Agile, Scrum, SAFE were buzzwords once but how do these trends affect the project management realm? Have project and process management traced out a path to maturity? Do we detect any trends or expect upcoming changes? Let’s get real!
A process accomplishes a result in a repeatable way. The agile process is broken into individual models and the development process itself is iterative. Good process management includes making the most of the opportunities to continually improve the process, in timeliness, inefficiency, ineffectiveness, or all three. Events and outcomes can integrate seamlessly without disturbing or interrupting the process flow. From a tool-oriented approach, agile has evolved towards a holistic competence-based management discipline and its methods and framework are no longer just for project managers; it is essential for the entire project team to understand the purpose and usage to ensure a smooth process.
Recently, agile process management has also made its way into insurance companies, putting traditional methods on a side track and showing a positive outcome on the products and solutions they can offer as well as attracting new talent that would not have gotten on board in the traditional working environment. In order to be competitive, the day-to-day operations of larger insurance companies require dynamism, innovation, digital transformation and flexibility to meet the needs of customers. Enter: sprints & backlogs, user stories, project risk mitigation and change management.
Coping with complexity
Together with the enlarging scope of agile, projects and processes are becoming increasingly complex, mostly due to bigger size and volume company- and project-wise, ambitious deliverables and expectations and the number of stakeholders. Responsible for these constant uncertainties are rapid technological and regulatory changes, a shift in work ethics due to the big part + 40% of millennials in the workforce, but also growth & globalization and changing customer requirements. To better react to these circumstances, we see a mix of methods entering the field: hybrid methodology blending more traditional procedures with agile concepts. Many organizations are now working with fluid “flow to work” methods.
Methodologies: the hybrid approach
As many of today’s projects tend to be larger and more complex, a one-size-fits-all approach is being replaced by a mix of more traditional waterfall methodologies and modern strategies that can be adapted more rapidly to keep up with the various processes of project management. There is an increasing demand for hybrid project managers and very often one project requires multiple managers. In order to unlock value and enable quick reactions, organizations must be fully integrated and embrace cross team projects. Hybrid or mixed project management is partially waterfall and partially agile. Most of these hybrid projects are ran in Jira and use an extra project management application e.g. BigPicture to avoid difficulties that mixed project management in plain Jira software or in Jira Core would bring. For project managers, blending methods requires extra attention; they must constantly seek out education in the latest methods and be able to steer projects with clearly defined methodologies, all while leaving room for incorporating aspects of other, more ad hoc, approaches. It is imminent to know which parts of which methodology will serve the specific case, team, timeframe, outcome, etc.
The sharing economy has proven the fact that more organizations are highly appreciative of the use of a distributed team structure. This is because remote teams are comparatively cheaper and more productive when managed efficiently and effectively with the apt set of management tools. Remote working teams are gradually becoming a standard practice in the world of project management. The trend towards a more distributed, remote workforce means that a growing number of companies have different software needs than they would if they were managing onsite employees. In particular, distributed teams need a way to communicate as if they were all in the same office. Further complicating the process, with fully-remote teams, companies may have employees all over the world, which means that a lot of the workplace conversation is happening asynchronously, e.g. while one team member is still/already sleeping or another one is out of office. To address these needs, most companies turn to cloud-based software solutions. Such software needs to be operating-system agnostic and working on a variety of devices. Because information is transmitted over the internet, it should also include security protocols to protect sensitive data and most of all, it needs to run fast and allow for multiple team members to visualize and interact with documents simultaneously. Today’s project managers are steadily proceeding ahead with the investment of this technology to promote a highly effective communication over a wide range of platforms. Amongst the most popular tools here are iDoneThis, HipChat and Hackpads.
When it comes to software tools, the endeavour to consolidate traditional and agile functions is another trend for the coming years. Manufacturers of traditional systems are seeking to build in agile functions, such as Kanban Boards, Sprints, and Burn-Down Charts. The representatives from the agile world add bar charts for higher-level Sprint planning and try their hands at portfolio and resource management. Nevertheless, this type of fusion has yet to reach an optimal result. In the light of this, it continues to make more sense to use tools for project and work management in parallel, but to integrate them well. At the higher level, these tools should be traditional with phases and milestones, but at lower levels, tools and processes can be more and more agile.
