Adrian Pyne on episode 30 of The BEST Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire

“How can I gain value from project agility?” Find out in this episode of Appfire Presents: The Best Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire.

Adrian Pyne joins Appfire’s Kerry O’Shea Gorgone to explain how delivering value is at the heart of agile, and how the Agile Manifesto, designed for software development, works for other kinds of projects.

About the guest

A project professional for more than 30 years, Adrian Pyne has led change in 11 industries and in the public sector, in the UK and abroad. Adrian is the author of Agile Beyond IT: How to develop agility in project management in any sector.

About the show

The BEST Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire covers everything you ever wanted to know about PPM by talking with project management experts who’ve seen it all. And every episode is 10 minutes or less, so you can get back to changing the world, one project at a time.


For your convenience, here is the transcript of this episode:

How can I gain value from project agility?

Kerry:  Joining us today is Adrian Pyne. He has been a project management professional for more than 30 years. He’s here to answer the question how can I gain value from project agility. Adrian would know, he has led change in 11 industries and in the public sector in the UK and abroad, and is the author of the book Agile Beyond IT: How to Develop Agility in Project Management in Any Sector. Stick around for 10 minutes of awesome. 

Adrian, thanks for being here. Tell us how we can add value from project agility.

Adrian:  Quite simply by doing it properly. Thanks very much, and let’s go on to something else. 

No. Flippancy aside, that literally is it. Agility itself is really built into the DNA of agility. I’m talking about based on an adaptation of the Agile Manifesto. Value delivery is built into the DNA, it is why it’s there. The key principles say you should deliver value to the customer, deliver stuff regularly to a customer, that’s in terms of the software development origins of it. 

For me, when you apply the Agile Manifesto to the world of project management, I think it really helps the project teams to get it deeply into their psyche that what they’re there for is not to build stuff, it’s to build stuff that when someone uses it delivers benefits to the customer, whoever the customer is. 

In fact, some years ago, I used to be head of customer projects for one of our big tele cos. When I went in, one of the big cultural changes that I wanted to achieve with the team was to get them realizing that they weren’t in there delivering boxes to the clients. I said basically what we’re about is delivering value. That means we don’t get paid until the client gets their stuff, and they don’t pay us until they’re able to use that stuff successfully and get the benefit that they’re expecting to get. So, there is the customer benefit and there’s the cable and wireless revenue which pays everyone’s wages.

Kerry:  It’s so easy to forget, though. If your job is to do things, you’re just going to do them, and you’re very rarely, in some cases, thinking about the person on the other side of what it is that you’re delivering.

Adrian:  Absolutely. In point of fact, 300 odd years ago when I started out in the profession, I was very much told that my job as a project manager was delivering stuff and I didn’t have to worry about anything else. I’ve done an awful lot of professional reviews, peer reviews of project professionals. In something like the oil and gas industry, very often they don’t see anything of a business case. They’re basically told here’s a pipeline that you have to install, or here’s a new field that you have to get into production, and that’s what you do. 

But in interviewing the top professionals in that world, they are very aware of the reasons why they are spending tens, sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars, because you have to get the stuff out of the ground and sell it, and that’s what it’s all about. Even with people who may never go anywhere near a business case in much of their professional life, say in those sectors, they’re still very aware of why it is that they’re running these multi-million and sometimes multi-billion pound projects.

Kerry:  It’s interesting if you look back at the Manifesto itself, it’s just four values, twelve principles, and you’re talking about really complicated organization-wide projects in some cases. There’s adding a feature to your software, but then there’s change management for the organization as a whole. Can you add value to a big project like that with agility?

Adrian:  You most certainly can. Just a little word about the principles first, because it’s actually a big area of criticism for many. Delivering projects or even delivering software, you can’t just have principles. But no one ever suggested that all you have are the principles and you then don’t put other stuff around it to actually make the principles live and work. 

If you look at the latest edition of The Project Management Institute’s body of knowledge, they’ve gone on, down the core of that is a set of principles that they then say that you adapt and you build around the risk management, the planning, the stakeholder management, and everything else, but it’s built solidly on a set of principles. I think that’s pretty amazing.

To fully answer your question, it’s two things. To me, how projects succeed, and therefore deliver the stuff that then gets used, and that creates the value, projects succeed at two levels. First of all, as a result of what goes on inside them, so how well the team are working, how well they’re being managed, etcetera. Then the other thing that impacts project success, and therefore value delivery, is what is happening in the organizational hinterland around them. 

Things that quite often go wrong and cause problems, like the project has a sponsor, but that sponsor has a really busy day job and you just never see the sponsor. How do you therefore get them to be the champion for the project, to make key decisions when they need to? Especially in the world of agility when if you can’t resolve something rapidly inside the project team, you then want immediate access to a key decision maker. If the sponsor is not engaged, then that simply can’t happen fast enough. 

Two things need to be done in order to deliver value. You need to get the agility right inside of the project, and you need to have a supportive organizational hinterland around that project. That’s the same for, frankly, any project, whether you’re using agility or not. It’s just that because agility sets out to be as much about people and behaviors and culture as it is about process, then the culture of that surrounding organizational landscape is even more important than in (and I have colleagues who will hate me using this phrase) traditional project management. That’s the thing for me. 

Kerry:  How do you fix your hinterland? 

Adrian:  Well, it is interesting. There’s a lot being written in the last few years and research around something called the projectization of work. A peer of mine in particular have written a lot about this. Projects have always been about being the means of delivering change, that’s really where they came from. 

More recently, increasingly, projects have moved into the business as usual. It might be customer implementations, or it might simply be regularly repeating activities that take a finite time but are done again and again. Organizations say, “That looks like projects. We can put a project wrap around that.” 

What you then need to do is you need to rebuild the business model so that it can support that. That’s anything from how you finance projects and approve projects, how you resource projects, it all has to be built into the business as usual. Whereas projects often sit on the side of an organization, they’re somehow tacked onto it, which I might talk about in our next program. 

Kerry:  There’s a lot to it. So, fix your hinterland first, and then you can gain value from agility.

Adrian:  Actually, I would say the answer is yes, because I have never seen a really successful adoption of agility into the world of projects that hasn’t been driven top down. Bottom up, just I’ve never seen it succeed. You have to drive it from the C-suite down.

Kerry:  Adrian, thank you for joining us. Everyone, get your copy of Agile Beyond IT by Adrian Pyne. If you’d like more episodes of The Best Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire, you can find them at Hub.Appfire.com. We’ll see you next time.

Last updated: 2022-08-04

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