Smals is the joint ICT organisation of Belgium’s public social security institutions. It realizes innovative ICT projects and services in the line of work, family and health for social security and healthcare institutions and offers them a wide range of ICT services. ICT for society is not just a slogan for Smals; Smals participates in pioneering work in e-government and e-health in Belgium and is an important factor in the digital transformation of social security and healthcare. They are also active in the development of the G-Cloud, the Belgian government cloud. To hear how they apply the AgilePM methodology, QRP interviewed Karine Picart.Read more
What is your role at Smals?I am responsible for the SharePoint Competence Centre at Smals, the joint ICT organisation of Belgium’s public social security institutions. I am a project manager in charge of the SharePoint projects that are entrusted to us by our members.
How did you hear about AgilePM and what was your initial need?AgilePM training is part of our training catalogue. I was looking for an agile method and I knew that the Scrum approach – which is also used at Smals – is primarily designed for software development teams. We had previously tried to implement this approach on SharePoint projects but it had not been convincing. I was looking for a more global approach that also integrates project management, which would allow us to better involve the business representatives in our projects to ensure we are working on the things that mattered.
Shortly after AgilePM training you successfully applied it to key projects. Can you explain the background of the projects?The first project on which we applied the AgilePM approach concerned a Belgian social security institution that wanted to renew two applications, which previously existed in Lotus Notes, into SharePoint applications. These were two large pilot projects (a request management application and an internal communication portal) which would also allow them to develop their SharePoint and project management skills. We implemented the AgilePM approach and it went very well; we were very satisfied for many reasons. Following my training, I trained one of my colleagues to act as an architect/developer/technical coach to the customer. The aim was to ensure that the approach to the projects was well understood on the customer side and to encourage maximum engagement. We briefed our business (business ambassador) and technical (developers) contacts at the same kick-off for both projects. I explained the method, the roles and responsibilities of each, and how it would work. At the end of the kick-off we gave the business the task of creating a first version of the backlog by describing their requirements and prioritizing them according to the MoSCoW prioritization technique (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have this time). The challenge was to designate 60% of the total project effort as must-haves, which can be difficult (often we get 70 or even 80% of requirements as must-haves in the first round).
What were your constraints and challenges?The first challenge was that of coaching, as part of the team was not my usual team. The second challenge was to make sure that the whole project team followed the rules, the vision and the issues. One of the developers who were very good technically was, for example, not convinced by the AgilePM approach; he was a bit sceptical at first. But he finally played the game and was able to see the logic of the approach and that relations with the business went very well. The clients also appreciated working in an agile way thanks to AgilePM, which allows the business to be much more involved in the project and in day-to-day decisions. It is not unusual for the business to think something is simple, but being involved makes them better understand the task and associated challenges. Conversely, the developers have a better understanding of the underlying needs. The AgilePM approach allows for a transparent dialogue and the right choices to be made, without the development teams getting hung up on things that are not so important to the client/business. The clients expected the project to progress (and results materialize) quickly without setting a deadline (which can be a trap as it can take much longer than necessary). However, we managed to deliver quickly and within three months we were ready to go live. There were some network performance issues that prevented us from going live as planned, but we were ready. We simply preferred to wait and solve the network problem rather than deliver a tool that would have been perceived as underperforming, even if the cause was external to the tool.
