Each year CGI conducts Voice of Our Clients interviews with executives across industries to understand priorities and trends and provide actionable insights. When looking at responses for questions about innovation and digitization, the priority identified (such as agile IT delivery and infrastructure, enabling business process improvements, and leveraging predictive analytics) will require a greater degree of agility to be successful. This often requires a new way of working, with many people wondering how (or if) traditional project managers fit in. Through my 20 years of working in project implementation, and with project management and agile certifications, it is my experience that good project managers can play a part and enable agility.
Bridging the gap of understanding: why agility is needed
When pivoting to agile, many leaders and team members may not understand the root causes for needing to move from waterfall project methodology and the way in which many are accustomed to working. Project managers can speak from experience on the issues of the waterfall projects from lengthy design documents that are out of date and never utilized to the negative impact of not focusing on value priorities and not engaging and collaborating with stakeholders early and often. The experience of lessons learned, with examples that leadership and team members can relate to, can help provide the understanding for why the change is important and the impact that it will have. I have seen project managers who have success with moving to agile share their learnings with colleagues, advocate for changes and collaborating with others on pivoting. This resulted in increased client and team satisfaction, increased user acceptance and quicker delivery. Project managers can be the biggest champions of the change to agility when included in the process.
Supporting and enabling a culture of continuous improvement
One of the core pillars to agility is the focus on continuous improvement, with frequent opportunities to reflect on work completed to identify actionable issues to address and build on successes. While waterfall typically has a lessons learned at the end of a project, a good project manager is not waiting to recognize and implement changes, both big and small, for project success. This may or may not be done through formal and regularly scheduled retrospectives, but project managers are listening to and collaborating with stakeholders and team members to identify and implement changes for improvement. Project managers understand how to work with teams to identify root cause and brainstorm solutions. With this experience, project managers are able to help support and enable a culture of Continuous Improvement.
Looking beyond the title
Previously, it may have been that a project manager had their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and that was the only certification obtained or needed. In today’s environment, that is often no longer true. Many project managers have agile certifications and experience, incorporating the principles into their everyday work even on waterfall projects. For example, project managers are utilizing daily stand-ups, demos, and continuous improvement as noted previously, and coaching others on these practices, to improve project success. I have seen my peers embracing agile values such as “working software over comprehensive documentation” and “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” based on their continued learning and experiences with agile. If only looking at a title, this experience and knowledge that can be beneficial to business agility may easily be overlooked.
Leveraging relationships to influence change
One of the most cited obstacles to agility is the resistance to change. A key strength of a good project manager is ability to build relationships across an organization. To be effective, a project manager must have solid relationships and trust with leadership, business stakeholders, and team members. These relationships can be leveraged to not only help champion the change but to help coach and train others.
To be successful, project managers must be adept in communication, facilitation, risk and issue management, and continuous improvement. These are core skills that can translate into agility and agile roles. While not all will fit into this group, there are project managers who can help to facilitate business agility and continue to move it forward. To the question of do traditional project managers have what it takes to become agile? The best ones absolutely do, and have been utilizing and incorporating agile (if even they are not calling that).
Is your organization curious about pivoting to agile? Learn more about how to get started.