Why You Must Involve the Client in Agile Schedule Management Planning

Develop the WBS with the ClientI’m a waterfall guy. The systems that I worked on over my career tended to be very large and complex, fixed-price, with a convoluted rules base in which many of the rules seemed almost contradictory. The databases were huge, with requirements for millisecond response times and lengthy batch processes.

As a result, we did not use an adaptive lifecycle. To do so likely would have resulted in several redesigns of the database, and the recoding and retesting of already implemented modules. This would not have been palatable for fixed-price engagements.

In my previous blog post, “Why You Must Involve the Client in Schedule Management Planning,”  I describe my experiences with the waterfall project delivery methodology. However, I understand the benefit of an adaptive lifecycle, and it seems to me that even more client involvement is required in the planning of schedule management.

Why do I say that? Primarily because with an adaptive lifecycle, the requirement for the client staff on the project to understand the iterative nature of system development becomes much more critical and demanding. In reading my other blog posts, you will note that I often appeal to the IT project teams to consider that client team members come to the project from “day jobs.” They are not IT proficient. The demands of project life are often unlike anything they have ever experienced. Working within a project schedule that seems more helter-skelter than methodical can be a massive adjustment to their working style.

Consider the following for the planning of project schedule management using Agile methods:

  • Client team members are not familiar with Agile project delivery methods. When client staff are loaned to an IT project, they often don’t understand what will be required of them on the project. They suspect they are on the project to help the IT team understand the functional requirements to be automated, but little beyond that. Given that, the concept of working within an Agile methodology, where functionality is developed in short rapid sprints, intensifies their confusion and anxiety.

    System development is equally dependent on the client staff as on IT. In order for the client team members to keep pace with the IT team, they need to be fully integrated into the Agile process and understand the scheduling process. They need to be an integral part of the schedule management planning, and have their input seriously considered given the greater demands of this methodology on their contribution to the project.

  • Client team members must understand that Agile methods are less predictable than other lifecycle methods. It is a difficult task to plan schedule management when the IT project management staff itself cannot completely quantify the effort. Anxiety can set in, and if not managed well, can result in poor decision making and team member frustration.

    This is the epitome of taking care of the people aspects of project management. The lack of predictability is greatest during project initiation, which is also the time when the client staff loaned to the project is most apprehensive. The Project Manager and his/her leads must be especially vigilant to reassure the client team to help do their part.

  • Projects employing Agile tend to allow for scope creep and missed milestones. Typically, there is less overall project planning at the beginning of an Agile project. Additionally, a basic assumption with Agile is that client requirements will change as the project progresses. While this allows for flexibility and quicker implementation, it provides opportunities for scope creep and extended deadlines.

    This may be the most critical aspect of the care and feeding of the client staff on the project. It is important during the planning of schedule management to document the agreement as to what flexibility is allowed within the overall confines of project budgets and timeframes, and how to manage that flexibility while maintaining scope. If the client team members understand this from the beginning, they will be more attentive to combating scope creep and schedule slippage.

  • Agile sprints are time-consuming and demanding. IT project staff tend to be optimistic by nature, and in using Agile they often add more functionality in a sprint than can be effectively completed. Their client counterparts, having no experience with IT systems development, can also overload a sprint. Agile requires that IT and client staff interact constantly, requiring quick turnaround of requirements refinement, testing, code correction and sign-off.

    These demands on people’s time and energy become relentless over time. Again, this is an opportunity for working closely with the client during the planning of schedule management to document measures for pacing the team during the many sprints to come.

  • Cross-functional sprints require additional focus. Systems are developed that not only automate business area functionality, but also integrate functionality across business areas to allow for seamless operation. Depending on how the project is structured, it is necessary that the IT and client team members fully understand the integration points when defining, developing, testing and implementing each feature. Agile provides for the elaboration of functional requirements just in time for development, which often results in inadequate documentation. This then becomes a challenge as new members join the team, and as integration points with previously developed features must be understood in detail.

    Again, care must be taken during the planning of schedule management to thoughtfully prepare for these eventualities. Documenting the understanding of how these challenges will be managed during the sprints will go a long way with managing client expectations during the project.

Yes, Agile methods are different than those of waterfall or other project delivery methodologies; however, the need to manage the people aspects of project delivery don’t change. In fact, the need to consider the people aspects of managing the schedule may be even more important owing to the more free-wheeling nature of the Agile process.

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