What can you change right now
At the end of my Certified Scrum Master class I ask people to reflect on what resonated with them in the class and come up with something to try at work tomorrow to make a little positive change. This last time as people went through their notes, wrote ideas down for action and discussed with others, a couple of people came up to run things by me.
How projects are mostly funded by IT
The second person to approach me is Mike, a Project Manager, who asks if he can pick my brains and refers to the class discussing Product Owner budget responsibilities. Mike explains that in his organization, when someone comes up with an idea, Information Technology immediately assigns a Project Manager, like himself, who scopes out the work involved and comes up with a budget amount.
After that, Mike asks “the business” unit, made up of Product Managers and newly minted Product Owners, to fund this project. The business does fund, but only partially, with an IT governance board funding the rest. Mike isn’t sure if the organization wants to change that, or should. That’s not what he wants to pick my brains about.
How easily projects are cut for lacking progress
With a little more excitement in his voice, Mike describes how the board is happy to defund projects quickly when progress is not being made. When projects are halted, the Project Manager has to pick up new work, if they still have a job. Mike says that showing progress in Waterfall is simple because he can check if the teams hit the milestones.
Projects being cut in the coding phase
Mike confides in me that most projects go through concept commit and requirements writing just fine, it’s in the coding phase that all bets are off. That’s where the organization usually pulls the plug, often after several million dollars are spent. It’s something else Mike doesn’t want my opinion on, as it’s probably too big and complicated, but he wants me to understand the situation.
Requests to show progress on Agile projects by phase gates
Mike knows that with Agile it’s impossible to measure by these same gates, although the governance board asks him and the other Project Managers to do so. Mike says that with Scrum teams he reports on cumulative numbers like: features complete, features tested, bugs fixed. He also shows points planned versus velocity. He jokes that when they first started, an Agile milestone would say something like, “Sprint 11: Complete” to show some sort of progress and not have the project stopped.
Keeping some Project Management practices while switching to Scrum
Now ready to ask for my thoughts, Mike puts it somewhat like this, “Shouldn’t these project managers, who are becoming Scrum Masters, keep this budget control, as it’s an important part of their work? Especially since nobody else can do it? And how best to show progress since the board is happy to shut off a project that shows no progress, and they mention not being able to see it on any Agile projects?”
Agile itself could be shut down
Mike’s concerned this may be a way to shut down the effort to use Scrum on projects. A new executive, who sponsors major corporate improvement projects, invests mostly in lean six sigma. Sponsored tools favor Rational Unified Process over anything Agile or otherwise. Only small projects are allowed to go Agile. Anything significant must follow standard phase gate procedures. Mike wants to know, how do other organizations handle this? Not for his present situation, but he wants to look forward a couple of years and be prepared.