Frameworks for projects delivery or products development are like multivitamin pills – they offer plethora of elements and compounds you can select from depending on your need or challenge. After years of practicing lean and agile frameworks I concluded that there is no conflict between the two – on the contrary, you can benefit from both in the same project depending on its stage and work requirements.
Nevertheless, let us start from the basics – fundamental approaches in project management are either oriented on linearity, sequence orientation and processes, or oriented on people, their expectations, priorities and management of dynamics related.
The first approach used to be called waterfall approach, and it was well recognized in project management methodologies such as PMBOK, PRINCE, PRINCE 2 and Lean methods (all of them in recent years are incorporating principles from the second approach we will define in a second). The beauty and power of waterfall approach lies in orientation on sequence of the tasks to be performed and processes enabling them. Processes can be visualized (using e.g. Business Processes Modeling Notation language) – and what can be visualized can be discussed and improved. Switching the balance to the processes in waterfall approach makes work and teamwork constructive, if the team acknowledge that seeing, analyzing and improving processes is what they should pursue.
I like the lean method due to its orientation on process improvement, and its mindset proving that whereas it is almost impossible to change other people’s minds, it is much more easy to agree on visualizing, aiming to understand and improve the process or solve the problem (especially so called root causes behind the problems) in continuous improvement environment. Key rituals and artifacts from lean approach I’ll keep forever, refer to them often and try to use daily are Kanban, Andon, 7/8 waste and 5/6 s. Andon is stopping the process where every next step could only accumulate defects spotted right on 7/8 waste is looking for and eliminating customer non-value adding activities from your work. To learn more about 5/6 philosophy try this lean game calculator available online and see short movie exemplifying waste elimination orientation in lean.
The second approach which proliferates worldwide in recent years used to be called agile (traditionally agility is defined as ability to move quickly, easily, intelligently). Project management methodologies in agile approach are much more than bodies of work or frameworks, as agility recommends allowing the context to determine deploying roles, rituals and tools from its repertoire. Recognized and respected agile product development methodologies are Extreme Programming, Feature-Driven Development (FDD), Dynamic Systems Development Methodology (DSDM), Crystal and finally SCRUM. To feel the taste and right context of agile approaches I recommend you to imagine that there is a customer, which has some needs, let us call them requirements – and these requirements flow through your team. Now, in order to satisfy the customer and meet their requirements, you will organize iterative work (yes step-by-step with multiple feedback-loops and priority changes options). Key rituals and artifacts from agile approach that I try to use as often as possible are Kanban, asking for Voice of the Customer in the work (which in SCRUM is served by role of Product Owner), planning work using backlogs, and making it digestible in form of one or two week chunks (called in SCRUM sprint backlogs). Building your product basing on customer’s feedback in iterative way also key characteristic of lean start-up approach, which we wrote about some time ago (lean start-up method has much more to do with agility). Agile approaches welcome changing environment and circumstances gladly – they are oriented to respond to them quickly and effectively.
Using simplified sprint backlogs proved to me to be so effective that I even deployed it into other fields of my performance such as writing scholar papers with multiple teams and multiple quantity in the same time – SCRUM makes such contexts much more graspable and with feeling of control. I do not know any better introduction into SCRUM in timing less than 10 minutes than this movie – if you know such please do not hesitate to comment and share. One of the infographics that reflects agile approaches principles I like most can be found here. One of my favorite podcasts dedicated in great degree to understanding details of SCRUM is Manager Plus run by Mariusz Chrapko.
So – coming back to the title and beginning of this post – project delivery or product development methodologies are like multivitamin pills. Very often in one project you will work close with the customer to come out with solution (can be a new product or combination of products and services you already offer) – in this context you will benefit much from agile approach. In the same project, but at different stages like formal purchase, procurement or deployment of solution in customer’s organization you will need solid, understandable, replicable, process-oriented approach – and this is where you will benefit more using a lean approach..
Practicing different project management methodologies, frameworks and bodies of work enabled me to formulate one more conclusion – related to managing polarities (famous management consulting concept with theoretical framework developed by B. Johnson in 90’s of XX century) where both waterfall approaches and agile approaches are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent. Neither of them enables to face current business expectations on its own, and maybe business-wisdom is about trying to manage and leverage them appropriating benefits related?
What is your experience with running both lean and agile?