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Crossing the Bridge to Agility with Michele Sliger
Recorded at:

Interview with Michele Sliger by David Bulkin on Jan 27, 2012 |
17:04

Bio Michele Sliger has worked in software development for over 20 years, and has been embracing change with agile methodologies for the last ten of those years. Co-author of the book The Software Project Manager’s Bridge to Agility and a self-described “bridge builder,” her passion lies in helping those in traditional software development environments cross the bridge to agility.

The Agile Alliance organizes the Agile series conference, which bring together all the key people in the Agile space to talk about techniques and technologies, attitudes and policies, research and experience, and the management and development sides of agile software development.

   

2. Michele, one of the things you are famous for is your book, "The Software Project Manager’s Guide to Agility" can you tell us why you wrote the book?

I am the co-author along with Stacia Viscardi and the two of us both have a background from the PMI, the Project Management Institute, and we both have PMP and when we were introduced to Agile, we fully embraced it and went with it and during the early years we discovered that there were misconceptions on both sides, both in the Agile world and in the PMI world. In the PMI world it was that Agile is a fad, or you can’t do Agile and maintain your PMP and follow the PMBoK. And over in the Agile side of things, it was like "Oh, you have a PMP, there is no way you can understand Agile then, because you guys are all command and control". So, Stacia and I put our heads together and said "What we need to do is write a book that sort of bridges that divide and let folks know that you can do Agile and be in keeping with the PMBoK". So that was the impetus for the book.

   

3. So, this book covers common sense advice for people on both side of the divide?

Well, it’s interesting you said that because I had a lot of Agile consultants come to me and say thank you so much for writing that, I have clients who have a lot of PMPs and I used the book as an introduction or an ice breaker and it also helped me to understand the terminology and the PMBoK and the way that they are used to thinking about project management. So it’s helped a lot of Agile consultants in that respect but it was written primarily for the traditionally trained project manager who’s been doing software projects following PMI standards and the PMBoK.

   

4. Now how long ago did you write that book?

I don’t know I guess it has been about five years or so.

   

5. That has been quite a while now. Have you seen anything that would motivate you to make an update?

We should, and Stacia and I have been talking about that recently, that book was written for the third edition of the PMBoK and of course the forth edition of the PMBoK is out, and in fact there is already a group of people preparing the fifth edition of the PMBoK out. So from the PMI standpoint we really should come up with the second edition of the book, but also from an Agile standpoint there have been lots of wonderful things that have been happening in the Agile community and we should be adding areas from the Agile side that didn’t make it in the first book. In particular I am thinking about things around Kanban, about how Agile is being used in continuous integration, and in Dev Ops. Now, it will be nice to include those things in a second edition as well. So yes we actually should do something about that and we are talking about it.

   

6. You really should, we are news here, so we want Bridge 2.0 and the actual delivery date.

I can’t give you that date yet but I can tell you that we are talking about it.

   

7. I’m kidding, I am trying to look for scoop audience. All right, some of the recent things that are changing in the industry talking about the PMI in fact is the new Agile certified profession or ACP as it is known, that certification. Do you know a lot about it? Can you give us a little bit about the PMI-ACP, and what it covers?

I was on the steering committee for their program, the Agile certification program with PMI, with a lot of different people, and I am very pleased about that, I think it’s a good well rounded certification, because we had representatives on the steering committee from XP, from Scrum, from Lean, Kanban, DSDM, Crystal and probably more that I’m forgetting about right now. But what we wanted to make sure was that all of these different approaches to being Agile were represented as PMI considered how to create the certification. I think that we’ve done a good job and as of this recording it’s in the beta mode right now, it’s in the pilot, so it will continue to iterate or rather PMI will continue to iterate through and make sure that they improve the process and the test.

   

8. Now that particular certification is that for someone who is a leader in an Agile team? Is that the focus of it? Is it of a more general nature?

I believe if I remember correctly it’s Agile Certified Practitioner and so I think that the idea around that is that it doesn’t have to be strictly a project manager but to your point any leader on the team, especially if you’ve been working in an Agile setting and say for example you’ve been doing Scrum you would be probably a Scrum Master, and you may not have that title of project manager. So I like the way that you put it, it is for folks who have been leaders in that area and who have been practicing it and would like to pursue the certification.

   

10. Bridges all over the place. So the Scrum Alliance recently strengthened the CSP the processes of strengthening that certification. And being a board member what do you think about that particular certification, is that important in the industry? I mean right now the Scrum Alliance side the certified ScrumMaster is sort of the most popular and the Certified Scrum Product Owner, is gaining popularity, the CSP itself is pretty small and there are some other certifications out there like the CSC, how do you think the CSP certification plays, is that important?

It is important and there is a demand for it, and especially now that we’re putting some real teeth into it so it’s going to be a meaningful certification, you know it’s very easy to get your CSM or your CSPO, you go to two day class, you participate and you can get that certification, it’s very entry level. So the CSP serves a need to differentiate those who’ve actually been practicing it and understand how to put Scrum into play in their projects and who’ve been doing that and have learnt some lessons as a result of actually practicing it. We also want to, in the future, once we get our pilot out and get it established we’re going to pursue certification, ANSI ISO certification, so that it can be globally recognized.

