Book Review: Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products

    By: PDMA Headquarters on Oct 01, 2013

    Book Review: Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products    

    By: Jim Highsmith . Boston : Addison-Wesley , 2004 . 277+xxvi pages. 
    Review by: Roman Pichler

    Have you found yourself wondering about how to cope with ever-shrinking innovation cycles, how to stay ahead of your competitors, and how to introduce new products quicker into the marketplace? Are you concerned about coping with radical innovation, employing new technologies, and creating products for uncertain market segments? Are you facing increasing product complexity having to cope not only with mechanical and hardware but software-related issues as well? Agile management methods and techniques focus on these challenges, thereby increasing productivity and employee morale.

    Agile project management practices are neither new nor exotic. Companies like Toyota, Honda, Canon, Fuji, and others have successfully applied them for decades (Takeuchi and Nonaka, 1986). Nevertheless, agile project management introduces deep change to the way we manage product development projects. It redefines leadership along with essential roles and responsibilities, requires cross-functional project teams, and puts an emphasis on the collocation of project members, to name only a few critical differences. The two books reviewed here provide essential insight into how to leverage the benefits of agile project management practices and illustrates their impact on the performing organization. They do not intend to cover agile engineering practices, such as extensive prototyping and frequent integration.

    Agile Project Management provides a good introduction to essential agile project management principles and practices. Jim Highsmith is a highly recognized software development consultant, but this book shows how agile management helps to bring innovative products to life independent of whether they incorporate software, hardware, or mechanics. The target audience is project managers, but the book also is well suited for engineering managers, product managers, and quality analysis (QA) experts.

    Chapter 1 argues that new product development challenges, such as high degree of uncertainty and shrinking time schedules, together with lower-cost experimentation approaches, such as BMW's car-crash simulation, both call for adaptive rather than anticipatory project management. Frequent develop–inspect–adapt cycles characterize the former, whereas the latter tries to establish a detailed plan upfront and then execute it. Chapter 1 also introduces the reader to the core agile values as stated in the Agile Manifesto (

    Chapters 2 and 3 introduce six guiding principles of agile project management, including delivering value, delivering features iteratively, and building adaptive teams. These six principles, which Highsmith considers mandatory because they establish the culture required to succeed, form an underlying system of positive beliefs that are the basis of agile project management.

    Chapter 4 provides an overview of Highsmith's agile project management framework comprising five project phases. The envision phase establishes the product vision, project scope, and team characteristics. The speculate phase creates a high-level project plan including major milestones and iterations. The explore phase delivers tested intermediate product versions using iterations, thereby delivering the critical and high-risk product features first. The adapt phase builds on the results achieved in the explore phase and iteratively brings the product closer to its completion. Finally, the close phase concludes the project. Notice that this iterative style is fundamentally different than the linear sequential approach used by processes such as Stage-Gate®.

    Chapters 5 through 8 address the phases and their associated practices in detail, essentially interpreting the phases in terms of the aforementioned Agile Manifesto. For instance, Highsmith describes a Customer-Team–Developer-Team Interface practice to facilitate collaboration with customers. Chapter 7 describes agile techniques for customer interaction and decision-making, which is a particularly noteworthy topic. Since agile project management delegates authority to those best positioned to make a decision—and at the same time requires a high amount of teamwork and collaboration—the project manager no longer solely makes decisions to be executed by team members. Team members themselves are responsible for making decisions for which they are held accountable. The practice called participatory decision-making, based on Kaner et al. (1996), does a great job at introducing techniques for reaching sustainable agreements effectively.

    Chapter 9 discusses scaling agile project management approaches to large and distributed, and chapter 10 covers cultural changes required to deliver innovation consistently by employing agile practices.

    The book provides examples from various industries, ranging from drilling machines to avionics equipment, to illustrate the application of agile management practices. On the downside, a single example that runs from chapter to chapter is missing. More references to case studies that demonstrate the successful application of specific management practices also would be desirable. In general, the book is a very worthwhile read. We have used the practices successfully with our clients.

    Agile Project Management with Scrum demonstrates in an excellent manner how the agile project management method Scrum has been used successfully for more than a decade on numerous software development projects. More recently, Primavera, best known for its project management software suite, embraced Scrum's project management practices to develop their latest product (Martin and Schwaber, 2004). Scrum is not limited to software development, however. Its practices also can be applied easily to other types of product development. This is highlighted by the fact that Scrum is based on practices pioneered by Honda, Canon, and Fuji, among others. The book's author, Ken Schwaber, is a highly recognized software development consultant and one of the originators of Scrum.

    The book provides essentially a collection of case studies—including lessons learned from each—that illustrate how different companies have applied Scrum project management practices. The companies include a financial institution, a medical service provider, and a gas pipeline-leasing firm. Even though Scrum's practices are common sense and simple, applying them consistently proves to be a challenge for many organizations. If you are more interested in the Scrum method rather than its application, we recommend Schwaber and Beedle (2001). The target audience of Agile Project Management with Scrum is project managers, engineering managers, product managers, and QA experts. You do not need to be a software expert to appreciate this book.

    Chapter 1 briefly introduces the Scrum framework together with its essentials roles, artifacts, and practices, thereby laying the ground for the rest of the book. An even crisper summary of Scrum practices appears in Appendix A.

    Chapters 2 and 3 show how Scrum management responsibilities differ from traditional ones by introducing the three essential Scrum roles: ScrumMaster, Product Owner, and Team. Notice that Scrum challenges the traditional leadership notion according to which the manager primarily decides on the course of actions. Instead, project members are authorized to make tactical decisions but also are held accountable for them on a regular basis. The ScrumMaster (project manager) acts as a leader, enabler, and facilitator by helping the team to come to sustainable decisions quickly and by supporting the team in staying on track.

    Chapter 4 shows how various organizations leveraged Scrum benefits using self-organization, empowering the Team, timeboxing, dividing the project phases into mini-projects called sprints that typically last 30 days and whose end date cannot be moved, andincremental delivery, delivering a tested intermediate product version at the end of each sprint.

    Chapter 5 covers the role of the Product Owner, who is responsible for the product features together with their prioritization. This person is also responsible for profitability of the product version under development. The Product Owner accepts the work results delivered by the Team at the end of every sprint. She then may add new product features and reprioritize the features. A customer or product manager typically fills the Product Owner role.

    Chapter 6 introduces Scrum's adaptive planning techniques, which allow reacting to changes quickly and involve the team heavily. Chapter 7 covers project reporting, at the heart of which are so-called burn-down charts that portray how much work has been accomplished and how much work remains to reach both the current sprint's goal and the overall project goal.

    Chapter 8 shows how teams transitioned to a self-managed and self-disciplined project community. Taking on more responsibility can be challenging for project members used to working in a culture where they execute assigned tasks, and a blaming game starts when problems arise. Chapter 9 illustrates how large-scale distributed project teams of up to 1,000 members can apply Scrum.

    A nice feature of the book is that it provides numerous real-world case studies that illustrate how Scrum practices actually work. We particularly like how Schwaber structures chapters to provide subsections with lessons learned. The main shortcoming of the book is that it requires the reader to have a basic Scrum understanding or to pick it up quickly while reading the first chapter.

    We have used this book successfully to introduce Scrum project management practices in our own firms. Its hands-on description of the challenges faced and approaches taken by others have benefited our customers and us greatly. We recommend reading this book to discover how agile project management practices are applied.

    Released: October 1, 2013, 12:42 pm | Updated: October 30, 2013, 1:54 pm
    Keywords: PDMA Blog

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