How Large Companies Go Agile: A Prologue

February 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Big consulting companies are waiting to take advantage of you. The Agile transition process is simple, but the work involved in doing so is not. My goal is to provide information to ease your transition so take the time to read and consider it before you make the $ plunge.

The scenario in this blog post actually happened at a large company and my conclusions about what went wrong come from my observations of the event, past experiences re-valuing PMOs and current research on best practices that cover an array of related topics. I’m going to explain how a large company can learn from these mistakes, starting with some important fundamentals to set you on the right path.


Get the Right People Together

The Transition Team protects and guides individual business units through the transition process. It should include a good mix of people who have tribal knowledge of the company and creative thinkers who may not. Start with skilled people who know the business culture and the current business processes used throughout the company. Also consider thought leaders and change agents who think and work outside the box. People excluded from company politics but with the skills to leverage the knowledge of the tribe. This series of 4 articles about charting a path to change explains how to avoid pitfalls if you fail to acknowledge the human side of business change.

Forming a transition team is challenging to do if politics and bias exist in your company culture. Chaos lurks when everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon and everyone on the wagon wants things that benefit them. Have the courage to exclude people who want to boost experience on their resume. They typically devalue transition teams because they often express the oppressive and burdensome behaviors listed here.


Get the Right Knowledge

Sending everyone to Scrum school can be a waste of time and money early on. Scrum is one of many Agile methods and large companies will most likely end up with a hybrid of Agile techniques that form one enterprise framework. Company management and employees on the Agile transition team need a basic understanding of each Agile method so I recommend “Agile & Iterative Development, A Manager’s Guide”, by Craig Larman as a good starting point. More training and experience comes as your company moves through the transition process.

Know the Business Processes…then put them aside for a little while

Agile transition is not about creating an Agile process and fitting cross-functional teams and work into it. It is about building an Agile environment around how work gets done. Most functional teams accept, process and deliver work in either a linear or non-linear fashion so the type of Agile method they select starts with an understanding of the suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs and customers they work with. A simple SIPOC is all you need to get started. Capture your business processes but don’t try to improve them yet. That comes later.

SIPOC image

More to come in the next post.

How Not to Go Agile

February 8, 2015 Leave a comment

Just about every company wants to go Agile, but for large companies what it takes to go Agile may stop Agile in its tracks.

To some people being Agile means they can deliver products and services more rapidly. Smaller product increments delivered using lean processes with low overhead are attractive and make customers happy. To others Agile means accelerated revenue, money saved or a better competitive edge. Some smaller organizations are lucky to experience all of these benefits rather quickly, but recent studies show large companies continue to struggle with Agile implementation and some say being Agile falls short of expectations. Here’s one example.Chaos2

A large company’s IT department uses a Waterfall process to deliver cross-functional projects quite successfully for many years. When they decided to go Agile, someone in the IT organization took the Waterfall process and added Agile activities to it. This became their new Agile project management process with more than 180 activities and deliverables. Then a PM came on board and tried to use it to deliver a project with a team of people from IT and engineering. The project was placed on hold not too long after it started, and $2m was spent on the project with nothing to show for it.

What happened?

  1. Someone in the company created a process, called it Agile and tried to fit a cross-functional organization into it. The new process confused people and most became irritated and disengaged.
  2. No Product Owner role, no Project Sponsor role, no product backlog or project charter. The design and development teams didn’t know what to build so they made assumptions that didn’t work.
  3. The new process was actually a disconnected Waterfall/Agile hybrid process. Scope changes made by the Sprint Team caused delays and rework for those on the Waterfall side of the process. No clear hand-offs meant long delays.
  4. Agile transition is an iterative progression and little thought went into this. The process was not tested and no one understood how to integrate it with other business processes.
  5. Making a significant change like this one also means managing how the change impacts the business culture and the way people work together. Little thought went into preparing the people.

By following a well thought out iterative progression path and by taking into account the impacts to the organization as a whole, large companies can make the transition to Agile.



Portfolios and the Strategy to Action Life Cycle

May 18, 2013 2 comments

As a project manager, you lead the organization towards innovative thinking about how to realistically meet strategic objectives.  Through managing people and projects, you have a vast array of knowledge of the organization, business practices, organizational culture, power players and influential people.  Most importantly, you know where the bottlenecks are in the many business processes at work.  You know the people who enable and those who do not.  You are among the most valuable assets at your company because you know how to get things done.

Having all of this knowledge and experience, how can you become a major contributor to corporate strategy development and project alignment?  Take all of that knowledge and use it to think and act like a strategic enabler and solution partner.

Portfolio Framework

Portfolio management requires both business managers and solution partners working together to align, plan and manage a “strategy to action life cycle” for new and legacy corporate initiatives.  This collaboration encourages critical thinking to discover how to use your social and political capital to strengthen corporate strategies.

