10 questions with Mike Cottmeyer

I recently met with Mike Cottmeyer of Leading Agile and gave him a few questions to answer about his experience and knowledge with agile development and the Agile Community. Agile development and its various subforms are not the typical subject matter for The Merchant Stand blog. However, the concepts and principals of agile development have application in both software development projects and non-software projects as well. As companies face the realities of a competitive marketplace and demands to produce results more quickly, they are moving towards agile team structures and process flows. My objective is to write about work methods that make organizations more nimble while also providing exceeding value to customers. Mike Cottmeyer has a passion for this idea and lives  it every day.  Check out what he had to say.

1. How did you transition from a PMBOK/PMP project manager advocate to an agile development evangelist?

I was never really an advocate of the PMI approach directly. Honestly, my early project management experience was pretty unstructured and undisciplined. As I learned more about the profession of Project Management, I came across many of the tools advocated by the PMI. Much of what PMI was saying about planning and structure never really fit my experience. Fortunately or unfortunately, most of my experience has been on projects with lots of changing requirements using technologies that we were figuring out on the fly.

When I was finally exposed to agile as a way of thinking about project management, it was a natural fit for how I already viewed the world. Now my goal is to bring some of the structure and discipline of traditional methods to the agile community.

2. How should a PMP project manager incorporate agile into a project plan for software releases?

I do whole presentations on this topic. The biggest thing a traditional PM can do is start focusing on measuring progress against real deliverables and stop focusing on intermediate artifacts and project activity. We need to start measuring progress against real project deliverables that create value for our customers. That means breaking requirements into smaller chunks and delivering software more frequently through the life of the project. Customers only care about intermediate artifacts because we have never given them a better way to assess progress…. working software is the only real measure of progress.

3. Where is agile gaining the greatest acceptance?

Agile as a project management methodology really only has significant traction in the software development community. There are folks out there that are using agile to run community organizations and marketing departments but they are in the minority. We have experience with folks using agile approaches in architecture firms and on construction projects. This just isn’t where the body of knowledge lives right now. It is worth noting that an Agile Community of Practice has just been formed in the PMI to promote greater understanding amongst their membership.

4. Where is agile seeing the greatest resistance?

People in general have a hard time changing. Even in companies claiming to be ‘agile’ there is tremendous resistance to actually making change real. Agile encompasses not only project management but also engineering practice and leadership. The hardest part about adopting agile is the change that agile is requiring us to make to our people and to our organizational cultures. Servant leadership… openness… transparency… trust… are attributes of agile that can’t be turned on overnight or made to happen by management decree.

5. What’s the next big step in the maturation process for agile?

I mentioned the Agile PMI Community of Practice. My hope is that we see the agile community influence the PMI… but also be open to influence by the PMI. We need to be able to express where and when agile is the right approach to project management and make sure that we have the proper controls in place to meet customer expectations.

6. Why should e-Commerce and Internet marketing professional care if their organizations are using agile development methods?

Agile is about being responsive to change. In the world of e-Commerce and Internet Marketing… we don’t have 18 months to wait for a project deliverables. We need our projects fast… and we need to be able to change them when we learn new information about the competitive landscape. We need to be able to change with as little cost and upheaval as possible. If we don’t figure out how to dramatically reduce the cycle time of our projects… if we don’t figure out how to respond faster… someone else will come along that can and we will lose market share. Agile gives us a way to deliver value faster and make changes when we learn new information.

7. Do you see agile techniques and concepts being adopted by other industries, standards, or methods? (Is agile universal?)

Agile can be applied anywhere requirements are uncertain and very likely to change. Sometimes the agile practices have to be adapted to a specific industry…. but in general we are talking about smaller requirements… smaller more frequent deliveries… just in time planning… rolling wave… progressive elaboration. Agile is not for everyone and it is not for every problem domain. That said… I do believe that many of the principles apply is most situations.

8. Does agile focus on processes, people, or results?

Agile is about delivering value… so I would have to say results… but that doesn’t mean we always deliver exactly what we set out to build. We want to focus on value delivered to customers. Results are defined in terms of customer value… not specific deliverables. We might have to change… we might have to inspect and adapt… to get the business value we set out to deliver.

9. What book is on your nightstand right now?

“The Goal” by Eli Goldratt and Jeff Cox

10. What can we expect to see from Mike Cottmeyer in the next year?

I expect that I will continue to write and speak on the topics of agile project management and leadership. You’ll see me continue to blog and consult, and if all goes well, by the end of next year I will have published my first book.

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