Agile business management: Facing the way of business management in a global, connected world of individuals
This hack looks at how an organisation or individual is able to cope with current complex environments to deliver high quality work in the required amount of time. As a baseline this theory expects, that every individual or organisation is always involved in several projects, within an organisation or by incorporation with other organisations. Furthermore, every project is somehow interconnected with other projects, which makes up the whole proposed value. Based on these assumptions, a management method is required, that is able to adapt to these constraints and allows a self-organised way of realizing the business values.
People in a consulting business are confronted with a lot of different projects from various sources at the same time. They all want to deliver results very fast, but finally; time is the barrier, where a lot of projects fail, not as a whole, but in delivering the results in a planned manner.
Furthermore, today, we are facing a business environment, which has become highly competitive and specialised . Everyone (organisations or individuals) has to decide whether he/she wants to be an expert or an integrator . The results are that projects are highly separated into different parts, which are implemented by a lot of people. In addition to this, projects – not only big ones – hire highly skilled people offshore, adding to another level of complexity.
Looking at the distributed situation of the projects, I have identified two main issues which need to be addressed:
- How can one person, being part of a complex environment with a lot of projects (which are part of other projects), be able to schedule his/her work packages?
- How can a project manager / business owner / coordinator organize his projects (or part of the project)?
These issues are addressed with the aim to deliver high-quality work in a small amount of time, in a fast changing environment. Every organisation (and individual), who wants to be part of this highly complex environment, needs a way to organize the task and provide its potential clients the following supporting service:
- Cost estimation and time planning: With several projects in the pipeline, which is distributed to several employees or sub contractors, it is not only hard to estimate the costs but also the time for delivery. Therefore, a way of estimation is required.
- Flexible work-planning: Every individual not only works for one project (a basic assumption for the model), but furthermore, gets appointments, deadlines and other time-consuming tasks from several sources. A way of planning the schedule is required.
- Controlling: A project controlling mechanism is required at every level of the project, apart from the individual level.
In order to find an adequate solution, every entity (individual or organisation) needs to be self-organized and adapt its task in accordance with the upcoming, fast-changing requirements. The proposed solution is an enhancement of the collaborative networked organisation (), which tries to implement a viable organisation, which has been set out by Stefford Beer . The aim is that the organisation can recreate itself and the organisational structure can be built up to be self-organised. Based on the proposed value, the individuals within the organisation can define their roles, which change by changing market requirements.
Furthermore, an agile management method is required, to cope with the fast changing environments, without losing the “drive”  of the individuals within the organisation.
Emerging project ecosystem – self-organized organisational structure
The main idea is based on the assumption of setting up a self-organized organisational structure, which fits perfectly into the existing business environment, but is able to adapt in an agile way to upcoming requirements. From the point of view of organisational structure, circles need to be set up, which are, iteratively distributed to every sub-system that works within this environment.
Circle of trust and remuneration
The circle of trust and remuneration specifies the base line of the whole system. It sets out the common understanding of how a joint collaborative work can be organised. Trust needs to be created in order to allow an efficient and accepted exchange of knowledge (see ). The way of implementing trust depends on the project. This can, for example, be implemented by the general corporate culture or a cooperation agreement.
Remuneration – as the second aspect – specifies how the output of the joint project will be distributed. Pink clearly pointed out that extrinsic motivation systems, in most cases, fail. Hence, remuneration shall not be part of the motivation-system ; therefore, this needs to be set out at the beginning to create the baseline for a trustworthy environment.
Circle of social engagement
Based on the general level of trust, the entity (organisation or individual) needs to be connected with its environment. This circle is responsible for further development of the organisation, the projects and its individuals. A “strategy” is required, which agilely adapts to the future requirements and interconnects with its environments. This can be realized by getting in touch with a lot of people and putting yourself in the context  of the planned activities. The evaluated findings have to be noted somewhere and this will be done in the sandbox, where every finding will be described in a short story. From the social engagement (the interconnection with the relevant context), stories can be extracted. Within this theory, a story is everything that describes a future possibility. This management method concentrates on a project organisational architecture. Everything is within a project, which also points out that it is not consistent, but in continuous change. The circle of social engagement fills the sandbox with a list of stories, which may or may not be realized in the future within a project.
