Monday, February 28, 2011

Why the PMI Agile Certification is a Good Thing

So by now the PMI Agile Certification is probably old news to most folks. There have been plenty of blog posts on the topic. One of my favorites was that of Dennis Stevens, found here.

I was thinking about the bigger picture of what the certification can mean. Back when I got my PMP certification (about 10 years ago now), not a lot of people knew what it was. Now most jobs for project managers ask for the PMP certification. With PMI's large membership and reach, I think this will help agile project management become more mainstream.

As a case and point, I started a new project the other week. The project included IT folks on the client side, plus some consultants (from one of the big firms). They talked about doing the project using agile and iterative techniques. I even spent time walking them through the agile methodology my company developed. However, two days later, they were asking when I would provide the "detailed project plan." It was clear that in spite of their words, they really didn't get what agile was.

Now that PMI is doing agile, it's going to get more attention among main-stream project managers. My hope is that people will at least take a few minutes to understand some of the principles (Dennis's post laid them out nicely). Now I know agile is not the right approach for every project. However, I think in order to make an informed decision, you need some facts. And when you find yourself in an agile project, you at least know the right questions to ask.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Three Cups of Tea

I just finished reading the book Three Cups of Tea. I highly recommend it.

The book is a true story about an American mountaineer (Greg Mortenson) that while descending from K2, gets lost and ends up in a small village in Pakistan. The villagers take him in and help him recover from the stress of the climbing. When he sees the school children studying in the open, he vows to raise money and come back to build the village a school.

The rest of the book is about how Mortenson builds schools throughout the region.
While not a real project manager, he was successful. One of his key skills for success was his ability to communicate. Throughout the book, he is learning the local languages of the people he works with, including Balti and Urdu.

However, Mortenson's the real reason for his success was due to his ability to understand the people he was working with. Each region he worked in had different customs, languages, and problems that he took the time to understand.

I think this is the lesson project managers should know, especially in this day of global projects. Taking the time up front to get to know our team as individuals will help us down the road.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Domain Knowledge

So a topic came up this week that has been a subject of debate for as long as I've been a PM surfaced. How much domain knowledge does a PM need to be successful? Does a PM over a .net shop need to have programming experience in .net? Or can any PM be successful on any project?

I think the reality is somewhere in between. A technology PM wouldn't be effective at building a bridge, but a good technology PM could run most technology projects successfully. One reason is that all projects are, by definition, unique. Having a specific set of skills will help, but the PM is going to be learning on the job as well.

This highlights one of the skills I think is important for a PM, being able to learn quickly. How well can you figure out what's new and unique about your project and how quickly can you apply your experience to this new situation? The term "hit the ground running" applies here. I may not have done .net projects before, but I have done J2EE, so I have a point of reference to learn what I need to know about .net.

How can a PM get good at hitting the ground running? One key is having a thirst for knowledge. Catching up on the latest technology between projects or during slower periods. Going into every new engagement looking for learning opportunities. Not being afraid to ask questions of the experts. So what have you learned recently?