Top 3 Principles of Agile Project Management

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Principles are very fashionable, so many methods come with principles to define the key criteria for being successful in project, programme and agile approaches. I thought it was time to set out the key requirements for an Agile approach to change management.

1. Start with the end in mind!

Originally a principle from Stephen Covey, in the context of Agile Change Management this means paying attention to what the customer needs to achieve because of the project. Counter-intuitively, this is unlikely to be the project deliverables. Instead it is the change in how work is done, and the improvements that these changes can realise.

Agile methods refer to this as the business value or the economic benefits, but they are usually formed of 3 key factors:

• Cost savings
• Revenue generation
• Enhanced reputation – increase in customer referrals and increase in staff engagement

Ask your customers questions that develop a shared understanding of the value to be created:

• Who do they think is going to be impacted by the project?
• Why is this impact important?
• Is there a time after which the project will have missed its moment?
• How much are they willing to spend to achieve this value (How valuable is the value?)

2. Progress measured by achievements
In our fast-changing environments, long term plans setting out everything you are going to do over the next year are unhelpful. They tie you in to what you said you were going to do even when circumstances change, and you are less likely to alter your course of action if it is already set out in approved plans.

Instead, use your understanding of the end value (see step 1) as your anchor point, and plan in short bursts to put some change out to the business. Let the business realise early value, build on their feedback and deliver another change, and another after that.
Focus on getting things done, cut the number of meetings and reports that talk about progress, and use the time saved to make progress. Demonstrate what you are working on to those who will be impacted, rather than writing reports about how busy you have been and listing all the things you have done.

Use your achievements as evidence of progress instead and make sure these are visually displayed near your work area – lots of pictures on the wall, lots of sticky notes showing work completed. Share pictures of this tangible progress, take photos of team boards showing work completed and email it to all those with an interest in your change.

3. Make this a joint effort

Avoid any team structure that creates a project team separate from those who are going to use the deliverables the project creates. The best information about what is needed, and how things will work in practice come from those who will create the new ‘business as usual’ so ensure they are in the team.

This means structuring how you work to accommodate their working hours, and when they can free up time to make change happen, recognising that they have a big responsibility to keep the day to day work going as well. Be clear about the division of labour, they will need to dedicate time to making the change a reality. A project can create the elements of change, but those in the business will need to identify how these elements are used to realise the desired improvements and benefits.

Ask them lots of practical questions about how, when, where, who will work differently, and make sure that they create new processes, notify customers and suppliers and practice the new ways of working alongside the creation of the project deliverables. Make sure those involved truly represent the business – so include staff who do the work and supervisors/managers who authorise the work. Make sure they come from the back office and those with direct customer engagement.

I am sure I could have written a lot more, but having helped numerous organisations become more Agile, get stuff done, work together and know what the end game is pretty much sums up the success criteria for those who excel in delivering change at the pace their customers demand.

Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of this list of 3 simple principles – they are easy to describe but take a lot of hard work and commitment to put in place.