I'm working in a private technological center, performing only R&D projects for industrial clients and institutions... I'm looking at applying Agile methods to our activities. From all my readings, I'm looking towards scrumban.

But I have doubts about its applicability and how to set this up. We have NO experience on Agile. All is based on project managers experience, PMP or intuition...

So to sum-up, I think that my main doubts are related to: - team size for scrumban to be manageable - issue of resources allocated to multiple projects at the same time (and we can't do it in other ways due to the nature of our activities) - issue of resources required for my project but managed in a different sub-team.

So first let me give you context, and then ask concrete questions:

I'm working in a business unit of about 50 people. We have about 150 ongoing projects. minimum project time 6 months, maximum 4 years. Projects have their uncontrollable lifecycle with intensive sprints followed by lengthy dead time due to delay in the clients feedback, waiting for purchased components, or just fixed long timeframe but at low intensity. We are of many different specialties, so some tasks can only be performed by one person. Executing only R&D contracts we have LOTS of uncertainties and risks and almost no repeatability between two projects. But since we are a private company, we need to ship results to our clients on time, within the fixed budget and with adequate quality... All the projects (mainly related to robotics, machine tools, and factory automation) require many profiles to collaborate at different stages: conceptual design; architecture design, prototyping, testing, redesign, software, electronics, mechanics etc... All this is coordinated by project managers and our head of Operations performs a monthly resources (person hour) allocation based on a project/person matrix.

I'm leading a sub-team, targeting a specific market segment, but we are not autonomous and independent (robotics requires a tight integration of software, mechatronics and hardware integration). So we always need to interact with the other sub-teams, get tasks executed by the mechanical engineers etc...

So my questions are: 1. How can I plan my delivery date and budget in the commercial offers if later on we're using an Agile method, tending to Pull processes...

  1. Related to question 1, how can I maintain a Gantt or any other system to estimate delivery date when using kanban or scrumban??? Are both compatibles? I'm feeling that switching to iterative and lean processes will improve our efficiency and resource allocation efficiency, but that we will lose on predictability (on the other hand, I've never seen a Gantt plan correctly executed on time ;-) ). Is this true?

  2. On what team should I deploy the scumban: on the 50 people?? Hardly manageable, no? But if I do it on my 12 people sub-team, it will not be complete since I need engineers from the other sub-group to work on my projects...? So I would need to "add cards" on the other team backlog and try to fight to get them with high priority...? So what's the adequate team size? And to manage interactions between teams??

  3. Related to question3: how should I manage the multi-projects aspects? I mean: should I try to impose scrumban at project level, or a team level? I fear that project level is not ok, since the resources in my project are also allocated to other projects and I have NO visibility on their current load and task priorities and emergencies... But at the 50 person group level, I fear that it will not be manageable, unless we perform micro-management up to the very fine tasks, with the associated management overhead... and headaches!

I hope I transmitted well our situation, that I understand as quite complex, but found in so many other companies...

Thanks in advance for sharing your opinions and advice on how/if we should deploy Agile processes in our business unit (preferably scrumban I believe)!

Very best,

Damien Sallé

  • 1
    Welcome to PMSE. You're going to have to break your "question" up into multiple questions. As it stands, you're asking too many different questions in a single post, and your question is likely to be closed as Too Broad.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Oct 11 '14 at 19:46
  • ok, I'll try to define this in multiple questions, even if I believe than my issue is global, and thus would benefit from a global perspective... Oct 13 '14 at 8:39
  • You'll get more definitive answers by asking the questions separately, in entirely different questions. You can reference previous questions in each question in order to get a more global perspective. But breaking it down will not only help get sharper answers, it should also help clarify assumptions being made in framing your questions. Oct 20 '14 at 3:35

There's too much going on in your question to give concrete advice but here are some basic rules I usually apply:

  1. If a project is complex or complicated and non-repeatable, use scrum.

  2. If your project is simple and/or repeatable, use whatever process method you prefer

  3. If your project is in chaos, do anything but get out of the chaos and into the simple, complicated or complex zones

  4. If your project has a large element of support, maintenance or frequent demands for changes in priority or a need to re-order work items more often that weekly, consider kanban.

  5. If you have more projects than you have teams, you have a management prioritisation issue. Managing multiple projects is hugely inefficient (please see my article on One Simple Killer Idea to Boost Software Development Productivity (Sorry for the eye-tearing title) I advise you ask your management to prioritise the projects.

For more advice on how to categorize projects, please see any reference to the "Stacey Matrix" or "Cynefin".

Finally, I'd highly recommend that you have some of your people attend scrum master and (vitally) scrum product owner training, as well as kanban training. You may also want to consider the services of a good agile coach to boost your agile adoption.

  • Thanks Derek for this feedback. At the end, I don't have any "management" that can help us reduce the number of a projects. We're a business unit, so basically just like a small company, and we have to deliver that many projects in order to have economical sustainability... But your comments gives more power to my doubts: is Lean ok to manage a department, or "just" autonomous and auto-suficient projects... Oct 13 '14 at 8:41
  • @DamienSalle: "management" would be the people with the authority to make decisions that impact the business. And the number to reduce is the number of projects "in progress", where you need to weigh the cost of doing nothing while waiting for a response/piece of hardware to the cost of switching contexts in the middle of a project (and switching back!) Oct 14 '14 at 13:43

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