Apply a continuous improvement strategy. Especially in today’s world, upskilling and reskilling to make your skills — as well as the skills of your employees — future proof is vital to long-term success. It will also help you weather a storm if a disruption hits unexpectedly.
Work smarter under difficult situations. This can make even the most difficult projects seem more tangible with saving time and energy. This can also help your team reduce stress and increase productivity.
As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Lines, Vice President of Disciplined Agile at Project Management Institute (PMI).
Mark Lines leads Disciplined Agile at Project Management Institute (PMI). He is co-creator of the Disciplined Agile toolkit and has co-authored several books on Disciplined Agile (DA). Mark has over 25 years of experience helping organizations around the world to be successful with project delivery using Agile, Lean, Traditional, and Hybrid approaches. He has a record of successfully transforming entire organizations to business agility so that they can rapidly and continuously deliver value to their customers and other stakeholders. Mark is a frequent keynote speaker at industry conferences worldwide. At PMI Mark leads overall DA strategy and end-to-end delivery partnering with sales, product development, communications, and marketing.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I initially started as a Software Developer. Back then the typical career path was to move from developer, to systems analysts, to project manager. I loved to code, but as I progressed, I stopped coding and I increasingly became dissatisfied in my job. I didn’t enjoy what was a very structured, bureaucratic style of project management. I spent my days in status meetings, writing minutes, negotiating scope with the business, dealing with issues, change requests, and other types of administration. I was miserable and began investigating other career options.
In the meantime, I began looking for more efficient ways of working and discovered iterative development as an alternative to traditional project management. The leading approach at the time was the Rational Unified Process (RUP), which I started to use. It focused on delivering software iteratively in increments rather than just a lot of documentation. That led to my interest in agile, lean, and coaching teams to be more efficient with the way that they work. Over many years, particularly when I worked for Rational Software, I developed expertise in a wide variety of agile methods and practices. In 2010, while at IBM, Scott Ambler asked for my feedback on an enterprise approach to agile, which he called Disciplined Agile Delivery. We decided to write a book on it which was published in 2012. We have now written four books on Disciplined Agile (DA). In 2019, our consulting company Disciplined Agile Inc was acquired by the Project Management Institute (PMI). I am now the Vice President of Disciplined Agile at PMI, where I am responsible for the overall strategy and delivery of the DA program.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
First and foremost I am grateful to my DA co-creator Scott for choosing to take me on the DA journey with him. After our first book was published in 2012, we decided to start a consulting company to grow awareness of DA and use it to help organizations to become truly agile. We figured that if we were still friends after spending two years writing a book together, maybe we could get along as business partners! The second person that comes to mind is Ivar Jacobson, co-creator of the Unified Modeling Language, and father of the Rational Unified Process (RUP). Ivar has made huge contributions to the field of software engineering and I am fortunate to have learned so much from him and to be his friend.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
PMI was founded in 1969 due to an increased need for skilled professionals to implement strategies and bring bold ideas to life. Our purpose was and is to establish project management as a profession as well as educate and champion the project managers and changemakers who are impacting our world. Today, we’re the world’s leading association for those involved in project, program, or portfolio management — with more than 600,000 members and more than 300 local chapters globally — and we continue to provide resources for project managers and their teams to ensure they are successful and avenues for project managers to showcase their incredible work to the world, including through our awards programs and our annual Most Influential Projects lists. Our offerings span certifications, including our flagship Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification to micro-credentials and online courses, including our new Kickoff course and tool kit, a free resource covering the basics of project management.
One of PMI’s core offerings is the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit. As I mentioned, I, along with my colleague at PMI, Scott Ambler, are co-creators of this tool kit. The purpose of the DA tool kit is to provide a roadmap for organizations to streamline their processes and develop a customized way of working through the foundation for business agility. The tool kit is an extremely rich set of practices that can help people easily identify successful strategies for what they need to do during a given situation.
Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
PMI helps changemakers and project managers achieve success in the face of disruption. We provide them with the necessary skills and tools to implement strategies in everyday projects while navigating through difficult situations.
Disciplined Agile specifically offers professionals the tools, resources, and certifications to help them best navigate agile projects. DA empowers professionals to be versatile and flexible and gives them the tools to develop a “think outside the box” mentality. Our goal is to make individuals, teams, and organizations “agile” with agile, by helping them understand the potential of agile from a deeper level. This allows teams to customize agile to work better for their needs, leading to project teams that are more efficient and flexible.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
While not a technological innovation, the COVID-19 pandemic expedited technology’s already rapid evolution, with teams now relying more heavily on automation, AI, and other technologies. When the pandemic began and forced many organizations to switch to remote work, it fundamentally changed the way we worked together. Many businesses scrambled to implement more agile ways of working to cope, and traditional agilists needed to adapt their frameworks and expertise to continue to be successful without co-located teams. We were now forced to rethink how to operate our businesses in a “digital first” environment. For many, this was a long overdue wakeup call that the pandemic forced us to address. We’ve also seen many companies begin experimenting with citizen development and the use of no- and low-code platforms, which can speed up the customization of technology by giving non-IT professionals the tools to tailor technology to their needs. One of the ways PMI has helped these organizations experimenting with citizen development is through our new Citizen Developer suite of resources, which help organizations deploy citizen development in a secure and scalable way, lowering risk of any “shadow IT” projects.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
So many agile techniques were based on face-to-face communication with whiteboards and Post-It notes, but organizations were forced to pivot in the face of disruption to work more flexibly and remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While COVID-19 certainly caught many organizations off guard in 2020, further disruptions — especially those brought on by technology — are inevitable in 2021 and beyond. To fully adapt and thrive in a constantly changing workplace, businesses need to find their customized way of working.
