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“At Agile 2011, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Agile Manifesto …. There are three major phases of the Agile movement: Rogue Team, Courageous Executive, and Enlightened Enterprise. … The real question is how we continue, how we keep Agile fresh and invigorated through continuous innovation. The answer lies in staying on the cutting edge, and not succumbing to the bureaucratization and standardization that afflicted many movements.” Agile’s past, present and future. Jim Highsmith, SD Times, August 2011, pg 77.

Many innovations and new ideas come at us in waves. Jim’s description of Agile’s phases struck a chord with me. I believe it pretty well describes innovation in general, and not something just unique to the Agile movement.

Keep Your Project Management On The Cutting EdgeI’m a great believer in bottom up innovation. This is where most of the new and creative ideas I’ve seen come from within an organization, usually being conceived and adopted by those folks just doing their daily jobs. They recognize or hear of what seems like a better approach and they give it a try. Pretty soon many people are trying or doing the same thing. Eventually, someone within the organization sees what is going on and realizes that we have a great thing going and we need to help it along. Finally, this new methodology or technique is just the way people are doing work — while deep in the organization, one or more people are once again discovering something new and innovative and the process continues. Of course, while this dynamic is going on, it is also easy to crush these seeds of genius by the well meaning but often innovation squashing activities of management.

Jim’s “Rogue Team” matches well with those innovative individuals within the organization. They just start to do things because they think it is right (and/or they have a manager who encourages or allows it). Once it gets going and shows promise, others adopt it and pretty soon someone with some reasonable influence in the organization sees it and helps to nurture and propagate it throughout the company. This would seem to match Jim’s “Courageous Executive” phase. Finally, but usually with determined effort, it becomes a way of doing business and we’ll find people saying “this is how we do it here.” This would seem to align well with the “Enlightened Enterprise” phase.

Jim goes on to caution that we need to find a way to keep it moving and not get bogged down as other movements have. This is where I refer to the natural percolation of ideas and innovations in an organization. This is where, in my experience, continual change and improvements come from. I think Jim is on the money in being concerned that the movement doesn’t get bogged down.

I wrote about how Waterfall project management threatens to return and while that caused many folks to say “who said it ever went away?” I was talking about a similar pattern that Jim refers to. That pattern is once we have something that is working well for us, then over time we “add” to it in such a way that the technique or approach starts to get weighted down with rules, procedures and bureaucracy. My caution was to be aware of this pattern so we can prevent or at least slow what might be an inevitable process. This means, for example, not rushing to add “new rules” every time something is not perfect in the project. Do in fact continuously improve what we are doing, but be cognizant of not adding heavy new rules and processes for something that only happens rarely or has a small impact (think of what the return on investment in the new rule will really bring).

Once we have an approach that is working well for us, beware of overloading it with too many rules and procedures. Too many perfectly good methodologies and techniques have regressed over time because we didn’t make wise choices in trying to perfect them. If we also want to stay on the cutting edge of how we do business and manage our projects it usually involves encouraging and nurturing innovation from deep within the organization.

What are you doing to keep your project management on the cutting edge?

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