One of the problems for an Agile PM is how much, or little, to intervene and when.
As an Agile transformation coach , all the initial emphasis is put on ensuring that PMs are not command and control, not directive and behave like “good chickens” for their team. This is the standard starting point for an Agile PM managing a performing, adult team
However, if things are not going so well, it may be necessary for the PM to change behaviours. After all, the Agile PM is still responsible for delivering the project and managing the risks and issues. From an Agile point of view, this is acceptable, but the level of intervention should be a graduated “ramping up” process, and it needs to be a temporary measure (although changing teams embedded bad behaviours can take some time). It is not a good idea to go straight in at Defcon 1 level.
So the guiding principle is that a team is given every opportunity to step up and do the best they can do. This is based on an assumption that team members will behave as responsible adults. Where possible, the team should try to heal themselves (typically a combination of peer pressure and team culture)
However, where this isn’t working, the Agile PM will need to adopt, and escalate, a suitable level of intervention:
Can it be fixed easily? Is there something the team need so that they can do what is expected of them? Small risk?. This may result in training, coaching, confidence building, etc.
Look deeper – try to understand the specific behaviours that are causing the problems (people are complex, combinations of people, i.e. teams, even more so). Agile works on the assumption that people behave like responsible adults. This is, sadly, not always the case. Risk to project is now increasing. Do these behaviours track back to an individual or is this a team-wide issue? Doing things like a Belbin check for the team may help here. Sometimes an informal chat with the appropriate line manager(s) can also help. At this point, the PM’s objective is to encourage an individual or the whole team to improve behaviours. The PM level of intervention / direction will increase.
Individuals or the entire team still not measuring up to what they need to do. At this point, the problem needs to be tackled head-on with the team or individual, since Risk to project is now even higher. The PM, (if possible, working with Scrum Master / PO needs to start stepping in – It is possible that the PM now becomes an honorary pig in the team (a chick-pig?).
Despite all efforts, one or more members of the team are unwilling or unable to change behaviours. Project delivery is now at high risk. Direct intervention and an element of command and control becomes justified. As a reflection of the situation, the PM can even adopt an specific role in the team such as Scrum Master or PO.
Obviously, one thing to remember is that adopting any level of intervention must only be a temporary solution and not become the status quo. This intervention should be promptly scaled down as soon as the causes generating the risk to the project are mitigated or resolved.
Blog Post Credits
This blog post reproduces most of the contents found in an excellent coaching article produced by Barbara Roberts, Director for Professional Development at DSDM Consortium, during an Agile Transformation project we completed together.
You can find out more information about the Agile Transformation project in one of the Keynote Presentations of the Agile Business Conference 2011. If you are interested in talking about project, find me at the conference for a chat.