Before I started here at Demac Media I took a course called the ‘Foundations of Project Management’ in which I learned fairly traditional project management methodology. While taking the course, I worked on a group project with other project managers who spent more time deciding on a marketing slogan for a theoretical event we were planning rather than focusing on the high level themes and tools we were supposed to be applying to put together a successful project plan. The task was simple, yet the project was anything but. Our theoretical project was plagued with poor communication, lack of leadership, lack of standardized documentation and wobbly timelines.
Fast-forward six months and here I am, a full-fledged project manager at a bustling eCommerce solutions company and I’m ready to avoid making the same mistakes that plagued my old cohort.
How do I plan on avoiding these mistakes? By employing and maintaining some basic agile project management principles. Take the best of traditional project management principles, remove all the fat, and get going –all the while remembering to learn and implement new process improvements as I go!
Here are my current absolute essentials for successful agile project management:
Lightweight Project Management Tool
Here at Demac, we use a SaaS project management tool called Pivotal Tracker. Pivotal is a well-liked and commonly used tool in the software industry. Check out the rave reviews on the Google Apps Marketplace. Its advantages include:
– The ability to easily adjust the priority of stories/tasks as you go
– Have a helicopter view of what stories and releases are coming up on a project
– It funnels all communication between project managers, developers and clients into one place
– Its algorithms work to understand the speed at which your team works so that it understands how fast your team will go through an iteration. Packs a powerful punch for a tool I can teach someone to use in 20 minutes or less!
Since I started at Demac, I’ve become a big fan of Google Docs. I use Google Docs to keep all my project documents in one space where I can easily share them with other people on the team. The only document I really need to track in tandem with my projects in Pivotal Tracker are my timelines. When I create a timeline, I use simple high-level themes to allocate periods of time without having to worry about flows, resources, etc. because all of that other business is managed in Pivotal Tracker. I can easily adjust deadlines on the fly while keeping up to speed on what’s being completed in Pivotal Tracker. Agile project managers should be managing tasks, disarming problems, and keeping all stakeholders informed; they should not be inputting the same information into multiple documents. Only employ necessary documentation and keep it as simple as possible.
Short Meetings with Specific Agendas
Meetings can easily fill an entire day and you can come out of them with no more information or actionable tasks than when you started the day. They are a necessary evil, but there are ways to make those dreaded meetings more effective. Here are a few simple ways to keep your meetings useful:
– Keep it short (30 minutes or less)
– Have an actual list of agenda items to go through
– Make sure everyone walks away with next steps to complete before you meet again
Have Developers & Business People Work Together
My favourite part of working in an agile environment is having the business people and the technical people connect all the time. I don’t have a technical background but I love learning about the technical processes of building an eCommerce site for Magento and I use it to my advantage. The more I know about the technical problems experienced in a build, the better I can create accurate timelines and report to our clients with confidence about issues that arise.
The advice in this post is not groundbreaking by any means –and it’s just barely skimming the surface. But I hope to get across that the hard part about maintaining a productive agile project management approach is being adaptable every day and remembering to keep it simple. Don’t be a slave to a methodology –even a simple one! Keep on your toes, use common sense, stay organized and remember what works today may not work tomorrow. Every day and every project is a new adventure in problem solving!