy consumption at work. You may save some energy by switching off unnecessary lights, plugging of your unused servers, using energy efficient data center vendors and having a goal of reducing your per capita energy consumption on year over year basis. You deserve another STAR if you already follow all these practices.

Now it’s time to add all the STARs you earned. If you have three or more stars – It’s time for you to celebrate the Earth Day with your team. For everyone else, it’s time to make your project plan greener and wait for next year.

Happy Earth Day!

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Project Management Acronyms I

Project Management Acronyms

Ten frequently used Project Management acronyms and self-assessment questions (that’s bonus) to maximize your project success.

CMMI: Capability Maturity Model Integration. Process Maturity framework. Maturity levels are defined as (1) Initial (2) Repeatable (3) Defined (4) Managed and (5) Optimized.
Self-assessment: What is process maturity level in your project environment?

CPM: Critical Path Method. It shows series of tasks with minimum flexibility in project plan. Task delays, on critical path, will result in project delays.
Self-assessment: Are you closely watching your critical path tasks and resources?

EV: Earned Value. This is a calculation to monitor actual work completion v/s planned budge and estimated duration.
Self-assessment: How often do you perform EV analysis of your project?

NPV: Net Present Value. It compares value of today’s $ in the future (including inflation). Organization uses it to calculate financial benefit of longer-term projects/programs.
Self-assessment: Does your business case include NPV calculation?

PMO: Project Management Office. Sets up standards, framework, processes and policies to govern project planning, delivery and performance measurement.
Self-assessment: Which benchmarks do you use to measure success of your projects?

RFP: Request For Proposal. Request/Solicitation of proposal, from prospective suppliers/product vendors, to purchase product and/or services.
Self-assessment: Do you have a standardized approach for your RFP process?

SOW: Statement of Work. It defines description of work to be performed by vendor, supplier, internal department and third parties. Well-written SOW calls out product/services as well as deliverables.
Self-assessment: Have you clearly defined roles, responsibilities and deliverables – for your supplier and own internal organizations?

SWOT Analysis: Planning tool to evaluate (S)trenghts, (W)eakness, (O)pportunities and (T)hreats.
Self-assessment: What are you doing to address your team’s weaknesses?

TCO: Direct and indirect cost associated with asset over its entire life.
Self-assessment: Did you ask vendor about maintenance cost before making your purchase decision?

WBS: Work Breakdown Structure. Detailed hierarchical structure of project tasks/activities. Project Manager creates it during planning stage.
Self-assessment: Have you clearly defined and communicated tasks, deliverables and due dates for your project?

Enjoy and have a great day!

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Project Planning I

This article outlines some of the areas you want to watch out as your plan your project.

ADEPT for planning

Anticipation. Think about requirements and solution blue prints during planning stage. Factor in risks and mitigation plans during this stage. This will help you address issues and keep project on track as it progresses.

Define. Scope and charter definition is critical during planning stage. Having written/signed off scope and charter helps you measure actual v/s planned delivery. Scope and charter definition also defines elements of triple constraints. It eventually enables effective change management during subsequent stages.

Evaluate. Evaluate your project situation with ‘End Result’ in mind. Evaluation may help you negotiate unrealistic scope/budget/schedule expectations before it becomes too late.

Preparation. Preparation is critical during planning stage. Coach your team to use meetings wisely and spend necessary time to set agendas and invite necessary participants. Understand periodic budget and executive reporting requirements and prepare in advance to meet reporting deadlines.

Team/Tasks. Team management and task assignments are vital. Understand players and assign tasks accordingly. You may greatly increase execution effectiveness by properly assign tasks to appropriate team members. Leverage available technologies (i.e. video/audio conferencing etc) to maximize your team’s productivity.

Are you better prepared to plan your project now?

Enjoy!

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Project Life Cycle I

Project life cycle and quick checklist as you navigate through these stages. This is a partial list of important considerations to maximize chances of your project success.

ProjectLifecycle1a

Initiate

  • Receive formal go-ahead from project sponsor/s.
  • Understand the project context including anticipated benefits and challenges.
  • Assemble your team to initiate planning activities.

Plan

  • Kick-off the project. Invite representative from all parties including suppliers.
  • Define scope and charter, high-level project plan, key milestones, risk and issues management plan.
  • Forecast budget, secure resources and communicate guiding principles as well as project vision to teams. If you want to use brainstorming – this is the stage!

Execute

  • Establish and conduct periodic meetings with team. Use ad hoc meetings to build agreements to resolve issues/build agreements.
  • Track progress – plan v/s actual, actively manage risk and issues.
  • Keep management and stakeholders informed.

Monitor & Control

  • Remember triple constraint (i.e. Scope, Cost, Schedule). Keep an eye on deliverables/product quality.
  • Institute formal change management process and use it to avoid scope creep.
  • Monitor project progress (i.e. Plan v/s Actual). Adjust plan to align with execution realities.

Closing

  • Organize lessons learned. Apply learnings in your next project and share with other PMs.
  • Ensure work and deliverables/documents are complete for smooth handover to operational organizations.
  • Appreciate team’s contribution, celebrate (hint: good PMs set aside budget for this) and initiate a new project!

Are you ready to use some of these considerations to maximize your project success?

 
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Recommended reading for Project Managers and Technology Leaders

Here are some interesting books to learn more about Project Management and leadership.

  • The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey
  • Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins
  • The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
  • Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Ram Charan
  • Jack: Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch
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First Step!

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao-tzu

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