How did you implement AgilePM?After the coaching and kick-off, we set up sprint review/sprint planning meetings every fortnight for each of the projects, which meant that one project would be dealt with one week and the other the next, and so on. One of the two business ambassadors would automatically attend the other’s meetings to ensure consistency in decisions, as we were working on the same technical platform. Every day there was also a 15-minute stand-up meeting involving the project team (business and technical contacts). We organized a monthly one-hour project board and that was enough to follow the progress of the project. It is important not to go into too much functional or technical detail during the project boards, but to stay focused on the project monitoring. Once this monitoring structure was in place, the project almost ran itself! At the end of the project, we carried out a remote lessons-learned exercise and the feedback from the client was that, in the beginning, they did not necessarily understand what had been explained during the kick-off, nor why we were asking for certain things. However, as time went on everything became clearer, they understood why and the reason for the intensity of the efforts. For a future project, we will pay more attention to this dimension. The client was also unaware at the beginning of the effort that it would require on their side. Being a business ambassador is almost a full-time job and it’s important that they are given the time to carry out this important role. There are various meetings to attend and you also have to be ready to address questions and concerns from the development team on a daily basis, participate in tests, etc. How did the AgilePM approach help you? Was there a particular element that was most useful to you? The most useful in my opinion is the MoSCoW prioritisation technique. There is a big difference between ranking the requirements in an order (1-2-3-4-5) and accepting that a requirement that you consider important is only a “should-have” that may never be implemented because other requirements come first. Continuous prioritisation is probably THE most useful aspect. Of course, this is not the only point, the whole framework is useful.
Do you have any advice for fellow project professionals in the sector?You have to get trained. I recommend taking a training course with an expert and not just watching, reading the book and picking up elements according to what speaks to you. I took a training course in a small group and it allowed me to understand the method, to have templates and to ask my questions. Personally, without the training, I would never have read the whole manual and I would have missed key benefits of the method.
A few words to conclude?Recently I also attended a DevOps course and I can see that the two fit together well as the philosophy and culture are similar. → Curious to read another AgilePM success story? Read on how FLIR implemented the AgilePM methodology in their daily work.
Karine PicartKarine is Project Leader & Team Leader at Smals. She is a specialist in collaborative tools and is responsible for the Smals SharePoint competence centre.
Change agents can be managers or employees, or external consultants hired to facilitate change initiatives. Of course, internal change agents have the advantage of being familiar with an organisation’s history, operations, and people, while external change agents can provide a fresh perspective without the influence of a firm’s traditions and culture. → Behavioural change: what is it and why is it important? Read our post on How to plan an Agile Change initiative to know more!Read more
What are the types of change agent?When an organisation wants to make a change happens there are 2 perspectives it should be interested in:
- everybody who has a role in running the business,
- everybody who is in a project or change management role.
Everybody who has a role in running the businessAll the people who are providing the services and the products that ultimately the customer buy from the organisation. In the first group, we have all the staff impacted by the change, whose priorities are using the existing ways of working to satisfy current customer demand and getting the job done. On top of that, when a change occurs, they need to change how they work. Plus, they need to mobilize their colleagues and themselves to participate in the change and, finally, integrate the change into current ways of working. That is exactly the definition of a change agent: somebody having a job in an organisation and next to that job he/she facilitates change. This means a Change Agent can have a role in HR, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Operations, Administration etc.
Everybody who is in a project or change management roleTheir role is about changing the business. In the second group, we have project and change teams, whose priorities are introducing new ideas, innovation and new ways of working, identifying activities and tasks and creating plans to implement change. Plus, they can guide those who are selected as “change agents” to perform their roles. The change agent network is becoming incredibly popular within organisations. People may not be called change agents but the point is that, on top of their daily job, they have the role to help make change happen and integrate changes into the current ways of working.
What does a change agent do?
- Flexibility (and of course being open to change!).
- Effective Listening Skills.
- Influence and negotiation.
- Analytical skills.
- Relationship management.
- Strategic thinking.
- Relationship Orientation.
- Able to prioritize.
- Patience and persistence.
- Deep understanding of the business and business culture.
Why is a Change Agent Important?We know by heart that change is present in any organisation of any size. But in this world of very fast-moving change, we can talk about “agile change”. Since it is not a good idea to try and plan every single change detail upfront, we need to adopt change in an Agile way. That was the idea that Melanie Franklin, thought leader in change management, transformed into an approach for managing transformational change initiatives mainly using the ideas from the agile methodologies. Organisations can benefit from an agile approach to change in order to plan and manage all the activities that are needed to design and deliver changes. And to make changes successful, from both perspectives. If you are doing the day job, change is probably irritating because it gets in the way of you using your existing habits, your existing sort of skills and techniques to get things done really quickly. It slows you down because you have to think through a new way of working whereas everybody on the other side thinks change is great. An Agile Change Agent works to bring these groups of people together, drawing attention both on the project/change activities as well as on the behavioural change of the team. And an Agile Change approach can offer your organisation a structure to plan the elements of your Agile changes. The Agile Change Agent course & certification is designed to build practical ability in Agile and Change to support effective transformation and change initiatives. Visit our website to learn more! SOURCE: APMG; Free Taster Session of Agile Change Agent
Kanban is a well known Agile framework that helpsRead more
- visualize your work,
- limit the work in progress,
- maximize the efficiency (or flow) of the team.
