Dr. Harold Kerzner Q&A: How Changes in Project Management Are Supporting Agile and Scrum

Dr. Harold Kerzner Q&A: How Changes in Project Management Are Supporting Agile and Scrum

Dr. Harold Kerzner Q&A: How Changes in Project Management Are Supporting Agile and Scrum

This past November as part of IIL’s IPM Day online conference, Dr. Harold Kerzner delivered a keynote on “How Changes in Project Management Are Supporting Agile and Scrum. 

The keynote discussed how, over the years, project management has undergone continuous improvement efforts by extracting best practices from other management practices such as Six Sigma. Now, the reverse is happening: other techniques are extracting some of the best practices from project management for their own continuous improvement efforts. This appears to be true for continuous improvements in Agile and Scrum activities. The landscape in project management is continuously changing for the better!

Following Dr. Kerzner’s keynote, we received hundreds of questions for his live Q&A portion (so many that they couldn’t be addressed in the allotted 15 minutes!) and we are excited to share highlights here, organized in the following categories:

  • Agile and Scrum 
  • Project Managers of the Future 
  • Reporting and Metrics 
  • Portfolio Management
  • Public Sector
  • Challenges
  • Cultural Differences 
  • Project Failure and Success 
  • Benefit Harvesting
  • Miscellaneous 

AGILE AND SCRUM

Can the traditional PM role still exist in an Agile world?

Yes, because some projects can be handled better using traditional project management.

How do we plan effective scheduling using framework, v. traditional and agile?

In traditional project management, everything is linear and we try to lay out a complete schedule at the initiation of the project. With flexible frameworks such as Agile and Scrum, we work with smaller units of time that allow us more flexibility in the adjustment of scope to fit a schedule. In Agile, we tend to fix time and cost, and allow scope to change as needed. With traditional project management, scope is fixed and we tend to allow cost and schedule to change as needed.

How can Scrum or Kanban (agile methodologies in general) methods fit the existing PMI® framework (i.e. PMBOK® Guide)?

My personal belief is that they do not fit, at least well, if you believe that all processes and activities identified in the PMBOK® Guide must appear in each methodology. The future will be flexible approaches that are customized to each user or client. PMs may discover that only 20% of the PMBOK® Guide is needed, as an example.

Is there a way to transition from waterfall to Agile or is it “all in”? Do we have to go to an agile framework and shed all waterfall oriented controls?

My experience has been that you will have a great deal of difficulty going straight to Agile without first adopting some form of project management. Then, it is up to the company, based upon their types of projects, to decide how many of the tools and practices of traditional project management should be carried over. There are some practices that are common to both.

Agile always offers stakeholders the upper hand in modifying the scope after each sprint. As a project manager, how can we limit the change so that we don’t want the team to modify the code after every demo?

I understand your concern, but what are the alternatives especially if you might want repeat business from this client? My personal feeling is that I can live with frequent scope modification as opposed to continuously explaining cost overruns and schedule slippages.

What is the best approach to managing Domain name projects? Would it be better to follow the waterfall traditional project management approach or the Agile/Scrum method?

This is a tough question to answer because it depends on the type of project, size, nature of the project, how many people, whether it will involve change management, etc…

Does the Agile & Scrum framework reduce/omit the requirement of a traditional PM in the IT Industry?

I have to be non-committal, but I believe that each company must make their own decision on this. Regardless of the industry, there are always going be projects that work well using traditional project management practices.

Thank you for explaining the difference between Benefits and Values. This is expected by the executives. What are your recommendations for being certified in Agile and Scrum and is it value added for project managers or the leadership managing project managers as well? If so, which designation do you recommend? Thanks.

Being an educator for five decades, I am a believer in life-long learning. Having said that, I recommend obtaining the additional certifications as long as they will benefit your career goals.

PROJECT MANAGERS OF THE FUTURE

Should a company have a methodology or is it better to allow project managers to manage as they want?

Great question! I believe in the future that methodologies will be eliminated and replaced with tools such as forms, guidelines, templates and checklists. I have one client that has 50++ tools. At the beginning of a project, the PM and some team members select the tools needed and then create a customized methodology or flexible methodology or framework that best fits the client’s needs.

I just got my PMP®. Given the future you are envisioning what do you recommend I begin with?

What I normally tell my students is to work for a small company where, as a project manager, you manage everything and really get to understand project management. Working in a large company, you might manage only a small part of a project and never see the big picture of project management. Start small and then climb the ladder.

What can older project managers do to extend their careers? Are there other fields (e.g. training) that can be pursued?

If you are set in your ways and refuse to be removed from your comfort zone, you have a problem. If you are willing to change, then education is the start.

