Sometimes your process is rock solid and it just works. Other times, you find room for improvement. Whether you’re adapting formalized practices like Scrum or Waterfall, or crafting your own process based on what you know what works (or what doesn’t work) for you, your team, stakeholders, and project. But there will always be challenges and things to consider. In this episode, consultant digital delivery lead Suze Haworth shares her thoughts on crafting process, including:
Suze Haworth is a Consultant Digital Delivery Lead in London. She has over 14 years’ experience working in digital, managing projects for the BBC, IKEA, Specsavers, WaterAid, Channel 4, Esso, SEAT, HSBC and Mozilla, to name a few. She is a certified ScrumMaster, an international conference speaker, and is a member of the DPM Expert Panel on thedigitalprojectmanager.com. When she’s not talking about digital and agile (and creating numerous Google spreadsheets), she likes to fuel her obsessions with mountains and coffee.
Brett Harned: Hey, welcome to Time Limit. Thanks so much for listening. On this episode, we're going to dig into what it means to craft your own process. My guest is Suze Haworth, who is a consulting digital delivery lead in London. She brings an interesting point of view to the table because she's led projects and teams of all sizes and backgrounds, which means that she's seen a lot of process.
Brett Harned: She's also been speaking at a lot of Agile conferences about breaking Agile lately. So keep listening to hear her take on how that's been received, and how you can successfully navigate a process transformation.
Brett Harned: Suze, thank you so much for joining me on Time Limit.
Suze Haworth: That's okay. It's good to be here.
Brett Harned: Great. I'm really looking forward to talking to you about hybrid process.
Brett Harned: At TeamGantt, we're actually starting to call it 'blended'. We actually just started an event a couple of months ago about blended project process. We got a room full of people in Philadelphia to watch a presentation by Justin Handler from O3 World where he talked through how they're merging Agile and waterfall processes.
Brett Harned: So on that note, I know that you've kind of been speaking all over the world about hybrid process or maybe even hacking Agile. And I know that you've been to a bunch of Agile events. Do you want to talk about that for a second? What events have you been to most recently?
Suze Haworth: Yeah, so this year I've actually been really lucky and speaking at quite a few Agile conferences. So I've been to Agile India, a Agile Day event in Istanbul, and more recently one in England, in Cornwall, which was actually Agile on the Beach, so it was a beach party.
Brett Harned: Nice.
Suze Haworth: Which was fun.
Brett Harned: So how is your point of view on adapting Agile being received by what I have to assume are really true Agilists at those events?
Suze Haworth: Yeah, I mean, surprisingly it's actually gone down very well, I think. I'll say so myself.
Suze Haworth: I think the expectation is that everyone is a bit of an Agile snob at these types of events, because they are kind of strictly about Agile. You're not supposed to go there and talk about waterfall or other types of methodologies. And I'm actually going in and talking about not following a strict framework.
Suze Haworth: And like I said, there is a lot of Agile snobbery out there in the world, and that's why I think people find it a bit ... maybe sort of a dirty word to say 'hybrid' or 'blended', you know?
Brett Harned: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Suze Haworth: But with what I'm talking about at these conferences, I think what I try and boil it down to is the core principles. So it's about the good principles behind building a product or a service.
Suze Haworth: So actually one of my slides comes up and it's, "Forget Agile." Which, I do say is a controversial thing to say at an Agile conference. But that's actually what I say I want people do, because it's like everyone's obsessed with this word and what it means. But actually what I think it's about are these core principles about what make a good product or service.
Suze Haworth: So I talk about three principles, which are customer, first, frequent delivery, and team collaboration. And obviously if you look at the Agile manifesto and those principles, those core principles do map back to the Agile manifesto. But it's about getting away from becoming too obsessed with being Agile or doing Agile, those kinds of things.
Brett Harned: I like it, I like it a lot. I think it's really cool that in a lot of ways you're championing doing what's right in terms of process for leading projects and being successful. I know I believe this, you don't have to be a hundred percent Agile, you don't have to be 100% Waterfall, or any other process really.
Brett Harned: You should craft a process that works for you, and for your teams, and your scope, and your stakeholders, and all of those things you have to consider. I'm curious, what led you to your point of view? What got you to a point where you were like, "You don't have to be Agile, forget Agile."