How do Kanban boards work?The main component of the Kanban framework is the Kanban board. The Kanban board is a tool to visualize the workflow of the project. The board shows the workflow and all related tasks, this helps to better understand your processes and provides an overview of the workload. The visualization of the workflow offers the transparency that will help quickly identify problematic work stages. The Kanban board will help teamwork more efficiently. The Kanban board is available for the complete team and everybody can access it to find his/her responsibilities. Everyone can see what each team member is doing and therefore the Kanban board also functions as a motivator to pursue better performance. The Kanban board can be used either as an online tool or in the office itself. The board uses
- WIP limits.
Kanban cardsThe Kanban cards are the virtual representation of tasks. Each card is filled with information about the task, like its description, the deadline, the status. Kanban cards are assigned to a team member or members, who will be responsible for executing the task.
Kanban columnsThe Kanban columns all represent a different stage of the workflow. The Kanban cards move from column to column until they reach their full completion.
Kanban swimlanesThe Kanban swimlanes are horizontal lanes that can be used to separate different teams, services or activities.
Work in Progress limitsThe Work in Progress limits restricts the maximum amount of tasks in the different columns of the board. That means that there can only be a total of tasks in a certain stage of the workflow. The WIP limits help you prioritize tasks and allow you to focus on current tasks. The Kanban board is not static and can be adapted by any team. That means that you are free to add as many columns and tasks as you want. You can decide where to put the WIP limits and whether you would like to use swimlanes. The Kanban board is to be tailored to your specific workflow and needs.
How to use a Kanban board?The Kanban board is a very intuitive tool that anyone can use and understand at first glance. But what are the best ways to use the board?
- Tailor the board for your project
- Look for workflow bottlenecks
- Help your team focus
- Improve time management
- Define a Kanban policy
1.Tailor the board for your projectMany first Kanban boards start with three simple columns:
- ‘to do’,
- ‘in progress’
2. Look for workflow bottlenecksIf there is one column where all tasks seem to pile up, it means that something does not go right in that process. This can be due to a temporary situation, like a sick team member that can not finish his/her tasks or a serious bottleneck. The Kanban board shows where to pay extra attention and helps you to come up with improvements. A more detailed Kanban board will give better insights.
3. Help your team focusIf you make use of the WIP limits on the Kanban board, you help your team focus on the high priority tasks. Often tasks pile up in the ‘in progress stage. If you put the WIP limits, team members will first have to finish their ‘in progress’ tasks before they can start with new ones. This way, the Kanban board helps your team finish assignments that are already in progress and stops the team members from multitasking.
4. Improve time managementThe Kanban board provides a complete overview of the current status of a project and the team. It gives a real-time status on the progress of the project. With that, you can consider cancelling the progress reports and regular progress meetings and save a lot of time. Make sure your Kanban board is not static, but keep on looking for improvements to your board in order to improve your workflow even more. This way you continue to become more efficient.
5. Define a Kanban policyIt does not have to be much, but make sure that every team member knows what the process policy is. Define when to move a card from one column to another column, define what information is needed in your card etc. Each team member needs to understand for example when to move a card or when to add information to a certain task.