   

11. Ok, so globally recognized standard. Now, not to make this whole discussion about certifications, I’ve only got one or two questions. So we have this CSM, very popular, we had the new PMI-ACP, we have the CSP, will they play together, is this kind of CSM is the entry level certification?

Yes, so there’s a misconception out there that Agile is Scrum and that that’s it. And we need to be very clear that Agile is much more than Scrum, there’s a broad variety of different ways to do the practices that were laid out in the Agile manifesto. So while the PMI’s Agile test is going to have questions on it that include Scrum, but also XP, Lean, Crystal, Kanban, the whole breath of what it means to be Agile, all the different philosophies and viewpoints are Scrum certifications focused solely on Scrum and that particular framework. So they are different and the CSM is a certification that you can get while in pursuit of your PMI certification, because one of the prerequisite is that you have to have, I believe it’s twenty-one contact hours in order too even qualify for PMI certification. So you can get that as you go and pursue your CSM, you’d learn more about Scrum, you’d get your contact hours that you need to set for the PMI exam and you’d learn a lot about Agile in the process.

   

13. In fact I’m guessing you’d probably buy two copies, one for home and one for work, to have it conveniently. Other than buying your book and a couple of copies of it, how does the traditional PM progress toward more Agility, what steps, what recommendations do you have for them?

You know, the path is going to be different for everybody. One of the things that I try to make sure people really understand it’s that Agile really is a philosophy, so it is a mindset change, you can’t just say "Well, these practices here are the traditional ones and I’m going to set them here and I’m going to pick up these that are Agile, I’ll do these Agile practices and poof, I’ll be Agile". It just doesn’t work that way, you’ve really got to understand what the intent is behind what it means to be Agile, what it means to truly think of the customer in everything you do and what their needs are and how you can deliver value faster, more frequently. So, for someone who is starting on that journey it’s really just about educating yourself however you can and there are so many different opportunities, there’s local chapters you can go to, there’s blogs you can read, books you can buy, videos that you can watch, classes you can go to, it really is endless and it just depends.

   

14. I think you forget to mention InfoQ.

That’s part of the videos you can watch. There you go, and the articles you can read. So there’s lots of places you can start to learn more about Agile and a lot of them are free content, so you don’t have to pay a fortune to get started. And the best thing that I recommend is find your local user group and start going to those meetings and start talking to people who are currently doing Agile and start asking them questions what is it like for them, how did they get started. And that’s the best way to go.

   

15. One of the things you mentioned was, I might be paraphrasing you a bit, but a focus on principles and intent, instead of the mechanics. With that being said, can you summarize, we talked about the customer focus. Take it a little bit deeper; what are some of the other Agile principles that a typical PM would have to consider to broaden their approach and the way they look at a project?

Well, the first thing, of course, I would recommend is if you understand the philosophy and principles that are in the Agile manifesto, that’s where you’d want to start. And then, of course, over the years we’ve come up with these little short phrases that we use when we think of a lot of the more detailed information that is in the manifesto, like "Deliver early and often", "Work at a sustainable pace", "Work iteratively" so that you can have rapid feedback cycles. So all of these are in the manifesto so that’s really the best place to start to understand what of all these particular principles are.

   

17. Not sure. Another question that I have, if I’m the traditional PM, one the things traditional PM’s have a problem with is the concept of self-managing teams or self-organization, in fact the concern generally expressed is "If the team self manages, what do I do"? If I was a PM, let’s just do a little role-play, "Hi, Michele, I’ve been a PM for now twenty seven years, and this Agile stuff is telling me I have to let my team self-manage, what do I do now"?

Have fun. That was factitious I’m sorry. There is a lot of work even in self-organizing teams, because what you have to do, what you’re responsible for now is providing a safe environment so that they can self-organize. You have to watch for the dysfunctions and smooth the path and work on mediating between team members if you see those dysfunctions come up. You’ve got to make sure they understand what the goal is, why should they come together, what is it they’re supposed to be doing, what’s the vision, what’s the purpose, is it meaningful, do they buy into it, what questions do they have. So you’re responsible for making sure that they understand the purpose because otherwise if they can’t come together as a unified whole to achieve a particular purpose, they’ll not be able to self-organize.

If they can’t do it in an environment where they feel safe, then they won’t be able to self-organize. If there is contention and dysfunction, then they won’t be able to fully reach that high performing ability that they would if they were all getting along together. So those are the things that you need to start focusing on, and once the team has grocked what it is they need to do and has started working together to do it, that’s when you can start figuring out what are the things that are now getting in the team’s way, what are the obstacles, and starting to remove those. So you end up becoming not just a manager, but a liaison, an ambassador, a mediator, a negotiator, a politician, because you’ve also now, in removing some of those obstacles from the team, a lot of those obstacles tend to be outside of the teams purview, so to speak, outside the control of the team.

   

18. So to paraphrase you, I guess if I’m a traditional PM I would spend a lot of time in minutia, management of details. Now I’m looking a lot more at the big picture, make sure I understand the vision; the focus and then I help create an environment for success instead of managing the details. So in fact for most traditional PM’s it should be a great opportunity because it sure sounds like a lot more interesting and fun job.

It is and it’s hard. It’s more fun, partly because there are more challenges and it can be more difficult, not everybody wants to take on the negotiator, mediator, ambassador, politician, strategist role, so it’s something to consider. I mean you are an agent of organizational change as an Agile project manager so that’s what you need to be prepared for.

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