Suze Haworth: I think largely working in agencies across my life in project management. I think in agencies it's actually really hard to adapt to truly fully Agile approach or framework, whether that's Scrum or Kanban. Because you're in a client vendor relationship basically.
Suze Haworth: And the large amounts of the clients I've worked with need some kind of guarantee, or deliverables, or budget, or timing. So they're demanding things which are inherently not following Agile principles. I mean that is true for a lot of the clients I've worked with, I've also works with clients who are very open to the Agile principles and working in a much more Agile way. So there was a blend of that.
Suze Haworth: But working in agencies as well, you're looking at different clients, different projects, different types of business. So whether that's e-commerce, retail, all different types of business. And so actually, just saying Scrum, or Waterfall, or whichever, doesn't necessarily suit every type of project that you're doing.
Suze Haworth: So it is about looking at what is best for that particular client, that particular team that you're working with. With what you've got, what sort of budgets you've got. So it is really about adapting your approach to that, and I really think there isn't just a one-size-fits-all approach to everything that you do.
Brett Harned: Completely agree with you. Would you say that there's any kind of specific project type that lends itself a little bit more to blended process or hybrid process?
Suze Haworth: I think to be honest, a lot of projects I work with do lend themselves to that. I think if you've got something fixed from the clients, so if you have fixed timescales to meet, or you have to work within a certain budget. It's definitely going to be a more blended approach there. You will have to deliver to something there, you've got some more strict parameters around it I guess.
Suze Haworth: So it is quite a lot of the projects that I work with. I think where you can sort of tend to explore more Agile projects is when you've got more of a time/materials based contract with your client. So yeah, a lot of projects actually fit the blended approach.
Brett Harned: Definitely. Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. What about people? So to me, it feels like people tend to be a leading factor in the reason why I can't do Agile. So for instance, I had consulted with an agency, they were running Agile. If you can imagine me doing air quotes right now, I'm doing air quotes around Agile.
Brett Harned: And the idea was, we're going to come up with all of these user stories, we're going to then organize ourselves in sprints. We get to the table with the clients at the end of the first sprint to do a demo of the work that had been done. And everything fell apart, because not everyone showed up to the demo, there were questions about why we approached some things first. And to me it felt like it wasn't necessarily that the process was wrong, but it was the expectation of the process was not communicated very well leading up to it.
Brett Harned: So to me, it feels like in many instances, especially in a client-agency relationship, the people tend to break down the process because you can't get everybody in the room at the same time. Would you agree with that?
Suze Haworth: Yeah, definitely. I think there's a few things there.
Suze Haworth: Firstly, you do need your team to be present, having one consistent team. Getting the client, if you're working with a client, really involved. And if they're not involved, it does make it a lot harder to really truly follow an Agile framework really. Also it's about the kind of reasons why you're implementing this type of framework in the first place. And that's why I think blended processes can work, because a lot of people try and apply a strict framework to something just because they think it'll automatically make things faster, more efficient, cheaper, whichever benefit people pick when they're doing Agile, you know?
Suze Haworth: And then when that doesn't necessarily happen just because they've implemented certain ceremonies or artifacts or types of work, then they get a bit frustrated with it. So it's all about those kinds of expectations at the beginning. And if you're trying to implement a framework and think it would magically solve things, I don't think that's ever going to happen.
Suze Haworth: Trying to implement things from a framework or implemented framework, you've got to have expectations that you will need to adapt things, try things out. Things might not actually be right for what you're doing, so you'll need to try something else out. So it's all about that kind of expectation management at the beginning.
Brett Harned: Yeah. Which would clearly be the project managers role, or at least maybe the leader's role, or the person who's initiating the project. I'm curious, because when you look at process, like within a waterfall or more traditional processes, there is a defined role of a project manager.
Brett Harned: And then when you look at Agile processes like Scrum, there is a Scrum Master and the expectation of what the Scrum Master does is a little bit different from what a project manager does. And I'm wondering, in a blended approach, do you think that the practice has changed the role of the PM, or how people characterize the role of the PM or the Scrum master? What does that function do in a blended process?
Suze Haworth: Yeah, it's definitely a difficult one. And I think that's where project managers have struggled as well. We've moved to more Agile ways of working because the traditional, the classic Agile framework, Scrum, doesn't have a project manager. So we're immediately just out there, out of the Scrum.