To become a successful project manager, technical knowledge alone is not enough. Since the project manager has a role in synergy and interdependence with the environment and the team, it is essential that the project manager has the soft skills necessary for the success of the projects. Here are the five essential soft skills for a Project Manager:Read more
- Team Building
- Decision making
- Manage conflicts
- Effective communication
- Know how to negotiate
1. Team BuildingTo be able to carry out and manage projects efficiently and effectively, it is essential that the team is aligned and above all that it collaborates. The project manager must act as the glue between the various members, making them collaborate and assigning tasks that reflect as much as possible the skills and inclinations of each of them. If the project manager is able to create a team spirit that involves all team members, he/she will be able to rely more and more on collaborators. The team will be motivated to work synergistically with each other, which will help avoid problems and misunderstandings and facilitate all processes.
2. Decision makingObviously, in the development of a project, it is necessary to be able to make the right decisions, trying to stay on schedule. The successful project manager must be able to collect the ideas of all team members and then make decisions that may conflict with the proposals received if this guarantees the success of the project. It can certainly be useful to rely on the six-step decision model:
- Define the problem clearly and concisely.
- Brainstorm with the team to come up with possible solutions.
- Define evaluation criteria for solutions and analyze the pros and cons of each of them.
- Understand which other actors are involved in the implementation of the solution and involve them in the process.
- After carrying out the implementation, analyze, evaluate and listen to the lessons learned.
- Evaluate to what extent the project goal has been achieved by implementing the solution.
3. Manage conflictsThe teams that work well are not the teams without conflict. The teams that work well are those where these conflicts are managed and overcome. It is precisely in conflict situations that the experience of a project manager is essential. In fact, the project manager must be able to manage internal problems in the team so as to ensure that the project proceeds successfully. The causes that can trigger the emergence of possible conflicts are many, such as poor or ineffective communication between team members, unclear requests regarding project implementation requirements, pre-existing and deep-rooted internal conflicts, company policies that are not very inclined to foster collaboration between colleagues. A successful project manager must be able to overcome even the pre-existing problems rooted within the team in order to guarantee a relaxed and stimulating working climate that is able to lead to the realization of quality projects within the established times.
4. Effective communicationA successful project manager must be able to communicate clearly and effectively with all stakeholders involved in the project. This involves first of all the ability to communicate with the members of one's team: open communication is an element of effective involvement that can concretely motivate professionals. Being always up-to-date makes the team members proactive towards possible problems. Above all, it makes them more motivated to commit themselves so that the project is completed within the pre-established deadlines and in compliance with the required quality standards. The colleagues are then joined by superiors, with whom the project manager must be able to communicate clearly on the developments of the project, whether positive or negative. This allows them to avoid misunderstandings regarding what is requested by the project team managers. Finally, of course, the customers. The project manager who is unable to communicate with their customers will not be able to carry out projects that satisfy them and every job will fail from the beginning. Communication is therefore one of the main elements behind the success of any project.
5. Know how to negotiateThis soft skill is also essential for the success of any project. As mentioned above, the project manager is the element that unites work teams, superiors, and customers. In addition to having to communicate individually with these and other groups (e.g. suppliers), the project manager must also be able to manage the requests of the parties and balance them with each other. Negotiation skills are certainly one of the soft skills that most help every project manager on a practical level: it eases the pressure of work and helps to find solutions to problems that may initially seem insurmountable.
Scrum is a framework that respects the 4 values and 12 principles of agility. All agile frameworks insist that the best teams are those who work together, day today, in the same offices. So how do you work with remote Scrum teams? What happens if your Scrum team no longer works together physically? Here are 5 tips to implement Scrum at distance:Damien Galzi Agile coach for more than 5 years, Damien has supported companies in the development of their digital transformation projects, their continuous improvement initiatives and their search for the performance of R&D teams in a Lean and Agile spirit. He is CSM, CSP, PMP, Lean 6 Sigma Green Belt and Agile Coach (TSP) certified.
- Accept disruption and review the organization of work.
- Take inspiration from the Working Agreement Canvas.
- Ensure that communication is effective.
- Maintain ceremonies and select efficient tools.
- Unite and manage all teams.
