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Project management - such a theater

What project management has to do with theater.

Carsten Severin

As Head of Project Management Office (PMO) at KUMAVISION, he is responsible for the project implementation and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) ®, Scrum Master and product owner.

Project management is like a play in many ways. There is a script, roles and a structure - nudes and scenes, if you will. While classic project management places great value on a powerful director and high fidelity to the screen, agile methods like Scrum are more like improvisation theater, in which the framework and the rules of the game are defined, but the play is within these limits according to the desire and joy of the actors and in interaction can develop with the audience.


The public

In the improvisation theater, the audience literally plays an important role. It does not sit passively in the auditorium, can be sprinkled and in the end judges whether it liked the whole piece, but takes on an active part. The actors involve it in the performance and the reaction of the audience has a decisive influence on the development of the Piece. In agile project management, the client is the audience. At Scrum, he is not only asked at the beginning what he wants and at the end whether he likes the result. Rather, he is on board throughout the entire project and, through his reaction, helps to steer the course of the project.


The script

The script in Scrum is referred to as the "Product Backlog". But - as is usual in improvisation theater - it does not contain an exact schedule and is not fixed in detail at the beginning. Rather, it is a dynamic list that changes as the project progresses. It lists which properties or functions the product should have, which requirements it should meet or which improvements to the previous result are desired. In the course of the project, the Product Backlog is continuously adapted to new knowledge. Or in the theater analogy: the script changes in the way the actors develop the play and how the audience reacts.


The director

There is also a director in improvisation theater. However, he does not have the task of determining the course of the piece in detail and rehearsing with his actors until everything is in place. Rather, it is the link between the script, the audience and the actors and specifies tasks and topics that should be implemented on the stage. In Scrum, the director is called Product Owner. Like his counterpart in the theater, he is absolutely a single person. He is responsible for the result and, as the client's representative, determines which requirements for the product have priority. He also ensures that all requirements for the implementing team are formulated clearly and understandably.


The main role

There is no classic leading role in improvisation theater. But there is an actor who is the first point of contact for the director and who pulls the troupe along. So he's more like a team captain than a classic hero. In Scrum this function is called "Scrum Master". As in improvisation theater, he has no authoritarian part. In particular, he has no decision-making authority over the way in which the team carries out its task. Rather, he is a service provider and carer for the implementation team. He moderates meetings, helps the team to organize itself optimally and removes obstacles. He also advises the product owner on the maintenance of the product backlog.


The actors

The actors are the mainstay of every play. In improvisation theater, however, their task goes beyond the purely acting. They bring in their ideas and influence the course of the piece. So you are an actor, a screenwriter, even take on some of the director's tasks and watch the play of your colleagues very closely in order to be able to react to them. They enjoy a high degree of autonomy. The Scrum development team also works very independently and takes on a similarly wide range of tasks. It decides which tasks are taken over in a work section and draws up a corresponding work plan. It organizes itself and presents a functional sub-product at the end of a working section. In addition, the progress achieved is evaluated together. Like the actors, the team members in Scrum are completely equal.


The outline

Not everything is free in improvisation theater either. Just going on stage and playing anything would rarely work. That is why there is a fixed structure, a framework within which improvisation takes place. First, the basic key data such as location and time must be determined. The content is also agreed on a framework in which the piece is played. Most of the time, the actors are given tasks that they then complete.

The process is similar with Scrum. At the beginning - just like with classic project management - there is the basic, the analysis of what the client needs. The product owner then defines the tasks as the authorized representative of the client, prioritizes them and lists them accordingly in the product backlog. The development team then works on the tasks in precisely defined, short work sections (iterations), so-called sprints. In Sprint Planning, it decides independently which of the most important tasks it wants to tackle and creates its own script for this phase, the Sprint Backlog. The development team meets every day in a short meeting (daily scrum). There it evaluates the success of the last 24 hours and plans the work of the next 24 hours. At the end of the sprint, the development team presents the finished result (product increment) to the product owner and other project participants (sprint review). The feedback from this idea is incorporated into the product backlog by the product owner, thereby modifying the content of upcoming sprints. The complete Scrum team finally meets to evaluate the course of the previous sprint and to optimize processes if necessary. Then the next sprint planning begins.


Classic or agile - which is better now?

The question of whether classic project management or agile project management is better is just as effective as the question of whether Goethe's Faust or theater sport is better. Both are theater - but with fundamentally different rules and therefore only comparable to a limited extent. But classic and agile project management approaches each have their own strengths and weaknesses and are therefore more suitable for one project and less for the other. We will present a comparison between the two approaches in the next article in the series.



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