Suze Haworth: So what we've tended to do is become more of the Scrum master role, which is the facilitator that's leading the processes around Scrum, I guess. But there's quite a few different roles you can play, and what I've seen a lot of more recently is a project manager's either going on slightly more of a product route, so more a product manager role.
Suze Haworth: So in that way, supporting a product owner or the client who acts as the product owner. But also a more delivery manager style role, so that would be sitting between the Scrum team and the product owner, and making sure that overall the Scrum teams are delivering to the rough release plan or whatever you're using, road map.
Brett Harned: Interesting.
Suze Haworth: So yeah, I think definitely, the project manager role is always a wearing many hats type of role, and it's called a lot of different things. And I just think we tend to fall into more of the Scrum master delivery side roles.
Brett Harned: That makes sense. We recently did an interview with Neil Vass who's from Manchester. I'm not sure if you know Neil through the Deliver Conference, but yeah, we talked a little bit about the delivery manager role. And I really liked that, I loved that evolution of project management. And just in terms of the title, it just makes a lot more sense.
Suze Haworth: Yes, definitely.
Brett Harned: So in that vein or along that line of questioning, I'm curious on your thoughts on certifications. Do you think that someone who's a delivery manager, Scrum Master, or PM, whatever you want to call them, do you think that they need training or certifications in order to craft or manage a hybrid process?
Suze Haworth: My classic answer is, no. Not that I'm against certifications, and I have a Scrum Master certification, but I don't ... To be honest, a lot of my knowledge and training and everything has been done on the job and just working on different types of projects, products, working with different clients. And I don't think the training is necessary in terms of being able to work out what sort of process is working, looking at ways to adapt.
Suze Haworth: I think the Scrum Master qualification is great to give you an introduction to Scrum, and how that framework works. But obviously there's a lot of different frameworks out there, so I think you can gain a lot of that knowledge by reading a lot around the subject, talking to people. Not necessarily doing formal training.
Suze Haworth: Obviously some jobs ask for certification, so it can be useful. And if your company is offering you the chance to do that, or you can afford to, yeah, great. I think definitely get them, but I don't think it's a necessity basically to be able to work with processes. Because it's more about understanding what are the pain points on your projects, what problems are you having? And then trying to work out solutions to those problems, which I don't think you need a cert for.
Brett Harned: Yeah, I totally agree with you. I think the certs are really nice to have if you've got the time and the means to get them. I did the Scrum Master certification, took the test even though I have extreme test anxiety, and passed it. But at the end of the day, the certification itself didn't really matter to me or my career.
Brett Harned: What mattered was that I was gaining that knowledge. And I could have done that through reading or any other kind of approach, even just conversations with friends or attending a conference. One thing I think is really good about that kind of continuous learning, whether it's through certification or whatever, is that it helps you to identify what types of practices might be helpful to you.
Brett Harned: And I've seen people get things wrong when they're creating those hybrid processes just because they're not thinking through everything. And I'm wondering if you've seen people get things wrong in terms of creating those hybrid or blended processes, and what those challenges might be?
Suze Haworth: Yeah, I think, like I touched on before, people who think that a framework and applying that to your projects or your product process, that's just going to magically fix everything. I think that's the problem. Basically, a framework isn't going to fix your problems, you need to look at what things that you can do to help your team, to help build a better product in the end. It's about focusing on those sort of things.
Suze Haworth: Like I said before, the core principles rather than just thinking that a framework's going to solve everything. And I think it's that whole classic, back to the inverted commas, 'doing Agile,' or 'being Agile'. People are striving so hard to do this or be this. So they try and use the terminology, the ceremonies, but they're actually not adapting the mindsets and the principles behind that.
Suze Haworth: And I think that's really important, because Agile isn't actually a framework. Agile isn't a process, it's a set of principles, it's a mindset to have.
Brett Harned: Absolutely.
Suze Haworth: Yeah, exactly. So people are thinking that, "Oh, we're just going to do Agile." And that's by doing a daily standup, or a two week sprint. Actually that's not thinking about, what are the core principles that actually help deliver better products behind that.
Suze Haworth: And that's what I think is the big problem out there in the world at the moment with Agile.
Brett Harned: I agree.
Suze Haworth: We've become too obsessed with that word, which relates back to my slide in my talks, which is basically, "Forget Agile."
Brett Harned: I like that. My slide, I actually just presented a live class, so I do weekly live classes at TeamGantt. Essentially they're webinars that anyone can attend. And I did one today, aptly, called Choosing Your Own Process or Crafting Your Own Process.