1. Accept disruption and review the organization of workFirst of all, you have to realize that working remotely is a real disruption in the way a team works. We must not say to ourselves:
“We do as before but at home, we are used to working together, everything is going to be fine”.It is important to start from the start, whether it is the tools, the means of communication, or the rules of the game since remotely, the parameters and the availability differ. You have to deal with unforeseen events and personal obligations in addition to professional ones. We will therefore define the new rules of the game and seek to understand the new constraints and limitations of the team members. For example, remotely, it is likely:
- to be interrupted,
- to interfere in the privacy of employees,
- to have a connection or technical problems,
- to have to take care of the children,
- to have different rules to follow,
- to feel isolated,
- to have difficulty disconnecting from work.
- How are we going to organize the work?
- What are the new hours?
- What are the limits that should not be exceeded so as not to intrude into the privacy of employees?
- What are the (new) working tools?
- How are we going to communicate, discuss and continue to work TOGETHER?
- What are the new rules of the game?
- How can we work together despite the new context?
- What are the modalities, the new tools?
- What is visible?
- What should we build together?
- How do you make sure you have visibility on the increments to be made together?
2. Take inspiration from the Working Agreement CanvasThere is a Caneva on scruminc.com to help you, called the Working Agreement Canvas, which will facilitate the implementation of these new rules remotely. I advise everyone to complete it, even with a team that knows each other well. In particular, it includes the name of the team, the mission, the roles and responsibilities of each, but above all the standards and guides, which represent the code of conduct (e.g. no meeting after 5 p.m. because the children have returned from school. school). Tip: these things might seem simple and obvious, but this is something you should not take lightly. It should also be borne in mind that the rules must be adapted according to the number of Scrum teams.
3. Ensure that communication is effectiveLet’s take a closer look at the graph below, which shows the communication efficiency according to the communication channel. The most effective communication occurs face to face, in front of a whiteboard, for example, followed closely by, what might be surprising, video conversation with content sharing. This means that from a distance, if all the participants in the video call agree to put on their camera and share their screen, for example, the communication is effective and everyone is part of the conversation. It is possible to see the collaborators, to see if they are interrupted, if they need a break, to observe their attitude, their ability to listen, and to notice the level of understanding on elements visual and concrete. Tip: You cannot force someone to put their camera on, but it is best to ask everyone to put it on, even if it means blurring or changing the background. We must therefore review together with the rules of exchange and communication by integrating the personal limits of each and the (new) tools.
Maintain ceremonies and select efficient toolsIn themselves, the ceremonies do not change, but you have to make sure you have the means and tools at a distance to replace the usual physical tools. In practice, Scrum teams are already well organized except for those that are not digitized at all. If this is the case, address the problem in the “how” part (eg: how to go from physical post-it to digital post-it?). Scrum does not advocate new rules for conducting remote meetings and usually advocates self-organization, always asking the right questions about their effectiveness. The ceremonies put in place are still relevant today, just because we are at a distance does not change. A daily Scrum is still a meeting but maybe with the camera and sharing the progress of the Trello kanban. The same is true for retrospectives and customer demonstrations. For the latter, it will be necessary to organize a specific point with the Scrum product owner (PO) in order to specify the “how”. If it is physical delivery, we will explain in the “how” all the precautions, rules, and health standards that this implies. If it is a remote delivery, it is also necessary to review the rules and provide the right support for the demonstration (webcam, slides, test environment, …) in order to have a fluid and efficient exchange while appreciating the reactions directly from the client, his attitudes and gestures. Tip: here is a non-exhaustive list of tools that can help you improve your Scrum ceremonies remotely: Trello, Miro, Klaxoon, Mentimeter, Mural, Kahoot, Jira, Wrike, Scrum Time, Slack, Team, Skype, Zoom, Discord, Meet, Spatial.io.
