Adapting to Agile: Workflow Changes to Project Management

Adjusting To AgileWhen customers come to AV resellers and installers to ask them to provide an AV installation, part of the service is project management. Someone has to communicate with the customer and stay on top of the progress and any changes that are made.

Customers are familiar with project managers; they usually have a whole set of project managers that work for them already. Each company will have a culture of how they do project management. Some companies have made the choice to embrace the Agile project management style and may request that their installer work within their Agile framework. However, there are two major flavors of project management: Waterfall and Agile.

Waterfall-style project management is older and gets its name from a particular idea. Imagine all the requirements of a project are gathered with all the materials, so the planning for the project is held in place like water behind a dam. At a designated time, the work will begin. All the planning is released like water set free from that dam. The project will flow out like a waterfall, gushing forward to its inevitable end point.

This is an attractive analogy. Wouldn’t it be nice if projects could be fully planned ahead of time and executed with that kind of certainty?

Some projects lend themselves to that kind of planning, such as construction projects and infrastructure projects. AV installations are often categorized as IT infrastructure projects. The Statements of Work, with defined scope, responsibilities and exclusions are a perfect example of the objectives of a waterfall style project. The PMP certification focuses on waterfall planning, and the learning in the PM Book of Knowledge outlines tools for managing many situations that arise in projects.

But projects are feral things, not subject to best practices. It takes a wily project manager to wrestle them into the desired direction. The waterfall concept was improved upon by some thought leaders in the ‘90s, men who were deeply involved in software development. A manifesto with certain values was agreed upon:

  • People over process
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Software developers had a different process than those of us dealing with physical materials. But those four value statements are compelling.

This style of project management gained energy, and the software developers and their project managers found much value in this Agile or Scrum style of project management. The principles of adaptability in responding to change, like putting people and value first, has been a compelling reason for many businesses to adopt it and even ask their business partners to use it, or at least be able to engage with it.

AV companies — and the extent that they use a system — usually use the waterfall method. Our projects lend themselves to a pre-defined statement of work. Customers that want an Agile style will have a vocabulary and a rhythm of specific deliverables that AV companies would do well to interface with.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet that will help AV sales and PMs navigate through an agile project management style: Project deliverables are called User Stories, and Milestones are tasks put into a work backlog. User Acceptance Tests are very important in both worlds. In Agile, it’s called a Review.

The most prominent tool in the Agile framework is the Standup Meeting. I’ve found the daily Standup Meeting is quite useful for checking in with installation teams as daily work reports. In the Agile daily Standup Meeting, the team answers three questions:

  • What did I do last workday?
  • What do I plan to do my next workday?
  • What blocks are in my way?

When I check in with my install team, these are exactly the details I need to know. It’s the perfect daily report format, and it makes sense when people want to use an Agile framework. Customers need to be able to trust their partners. Taking a few moments to understand their vocabulary and adapt to it is worth the effort to deepen the bond with a customer.