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Agile Scope Management: Refactor Your PMP

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Agile Scope Management: Refactor Your PMP

Okay… let’s get back to our discussion on how to look at the PMI knowledge areas from a more Agile point of view. Last time we tackled Cost Management, this post let’s look at Agile Scope Management

According to the third edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Agile Scope Management includes the processes required to ensure that the project includes all the work required, and only the work required, to complete the project successfully. PMI states that project scope management is primarily concerned with defining and controlling what is and is not included in the project.

I find it a little entertaining how these statements seem to be universally interpreted as “define everything you are going to do up front and make sure you deliver what was originally defined”. While that may have been the intent of the PMBOK Guide, some projects don’t lend themselves to that kind of up front planning. Some projects must allow for discovery. Some projects must adapt to changing markets, or at the very least, adapt based on the teams understanding of the emerging product.

For some of us working in more dynamic problem domains, ensuring that “the project includes all the work required”, is a process of discovery. Controlling what is included, and what is not included, is an ongoing concern rather than something done once for the entire project. We need a project management framework that embraces this uncertainty rather than wishing it away or pretending it doesn’t exist.

I am becoming convinced that Project Managers default to this static point of view because we have never been taught another way of managing projects. We just don’t have the tools to deliver projects any other way. So… that said, let’s take a moment to look at the PMI Agile Scope Management processes from a more Agile point of view. I bet we find another way of approaching Agile Scope Management that does not involve defining everything up front and then locking it down for the duration of the project.

Scope Planning

PMI Definition: Creating a project Agile scope management plan that documents how the scope will be defined, verified, controlled, and how the Work Breakdown Structure will be created and defined

Agile project management practices are really the embodiment of a scope planning approach. As a project manager, especially a traditional project manager making the switch to Agile, I have no problem documenting this for my organization. An Agile Scope Management Plan is going to address things like creating the backlog, characteristics of a good backlog item, how we are going to establish velocity or throughput, how we are going to measure burndown against the backlog, and how we are going to deal with changes to the backlog.

Scope Definition

PMI Definition: Developing a detailed project scope statement as the basis for future project discussions

Agile Scope Management on an Agile project is defined in the product backlog. The backlog is a listing of the features that your product owner would like to have included in their project. One of the most important considerations to keep in mind is that every item in the backlog should be independent of each other. This is the secret sauce that makes it possible to reprioritize and make changes on the fly. Bill Wake has a great explanation of what makes a good backlog item on his website:

Rather than looking at the product backlog as a static indicator of what WILL be built, look at it as the baseline for further adaptation. It is expected to change as we learn more about the emerging product.

Create WBS in Agile Scope Management

PMI Definition: Subdividing the major project deliverables and project work into smaller, more manageable components

This is one of the toughest things for traditional project managers to get their heads around. There is no WBS on an Agile Scope Management project, at least not one in the traditional sense. From the Scope Definition section, we learned that our backlog represents the scope of the project and that each of the backlog items should be independent of each other. Independence is key because it allows us to do just in time scheduling.

Agile projects are broken down into smaller projects called releases. Project releases are broken down into smaller time-boxes called iterations. Content is pulled into a release just prior to its start, and only as the previous release is winding down. Likewise, content is only pulled into the upcoming iteration as the previous iteration is coming to a close. The idea here is that we are going to review what the team was able to complete and make decisions about the next increment based on what we learned from delivering the previous increment, in the agile scope management.

As an Agile Project Manager, I am generally comfortable laying out a high level plan to understand where I expect to be at certain points in the project. I am also comfortable keeping a chart of external and internal dependencies to help manage commitments. The key is to use these as guidance for decision making and indicators of progress. Problems arise when these tools restrict our ability to learn and adapt to the realities of our agile scope management projects.

Scope Verification

PMI Definition: Formalizing acceptance of the completed project deliverables

Each iteration we will decide the next best increment to build and then review the outcome once we are complete. The stakeholders either accept or reject the outcome of the iteration and work with the team to decide the next best set of features to build.

Because we want to maintain the ability to adjust the product as we learn more about the emerging solution, we focus on making and meeting commitments in smaller increments. Scope verification is done based on the outcome of these small increments of product and how they align with the product vision and the goals of the release.

Scope Control

PMI Definition: Controlling changes to project scope

Agile teams take a value driven approach to delivery rather than an activity based, or even deliverables based, approach to delivering projects. The product owner can change the scope of the product at will, but is always focused on delivering the most value possible given the available times and resources.

Agile teams give the product owner a tremendous amount of discretion over how the system is constructed and even accommodate changes even late into the life of the project. It is understood by Agile teams that changing scope involves tradeoffs. The product owner is substituting features that add greater value for those that provide less. To add one thing, something often has to be taken away.

Next Up… Communications Management

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