  • Portfolios help organize and prioritize project investments.  If you are familiar with Agile practices, a Product Backlog can be compared to a portfolio.  As Product Owners and customers examine the business value of product features and prioritize each feature in the Product Backlog based on value and risk, business managers and solution partners examine the business value of proposed projects and prioritize each project in the portfolio based on value and risk.  This guides companies to make decisions about project and resource investments.
  • Portfolios help inspire innovation to reduce cost.  Examining the business value of legacy technologies and business processes helps identify areas of improvement or replacement as some elements may no longer support business strategy or may be too costly to sustain.  The goal here is to reduce the number of elements that have low business impact.  Technology retirement or replacement may lead to new, smarter technologies that enable corporations to achieve business goals smarter and faster.

An influential PMO can and should impact business decisions about projects.  When opportunity to reduce cost or improve business value is present, members of the PMO should be at the forefront when business leaders ask what the best alternatives are.  The “strategy to action life cycle” is a continuous process with direct participation and influential input from project managers strategically poised to add the most value.  You don’t need to hire a portfolio manager to manage a portfolio.  Project Managers can lead strategy to action management activities using portfolios and this critical contribution can increase the value of your PMO.


Project Managers are Solution Partners

April 21, 2013 Leave a comment

A project manager agrees to manage a technical project that was two years old and had two previous project managers.  Given repeated failures and lack of progress, the assigned engineering team had little faith that the new project manager would make a difference.  But the project had the attention of the executive steering committee and canceling it was not an option.  So the project manager went on a mission to turn things around, and discovered that disruptions and other work requests interrupted engineers to the point that they were unable to complete project work.  The engineering team did not have a proper intake and tracking process for engineering work, so the project manager created an automated solution to track new work requests.  Once in place, productivity increased more than 60% for the entire engineering organization and the project manager was promoted to portfolio manager.


Some business executives and managers see project managers as service suppliers, delivering projects as a service, and they see value in that when they have a solution to deliver and it is delivered to their satisfaction.  But think about the social and political capital you pick up during your journey to deliver projects, and how you can use that to inspire others to think outside the project and consider the many other benefits you can bring to management as their partner.

ESI’s Project Management 2013 trend number 3 claims, “Project management is not just for project managers anymore”, so expect to see more non-project managers becoming “project manager by accident” this year, a trend that can either make or break us.  Inexperience will show as more projects fail this year, adding to another ongoing problem that shows up in the 2013 survey as business leaders continue to question the value of project management and whether or not to invest in experienced project management resources.   Experienced project managers know how to think outside their project and add value in other ways, so don’t’ limit yourself to project delivery as a service; contribute to the big picture through solution delivery as a service.  Be a solution partner and you will help move the project management profession to the next level.

Project Managers are Strategic Enablers

April 13, 2013 Leave a comment

The project manager says to the PMO manager, “2013 is going to be a busy year for us, with all of the new projects starting in just a few short weeks.  I hope we have enough project managers to handle the workload.”  The boss agrees, “Yeah, I just received this year’s list of projects and I think we are in for a busy year too.  We may have to hire a PM or two.  Can you start collecting resumes so we can start the hiring process?”  The project manager goes off to start the screening process and in a few weeks, two new project managers join the team.  Then the finance team decides to cut the budget and some of the new projects.  The PMO manager says, “We seem to have more project managers then we do projects, so let’s have the two new PMs evaluate some project management software for next year’s budget.  I’m sure a new project or two will pop up sooner or later.”


What’s wrong with this PMO?  The PMO is not engaged in the strategic planning process so the PMO manager uses duct tape as a remedy.  The PMO manager makes a resource plan and hires new staff based on a list of projects, then once the company cuts the budget, the new project managers have no projects to manage so the PMO manager assigns them to work on something that is not part of the strategic plan, hoping a new project or two pops up in the near future.

Business leaders will invest money in technology and human resources that help companies reach strategic goals and they see value in project management professionals who invest in themselves to become savvy business management leaders.  Today’s project manager adds value when business leaders see them as “strategic enablers”, planning and managing projects that add value to the company’s bottom line.  Just as IT organizations enable their companies to achieve their goals through technology and service management, PMOs enable companies to achieve their goals through strategic solution delivery.  Companies make it possible for PMOs to deliver strategic solutions by engaging them in the strategic planning process.

Don’t Risk It

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

by Frank P. Saladis, PMP

I think it is fair to say that risk management is a subject that does not receive the attention it deserves. In today’s extremely uncertain world economy, the need for a solid risk management strategy should be at the top of the list of business priorities.  The key stakeholders in any organization should be the main advocates of risk management and should be insisting that every department and every employee practice at least some very basic activities that will help to reduce exposure to risk situations.  Recently, during a discussion about risk management, the concern raised was that managing risk added cost to the project and was therefore unacceptable to the executive decision makers.  My response was very straightforward. I asked if the individual remembered the statement often mentioned by service providers when discussing maintenance plans which is something like “You can pay me now or you can pay me later”.  This simple statement provides the very foundation for developing a risk management strategy.  It will cost you less to prepare for risk and prevent or mitigate occurrences than it will to correct a situation once it has occurred.  Managing risk involves preventive action, proactive thinking, a positive mindset, and clearly visible managerial support.