Brett Harned: And in it, I actually say, "Agile is principles over process," meaning that you've got to understand the principles behind Agile before you start thinking about adapting your process to Agile, right?
Suze Haworth: Exactly, yeah. There's this quote that's really stuck with me that a product guy who wrote, I think he wrote Lean UX, but Jeff Gothelf. Which is, "Every project does not have to be Agile. However, every project you work on should encourage and support agility." So it is about working with more agility. And the Agile principles do help with that. They are good for that. So yeah, it's about that rather than actually, "We're Agile."
Brett Harned: Absolutely. So my next question is going to go against everything that we just said, but what I really want people to take away from this conversation are tactical things that they can do.
Brett Harned: So I'm wondering if you've got any go-to practices that you might recommend for people who are trying to adapt process. Now, I'm not saying these have to be like, you do two weeks sprints, not four weeks sprints. Are there things that might lead you to crafting a process that works best for your team and everything included in your project?
Suze Haworth: Yeah, definitely. I think there's loads of actually ... even though I'm talking about principles, and mindsets, and theoretical things. There's actually lots of practical things that you can do. And I think the big thing is, identifying what the pain points are with your current process. Because you'll likely obviously be following your current process.
Suze Haworth: So if everything's going great and you're delivering great products, your clients happy, stakeholders are happy, there isn't actually a need there to change just for the sake of changing. So obviously it's about looking at your current process, and trying to identify pain points there. And obviously you can start doing that yourself, but also it's about talking to the team, holding retrospectives. That's quite an Agile thing, it's Scrum ceremony. But it's actually a really useful thing to do whilst you're running projects.
Suze Haworth: So look back at the last couple of weeks and see how you're doing, what could be improved, what you want to continue, what you want start doing. Get your team and clients and stakeholders involved in that. So really gather people's feedback on where are the pain points.
Suze Haworth: And then it's about looking at how you can start to solve these pain points. So if it's about your team not collaborating enough, then if you don't hold regular catch ups with them, like the daily standup. That's a Scrum ceremony again that you could try out, to see if that improves a bit of collaboration between your team.
Suze Haworth: So there's things that you can start to do and borrow from Agile frameworks, just to start trying to pick these pain points. And one thing actually I've done, and in my talks I've gone through this process that we did at my last agency, where we moved to a more dual track Agile approach. And it was quite a large change for the company.
Suze Haworth: And this is where we were blending Scrum and Kanban really together. And we did an outcomes roadmap, so we looked at a 'now, next, later' framework. And we looked in three areas, so people, products, and process. And we tried to map out the outcomes we wanted from this change in process against that.
Suze Haworth: So, what do we want to happen now? What do we want to happen next? And what do we want to happen sort of a bit later? And having those kinds of outcomes to work back to actually really helped us with the process. It helps us draw back to, "Okay, actually, what do we want to be solving here? What do we want to be achieving? How do we want to be enabling the team better? How do we want to making the product better?" So it really helped frame our process changes.
Brett Harned: I love that. It's like setting an expectation that we're going to try this thing and things will change, but the way that we're going to adapt to that change is just by talking openly about it and making decisions together as a team. I think there's no other way to handle it, right? I mean, you can't do that alone as a project manager.
Suze Haworth: I think the worst thing to do is to go to your team and say, "This is happening. We're changing into this." Because it's going to be much harder for them to buy into. And in fact, what's actually quite a good thing to do is, if you come up with an idea to change something or to adapt something or add something in, take it to the team first and say, "What do you think actually? Do you have a better idea than this?"
Brett Harned: Yeah.
Suze Haworth: And you'll often find then that people generally might not, and then they're willing more willing to try out yours because you've opened it up to them first.
Brett Harned: Absolutely. I totally agree with that. Even in just more traditional process, like setting an expectation that we are doing this together. The PM is not the person who controls everything and never should be. You should always be working with the input of your team.
Suze Haworth: And that's another great Agile principle, or part the frameworks, is a more self organizing team. So it's not the PM leading everyone, telling everyone what to do, structuring everything for everyone. It's enabling your team to be able to make those choices, and helping facilitate that.
Brett Harned: Yeah. All right. This has been really awesome and hopefully people are picking up some really good tips. I know I am from you, which is awesome. I'm going to ask you one final question, which I've been asking all of our guests. And basically, the name of the show is Time Limit, which is nodding to the fact that we're all just trying to do our best work with limited time and limited resources.