Circle of optimization and chaos
In order that the whole system is able to evolve in the long run, there is a phase of optimization required. This phase is responsible for optimizing the whole entity and it allows for the delivery of the proposed values. For this purpose, some form of controlling mechanism is needed to be built in, which can be realized with a project portfolio management system.
But, looking at the chaos theory, at some point of optimization, a point is reached where no further optimization is possible and the existing system reaches a point of unpredicted change. At that point of instability, the possibility to reorganize the organization needs to be taken and a new wave of positive optimization can be started . Thus, at some point, the existing structures need to be broken up and a self-organized (but guided) way of new reorganisation is required.
Circle of co-coordination and co-forecasting
The circle of co-coordination is responsible for the distributive coordination of the network of inter-connected projects and the co-forecast of the availability of the individuals behind it, in order to prepare a project proposal or quotation. Based on a combination of scrum  and project management theories , the following roles are required:
- Project owner: The project owner is the one who introduces the project. This can be an external client/customer or an internal stakeholder. He/she is responsible for defining the stories for the specific project within the sandbox that should go into the backlog. Furthermore, he/she specifies the priority that the different stories have for being set up.
- Director: The director is in charge of managing a project portfolio. He/she acquires new customers and takes care of the overall success of the project portfolio. The director, as a manager, has the responsibility of the overall value, which needs to be delivered .
- Project manager: The project manager is responsible for delivering the project results within the agreed time-period. He/she is responsible for selecting the required internal or external team-members and prepares the project proposal. Furthermore, he is responsible for taking care of the project costs.
- Team: The team for a project can consist of internal and external individuals or represent an external organisation. The project manager is responsible for selecting the right team for every story.
- Individual: An individual is a member of a team and has a calendar for planning. For every individual a task-list and a calendar are visible.
- Organisation: An organisation always represents an external entity, where only the required information will be submitted.
Circle of task fulfilment
The team is responsible for realizing the stories in order to deliver the results for the sprint. Every team-member (individual or organisation), therefore, has a calendar, which points out the available time slots and an individual task list for tasks that need to be set up.
Operational structure within one organisation
Before the general processes within the organisation are described, the following artefacts are required:
- Project list/Project sandbox: Every client work starts with a project. Within this project, the project sandbox will be filled together with the client/customer (project owner) with different stories, describing required values for the project.
- Project Backlog: In the second step, the stories for the next milestones will be accepted and prioritized. This will be done again together with the project owner.
- Sprint: Sprints always have a specific time period (one week, one month, …) and cover a sum of stories to be realized. In case a story is too long for a sprint, it has to be split up into several stories.
- Tasks: Derived from the stories, the task-list will be developed. One entity will always be responsible for one task.
- Project Milestones: Every project consists of server milestones, which cover a sum of sprints.
- Individual calendar: Every entity has one calendar representing his/her to do’s.
- Project portfolio: The project portfolio covers a sum of projects that a director is responsible for.
