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So… Who Reads Leading Agile Anyway?

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: So… Who Reads Leading Agile Anyway?

Okay… just kidding with the picture. This is my last work day until the new year so I am waxing philosophical and exploring some stuff I have been thinking about for a little while.

This post originated based on some feedback I’ve received over the past few weeks on the ‘Secret to Organizational Agility‘ post and more recently on the ‘Agile PMP: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks’ webinar from last week.

Both sets of feedback, most of it positive… some of it not, prompted me to give some thought to my intended audience and why I am writing to them at all. When you can’t be everything to everyone, you better be damn clear who you are and what you want to be for those that care.

Here is my musing on that subject. Be warned, I start to get a little teary eyed toward the end ;-)

I started writing publicly a little over a year ago. When I started, Leading Agile was originally titled Applied Agile Leadership. My thought was to take some of the agile concepts my team had been working with for the past few years and help others apply them more effectively in a range of situationally specific contexts.

Looking back, there was no way for me to really understand what the year would bring or the value writing would have to me as a professional in this arena. Writing this blog has become essential for me to process and understand these ideas and more importantly, express them to others. I am often asked questions about topics I have blogged on, and not only do I have a prepared answer, but a resource that I can point them to for more information. I have often built entire talks around ideas that started off on these pages.

Why Project Management?

My career has been a love/hate relationship with Project Management. The title implies so much yet means so little. Depending on your organization and the strength of its project management team, the skills and competencies of your project management staff can be so radically different. Some teams are filled with glorified secretaries while others are populated with senior leaders capable delivering large programs and effecting significant organizational change.

In my own quest for personal meaning, I have always advocated that Project Managers need to be seasoned, qualified leaders that are not merely passive participants in the act of project management. They need to be knowledgeable in a wide range of project management best practice, they need to know their particular problem domain, and most importantly they need to be able to interact effectively will all levels of the organization. Project Managers need to be strategic problem solvers, not just note takers and meeting schedulers.

At its very core… this blog is fundamentally a call to action for project managers to become better leaders.

I have always felt that the knowledge of project management process was almost trivial. Read a book, study for and pass a test… call yourself a PMP. Take a two day course on agile management… call yourself a Certified ScrumMaster. It’s not the facts that are our challenge, its not the techniques… it is the underlying principles. It is the ability to apply these facts and techniques in your own situationally specific context.

Who is My Audience?

To be honest, I don’t know much about the folks that read my blog. I have some anecdotal information based on a few of the folks I have met personally at conferences and talks. I get a little information from the people that comment or reference my blog in their posts (which I really appreciate by the way). Based on my passions and what little I know about my readership, I have constructed a mental model of my reader, a persona if you will, of the person I am talking to on the other end.

NOTE: It would be cool if you guys would let me know the accuracy of my assessment. Reply to this post or drop me a line.

As I mentioned before, I see myself primarily talking to Project Managers. I use Project Manager loosely in this context. Often times we have Development Managers and Directors of Development leading projects. We might have a Product Owner leading a project. Sometimes we have Technical Team Leads or even a QA analyst. Basically, anyone that has taken on a project management role, no matter what their title in an organization.

I am fundamentally trying to help the folks out there making it work… make it work.

My typical reader could be a hard core agilist trying to lead change in their organization. I suspect that many of my ideas might help these folks discover a new way of looking at things or presenting concepts to a traditional management organization.

I suspect that many of my readers are people currently performing a traditional project management role, probably a PMP, maybe somewhat new to this whole agile thing, and struggling to understand and implement agile within traditional organizational constraints.

Same problem… different points of view.

What Can I Contribute?

Most folks I meet are wired to think about process in terms of actionable steps and the supporting documentation. I want to help people think about projects in terms of people. I want them to think in terms of complex systems and interdependent behavior. I want to get up underneath process and people and focus on the kinds of stuff that really cause our projects to fail. More documentation and better defined processes steps don’t solve the problem. It is our underlying attitudes and values that matter.

So… I am not sure at this point in my public life I have contributed anything really new. I am clearly standing on the shoulders of the giants that have come before me. I really appreciate the though leadership of Cockburn, Highsmith, and Cohn amongst many, many others. What I do is impossible without them. One thing that I think I can do well, and on my best days, maybe even better than most, is help folks understand these ideas in language that project managers can understand… advocating strategies they can actually implement.

I value thinking about problems in the right way. I want to be right, at the very least I want to be in the ballpark. The fun part about writing publicly and thinking out loud is that I don’t have to be right… and I am not scared to be wrong.

Most of the time when someone disagrees with one of my posts, it is really a matter of perspective and a difference in our perceived audience. I don’t try to be a pure agilist and I am not talking about applying these concepts in an ideal setting. I grew up professionally trying to understand these concepts in large convoluted organizations. I want to help people untangle the mess, one step at a time. I am passionate about helping people breaking down these concepts and understanding the why behind them, and then building them up in a way that helps their organizations understand.

Is it Working?

This year Leading Agile has seen success so I am guessing my approach resonates with some in the community. This blog has grown from just a few subscribers at the beginning of the year to around 600 or so as of this morning.

I thank Brian Sondergaard for encouraging me to start writing at all. I also want to thank Jurgen Appelo, Artem Marchenko, and Glen Alleman for all the great press and links to my site over the year. Thanks also to those of you that have shared my posts through Google Reader, Twitter, and to those that have referenced Leading Agile in their own blogs. You guys know who you are and I appreciate your help.

I hope that this site fills a valuable void in the marketplace of ideas. I read a great and timely quote this morning that I’d like to share:

I don’t wish to be everything to everyone, but would like to be something to someone.” ~ Ali Javan.

Next 2008 in Retrospective: Mike Cottmeyer Edition

Comments (2)

  1. Mike Kavis


    I stumbled across your blog about a month or two ago and added it to my reader. I am probably not your typical subscriber. I am a CTO for a startup but have been a Chief Architect for a corporation and IT director for many years. I have lived through many projects dominated by process heavy and documentation first type project managers. I find your posts refreshing, especially since the view is coming from a project manager. Your ideas are what myself and many of my colleagues wish to practice and promote in both our past and current projects. Keep up the good work and feel free to stop by my blog which has the same passion but geared toward the topics of SOA, Cloud Computing, IT leadership, and organization change management.

  2. joapen


    I read your blog from 1 year ago or something like this,

    Thank you so much for your thoughts



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