When done well, project management work is invisible to people who aren’t directly involved in doing it. In some ways, that’s by design. There isn’t usually a reason to let everyone in on each behind-the-scenes detail of what happens to make a job run smoothly. That doesn’t mean, though, that every organization uses the same approach to project management, or that every approach is equally effective.
Here at Extension Engine, we use an agile project management framework. If you’re unfamiliar with that framework, we share it here so that you know what to expect when you work with us.
Agile Project Management: Knowing When and How to Pivot
Agile project management is a style that breaks work into increments that are tracked and examined throughout a project. This approach makes it easier to pivot as needed to make improvements or changes to workflow and content, among other things, throughout the lifespan of the project, not just when it ends. This is often more efficient and effective than simply conducting a final review and edit.
In order to best use this framework, Extension Engine has a Project Management Office (PMO). The PMO is the foundation of our approach to every job and every client, because we believe it gets the best results and creates the best work environment. PMO Director Jae Lohan says, “We want to be assets to project teams, to improve efficiency, quality, and scale. We do that by defining and maintaining the standards for project management within the organization.”
The PMO comprises subject matter experts with the knowledge base to offer any needed support and frameworks to internal teams, assisting in their work with clients.The PMO provides facilitation including administrative support, monitoring project progress, and services such as running kickoff meetings and providing portfolio management and resource planning. The PMO also tries to offer choices and recommendations that add “economy of repetition” to the way projects are done, a task Jae notes can be particularly challenging for Extension Engine given the variety of projects and specifications of our work.
Retrospectives: The Best Way to Track Progress
A retrospective is a key step in the agile project management process. It’s part of a framework known as scrum, which is used in many fields as part of agile project management and is good for setting up a positive, successful work environment through frequent assessments of small-team work goals. Scrum focuses on people over process and suggests different ceremonies to ensure that the team is working on the highest-value, highest-priority scope. This is because a critical component of building a durable team is continuous improvement of the systems and processes that allow a high-velocity team to deliver at scale.
Scrum teams are usually composed of 10 people at most, and they operate through the following steps:
- The team assesses all known work.
- The team plans the work for a set time period, known as a sprint. These are often a couple of weeks long at most.
- The team completes their work each day.
- The team gets feedback on the content of their work through a sprint review.
- The team gets feedback on how they worked. This is the retrospective step.
Basically, a retrospective is a meeting among team members after a certain amount of work has been completed, during which they discuss how the work was done, how it ended up, and what improvements could be made next time. It’s intended to be a tool for continuous improvement and to build trust and psychological safety within the team.
For a retrospective to work, all members of the scrum team (which usually comprises the product owner, scrum master, engineers, and designers) must be present. The meetings should happen at the end of every sprint, and while they don’t have to be very long, it’s recommended that they are comprehensive enough to encompass a full discussion of what’s working well and what isn’t in the work process itself. Because the whole point of the retrospective is to check on the team’s agility and help improve it as much as possible, the scrum team’s communication needs to be honest, open, and inclusive.
This means that a retrospective is not about casual chatting, performance reviews, finger-pointing, or general project notes. The goal is to have a set place to review and analyze the work process on a project to make sure it’s on track at each stage and to identify action items for the scrum team and/or the larger organization. With a bias toward action, the PMO champions the organizational changes needed to ensure that scrum teams are set up for a successful outcome.
Why PMOs and Retrospectives Work
In our experience, retrospectives create positive outcomes including:
- Improved team morale
- Improved team durability
- Development of a higher skill level among team members
- Better communication
- Increased trust
- Increased innovation
- Higher-quality products
Our PMO team uses these skills and tools to help us bring our clients the high-level content they and their learners deserve. We also use them to improve our abilities and processes. When you work with Extension Engine, you can expect us to apply these techniques to your project, because our PMO teams act as facilitators, not as people pushing a particular agenda or result. As Jae says, “We don’t have a horse in the race. We just make sure the race happens, the right horses show up, and they run in the right direction.” For us, agile project management has proven to be the best way to shepherd projects to successful completion.