Saturday, May 21, 2016

Agile Program Management: Engaging with Stakeholders

Stakeholder management is an essential but challenging area in Agile Program Management.  Engaging with stakeholders is as important as team collaboration without which it is practically impossible to see tangible results when we manage multiple projects under a program. I am writing this blog to put forward some key aspects related to engaging with stakeholders.

What makes stakeholder management a complex thing in Agile Program Management?  One key reasons is that stakeholder management in Agile is a combination of several aspects.  When we understand those aspects, we get enough clarity during our attempts to engage with stakeholders. In my opinion, these aspects include

1)      Agile awareness and learning agility of stakeholders
2)      Change agility of stakeholders to adopt the new way of working
3)      Stakeholder KRAs, Expectations and expectation management
4)      Persona and leadership style of stakeholders

      These are eye openers that make us understand that stakeholder management in Agile Program Management is unique and different – and most of the times it is a big deal.   It is not about staying in touch with stakeholders in formal and informal ways and keeping them aware of the respective projects or the entire program.  This is about enabling them and making them understand the new way of working – short and sustainable iterations to delivery working software, continuous collaboration, feedback loops, team learning, continuous improvement, and so on.  It is about hand holding them to adopt the new way of working.  It is about the ability to understand, negotiate and manage their expectations. It is about doing all these with a good understanding of their persona and leadership styles and gradually helping them understand the power of Servant Leadership.

“My project follows traditional lifecycle in a phased manner.  It has been twelve months since we started. There has been a huge delay. Phase 1 and 2 must have been delivered by now. We did not meet the goals of Phase 1 on time. Phase 1 was about to get delayed by two months. We diluted the goals and ended Phase 1 with a delay of one months. Phase 2 started but the project is on fire because of several issues.   We want to transform this project into Agile.  The original planned delivery date is about eighteen months from now.  Will Agile help us move faster, become aggressive and delivery on time?”   This is what one of my stakeholders asked me years ago. He wanted me to take this troubled project, transform it into Agile and deliver.  I am sure you have come across situations like this.

In situations like these, where do we start? How do we proceed to handle such situations?  In addition to deep analysis, training, team building, coaching etc. one of the key factors that plays an important role here is Stakeholder Management aligned with agile values and principles. 

When we are into Agile project or program execution, we come across questions from our stakeholders. These questions relate to one or more of the key aspects we discussed earlier. Let me give you some examples.

1)      Why can’t we cut down on travel and use only video conferencing for the entire project?
2)      Why do we need more than one video conferencing room?
3)      How can we see a 30% increase in productivity over the first year in our program?
4)      Why aren’t we following best practices such as Earned Value Analysis?
5)      Whether we call it Agile or not, how can we deliver the whole thing in three months?
6)      How about considering industry benchmarks or organizational baselines in our project or using Function Point estimation? What can we do to standardize across board?

In order to deal with such questions, we need to understand the learning agility and change agility of stakeholders and their ability to adopt to the new way of working.  We need to understand their KRAs and expectations. We need to negotiate and make sure that the expectations are realistic and suit the new way of working.  This will require some changes in leadership styles as well.

How do you engage with stakeholders? How do you align them with the new way of working? What are your top challenges?