I’ve written before that I am not an “Agile” nor “agile” development nor project management expert. I’ve previously proposed that one by product of “agile” development and project management in general is a reduction in over architect-ed software solutions. With project requirements being represented as stories and tools such as Kanban boards for lean software development to show the flow of work through a process, one might think the classic waterfall project management work and schedule reporting tool, the Gantt chart, is obsolete. Before you abandon this tried and true project schedule reporting solution for the more transparent status inherent in agile project management, you may want to keep reading.
So, you have succeeded in transitioning your IT project management and delivery methodology to one that is more aligned with “agile” than “waterfall”. Your non-IT stakeholders are more engaged than ever in the project requirements definition, prioritization and sprint/release scheduling process. You are tempted to stop trying to use MS Project or other tools to represent schedules in Gantt form. In a word: “don’t”.
One of the main criticisms of complete agile project management is: “The dangers are the loss of recognition that systems/solutions change continually over time as well as team members” Put in more direct, bullet point form from my experience of this criticism expressed by product or management stakeholders:
What is the big picture?
I have the big picture in mind, when am I going to get X?
At the current burn rate, how much time will be invested before I get Y?
If I add/subtract resources, what will be the impact on the big picture?
These are all criticism subsets that can be directly addressed with the data collection associated with producing a classic Gantt chart. So don’t throw away those Gantt chart creation disciplines just yet.
What is the big picture? I have the big picture in mind, when am I going to get X?
Let the sprint/release iterations continue, but don’t let too much time go by past the releases to meet with the product stakeholders and update your rendition of the product road-map. (You have your road-map, right? You aren’t letting the business surprise you with all requests, right?) This is a great opportunity to get an early indicator if product stakeholders have become caught up in their immediate needs and lost sight of the “cost” of those features. By “cost” I mean the investment in features now means pushing out the product road map. You can gently remind them how the “cost” appears graphically in a Gantt. The Gantt view of their product can clearly show “milestone 45” getting pushed into the next quarter due to their recent feature bonanza. It is much easier to have the “hey, I thought I was getting milestone 45 this quarter” discussion as soon as the schedule shows initial signs of slippage rather then at the start of the next quarter.
At the current burn rate, how much time will be invested before I get Y? If I add/subtract resources, what will be the impact on the big picture?
Here again is where your mastery of tools such as MS Project and the Gantt chart view of the product road map are exceedingly important. If you are working for a MidWestern company, rather than say, a start-up, you can’t ignore traditional budget and resource management constraints. As a start-up in growth mode, your focus is getting your product out the door with the resources you have or your resources plus the on boarding of additional resources. In a MidWestern company, you are most likely trying to maximize the resources you have or being asked to reduce your head count while still meeting project expectations. Thus, prioritizing features to be delivered against a shrinking resource pool is a given. You need something beyond the agile sprints/releases under way to manage project stakeholder expectations on what can be accomplished when.
The Gantt view of the work allows for a graphical view of “if this is more important, what else is impacted” realities. Additionally, add in the need to manage a fixed pool of resources across multiple agile projects and you absolutely have to have some way to represent a view of the prioritized work across all resources. In addition, you may need additional tools to help represent the “what if our team member Sally gets assigned to the VP’s ‘special project’, what does that do to our resource model and what can get done when?”
As an IT manager or IT project lead in a MidWestern company that is moving towards more agile project management and technology delivery, you may be tempted to relax the project management disciplines that come with the more traditional waterfall approach, specifically tracking project schedules in a Gantt chart. In order to avoid the inevitable product stakeholder expectation mismatches as well as pending budget cutbacks and/or uncontrollable resource re-allocations, keep collecting that “program management” data. Continue to have re-occurring meetings to review the “big picture” Gantt chart view of the work and use other tools to reflect “what if” scenarios and their impact on the big picture.