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Refactor Your PMP: Human Resource Management

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Refactor Your PMP: Human Resource Management

Back so soon? I told you guys it was time to get this knocked out! Last post we talked about Quality Management, this post we are going to hit Human Resource Management.

According to PMI, Human Resource Management includes the processes that manage and organize the project team. Pretty simple huh? This is an interesting topic because we generally want agile teams to be self-managing and self-organizing. Do we throw this one out all together? Is there any way we’ll be able to bridge the gap?

I’ve got to honest with you guys, I am not exactly sure where this one is going to end up. Let’s jump in and see what we can do.

Human Resource Planning

PMI Definition: Identifying and documenting project roles, responsibilities, and reporting relationships, as well as creating the staffing management plan

Does a RACI diagram have any place on an agile team?

Agile tends to assume that you are staffing your team with specializing generalists. What is a specializing generalist you ask? These are people that may have specialization in a given area but are willing and able to operate outside their area of specialization.

Specialization is problematic because it leads to matrixed organizations. If a specialized skill set is required only part of the time, we need to find something else for that person to do with their downtime. Organizations end up filling that downtime with other project work. The problem here is that working on more than one project dilutes focus and creates artificial dependencies between projects. Real dependencies are one thing, self imposed dependencies are quite another.

Specializing generalists allow me to have a single person do more than one kind of work, eliminating constraints, and reducing the need to matrix people across multiple projects.

Teams work best when they stay together and are all focused on a common objective. They establish a stable throughput, they trust each other, they understand how to work together. Agile values continuity and it’s part of what keeps agile teams fast and lightweight. This is a very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in a matrixed organization.

That said, we still need to know overall what skills are required. We need to do the necessary due diligence to make sure that our team collectively has the competencies required to deliver. We need people that can potentially fill several roles on the team. If a RACI diagram helps you figure that out… go for it.

Acquire the Project Team

PMI Definition: Obtaining the human resources needed to complete the project

After giving this one some thought, I don’t think agile has much to say here or much overlap with PMI. I’ll just take this opportunity to restate the importance of building teams with specializing generalists. Getting the right people on the bus makes all the difference.

Develop the Project Team

PMI Definition: Improving the competencies and interaction of team members to enhance project performance

Agile teams improve competency through collaboration and teamwork.

How does collaboration and teamwork come into play on agile teams? Most teams will have a mix of senior people and junior people, people who are better in one are of the application than in another area of the application. Agile encourages close collaboration amongst team members, pair programming, and shared ownership. It gives everyone the opportunity to broaden their skillsets, learn new technologies, and become proficient in areas of the application they might not otherwise touch.

Daily standup meetings keep people involved and connected with each other. Retrospectives help the team learn from each other and decide how to work together more effectively. Creating this collaborative learning environment is one of the reasons that collocation is such an important aspect of building agile teams. Agile leaders value team building and collaboration so much, they tend to focus more energy on activities that give opportunity to develop closer interpersonal relationships.

If your team members lack a particular competency, and no one on the team has that skill, training one or more folks becomes a critical success factor. Make sure you have that time and money in your overall project plan for formal training.

Manage the Project Team

PMI Definition: Tracking team member performance, providing feedback, resolving issues, and coordinating changes to enhance project performance.

Ideally we want our teams to be self-managing and self-organizing. Give people the objective and get them the environment and the tools they need to deliver. The agile project manager can play a huge role in creating the kind of environment for this kind of behavior to emerge.

An agile PM needs to lay out the vision, make sure the team has the necessary skills to do the job, layout the initial planning structure, establish the metrics, and support the team by removing the things that get in their way. Part of establishing structure is keeping things visible and maintaining a culture of accountability. Iteration planning, daily stand-ups, product demos, and retrospectives help create this culture.

As an agile PM, I almost always track project burndown, iteration burndown, defect trends, and historical velocity. These metrics, in conjunction with the daily standup, usually give me a pretty good idea of how the team is doing. There have been times when I have needed to track individual hours and individual velocity but these cases should be the exception to the rule.

Agile definitely puts more emphasis on leading the team over managing the team. The reality is that sometimes your team is not healthy and mature or in a good place to manage themselves. A good manager, with a focus on servant leadership, can help create an environment where teams can thrive and people can learn what it means to take full ownership of project outcomes.

Now if we could just get PMI to stop calling our team members Human Resources!

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