To find your way of working, organizations must leverage a full scope of methodologies and frameworks that can help meet a variety of project objectives. The first step is understanding what the specific disruption is. Then, it is putting the appropriate methodology and framework into play. Teams must choose their initial way of working and continue to refresh and improve it as the disruption evolves.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
There was definitely an “a-ha” moment when agilists realized that many of the practices and frameworks they were using in co-located settings could be easily repeatable when remote. Teams using agile are not pigeonholed to create a detailed plan upfront and then hope for the best. There is still detailed planning involved, but they assume the situation will change and they’ll need to react. It’s a different mindset, but one you can have and deploy whether you are at home or in an office. It presents different options so you can decide the best strategy for you and tailor your approach as the situation changes. Once agilists began to shift how they use agile to better use it in a remote setting, we began to see businesses and teams thrive.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
I am pleased to see so many organizations around the world experimenting more with agile ways of working for their projects. It has been great to see the difference it can make in teams’ productivity and attitude about collaborating with one another, even in a remote environment.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, and since we have seen organizations and teams begin to experiment with agile, PMI has unveiled many new resources for those looking to build on their agile knowledge as part of our new Disciplined Agile certification journey. The Basics of Disciplined Agile course is a foundational course that provides learners with the basics of agile. We also launched the Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM) certification, which introduces multiple agile approaches connecting how to use the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit and find your way of working. This helps you understand the DA mindset and its underlying principles, applying it to your unique project and situation, making the task at hand more manageable, even in the most disruptive situations.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
Leaders must first lead with empathy, acknowledging and understanding the challenges that are being thrown at the organization and their employees. It’s the leader’s job to bring teams together and focus on the most important tasks at hand, as well as gear them up to deliver. Being able to adapt and be agile during a disruptive period can help leaders when there is so much unknown. Leaders must be able to keep their team calm and collected.
In addition, leaders — especially during a disruptive period — need to be able to transform on a whim. For leaders to be able to do this, they also need to proactively gear their employees with the tools and best practices to support and lead transformation efforts. PMI recognizes that all employees — not just the C-suite — are responsible for a company’s transformation, and our Organizational Transformation course series can help educate employees on these best practices. For leaders, having a workforce ready to transform at a moment’s notice is integral for long-term success.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?
Communication — and sometimes overcommunication — with a team is so important in keeping them engaged and engaged team members are more likely to be truly excited and motivated to do the work. Equally as important is to lead by example under pressure. As I mentioned, leading with empathy is vital for morale, especially in an uncertain landscape. Leaders can boost morale by continuing to be empathic and understanding, and by being agile under pressure to choose the best, and most agreed upon, method to attack a project.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Companies need to acknowledge the need for skillsets to both prepare and manage teams in the face of turbulent times. The most important principle for companies is the need to be nimble, fast moving, and agile. We are constantly adapting the way we work due to our changing world and economy. It requires us to think with an open mind, apply new structures, technologies, and skill sets.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I have seen many businesses fall into similar traps when coming face to face with a new disruption, and many times it is due to the business or individual team lacking a customized way of working to manage it. Here are a few that I have experienced:
- Believing in a one-size-fits-all approach. Applying ready-made fixes and not taking into consideration what the project is and what the environment is can be detrimental. As mentioned, businesses and teams need to take time at the beginning of a project to determine their best way of working, and constantly refresh it as time goes on.
- Using a simpler agile technique when a more robust one is necessary. This can lead to the misconception of the agile framework. Agile can be customized for any team, and sometimes teams can be afraid to be “agile” with agile.
- Hesitation in adapting to world events and industry trends. PMI recently published its Megatrends report, which outlines some of the largest challenges our world is facing, including COVID-19, climate change, and more. Companies and teams must embrace change to thrive in the workplace in 2021 and beyond.
What are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
When tasked with implementing and deploying disruptive technology — or even to just weather a storm from an external disruption, these are five tips I have used in my own work:
- Be and stay agile. Businesses and individuals need to make discussions quickly and with grace. We all pivoted extremely fast to an online workplace last year — now, that speed is the benchmark.
- Find your optimal way of working. For any and every project, and especially those dealing with disruptions, teams need to find the best framework for their specific needs.
- Utilize tool kits and online resources to improve skills and techniques. Many offerings, courses, micro-certifications, and more are available to give professionals and their organizations the best chance for success.
- Apply a continuous improvement strategy. Especially in today’s world, upskilling and reskilling to make your skills — as well as the skills of your employees — future proof is vital to long-term success. It will also help you weather a storm if a disruption hits unexpectedly.
- Work smarter under difficult situations. This can make even the most difficult projects seem more tangible with saving time and energy. This can also help your team reduce stress and increase productivity.
Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” — H.L. Mencken
It is human nature to seek the simplest, easiest path. This is one of the reasons that agile implementations often fail. Part of the “discipline” in Disciplined Agile is recognizing that simple solutions are often wrong. We need the discipline to learn what options are available to us, and which ones work in different situations. This allows us to bring the right tool to bear to be more effective in a competitive business environment. Investing in learning the DA tool kit will lead you to success where others have failed. It takes a bit of work, but the investment will greatly reward you in your career.
How can our readers further follow your work?
My colleague and fellow co-creator of the Disciplined Agile tool kit, Scott Ambler, and I have co-authored four books on Disciplined Agile, with another one on the way. You can also follow our thoughts through PMI’s official Blog, which also has an “Anything Agile” section specific to agility.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!