What are the top 3 skills that define the project manager of the future? How should new professionals seek to gain these skills. Thanks!

For more than 40 years of teaching project management, I have emphasized that the single most important skill is the ability of the PM to manage pressure and stress, not only what is placed upon them, but also what is placed upon the team. As for 2nd and 3rd place, I would pick team building skills and decision-making skills.

How will AI/machine learning affect the role of a project manager and skill sets needed?

I wrote a blog last year on AI and Project Management.

How do you see Project Management and Organizational Change Management working together in the future to achieve benefits and value in projects?

I see project managers staying on board the project and becoming the change agent. They will then be responsible for implementing the changes needed to extract the benefits.

REPORTING AND METRICS

Tools such as EVM (Earned Value Management) provide a metric for schedule and budget. What type of metrics are you seeing as proven practices for measuring benefits and value?

There is no single metric for either benefits or value. Value metrics are made up of attributes or components. For example, I saw an IT company use a value metric that had 5 components: time, cost, functionality, safety protocols, and quality of design. Each component had a weighting factor assigned to it and the totals were rolled up and reported in one dashboard metric.

Executives are interested in KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) which can be loaded. What is your advice in linking dashboards, metrics and KPIs?

I agree that a linkage is necessary. However, I also believe that you should give executives dashboards that provide them with the information they need rather than the information they want. If you have a metric library that has 50 metrics, I would not create dashboards to display all 50 metrics. I would instead ask the executives, “What decisions do you expect to make, and what metrics do you need to help you make those decisions?” Providing executives with too much information is an invitation for executive micromanagement.

Dr. Kerzner said that teams are now allowed to use multiple tools. How then do you balance this with the need to maintain standards so you can successfully create consolidated dashboards?

There will be standards for each tool used. The standards for dashboards involve space, colors, images, aesthetics, etc… but not specifically the information displayed, specifically the metrics. This will be customized for each client.

My understanding is that a dashboard is operational in nature to track the progress of project throughout its lifecycle while a project scorecard will address the need to link up the project objectives, benefits and values to the strategic objectives of the organization?

You are correct. This is how I teach it as well.

PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT

Lots of times decisions on portfolio made on projects, e.g. with NPV which is purely financial measures and when one looks at more attributes (value creation) upfront, it is likely possible that the optimized portfolio may spit out potentially different set of projects to execute on. This is optimization exercise and companies struggle. Your guidance to us on how to overcome this situation?

Great question. There are financial values and nonfinancial values that need to be considered. Unfortunately, as I see it, perhaps the weakest part of project selection is in the criteria we use which appears to still be financial. As part of business case development, we are now stressing that organizations learn how to prepare a benefits realization plan as part of the business case. Once this happens, we should have a much clearer picture of the realistic benefits and value possible. But how long this will take for companies to learn, I do not know.

We are a Marketing Services Provider whose clients include many large retailers and financial institutions. Of course, we are always working with limited resources. What is your take on portfolio management for a consulting company like ours?

Portfolio management begins with identification of your largest or most critical clients and what projects need to be undertaken to maintain their business. Using techniques like Kaplan and Norton’s Balance Scorecard is a great start at doing this.

PUBLIC SECTOR

I work for the Public sector in Cape Verde, a small African County in the west African coast. Considering the projects complexity in the public sector, involving many stakeholders, changing scope and short cycles, what would be your thoughts on a better approach to use Project Management methodologies in this area and how agile practices can help? Thank you Dr. Kerzner.

Methodologies are not necessarily the solution to your problems. With traditional project management, sad to say, we often try to stay as far away as possible from stakeholders and clients during project execution for fear of scope changes they may request and stakeholder meddling. With techniques such as Agile, we welcome client/stakeholder involvement and expect these people to have at least a cursory understanding of project management and Agile practices. In other words, it appears that in Agile and Scrum clients and stakeholders appear to have a much better understanding of their roles and responsibilities on the project. This should make life better for the PMs.

What is your experience or best practice in managing projects in the public sector in relation to Benefits and Value management?

Public sector projects do not have profit motives, and this changes the picture a bit. But there are other challenges in the public sector that impact benefits and value. I recommend you get a book entitled Public Sector Project Management by Wirick. It is a John Wiley publication and a good book.

How to benchmark business in government monopoly?

David Wirick wrote a book entitled Public Sector Project Management. The book is published by John Wiley. It shows the differences between public and private sectors, and you can easily then see the benchmarking issues.

CHALLENGES

What to do when we start a project in a company that does not have basic ideas about projects?

This is an invitation for disaster. My recommendation is education, and this includes senior management.

How to “sell” to upper management the need for training in PM for the executives?

