A complex adaptive system (CAS) is a collection of agents who explore to achieve a goal (fitness in a biological sense) by interacting with each other according to a set of rules. A CAS experiments with alternatives, selects and executes viable ones, compares the results against its fitness goals (the system's objectives), and adapts as necessary. Extending this metaphor to a project team, the project manager's job takes on new dimensionsto constantly help the team articulate and understand the goal and the constraints, to help the team interact effectively, to facilitate the decision-making process, to ensure appropriate feedback is being gathered and incorporated into the next iteration, and to keep score and deal with reality when things go off track, as every project does.
The CAS model defines a useful metaphor for a leadership-collaboration management style, one that encourages emergent (innovative), risk-taking behavior. Seen in this light, the key project management tasks become establishing a vision and creating a collaborative work environment. The practices in this chapter are focused on the latter objective. The purpose of the Explore phase is to deliver tested , accepted features. Rather than concentrate on the technical details of how to accomplish this goal, however, the agile project manager focuses on creating self-organizing , self-disciplined teams that can best deliver on the ultimate product goal.
Many individuals, even some in the agile community, think agile project management equates to less management. In my experience, adaptive, leadership-collaboration management may be different, but it is certainly not less time consuming. The people management aspectsdecision making, coaching, facilitating, working with customers and stakeholdersare a significant load on the project manager's time. As authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (1999) write, based on extensive research (interviews with over 80,000 managers during the last 25 years ), "The manager role is to reach inside each employee and release his unique talents into performance."
The project manager, in her role as coach and team builder, contributes in six key ways to project success:
The essence of an agile project manager's role is not creating Gantt charts or status reports (although doing that remains a part of her work); it is creating a high-performance exploration team from a group of individuals. Exploration and experimentation, the foundations of new product development, involve the risk of making mistakesof failingand then learning from those mistakes. Managers must respond by making risk taking, well, less risky. As authors Rob Austin and Lee Devin (2003) note, "Artful managers must also do their part; they must create conditions in which makers can work at risk. Willingness to work at risk is vital in artful making, in part because exploration is uncomfortable." While team members themselves must participate in these activities, the project manager's role is to make sure they happen. It is a difficult, never-ending , and ultimately rewarding role.
While all the practices in this phase are project management ones, two are geared to team members (workload management, low-cost change), while others are geared to project managers (e.g., coaching and team development). The Explore phase practices fall into three categories, as shown in Figure 7.1:
Figure 7.1. Explore Phase Practices
Deliver on Vision and Objectives
The Agile Revolution
Guiding Principles: Customers and Products
Guiding Principles: Leadership-Collaboration Management
An Agile Project Management Model
The Envision Phase
The Speculate Phase
The Explore Phase
The Adapt and Close Phases
Building Large Adaptive Teams