Project Managers are Change Masters

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 November 2012 12:49 Written by Mike Cottmeyer Tuesday, 2 October 2012 11:27

This is an exclusive post from Jesse Fewell. You can find more posts by Jesse Fewell on this site, or on his own blog.

Project Managers get a bad rap. Many times, when we hear “project manager”, we think of the middle-aged man who either can’t cut it anymore technically, or that woman who is little too bossy for her position, or the self-important young guy angling for a promotion. Granted, many PMs are placed into leadership roles without having the requisite soft skills to be successful. However, there is one thing that has remained a positive constant with any good project manager I’ve seen: change management.

I once heard a speaker at the annual PMI Global Congress in North America say “Project Managers are change masters. We lead teams and organizations from current state to future state”. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the talk or the speaker. But his one closing line stuck with me. (Sidenote: if you’re that Congress speaker, please let us know by posting a comment below). I *love* this quote, and I’ve used it to kickstart an activity in the agile classes I teach to project managers. It goes something like this:

“Okay, PMs. You’ve reached the end of two days of agile training. When you go back to the office, you will be faced with the status quo of bad quality, late projects, and burned-out teams. You are change masters. You will be charged with leading us from current state to an agile state. In your groups, design a agile transition plan.”

Project Managers design agile adoption plan

Project Managers from PMI Long Island Chapter designing an agile adoption plan


I’ve done this about a half-dozen times now with classes specifically offered to PMI Chapters across the country, and the outputs are amazing. Here is a list of some of the things proposed by these much maligned project managers:

  • Find an executive champion
  • Use an Agile process to roll out your agile process, using monthly or quarterly iterations
  • Have your agile expert be the Product Owner, leading a dedicated transition team, and reporting to senior stakeholders
  • Craft an Agile Adoption Backlog, consisting of things like: training, an agile pilot project, a list of organizational roadblocks
  • Focus on thin vertical slices of the organization, just like you would with potentially shippable product increments
  • Implement both process metrics (% teams transitioned) and business metrics (stakeholder satisfaction) to measure progress


Sample of Agile Adoption Plans

Sampling of Agile Adoption Plans created by Project Managers

In case you didn’t notice, this is eerily similar to the kind of guidance you might get from an agile expert. I’ve been at agile conferences where audiences swooned at a keynote speaker recommending essentially the same things. But these plans are produced by professionals who have little to no experience working with agile techniques. Interestingly, this exercise does NOT work very well with a room full of engineers or analysts new to agile concepts. Instead, it’s the PMI groups that have the most success with applying their new agile training to change management.

Of course there will still be project managers out there that resist your move to modern management practices. But the next time you come across one of those project managers, pull them into the conversation and challenge them “How would you transition us to the future state we want?” You just might be surprised as the results.

How about you? Have you ever worked with a Project Manager that was really good at Change Management?


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Welcome Eric Kristfelt and Kate Kelley to LeadingAgile

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 November 2012 12:49 Written by Mike Cottmeyer Tuesday, 25 September 2012 07:31

Just a quick note to let you guys that LeadingAgile is continuing to grow.  This time we aren’t adding more consultants… we are adding more infrastructure!

First… I’d like to welcome Eric Kristfelt as our new Director of Business Development.  Eric and I have known each other since our days together at VersionOne.  Eric sold me into my first long term consulting gig with those guys.  It was quite a coup ‘cuase VersionOne doesn’t usually do that kind of coaching.  The gig just happened to be in our backyard and in my area of domain expertise… financial services.  It was a good fit so we grabbed it.  Anyway… Eric and I stayed in touch after I left V1 so when he was ready to make a move, we talked.

Given that we are partners with VersionOne… this kind of stuff can get pretty dicey.  Everything was handled above board and with VersionOne’s full blessing.  It was all very cool and we are looking forward to having Eric on board to help fuel our already rapid growth!

Next… I’d like to welcome Kate Kelly onto the team.  I’ve known Kate literally since elementary school and Denise and Kate have been friends forever.   As we’ve grown, sometimes the amount of back office stuff takes more time than Denise can give.  Kate joined the team to help Denise with the overflow in the short term… but long term she gives us extra bandwidth to support our growing team while we are out on the road working with clients.

Anyway… please join me in welcoming Eric and Kate to the team!  We are SUPER excited to have both of the on board!

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The Two Faces of Agile

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 November 2012 12:49 Written by Mike Cottmeyer Tuesday, 21 August 2012 07:50

Some folks are using agile to invent. They are trying to figure out the right products to build for markets that don’t even know what they want. They are experimenting, learning, and adapting their approach based on super-fast feedback cycles… and the outcomes, the products they are trying to build, are emergent. The end goal isn’t necessarily clear at the start.

Other folks are using agile differently.

These guys are also trying to figure out the right products to build, but their markets have a predetermined notion of what to expect. These teams also experiment, and learn, and adapt their approach on super-fast feedback cycles… but the outcomes, the products they are trying to build, need to converge around set expectations and emergent outcomes aren’t always valued.

To effectively introduce agile into your organization… you need to know what kind of organization you are living in. An organization that needs emergent outcomes may reject keeping a fine grained story backlog or doing any kind of long term release planning. Likewise, companies that need convergent outcomes may reject sitting with a client and figuring it out as you go.

It always, always, always comes down to context.

Both an emergent approach and a convergent approach can work just fine, depending on your particular context. The trick is knowing the goals of your business and adapting your language and approach accordingly. If you are struggling to get senior leadership to see the merits of agile, maybe your are selling emergence when that’s not what your execs are really buying.

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Beyond Functional Silos with Communities of Practice – Agile 2012 Slide Deck

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 November 2012 12:49 Written by Mike Cottmeyer Saturday, 18 August 2012 09:36

We had over 100 sign up for this one – and the room was completely full. We talked about using Communities of Practice to support Agile adoption and sustainability in the Enterprise.  We went through a Community of Practice charter exercise. Again, over a third of the people in the room said they would apply this to their groups when they got back.

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Agile and the Nature of Decision Making – Agile 2012

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 November 2012 12:49 Written by Mike Cottmeyer Saturday, 18 August 2012 09:29

I had about 100 people show up for the workshop. There was really good participation in the workshop. Most walked away with a clearer understanding of how important it was to be intentional about managing risk on Agile projects in the Enterprise. Over a third said they would go back and apply these practices in their organizations.


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