Book Review : Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products

I just finished reading “Agile Project Management : Creating Innovative Products” By Jim Highsmith (Addison-Wesley Professional, July, 2010).  The author makes a compelling case for reviewing the traditional ways of measuring project and team performance when an organization chooses to use Agile Development approaches.

The author emphasizes three key areas where Agile methodologies are different from more traditional PM approaches:
Emphasizing Value Over Constraints : While constraints like time and cost cannot be ignored, they should not be the sole focus of the team. Instead the team must focus on creating customer value.
Team Over Tasks : The Agile Project Manager must not focus on managing tasks in a project plan; instead, she must focus on evolving a collaborative leadership style, as opposed to a command-oriented one.
Adapt Over Conform : Beyond accepting that change is inevitable, an Agile Project Manager must embrace it. Therefore, the Manager’s focus is on adapting to change rather than tracking to a baseline plan.

These are powerful and thought provoking ideas. Highsmith goes on to introduce a new Project Management model. In lieu of the more traditional:  Initiate -Plan- Define -Design -Build -Test cycles, he proposes an Envision- Speculate – Explore – Adapt – Close – Model. The difference is that his model openly acknowledges the reality that it is impossible to know up front exactly what the final  Product will look like. Therefore, the model encourages prototyping and exploration in order to achieve project goals.

Finally, Highsmith also suggests that traditional Project success measurements need to change to deal with the new model. This is the section of the book that I found the weakest. The author suggests that the focus should be on measuring team outcomes such as quality of end product/release, productivity, realiability, and then only on constraints such as time and effort expended. He also makes a case for allowing for tolerances in budgets and other metrics. He does suggest that teams be benchmarked against measures of excellence in order to foster some discipline. However, his preference is for teams to be evaluated on Value provided.  In my opinion, this is difficult in real-world situations where budgets are often a fixed constraint.

Overall  I would definitely recommend this book to get you thinking about Agile Project Management in an entirely new way.

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