We witness a real shift from considering technology and tools as a supporting capability that delivers specific services and platforms to tools being seamlessly integrated and core to every aspect of the organization. The project management analysis tools are going to be more of a cloud-based structure in the coming future. This will help teams to collect real-time data and reflect the results more accurately. Collaborative methods will increase together with simulation and statistical analysis tools. Currently, many teams that are using task management applications suffer from the app’s a lack of planning capabilities and search for alternative project management solutions where timelines and other planning features are integrated.
Jira and Pivotal Tracker can still be considered the cornerstone of the task management of the team to visualize the day-to-day progress but the new agile project management approach calls for a more strategic-level view of the plan; a project roadmap, and ideally an intuitive purpose-built roadmap tool. The process uses two tools: one for tracking the details and the other for communicating the high-level strategy and the best purpose-built roadmap tools integrate seamlessly with the project management software. Many enterprises think project managers need their MS Project and users need Jira. So the organizations keep both applications alive. Yet all they actually need to work both waterfall- and agile-style is Jira with BigPicture extension.
A process is composed of practices that can be associated to a process. You can add and remove practices as needed, define workflows for specific items in your process, etc. These workflows can take the form of either a visual state transformation flow or a simple e-mail notification when for instance an impediment is created. TargetProcess is a commercial Agile project management tool designed to manage software development projects in a collaborative way. It is used to implement or mature the agile capability of companies, departments and projects, mostly for large and complex environments. TargetProcess is both simple (having an intuitive user interface and providing by default a complete Scrum/Kanban process for software development organizations transitioning to agile) and powerful (allowing to create a flexible approach to visual project management wit the customization of item content, status and workflows). You will be also able to create your own views of your project status. The ‘visual’ aspects of the software and its customization features help the project managers to stay focused on what is specifically important for them and quickly spot problems. Its inherent flexibility allows TargetProcess to provide initially with two different approaches that have their own processes: Scrum and Kanban. For both cases, you will have a set of predefined visual boards that are specific to each approach and for every new project a default process can be defined or an existing process can be cloned. The concept behind TargetProcess is rather straightforward: it takes the three main components of a project - the people, the work and the plan - and makes it easy to manage and associate them in a visual way. Work must be understood as the traditional agile requirements hierarchy of features, tasks and user stories with bugs and impediments on top of that. Programming or planning refers to the project being decomposed in releases and iterations, while on the people side the project manager can switch swiftly with roles and teams and have multiple teams working on the same project all while keeping the overview. The TargetProcess tool interferes on portfolio level, value stream level, team level and program level.
On portfolio level, TargetProcess allows to plan, track and prioritize items, to better manage the budget, risks and people allocations and to make the company’s strategic aims and the goals of the project more visual.
The value stream level stands for objective proof of the purpose and value of the initiatives and for managing the spending on investments. Program level on the other hand is about breaking down portfolio epics and enablers into features to ensure that user needs are being met and business value is delivered. It is recommended to visualize progress on a timeline and see product increments as lanes on a board, all while making sure the potential risks are also clearly visible and categorize them according to severity and probability. It is highly recommended to directly assign each risk to different team members to see who and what each risk affects.
On the team level, TargetProcess mainly marks freedom: team members can customize their process and the tool can be configured differently per team and per department. The team’s progress is made visible through portfolio, value stream and program levels so that team members and the project manager can see directly how they contribute to the high-level business goals and better align the backlogs to strategic changes that can be overlooked in real time.
Splitting the portfolio of Epics and Enablers into features to quickly verify the value delivered and the response to user needs
Dashboards for the PI Planning allow to visualize the progress on a scale of time and increments produced (PI) separated by lines of water
The "Program Board" view highlights the dependencies between the teams, the advancement of the features and indicates the potential risks
It is possible to administer program risks, categorize them by severity, and track by different people. You can see the work being done by the different teams. Your backlogs can be prioritized based on the Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) value - prioritization model used to sequence jobs - to define the pre-PI and PI planning activities.
Whereas staying within budget and achieve concrete business goals were considered as the weaker links within the process management chain in the first few years, things have changed overtime. For the better, that is, as investments pay off and the cost no longer is the biggest obstacle because the benefits of improved software and open planning overrule the expenses. There is continuous improvement at an increasingly faster pace due to knowledge of tools and technology, democratization, greater involvement and independence of employees and feedback from clients and experts in the field.
About the author
Noortje Van Ginderen. With a master degree in International Relations & Diplomacy and a first professional experience in account and project management, she evolved towards the financial sector working at BNP Paribas Fortis for over 3 years. The first project for Initio was in Luxembourg and had a strong focus on risk, compliance and regulatory. Noortje is currently being enrolled in a law school program.