Today’s very challenging business environment requires every organization to examine their risk strategies.  Those organizations that do practice some form of risk management focus their attention on quantifying and managing a variety of risks including financial (the recent banking issues), hazards (chemical spills as an example), and operational problems (computer failures, security threats, etc.).  Another area that is screaming for attention, according to Adrian J. Slywotzky and John Drzik in the Harvard Business Review on Managing External Risk is Strategic Risk which they believe is the greatest threat of all. Strategic risks go beyond the familiar challenges such as late product launch or a last minute change in the requirements for a major system deployment.  Strategic risk, according to Slywotzky and Drzik includes the possibility of a major technology overtaking your product or significant shifts in the market that may reduce the need for your product or a shift in customer priorities.  Strategic risk management is, in fact, a “strategic necessity.”

In order to address risk effectively it is important for the management of an organization to communicate the need for an ongoing risk management process and to create, or enhance, within the organization’s structure and operations a culture of risk management.

Risk management should not be viewed as something that is done in addition to the “normal” work that is performed.  It should be embedded in the work in the same way that quality should be embedded in every task performed.

Risk management is actually practiced by most people everyday.  Extra time is added to travel estimates when weather becomes a factor, people have their automobiles inspected for safety, money is placed in a special account as a back up in case of an emergency, and many organizations have established a management reserve that can be used to address unplanned catastrophic events.  The key here is to make sure that a common sense approach is utilized.  Certain risk situations are accepted as a natural part of any given day.  People who travel frequently by air understand that there are inherent risks to consider.  Stepping into your automobile, walking across a busy street, and hiring a new person all include some type of risk.  These potential risks are not generally analyzed in extreme detail.  They are, in most cases assessed subconsciously.  The point is that risk management is being practiced.

Common sense tells us that we should consider risks before we undertake any assignment or make any decision.  Some assignments require just a few minutes of assessment and response development.  Complex tasks and decisions require much more effort and the use of the appropriate tools and techniques.  One very important point that is often overlooked is that risk is often perceived as negative aspect of project management when, in fact, managing risk effectively may present many opportunities.  Risk should always be viewed from both sides: threats and opportunity.

When developing a risk management process it is important to obtain buy in from the stakeholders who will be affected.  Establishing a framework or basis to work from will facilitate the actual development process.  Consider the following table:

Risk Category Sources of Risk
Technical – evolving design, reliability, operability, maintainability  Physical properties, changing requirements, material properties, unstable technology, testing, untested technology, modeling, system complexity, integration, design, safety
Program / Organizational – processes for obtaining resources, enterprise environmental factors, organizational process assets  Material availability,  contractor stability, personnel availability, regulatory changes, personal skills, organizational process, security processes, communications processes, strategic planning issues – industry, technology, brand, competitors, customer/client, projects, portfolios, programs
 Operational – supportability, maintaining systems, operating procedures  Product reliability, training, system safety, documentation, technical data, interoperability, transportability
Financial –limited budgets, estimating processes, constraints  Administrative rates, overhead costs, estimating errors, cost of quality, reliability of estimating resources
 Project Management – schedule, estimating processes, reliability of planning processes, methods and procedures Estimating errors, number of critical path items, degree of concurrency, unrealistic schedule baseline
External – subcontractors, regulatory, market, customer, weather  Contract terms and conditions, unclear statements of work, customer/client responsibilities


Developing a framework that identifies risk by category can greatly improve the efficiency at which an organization works to identify and respond to risk situations.  The RBS – Risk Breakdown Structure is commonly used to identify project risks by category and sub-category.  The RBS will help project teams identify risks and become more aware of the many sources of project risk.  The table shown provides some of the information that may be included in a risk breakdown structure.

A culture that encourages a positive and proactive approach to risk management will greatly improve an organization’s overall performance and will build confidence among its employees.  A quote by Louis Pasteur sums up the need for risk management “Chance favors the prepared mind”.  Create an organization that is prepared for the uncertainty of the future.

Whether your responsibilities include making decisions that impact the entire organization or the completion of a task within a project, risk management should be included in the decision process.

Failure to assess risk and develop the appropriate strategies can result in disaster at the project level or enterprise level.  So don’t risk it.  Take the time to assess risk.  Develop a culture that includes risk management as a part of the way things are done naturally.  It does not matter if an organization is risk averse or is aggressive when it comes to taking chances, having a plan is just good business sense.

Re-published with permission from Visit, the project managers information portal.

About the Author:  Frank P. Saladis, PMP, is a Consultant and Instructor / Facilitator within the project management profession.  He is a senior trainer and consultant for the International Institute for Learning and has conducted numerous project management training seminars domestically and internationally.  He is a Project Management Professional and has been a featured presenter at the Project Management Institute ® Annual Symposiums and World Congresses and many other project management events.  Mr. Saladis is a graduate of the PMI Leadership Institute Masters Class and has held several positions within The Project Management Institute including President of the NYC Chapter, President of the Assembly of Chapter Presidents and Chair of the Education and Training Specific Interest Group.  Mr. Saladis the editor of the internationally distributed newsletter for, and is the author of several project management books and numerous articles about project leadership.  Mr. Saladis is the originator of International Project Management Day and was recognized as PMI Person of the Year for 2006.


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