Agile Project Management: Learning Through Games
The simplest of ideas may be the hardest to execute. Cut down a large project into several subprojects and reduce your delivery cycle. Sounds wonderful, but not easy to implement. Mr. Jesse Fewell, PMP, CST, and managing director, RippleRock India, explained and demonstrated in a fourhour “crash course” how agile project management practices can resolve some of your time and cost concerns in projects.
“The biggest problem in following agile project management is often the project manager. Project managers with halfbaked knowledge spread misinformation about how agile works. The definition of agile is inspirational but it’s important to understand how it works. To do business in the real world, you need both agile and the traditional approach,” said Mr. Fewell.
Probably the most misunderstood aspect about agile is regarding planning. “Project managers say they are agile and don’t need to plan. That’s incorrect. Agile involves more planning but the nature of planning is different. Instead of detailed planning at the start of a project, an agile project manager prepares a tireframe that forms the basis of the understanding. As the project manager learns more about the project, he or she adds more details with feedback from the customer. In this approach, the project manager can see and manage risks as they unfold. It means the project now involves many smaller cycles of requirement-architecture-development-testing as the project progresses,” Mr. Fewell explained.
The games that followed gave participants a clearer idea of the concepts. One such game involved passing a batch of 20 coins along a desk with six participants. The coins represented project and each participant a stage in the project life cycle. By reducing the batch size and changing activity schedules, like sequencing, the total project time changed. “Waiting is the biggest reason for delay. Instead of waiting for one activity to get over and then begin the next, process sequencing helps reduce time,” he said.
In the next activity, through a game of making paper planes, participants learned about the need to estimate correctly and re-baseline projects based on variations in the estimate after iterations. By the end of four hours, project managers had picked up some handy tips on applying agile practices to their projects, besides brushing up their skills at paper plane making!
Orthogonal Arrays: Changing the Face of Business Systems Testing
“Orthogonal arrays” may sound foreign to even an experienced practitioner, or at the very least, daunting and highly technical. In a way, it is both. The origins of this statistical tool lie with Swiss mathematician, Leonhard Euler. However, after Mr. Kedar Phadke breaks it down, even a novice project manager can get a basic understanding of its functions. Mr. Phadke, vice president, Phadke Associates, is a leading expert on orthogonal arrays, a statistical way of testing through pair-wise interactions. In a four-hour workshop, he leveled the playing field on the subject to illustrate its benefits. “Orthogonal array testing reduces cost while maintaining efficiency of testing; it’s functionally sound, provides agile responses to requirement changes and ensures consistency of test planning,” said Mr. Phadke. Its applications are used in many industries. “Our clients in IT, defense and aerospace, financial services, automotive and manufacturing use it,” he added.
Although most of the participants had not used orthogonal array testing before, several hands-on exercises had everyone actively participate. From deriving the correct number of test cases from different variables and combinations using “levels” and “factors,” and discussing practical considerations on how to retain “orthogonality,” Mr. Phadke effectively conveyed that orthogonal array testing improves data analysis.
He used examples of tangible, real-world applications to explain the benefits. “Imagine a Rubik’s cube is a body of water and you have to protect it from all sides from enemy ships, how many mines does it require?” His visual aids showed the participants how orthogonal array formulations kept the number of “mines” low while ensuring covering all faces. He also discussed the value-adding applications his firm had developed for the weapons fire detection system division of the U.S. military.
“The use of orthogonal arrays does not just increase profit, but also improve productivity, which leads to nationbuilding,” he remarked.