How to apply Agile principles in mentoring Project Managers

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How to apply Agile principles in mentoring Project Managers

Engineering Insights

Have you ever wondered how Agile Coaching works in real life? What if you encouraged it while guiding other professionals to become Project Managers at the same time?

In this article, we are taking a closer look at how you can combine the two scenarios — or even better, how you can apply Agile values and principles while mentoring in order to achieve your goal. 

Here’s what happened:

We selected a team of 3 people involved in software development with no background in project management. The challenge was to help and coach them into becoming Agile Project Managers. The result is that all of them have been coordinating various projects through Agile methodology frameworks for more than one year now.

In our particular circumstances, I would argue that the key steps were as follows: 

  • adjusting the mindset
  • periodical reviews and feedback-driven sessions
  • choosing and applying the appropriate methodology

Let’s see what those steps actually entail!

1. Adjusting the mindset

The Project Manager’s mindset combines a little of all the team roles but is mainly focused on delivery and client expectations management. So while we are also concerned about the architecture, scalability, development and deployment flow, product quality, detailed level of specifications, and business analysis, we have to put together all the pieces of the puzzle in order to meet client expectations.

There was a lot of worth in my colleagues’ mindsets, as the areas they were activating at that time (quality assurance and business analysis) were promoting values such as attention to detail, quality of the product, and detailed specifications defined according to client expectations. This is why I tried to make the most of their previously acquired knowledge while adding an extra layer that was meant to represent the solid basis of their future project management activity. This layer consisted of a focus on delivery, planning, SDLC understanding, prioritization, risks, and budget management. 

2. Periodical reviews and feedback-driven sessions

Another important step was that we were able to review the current work and adapt as we learned from the project management activities constant feedback.
Agile is promoting pair programming as one of its principles and I was more than happy and enthusiastic to apply this in my activity. What better chance to learn and see real results than being there while they happened?

We started working together on activities that required an extra level of attention (strategic or sensitive client data), participated together in meetings or calls, and organized weekly sync meetings in order to implement an “Agile retrospective” approach.

For the weekly retrospective, we worked together on a checklist that summarized all of the key points and activities in our research area such as:

  • making sure there is a contract agreement before starting any work;
  • making sure the team understands the requirements, budget, and conditions;
  • making sure the team understands the requirements and what needs to be done;
  • always setting feasible client expectations and managing them closely;
  • always reassuring people that you will get back with an answer in a timely manner — don’t let messages unanswered just because you currently don’t have all the information;
  • constantly checking the spent budget and taking action to prevent overrun;
  • showing constant progress (continuous/ incremental delivery);
  • taking risks into consideration — related to deadline/budget/client expectations — and
    providing mitigation plans;
  • encouraging change and trying to offer a positive perspective as often as possible but
    acknowledging the correspondent risks as well.
Agile coaching

Constant feedback and support were offered throughout all these activities. A mindset for welcoming change was shaped while we were constantly adapting to real-life scenarios and results we concluded after each retrospective session.

Now, if we stop for a minute and examine this approach, it’s becoming clearer that Agile principles were used in the coaching process by promoting best practices such as managing client expectations, encouraging and adapting to change, and consolidating communication and teamwork.

3. Choosing and applying the appropriate methodology

As we agreed that the best way to learn was by facing real-life situations, we applied the same strategy as well when it came to methodology, which was introduced while getting involved in different types of activities.

After a few discussions, each team member was assigned a small project as an Agile Project Manager. We started with small development projects (team size: 1-2 people). We applied different methodology frameworks in order to learn how they worked if they did work, and if not, why that was the case.

For example, SCRUM is recommended for teams of 3-9 members but we simulated it on smaller teams as well. This helped with understanding the meaning of SCRUM workflow and events (ceremonies).

It was our intention to let them discover that in some situations a combination of frameworks represented a better fit for the project. In doing so, contact with the hybrid methodology concept was established and the Agile value of adapting to change was strengthened.

Maintenance projects were encouraged to be coordinated through Kanban frameworks and sometimes combined with SCRUM ceremonies for better planning or specifications understanding (grooming).

They were also involved in the department methodology and procedures roll-out activity where SCRUM of SCRUMS was applied. That’s when they had the chance to learn a few more tips and tricks from the other PMO members and improve their communication skills.

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Let’s take a look below at how most Agile principles match the key elements of this training model:

• Customer satisfaction through early and continuous delivery of useful software;
          Setting feasible client expectations, fast answers, and a continuous delivery mindset;
• Welcoming changing requirements, even late in the development process;
          Trying to offer positive reinforcement as often as possible but associate it with the correspondent risks;
• Frequently Delivered Software (weeks rather than months);
          Applying an incremental delivery mindset;
• Close, daily cooperation between business departments and developers;
          Reviewing and adapting while learning from constant feedback;
• Projects built around motivated and resilient individuals;
          Assigning projects from the early beginning, supporting individuals through the whole process;
• Collocation and pair programming;
          Working together on delivering results for both project and department activities;
• Sustainable development, ability to maintain a constant pace;
          Creating a solid ground that would further support my colleagues’ activity;
• Excellence through Reflection;
          Sync based on the retrospective approach on a weekly basis;
• Regular adaptation to changing circumstances;
          Welcoming and adapting to change even when applying this particular methodology.

Should you jump on the Agile Coaching bandwagon?

Agile Coaching employs a universal set of rules but every business has its own particular needs and requirements. Our case study puts forth the idea that training your employees to become better Project Managers through the Agile methodology is not only a necessary business solution to stay ahead of the tech curve but also a valuable and enriching learning experience.

Stay tuned for more tremendous PMO insights and do not hesitate to CONTACT US if you need us to Agile coach or manage your team members/projects.