Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reading :: Managing Agile Projects

Managing Agile Projects
By Sanjiv Augustine

In my ongoing quest to read about project management and its permutations, I picked up Augustine's Managing Agile Projects. This book is focused on software development projects, as much of the agile literature is, but provides principles that could be more broadly abstracted. Like other books along these lines, this one takes pains to separate its brand of project management from more traditional, PMBOK-based project management.

The author draws heavily from agile programming and its variants (eXtreme Programming, Scrum, FD). But he also draws from a broad set of other concepts and frameworks, and the result is sometimes a grab bag of theories and concepts: complexity theory, memes (as cultural DNA), game theory, mental models, and communities of practice all make a showing without much to tie them together. But this book really isn't a theory book -- it's more about a set of organizing principles put forth as a compact or a constitution for governing team interactions. Augustine introduces this notion from the beginning with a clarifying "fable" based on an actual shift from traditional to agile project management (Ch.1).

Essentially, agile project management as it is described here consists of the following principles:
  • foster alignment and cooperation
  • encourage emergence and self-organization
  • institute learning and adaptation (p.25).
Complementing these are the following practices:
  • organic teams (small, flexible, composed of generalizing specialists)
  • guiding vision (keeping the team aligned with the same "mental model" or "commander's intent")
  • simple rules (generative process rules that can result in emergent organized behavior)
  • open information (vs. information kept in silos)
  • light touch (fostering emergent control rather than heavy-handed rules)
  • adaptive leadership (continuously monitoring, learning, and adapting) (pp.26-29)
The author lists certain core values for agile project managers:
  • trust
  • collaboration
  • learning
  • courage (pp.38-39)
The rest of the book elaborates these principles, practices, and values and supplies heuristics for implementing them. Overall, these are well done, with clear guidelines and relationships. But, I hasten to add, the approach really does assume strong management backing to push through this compact, even though the end result is to get everyone else on board. Also, the approach is meant for larger organizations working on large software projects, and may not be appropriate for other industries -- too variable for longer-term manufacturing projects, too heavy-handed for smaller, lighter organizations with short engagements.

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