My experience is that people external to the organization, such as consultants, have an easier time convincing them of the need for training. Executives may fear that internal people promoting training are trying in some way to “feather their own bed” so to speak.

What to do when Executive-Level management doesn’t want to attend education rollout strategies?

You need to find at least one executive champion to help you convince other executives of the importance of this. If all of the executives are in agreement that education at their level is not needed, I would update my resume.

What if your PMO refuses to adjust its methodology for business needs and only looks at itself first? How does an individual PM drive that change?

You may need to have a champion at the executive levels to assist you. All you need to find is just one executive to champion your cause. Otherwise, you will have difficulty.

What is the biggest challenge in project management?

The biggest challenge is overcoming the belief that companies have that one-size-fits-all with regard to a PM methodology. In the future, methodologies must be customized for each client. PMs need flexibility.

Do you have any recommendations for managing (and motivating) IT employees (technology or app dev folks) that are resistant to the change that digital transformation requires?

The architects of the corporate culture are the people that reside on the top floor of the building. If workers are afraid or being removed from their comfort zone, then there is a point where senior management must step in and “force” the changes to take place.

If the Sponsor refuses to attend or be a part of the project, should the PM propose for project cancellation rather than making decisions on behalf of the Sponsor, when he/she is not authorized?

I have lived through this scenario in a multitude of companies. What I tell PMs to do, is to make the decision yourself, and then e-mail the sponsor with your decision asking if they agree or disagree with your decision.  This basically forces them to act because there is now a paper trail.

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

Dr. Kerzner – thanks for the presentation. When you speak to the politics/religion/culture gaps – how did your daughter bridge the gaps between cultures? What other suggestions do you have to overcome these in short order if thrown into a global program?

My daughter learned from her global team members. They provided her with some educational insights. She wasn’t embarrassed to ask her global team members for advice and recommendations.

I’ve worked with multi-cultural teams and hit roadblocks due to how decisions are made. How do you suggest consensus be achieved across teams?

Believing that consensus can be achieved is probably wishful thinking. At the onset of a project, you must get the team to understand that you do not expect consensus on every challenge and that the team must go along with the vote or any other process you use. People must be prepared early on for disagreements and how decisions will be made.

How to measure whether a Project Manager has enquired sufficient Politics, Religion and Cultural skills?

At present, I do not see any measurements being made. However, in the future I expect to see metrics on projects measuring political exposure, religious exposure and cultural sensitivity. These metrics would be reported on dashboards along with other metrics such as time, cost and scope.

How to prioritize when there is a clash between benefits vs. politics and culture?

This is why we have project sponsors and governance committees to assist in the prioritization of constraints and sometimes alternatives.

PROJECT FAILURE AND SUCCESS

You mentioned that you must have a failure mark for a project…what if failure is not an option?

If failure is not an option, then you must carefully look at the tradeoffs and alternatives. This is a common occurrence on projects that must abide by regulations such as projects for OSHA, EPA, Health and Safety, etc…

RE: Project Health Checks – What is an example of establishing a Failure Criteria, versus establishing a Success Criteria?

You are creating a new product for marketing and the sales force. The exit criteria might be to stop working on the project when the expected sales price reaches a certain value. There are degrees of success based upon the profits expected. The success criteria, which could be a mere image of the exit criteria, could be to develop a product than can sell for less than a certain dollar value.

Often, we set up the success factors for the finished project. By going agile it will be so very important to break down those success factors into smaller ones and going into a stepwise approach. How shall I connect these to stakeholders?

Every project can have a different definition of success. When working with stakeholders, step #1 is having an agreed upon definition of success. Step #2 is then working with the stakeholders to decide upon the metrics and critical success factors you will use to confirm throughout the project that success is achievable. This should be done at the beginning of the project and reported on dashboards periodically.

Set yourself up for success with IIL’s Project Management training

BENEFIT HARVESTING

What’s the benefit of doing benefit harvesting? What’s the value to the company?

The results of a project are deliverables and outcomes. These, by themselves, have very limited value unless someone can harvest the benefits expected from them.

Dr. Kerzner, can you recommend any resources (authors, journals, etc.) to help educate PMs on the topic of Benefit Harvesting?

There are some books on Change Management that include benefits harvesting. I wrote a white paper for IIL on Benefits Realization and Value Management.

If benefit harvesting is part of project management then don’t you think it is taking a big piece of program management?

Yes, it is a massive piece of project management but many people haven’t realized it as yet.

Who exactly is harvesting benefits from the project in business environment? If the successful project outcome is then transferred to operations, it seems that operations colleagues are those that are harvesting benefits from the successful project.

Sales and marketing may be responsible for harvesting the benefits of new products created through projects. IT may be responsible for harvesting the benefits of new software to be used. Other projects that lead to change management initiatives may be transferred to specific groups in operations.

