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PM 101: Dealing with Team and Customer

14 May 2012

Cognizant Technology Solutions

Agile processes are gaining in popularity, which means many project managers are following them for the first time. Based on my own experience, I've developed a sort of primer for PMs starting out on Agile projects. The key points are as follows:


1. Process knowledge and coaching

It's important that a PM knows Agile processes well. It's challenging to follow them correctly, and we can only do this if we have an in-depth understanding and can effectively guide and coach our teams. For new PMs and new teams, I suggest the following basics:

  • Learn the process well. Make sure you (the PM) and your team have whatever training is necessary.
  • Use an Agile coach for pilot projects.
  • Regularly inspect the process you've followed.


2. Effective communication

Communication is key in Agile projects. Effective communication within the team and with the client is continuous and must take center stage. The key here is to adopt a communication plan that helps the team interact with the client and includes regular updates about the progress of the project. Several steps can help PMs:

  • Educate the team about communicating effectively among its own members and with the customer.
  • Guide team members as they communicate their work plan (initial training isn't enough; continue to coach them as the project is underway).
  • Plan the reports and information that will be needed for communicating the status of the project.
  • Hold meetings with the client to help him or her understand the project requirements and team progress.
  • Respect and incorporate the client's views in the project plan.


3. Work transparency

Agile succeeds because the client is involved with the project teams from Day One; this isn't a contract-based approach in which teams work per a signed agreement. The concern for a traditionally trained PM is to understand and respect this transparency. This means:

  • Again, advise and help the team effectively communicate its progress.
  • Use the daily stand-up meeting to elaborate the work plan.
  • Avoid any sudden surprises for the client.
  • Regularly communicate any issues or impediments to the client.


4. Acceptance of change and continuous planning

In Agile, project planning is always continuous, since a high-priority change can come at any stage. Naturally this is challenging; it's the reason Agile processes are also known as "inspect and adapt" processes. In addition, the openness to involvement and collaboration with the client makes it all the more likely that he or she will suggest a change in requirements or in the execution plan. Agile advocates accepting these changes, as "change is the core of Agile." But how do you actually do it?

  • Be sure you understand the client's desired changes thoroughly.
  • Evaluate and share the plan changes with the team.
  • Be transparent in evaluating the change — share the team's feedback.
  • Keep the client involved as the project changes direction.
  • Use the inspect-and-adapt approach to improve future work in the next sprints.
  • Ask for regular feedback from the client and incorporate it into the action plan.


5. Encouragement of a self-managing team

Agile advocates a "self-managing" team. This means the team participates in estimations, planning, and allocating tasks. Encouraging this may be challenging for a traditional PM who's used to every project being governed by a detailed project plan. And it's a fact that organizations that aren't truly ready for self-managed teams will face difficulty in running projects in a truly Agile way. Here's what to note:

  • Help and educate your team to gain maturity about self-management.
  • Help a new team manage the work it has committed to.
  • Involve the team in all project and sprint planning.
  • Guide individuals in self-planning, as needed.

Note that some points repeat themselves; a transparent work process, after all, is related to effective communication. Agile processes usually succeed when a PM and team communicate with the client, who is seen as part of the core of project development. Remember to use the client as a key player who's involved in guiding the team and shaping the project delivery.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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