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

Content has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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.

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.

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


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.

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


Why Your Agile Implementation Failed

Join IIL’s virtual conference on Thursday, May 4th for more insights on Agile, Scrum, and Kanban.

By Roy Schilling

At one point in my career, I was a manager in a large financial organization.  Being tired of missed deadlines and disappointed customers, I wanted a better way to deliver – faster, better, cheaper.  I had been reading about Agile and how it had helped organizations with exactly what I was looking to solve.

My Agile journey started pretty much like everyone else – hours on the internet and a 2-day class.  At the end of the class, I was the proud owner of a certificate and had a high-level of confidence that I could implement this Agile thing in my organization.  I quickly looked for a project, formed my team and started executing – now we’re Agile!  The result, however, was something quite different from what I expected.  The team never really formed, we had personalities that didn’t work well together, people were getting yanked out of the team for “special assignments”, and a whole host of other anti-patterns which caused us to ultimately fail – and in a big way.

The reality was that I had no idea what I was doing.  I had no experience and no one to help set up the guardrails needed to keep the team (and me) headed in the right direction.  Sadly, this is a very common situation.  Lots of energy, desire, motivation, but no experience to make it work.  Training was a great start, but not enough to guarantee success.

 

I could have walked away with my failure, and declared Agile to be the problem.  “It just can’t work in my organization” is something I’ve heard far too often as an excuse for simple mistakes.  Instead, I was fortunate enough to have met someone with significant experience in the industry, who offered his help to mentor and coach me.  After spending a short time together, we got my team re-aligned, analyzed skill sets and personalities, setup team working agreements and started working with leadership to help them understand their part in all this.  In short, he got me back on track.

 

One of the most important things he helped me with was in becoming a better leader.  He helped me understand that I was spending too much time managing down, worrying about “resource allocation” and dealing with the minutia of daily activities.  I had hired good people; it was time to get out of their way, let them do their jobs and give them the support they needed to accomplish the goals they set out to achieve.  This was a major change from my management style, and one of the most difficult and important lessons I had ever learned as a manager.  Without his help, I may never have made that leap.

 

To summarize, hiring a coach taught me:

  1. To be an active listener
  2. To give my team the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done
  3. To effectively communicate with everyone, and always find the time for face-to-face discussions (and daily stand-ups)

 

But most importantly,

He taught me how to successfully implement Agile and get everyone on the same page; how to destroy the barriers and bring a new mentality to the company as a whole.

Having a coach to help me through the transformation (personal and organizational) was critical to the success of my organization.  Without his involvement, I would likely have had failure after failure, or just walked away from it altogether.  The cost to my organization would have been significant due to those failures, and I still would have had disappointed customers.

I’ve since moved on and have become an Agile coach myself, but even with many years’ experience behind me, I still reach out to other coaches and my mentor for advice, and to share my experiences to help others as well.

If you are transforming your organization, or just yourself, take advice from someone who has already gone through it.

Avoid my mistakes – find a coach/mentor, learn from others who have more experience than you, ask for help and embrace your mistakes.


Roy Schilling is an Agile Trainer and Coach and is based in the Charlotte area.  Roy has 30+ years in IT and 16+ years practicing Lean/Agile in small to large organizations. Roy’s certifications include CSM, CSPO, CSP, ACP and ICP-ACC.


...there's no success like failure, and...failure's no success at all.”

By J. LeRoy Ward, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM   |   Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL 

No matter how many times I read this line, or hear it sung by Bob Dylan in his song “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” I think of projects that have, by any standard measure of project management, been massive failures, and yet over the years have turned out to be raging successes.

I’m thinking specifically of projects such as the Sydney Opera House, the Hubble Telescope, and Boston’s Big Dig. In some ways, these projects were just too big and too important to fail regardless of the time it took or what they cost. They just had to get done.

Michael Dean of Podio (part of Citrix) wrote a short but interesting article highlighting quite a few “budget busting” projects. In it, he provides a list of projects, most of which you probably know well or at least have heard of, that by conventional measures were failures.

Take the Sydney Opera House for example. That project was a whopping 1,400% (or so) over budget. The architect resigned in disgrace midway through the project vowing never to return to Australia again, so frustrated was he by the Sydneysiders he was reporting to. And yet, this iconic structure defines a country.

No visit to Australia is complete without visiting it, walking around its massive exterior, or floating by it as it juts out on Bennelong Point into Sydney Harbor. It’s a magnificent piece of work enjoyed by millions through the years (although, truth be told, I did find my seat to be a little uncomfortable during a performance there!). If you were to ask most folks in Australia today they would argue that the Sydney Opera House was nothing short of a majestic success.

Anyway, all this has me thinking that perhaps we spend too much time agonizing over a few bucks here, and a few months there. Maybe our definition of “project failure” needs to be adjusted some.

For example, if you lengthen the original business case by a few years from the original estimate, many projects would be considered successes rather than failures. Why do I say that? Because that’s what business writers, and maybe even Boeing itself, think about the 787 Dreamliner. Sure, if measured by its original business case, the plane is probably considered a failure, but most people believe that Boeing will recover all their lost costs and start making a lot of money because more and more customers appear willing to buy more of this innovative flying machine that will be around for a very long time.

In some cases, no one really knows how certain projects (especially large, complex endeavors that have never been done before) will end up, do they? After all, when they begin they are all based on estimates; but, as we know, estimates can change – for better or worse, by very wide margins.

Here’s another thought: maybe we even need to stop dwelling on project failure so much and start obsessing with our successes.

I’m not sure what that would do for the likes of Standish, Gartner, Forrester and others who make so much hay (and money) talking about project failure, but it might be good to take a different perspective every once in a while.

What’s your take? Have you had a massive failure that actually worked out great in the end?

By the way: If you’re a Bob Dylan fan, here’s an old clip I found on YouTube of him singing this great classic.

LeRoy Ward

J. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and adviser to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.