Brett Harned: And I think that really does apply here, especially when you're working on projects and just see that things aren't working. So I'm wondering can you offer any advice or recommendations to people who are looking to transform their process, but they're just really busy trying to deliver work at the same time? Are there any practices that you think could be a part of an overall process to help an organization or teams change?
Suze Haworth: Yeah, I think that's the classic PM thing. Again, we're just so busy working on so many different things, that we don't have that time needed to really think about things, and then change things, and put whole new processes into place. So I guess my main encouragement would be to just make small changes. Look at your process, try and pick out the immediate pain points that are causing a lot of frustration in the team, or with the client, or you think you're product isn't delivering. And then just try to make quite small changes that fit in with your time, to try things out really.
Suze Haworth: And it's all about testing and learning. And that's where, again, a blended process can really work because you can try out one thing. Try out something small, test it, if it doesn't work, fine. Change tactic, pivot, try something else. And if you're doing that in small increments, then it's not this big, unwieldy time consuming thing as well.
Suze Haworth: And I think secondly, it's about getting people's buy in to why you want to implement changes and therefore getting people's support. Being able to ask others to help in implementing process changes so that it's not just you doing everything. Because like we were talking about, if you've got your team's buy in and that's half of it, but also getting them to lead the changes. So it's not just all down to you when you're busy doing other things.
Brett Harned: And then they can't put it all back on you when that change fails.
Suze Haworth: Exactly, but don't be afraid to fail. I think that's a good thing.
Brett Harned: I completely agree. Yeah.
Suze Haworth: If change doesn't work, fine. Put that aside, learn from it, and lead on to the next change.
Brett Harned: Well, I think there's something to be said too, about setting an expectation at the beginning of a project where you just say, "Hey, things are going to change. We're going to try working this one way, and it might not work, and that might mean that we have to make a change or pivot at some point."
Suze Haworth: Yeah.
Brett Harned: And that just gets people comfortable with the idea that you're kind of in command of what's going to be happening on the project. You're not trying to control it, but you understand what's happening and that you know that you've gotta be flexible if things aren't working. You have to make a change for the better of the project and for the health and morale of the team and stakeholders, right?
Suze Haworth: Yeah, exactly. And again, that's really part of the Agile mindset. So even just by responding to change, you actually are starting to apply those Agile principles. So yeah, it's a great thing.
Brett Harned: So you basically just keep telling me that I'm already Agile.
Suze Haworth: Exactly.
Brett Harned: Well great. That's good to know. I'm now an Agilest in the eyes of Suze Haworth, at least.
Suze Haworth: You're working with more agility.
Brett Harned: Yes, there you go. Suze, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it. Is there anything else that you want to mention? Any events coming up, any things that you want to promote or talk about before we go?
Suze Haworth: I've actually got a conference coming up in October, which is Lean Agile Scotland. So I'm off to Scotland. It's in the north of the country. So yeah, I'm really look forward to that. And again, I'll be talking on dual track agile and adapting your processes. So very similar to what I've been talking about today, but also a good case study.
Brett Harned: That's great. Well, hopefully we've got some listeners over there who can come and see you. If not, we'll drop some links to your work in the notes for the podcast, and ways for people to follow or get in touch with you. So again, thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate you coming in and join me on Time Limit today.
Suze Haworth: Thank you. It's been really fun.
Brett Harned: Thanks.
Suze Haworth: Yeah.
Brett Harned: All right, well that's all the time we had for that conversation. I have to say, I really enjoy talking to Suze, and I've seen her present a few times and it's always really good stuff.
Brett Harned: Anyway, there's so much more to talk about when it comes to crafting process. But I do really value Suze's point of view on the topic, and it just so happens that it's a topic that we love to talk about at TeamGantt too. In fact, if you're looking for more resources on it, check out class number two of The Art and Science of Leading Projects, or take a look at our live classes, or catch Suze at one of her upcoming conference appearances.
Brett Harned: Check out the links in the show notes as well, and be sure to share your thoughts on how the show is going for you. We're doing this for you, so we want to be sure that you're getting what you need out of the podcast. I hope you'll get in touch if you've got questions or ideas or even if you want to be on the show yourself. Thanks so much for listening and we'll see you next time.