Unite and manage all teamsBe careful to keep the work of the teams visible! What is recommended when the teams are remote is to make the product backlog as transparent as possible and also to ensure that all the teams have transverse visibility. All the product backlogs should be available through a common tool. The teams thus share a clear vision of current product developments and anticipate dependencies. When the company has many Scrum teams, or practices agility at scale, specific teams are formed to ensure clear management of the “how” and the “what”. By following the indications of the Scrum @ Scale Caneva for example, we take care to manage the responsibility for the “what” (product) and the “how” (process) through two dedicated teams. The goal is to eliminate unnecessary organizational conflicts that prevent teams from achieving their optimal productivity and optimizing collaborations. Tip: always keep a “lean” spirit by promoting the exchange around the added value of your practices with your teams. → Read Now: Onboarding new staff into your Agile team
ITIL is seen as a solution to many problems associated with IT organizations. It is used as a guide to help groups improve the value of their services by focusing on co-creating business value and solving business problems, rather than just improving IT capabilities. Organizations use ITIL as a framework for focusing all their activities, components, and resources to implement capabilities that deliver specific business value. So ITIL can benefit any organization that provides an IT service management product or service. In this article, we provide seven key tips for organizations looking to effectively introduce the ITIL framework. → Download our free paper "The 7 ITIL Guiding Principles"Read more
7 reasons to implement ITIL in your organizationAdopting ITIL 4 can bring many benefits to both organizations and their users. In the new version, the framework gives strategic importance to ITSM by placing it in the larger context of customer experience and shared value creation. The key benefits of ITIL4 are:
- Cultural transformation
- Find a starting point
- Know the framework and define the roles
- Know where you want to go
- Know what to improve
- Integration of practices
- Continuous improvement
1. Cultural transformationThe first clarification to make concerns the terminology: ITIL cannot be “implemented” in the canonical sense of the term as it requires a cultural transformation to the approach to work. IT Service Management professionals need to help organizations in which they operate to shift their focus on customers, results, and business value so that they can make a deep connection between these factors. For this reason, we cannot simply speak of “implementing” ITIL, because this term implies the fact that there is a process with a beginning and an end. The ITIL framework is based on an approach to an iterative and incremental improvement and therefore requires a complete cultural transformation.
2. Find a starting pointWhen introducing a new methodology, it is always necessary to take into account the organization’s past and current situation. Understanding what can and cannot be done and what has already been done in the past. It is important to see past results and to determine the objectives that are to be achieved. The main components of the Service Value System that must be implemented according to a holistic approach are the following:
- Corporate Governance
- The flows of value
- The Practices
- Continuous Improvement
- The 7 Guiding Principles
3. Know the framework and define the rolesThe knowledge and mastery of the concepts underlying the ITIL 4 framework is a factor that is as obvious as it is fundamental. Knowing the framework brings the knowledge of the need to clearly and unequivocally define the role each involved professional must play. The correlation between role definition and knowledge of the framework is a key factor to start with when adopting ITIL within an organization.
4. Know where you want to goITIL helps to define the specific value flows of the organization and supports to concretely implement them through the 34 practices made available by the ITIL 4 framework. For this reason, it is necessary to thoroughly analyze roles, processes, information, and technologies, together with the ITIL 4 stakeholders. Stakeholders are included in order to define the future path to take towards the evolution of the organizational model. Clarifying the ins and outs of the organization makes it possible to identify possible weaknesses and opportunities in advance, by comparing the processes in place with best practices.
5. Know what to improveAfter analyzing the current situation, it is time to focus on the objectives; which value flows to introduce, and how to divide them into steps, actions, and tasks in such a way that they are easier to manage? Answering these questions will also allow us to answer a fundamental question: What is the motivation that drives the organization to introduce ITIL best practices? Once the answer to this simple but fundamental question has been found, the organization will be able to focus on the ITIL project. While also focusing on desired results (outcome) and those actually achieved (output).
6. Integration of practicesOnce the value flows have been defined with the relative steps required by the Demand for Value, it is necessary to identify the practices and associated resources that contribute to the success of each step. In the past, weaknesses often came to light precisely in the passage from the end of one process to the beginning of the next one. For this reason, using the Value Flows allows you to interface processes towards a shared and functional vision to also optimize procedural work and transition between processes.
7. Continuous improvementHaving finally introduced ITIL into your organization does not at all mean that the process is over, quite the opposite!
- Which processes have fully achieved the objectives?
- Which could be improved?
- Have the predetermined outcomes been obtained?