Recently, I had a conversion with a project manager (certified or not, it doesn’t matter) and he was asking questions in a department meeting concerning agile. The topic that prompted his questions was in response to a request to have PM artifacts that can be used on agile projects. That is code for how can we have the project managers create a Microsoft Project (MSP) plan and give it to managers and senior leaders. One of his questions was how can a project manager use MSP for agile? In responding to his own question, he stated that it cannot be done and it is counter-productive. My name was thrown in as a person who provided a MSP template that could be used as an agile template. Some context, I was responding to a request for an agile MSP template and I just happened to have one J

During the conversation, the project manager that asked the question, once hearing this, turned to me and mouthed, you actually used an MSP plan for an agile project? And it worked? After the meeting he followed me to my desk and I showed him the template. The link to what I created is here: Many thanks to Vincent McGevna and MPUG. I used to be the president of the Greater Cincinnati chapter in the early 2000s. Now, after discussing uses of the template and agile in general, he told me about his experience. He managed agile projects where there was no product owner, Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS) was being used, and the project team gave sizes (T-shirt) and resisted provided daily updates. Oh, they had daily scrums, but they did not want to provide the project manager their hours worked that day. They were on 2-week sprints and sometimes they had demo.

Now, I know agile purists will say a software tool should not be used and there needs to be a product owner, scrum master, and daily scrums with progress (in hours) added to the index card on the information radiator; and I somewhat agree. I would add and counter that if you are in a company doing agile and there is no product owner, or proxy, then you are NOT doing agile! If you are in a company doing agile and there is no information radiator visible to the project team  then you are NOT doing agile! Where I will differ, if you are in a company doing agile and you are using a software tool, MSP, Microsoft Excel, TFS, then you COULD be doing agile. Companies are increasing moving toward agility and by necessity will want to try to cram agile into their bureaucratic, document heavy, command-and-control environment. Don’t fret, remember, moving toward agility is an iterative process where you need to incorporate organizational change management concepts. For example, if you are asked, or told, to use MSP as an agile tool, use it; however, make sure you create an information radiator that is visible to the team. Lead the team in iteration/sprint planning where user points are obtained and place them in your tool. Focus more of serving the team and use the tool to support you instead of other way around. In Microsoft Project 2013 you can create a burndown chart . Earlier versions of MSP will create a burndown chart for you but in Microsoft Excel format (e.g. Using Microsoft Excel files can perform the same thing as well as well-known tools.

Regarding the missing product owner, if a product owner, or proxy, is not available I would question is agile the right approach to use for the project. Who will answer the teams questions on the user stories; who will attend the demo and comment on what was product; who will groom and prioritize the user stores, epics, themes in the product backlog, the project manager? For that matter, who will create the user stories, the project manager? If you answer is yes, then you are NOT doing agile. You, my friend, are doing waterfall masking in aa agile costume.

Getting back to the project manager in question, he started to denounce the use of a software tool, Microsoft in particular, and continue to go on about how success using the software tool will not work in his environment. Remember, the goal isn’t to win an argument but to take the opportunity to teach and educate.  Agile software development, and agile project management, is still in its infancy in corporate America and in order to gain converts, you must show them the path and have patience in their pursuit to agility while you guide them to the light! As I’ve always stated, move toward agility…iteratively™.

What do you think?