“Agile is what you do when your back is up against the wall, naturally.”
–Jim York, FoxHedge Ltd.
As Jim York of FoxHedge Ltd. and Elizabeth McQueen at US Customs and Border Protections explain, agile is a commitment that forces owners and teams to be more transparent. Short processes allow for immediate feedback and correction. Scrums don’t have much space for hiding: everything a team member does or doesn’t do can be quickly seen by all within a short span of time. Therefore transparency is not just logical from a spending perspective (federal projects are funded with taxpayer dollars), but is paramount because the process is expedited and checked on regularly. Agile also forces managers to be more engaged and accountable due to its unique characteristics (more on that from MPS President Kendall Lott’s podcast on the effectiveness of the agile software development approach). York and McQueen speak of agile consulting from a project management perspective, but I think they’re onto something from, well, a human perspective.
Project management can be enhanced by a number of frameworks and behavioral science tests that serve as a playbook for navigating complex human relationships and facilitating high quality work. If managers and consultants faithfully execute these theories and models, the odds are fair that a project will be successful, or at least that its teams will cohesively work together. However, from past experience and my time at MPS, I’ve learned that even the best frameworks aren’t perfect – there’s no substitute for smart people who are willing and able to understand and execute a complex PWS to make a project successful.
Consulting, as every new hire quickly learns, is neither as simple nor as glossy as a google image search of the term makes the profession appear. In real life project management, the puzzles are numerous and complex, and they constantly change. Merely keeping up can be a full time job by itself.
Despite my anxiety about bucking well-established theories of project management and human behavior, I enjoy agile consulting’s challenges and dynamics. Agile organized into a series of three week ‘sprints’ in which small teams from a number of groups come together (in daily meetings known as ‘scrums’) and tackle a set list of tasks. Daily scrum work consists of various meetings where project and technical management gauge progress on individual and team tasks. Agile’s dynamic nature allows continuous rebalancing of tasks and immediate resolutions of roadblocks. At a sprint’s conclusion, teams demonstrate the products of the list’s tasks for the client to provide feedback. Project teams will repeat this cycle for the project’s duration.
MPS’ ethos centers partly on enabling our partners to do their very best work with as little disruption as possible. At MPS, I succeed with my partners, not in spite of them. The agile technique of actually doing the work together and bonding throughout the fast-paced sprints makes me feel a little more human in a profession full of frameworks and online meetings. Much like an athlete in a relay, nobody on a project is ever alone in the work he or she is assigned; however, the immediate availability of resources only increases the pressure to perform. Though I haven’t physically met any of my project’s partners outside of my MPS teammates, I don’t want to be the person who lets down my team. Hopefully I’m agile enough to deliver.