The whole process is in the centre based on the scrum process  which will be enhanced for the use in a complex project environment for general business consulting. A new project will be set up and the project sandbox will be filled with all required stories that can be identified at the beginning. In the next step, stories will be selected by the project owner, together with the project manager for the project backlog, and they will be prioritized. In the next step, the project manager needs to forecast the possible time duration and costs. The selection of the teams can be done in different ways within the organisation with internal experts or with external teams. The process should itself be self-organised and the teams can decide where they want to participate. At the end the project manager is responsible for selection the right teams. For internal teams, every individual within the team has a task-list and an individual calendar. Within that calendar, the available timeslots are visible. After selecting the stories and teams, the team-members have to define the story-points for the story. A story-point describes the complexity of the story. It is a relative value, which shows the complexity of one story against the other (see scheduling below). After the complexity of the story-points has been set, the project manager adds the stories to different sprints. A sum of sprints make up a project milestone, whereas the stories are mapped to the sprints according to the identified priority of the stories. Afterwards, the teams can start adding the task for implementing the stories. By doing so, the individuals map the different tasks to their individual calendar. Next, the story, including the tasks and planned realization, will be submitted back to the project manager. Then the project manager has to rearrange the sprints until everything fits. After several rounds, the project-plan is fixed and the proposal can be prepared. After this is done, the first sprint can start and be implemented. After every sprint the project manager has to adapt the sprints according to the changing requirements and new stories can be added.
From a single organisation to a collaborative networked organisation
The step from one organisation to an interlinked network of organisations can be a rather complex problem. The general aim is that it doesn’t make any difference for the project manager, whether he/she selects an internal employee, an external organisation, a freelance or someone offshore over a virtual job platform. In order to be able to do this, the following simple rules are required:
- Every story will be implemented by one team
- A team can be an internal team or an external organisation
- Every story can consist of several tasks
- A task can only be realized by one individual or one organisation
An essential part of the process is scheduling, as the client or customer wants to know what the proposed project will cost. The proposed scheduling method is based on the planning poker . The process starts with the project team forecasting the story-points in several rounds. In case an external organisation is responsible for the story, this organisation will have its own forecasting and will therefore only submit the proposed costs for the implementation, including the proposed duration of the implementation. Based on these costs, the story-points will be subtracted. In the second step, the duration or costs have to be forecast in total. In order to do this, the knowledge about similar projects of the team is required. Based on the past estimations of story-points and required realization time, a worst-case and a best-case scenario can be calculated, which allows to forecast the costs. As this is not available in the initial projects, the project manager has to forecast the stories together with the team. For the second sprint, a better estimation is possible.
At an individual level
At an individual level, the aim is develop an environment, which allows everybody to create a personal work-life balance. Everybody should be able to decide – more or less – which tasks he/she wants to do and when. Furthermore, one important aspect is that with this method projects shell be implemented faster at a project level, but speed shall be reduced at an individual level. This is realized by a simple but hopefully effective tool. Every planned work-package is visualized based on a schedule. This means that not only appointments and telephone calls shall be scheduled but also work- tasks.
This leads to two main results:
- Create time slots for work: When time for a work package is planned, all telephone calls shall be put on hold (like within a meeting) and there is more time available for this work package.
- Workload is visualized: Often different work packages arrive at the same time and at an individual level the work load is often not organized well. This is so, especially, when time is short.
At an organisational level
At an organisational level, the director has the possibility of creating a lean, project-oriented organisation, which can easily be updated to upcoming changes. The project portfolio will be the cockpit of the director, providing a detailed view of all of his/her projects. At any stage, the director of the organisation has an overview of the bind resources within the organisation and knows at which point there is too much or too less working hours available. The organisational structure as a whole is self-organised. Based on, different project owners and project managers evolve for building up the environment for the specific project by adding different teams to the project, based on the client contacts. After the project has been finished, the whole environment breaks up.
At an co-operational level
Organisations have to specialise in order to be able to compete in the market. In case an internal team is more expensive than an organisation in the market, the project manager has to select the team from the market (see ). With the proposed method, the project manager can, at any point, decide whether he/she wants to use an internal or external team.
At an outsourcing level
At an out-sourcing level, different ways of including teams from overseas exists and they are increasingly becoming part of every project work. In order to look at these possibilities within the internet, different forms of platforms have been evolved, that help in successfully outsourcing projects. These platforms should be integrated into the general project management tool set, in order to be able to track the success of different stories or tasks which have been outsourced.
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