Hi Harold – great Keynote! Within organizations that commit to having project teams involved in benefit harvesting and value extraction, is there evidence that the number of projects delivered within that organization is reduced? If so, does the value delivered with this expanded focus outweigh what could be achieved by delivering more projects?

When companies learn how to create metrics to measure and report benefits and value, it will become easier to establish a portfolio of projects that maximizes the expected benefits and value to the firm. In this regard, the high value or high benefits projects will be prioritized. We will also then eliminate the “pet” projects of senior management that may or may not produce benefits. I would expect the number or projects to be reduced.

Dr. Kerzner, shouldn’t benefit harvesting be done before the project even begins, to identify the benefits and value the project will provide? Or, is benefit harvesting different from the process of Cost/Benefit Analysis, finding the ROI etc.? Thank you!

Benefits harvesting cannot be done until there are outcomes and deliverables; i.e. completed projects. Also, cost/benefit analysis is based upon a “guess” as to what the benefits will be, and usually the benefits are explained qualitatively, not quantitatively. The true C/B ratio and ROI cannot be determined accurately until after benefits harvesting.

Do we need to wait till we complete the project and realise the deliverable, then work on harvesting the benefits and then sustaining the values? Is it a linear relationship between those three elements of deliverables, benefits and values?

Very good question. I explained it as though it is linear. Actually, it is nonlinear if we work on projects where we can establish metrics for benefits and value and perform the measurements throughout the project. Unfortunately, most companies are not that mature yet and tend to perform benefits realization and value management after the project delivers an outcome. Agile and Scrum projects are an exception.

Great presentation, thank you. What do you see as the differences, if any, between change management and benefits harvesting?

Change management includes all of the activities that may have to be done at project completion to harvest the benefits.

MISCELLANEOUS

Great information. The only one I wasn’t too clear on is the Impact of Mergers & Acquisitions on Project Management. Can you briefly summarize that one?

Whenever there are M&A activities, there will be a landlord and a tenant. Believing that there will be equal partners is not going to happen. The problem is when the landlord dictates to the tenant how project management should work even though the tenant has a superior approach to project management. Developing an agreed-upon approach that both parties will accept will take time.

If it takes years to realize benefits, how can executives decide if the exit criteria are applicable?

The exit criteria identify when to pull the plug on the project. The exit criteria on the project must be monitored throughout the life of the project, not only to see if it is still valid, but to see if it needs to be updated or changed.

I don’t think it depends on culture. I think it’s understanding the way people solve problems. Bridging adaptive and innovative problem-solving styles trumps culture.

I agree with you. There are books being written on a topic called “Design Thinking” which relates to innovation project management. Design thinking requires a total acceptance by the culture of a firm and may cause a new culture to be created that focuses on collaboration and decision-making. I am researching this topic now.


Harold Kerzner (M.S., Ph.D., Engineering, and M.B.A) is IIL’s Senior Executive Director for Project Management. He is a globally recognized expert on project management and strategic planning, and the author of many best-selling textbooks including Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling and Project Management 2.0. Dr. Kerzner has previously taught project management and business administration at Baldwin-Wallace University, engineering at the University of Illinois and business administration at Utah State University. He obtained his industrial experience at Thiokol Corporation where he held both program management and project engineering responsibilities on a variety of NASA, Air Force, Army, Navy and internal R&D programs.

Have a question for Dr. Kerzner? Leave your comment below.

Content has been edited and condensed for clarity.

PMI, PMBOK, and PMP are marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

Comments (8)

  • Paul Dandurand

    Great interview and it covers a lot of areas.

    I would like to suggest mixing project management with agile/scrum projects for certain projects, such as New Product Development that require sprints as the development tickets are being invented on the fly as sprint scope is managed by time, features, bugs, rework, next business value, etc. Let’s now say this new product project is a version to be deployed to end customers. The first phases could be for planning, resourcing, budgeting, and design. The middle phases could be for building using sprints and scrum. The last phases could be finalizing systems integration testing, end-user training material, new blog post, go-live, and review lessons learned. So, the first and last phases of the sandwich are traditional linear project management steps, whereas, the middle meat contains the agile sprints that have their own scrum management processes. It’s like a hand-off between one chef to the next chef.

  • Gerry Cort

    Agree

  • Cora Barrios

    Been always interested in PM but have not taken any formal course in PM by itself. My knowledge of PM are just through subjects integrated into my masters program under leadership, attending workshops & conferences, readings on PM, minimal participation in minor project teams, observation, and being in a team designed to do projects. This presentation excited me tremendously to take the formal program. If I do, what is the program duration, cost, best institution to attend, and all the other details? Thank you.

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