Agile and Traditional peace at PM Camp Barcelona

The echoing halls of the University of Barcelona, founded in 1450, were impressive and invited us to speak in a slightly lower tone that we usually would.

Once we passed them though, we arrived to the refreshing view of the interior gardens above which the Project Management unconference, PM CAMP Barcelona, was taking place.

For 2 days, the intricately decorated room that seemed to have been used to film the Harry Potter movies was full of project managers from all backgrounds sharing and discussing knowledge, experience, skills and best practices for their areas of expertise.

José Carlos Gil and I, offered several LEGO Serious PLAY workshops aimed at helping people understand each other perspective without judging.
Lego Serious Play - Jose Carlos Gil - PMcampBCN Lego Serious Play - Evgueni Talal - PMcampBCN

Maybe I was too influenced by the workshop, but during these two days, I observed something that took me by surprise.

The crowd attending the event could clearly be separated in two camps, the ones applying Agile principles to project management, and the ones using more traditional approaches. Given the radical positions usual taken by defenders of these systems, I was expecting some friction between the 2 factions and even some clashes.

I couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised by the openness of all participants and by the quality of listening and interest they displayed towards each other points of view. Most of the discussions focused on finding a common ground and understanding the reasoning behind the differences.

First of all, most people quickly bounded with each other over the common issues they were facing and that required them to display the same skills independently on the methodology they were using.

Agile or not, the general consensus was that some challenges were universal and required very specific skills:

Negotiation:

Whatever side of the barrier you are on, you better be able to understand your stakeholders’ needs, manage expectations and come to agreements on topics such as scope, budget and requirements. You also need to know how to present you case in a convincing manner so that each party feels understood and included.

Conflict resolution:

The other part everyone shared, was the need to be able to resolve issues that arise when a group of people need to collaborate under pressure. Inevitably, with or without reason, and very often simply because of intercultural differences in communication, some people might feel their opinions or needs are not being considered.

The resulting communication issues can heavily impact the results of a project. The capacity to detect and defuse such issues is key to ensure effective collaboration.

Analytical skills:

Lastly, everyone agreed on the need to be able to effectively analyze the complex situations and contexts they are dealing with and be able to take fast and relevant decisions with the limited information available to them.

When the topic was discussed in a group, in less than a minute, the flipchart was filled with methodologies supporting effective decision taking such as Delphi method, SWOT analysis, Eisenhower Matrix, Fishbone diagram, 6 Thinking Hats, 5 Whys, …

Despite these similarities though, soon came the differences.

They were many, but when discussed it became increasingly clear that most of the differences were not so much a choice of the method as the consequence of ONE main factor:

THE STRUCTURE:

While all people present agreed on the importance of good communication skills and could find similarities between most best practices from all methodologies, the structure they were operating in was forcing them apart.

While in Agile environments, the project teams tend to be created to last in the long term and handle all their projects together, in more traditional hierarchical structures, the teams tend to be built and rebuilt for each project, and individuals with their expertise in high demand could have their participation split between several projects and more importantly teams.

This tends to have a strong impact on several levels:

Team Alignment:

When team members are only temporarily working together and have to attend to other projects with other teams, their priorities are not aligned among themselves. The project manager finds himself in the position of a HUB and needs to dedicate extra energy to make sure all team members look in the same direction when they work together.

Team Commitment:

As a consequence, in this kind of team, the project manager needs to dedicate a lot of energy to generating motivation and commitment and needs to take a much larger share of leadership upon herself that it would be needed in an agile team.

In an agile team, personal objectives are more aligned and there is more transparency and visibility over the workload sharing. As a result, the leadership responsibility is more distributed and the team is naturally able to enforce higher levels of accountability.

Team Maturity:

Finally, as a traditional project team tends to be dissolved by the end of most projects, it makes it more difficult for the team to develop strong relationships and common working habits.

While each individual member of a team might be highly qualified, it is the quality of collaboration that really makes a team excel and deliver exceptional results.

And an Agile environment tends to be much more favourable to help a team to develop higher levels of maturity.

In conclusion, as someone who is passionate about group and team dynamics, I was delighted by the quality of the debates and presentations that took place during the 2 days of the event, and I am looking forward to the next edition and all the new surprises it will certainly bring 🙂