PROJECT PARENTHOOD

Agile Parenting: Purpose over Process

by Geof Lory, PMP


In preparation for this series of articles on Agile Parenting and the creation of an Agile Parent's Manifesto, I thought about the many conversations I have had with seasoned project managers. Many have asked me, "What's the big deal with the eXtreme/Agile movement?" I think what they are really asking is, "Why do we need it, and is it really that different from what I've been doing for years?"

I've also talked with business analysts, developers and managers who look at highly disciplined and effective project managers with distain, rebelling against what they claim is an overly onerous planning and documentation project structure. They seem to see the traditional skills and practices of formal project management as out-dated and useless in this modern day project environment.

With a deep sigh, I encourage each to see the merit in the other, as I do with parenting. We can all learn from those who do differently, even if it is what NOT to do.

Are projects really that different today? (In some ways yes, in some ways no.) Is there really a need for a different project management approach? (Possibly.) So, what has changed? (And why didn't I get the memo?)

We all got the memo, we just didn't take the time to read and understand it. In fact, that was the gist of the memo—the rules of engagement have changed and the pace of change leaves us with not enough time to create a new understanding. Things are different. The environment has changed. The pace is faster, change is the order of the day and the bedrock of social norms is as solid as the desert sands. This environment calls for nimble practices for this uncertain world, even if the underlying values remain the same.

As a project manager for more than 25 years, I am not quick to throw out everything that has worked for years to follow a fad. However, I do want to recognize that changing times and circumstances call for changing behaviors. Similarly, people have been parenting children for generations. I am hard pressed to say that parenting is that different today and that all the wisdom of generations before us should be thrown out—hardly the case at all.

In fact, what I do think is important is that we get back to what has worked for generations from a value and purpose perspective and apply those to the current day environment. This is not to say that rules or discipline should be stricter, or that they should be more lenient. It is to say they need to default to their goal and purpose base and then tailored to meet the needs of the new circumstances. Therefore, I believe that Agile Parents prefer to start with goals and purpose before instituting the rules and processes.

I suspect our parents and parents today would agree that things are different today. So I called my parents to ask them what they felt was different for today's parents and here are just a few items from their perspective to confirm that things have changed.

The circle of contact and influence for children and parents today goes way beyond the extended family and physical neighborhood. In fact, the definition of extended family and neighborhood isn't even the same. This dramatically increases their uncontrolled exposure to sociological differences as they establish their personal social and moral core. We are not alone in raising our children, (it takes more than a village) whether we like it or not. This is equivalent to the organizational shift from vertical to horizontal projects and the associated changes in project management in a cross-functional world.

The availability and breadth of information in this new world is almost mind-numbing. Combine this access to information with a general tolerance for beliefs and behaviors well beyond the traditional norms, and you have an environment of unlimited choices and little direction. It is no surprise that children need more guidance to sift through this morass. Heterogeneity has replaced homogeneity in all aspects of their life.

These two items alone create confusion around the role, responsibilities and relationship parents/project managers have with their children/teams. Corporal punishment (line authority) and a culture of fear (wait until your dad gets home) are no longer effective. It is not fair to leave them to sort this out alone, but we often feel ill-equipped to help them so we thoughtlessly default to familiar behaviors. We focus on telling them what to do instead of helping them develop the skills to sort through the confusion and own their success.

So, I'll start the Manifesto for Agile Parents with this:


What I also like about the Agile Manifesto is that it has an associated set of principles that support the core values. Values are the bedrock that underlies the principles. Principles as based on the values and in turn support the development of behavioral disciplines. The application of disciplines within a particular environment creates the practices that are the visible evidence of all the aforementioned. That is why a simple re-emphasis of the values tilts the pyramid, eventually resulting in substantially different observable practices.

So, along with the values, here are the first Principles behind the Agile Parents Manifesto.


This first value and associated two principles call out the fact that as parents today we function in a fluid environment where certainty is elusive. Process is the institutionalization of purpose. Rules establish the boundaries of behavior within the practice environment and are designed to achieve the goal. Institutionalizing purpose is not a bad thing, unless the practice environment changes, breaking the link between the rules, process and purpose.

Parenting today is like managing an agile project. The environment is uncertain and unstable. We do not have control over it and often aren't even aware or don't want to admit it has changed. This can be unsettling and even paralyzing if you don't buy into a common underlying set of values and principles.

At our house and on my teams these goals and purposes are explicit and public. Our family/team Shared Values are posted on the refrigerator/project site (right next to the family calendar/project plan and the grocery list/action item list). On projects, I formally include them in the Team Operating Agreement when we establish the project structure.

Establishing these base values and principles is not simple or easy, hence the need for an Agile Manifesto for parents similar to the one for projects. I invite you to contribute your thoughts and ideas to the creation of the Agile Parents Manifesto and the Principles behind it. I have begun by posting the first value and two principles here. To make your contribution, drop me an email. I look forward to hearing from you.








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