25 Stories - Barbara Roberts, an Agile Career
07 March 2019
Posted by: Abi Walker
The Agile Business Consortium is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a leader in promoting business agility with ambitious plans for the future. To celebrate our 25th year, we will be sharing 25 stories! Agile transformation coach and previous director for the Agile Business Consortium, Barbara Roberts, kindly took part in the first of our 25th anniversary blog series.
How did you first get interested in agile?
I’ve always worked this way – long before ‘agile’ was ever invented. This is just my natural style of “people first” and being flexible.
How did you first get involved with the consortium?
I was RAD (Rapid Application Development) manager at British Rail and I went to the first meeting where people got together to look at what was happening with RAD. We wanted to share our experiences of how it works well when done properly. That was the beginning of the Consortium, in 1994.
What are the main changes that you have seen in that time?
Until 2009, we didn’t have the money to market what we were doing, and you couldn’t use the method unless you were a member, which stopped the DSDM method (Dynamic Systems Development Method) that we'd created from growing as it should have.
The major change has been the creation and the growth of AgilePM. We were able to collaborate with APMG International and benefit from their marketing strength. That enabled us to get our approach out to the world, which then gave us the funds to develop our ideas further. Now we have over 100,000 people who have taken AgilePM exams, and I am lucky enough to be talking about our products in Asia and Australia.
With Agile PM, what do you see as it’s real strengths?
A lot of agile approaches don’t understand the need for projects. All of the Consortium early adopters, such as British Rail, British Telecom and British Airways were large complex corporates. Corporate agile is necessarily going to be very different from a simple start-up organisation, so agile is never going to be a one-size-fits-all approach.
Our differentiator is that AgilePM proves you can do projects in an agile style and manage them in an agile way. Too often people see agile as ‘make it up as you go along’, whereas Agile PM and the Agile Project Framework products prove that in reality this is a highly disciplined approach – quite the opposite of “just do it” but still fully agile.
AgilePM puts us in a marketplace that is too often neglected – where project managers are being told they should give up project management and become scrum masters. The reality is the PM role continues to exist in Agile in complex corporates because you’re always going to have projects in those organisations.
What is your typical day as a consultant?
As a consultant there is no typical day! When I start an assignment I never go in with pre-prepared answers. I begin by finding out what is going well so we can protect this. I listen to the problems; what is really hurting and therefore needs to change. And beyond this, I start to look for areas which can be improved or streamlined, and for those people who are keen to develop new agile skills.
My days include doing 1-to-1 coaching for senior management, running training sessions for consultants, coaching teams and individuals, and training facilitators.
A consultant’s role is also about working out new rules, rather than just following existing ones – true thought leadership. That is the fun bit, but it also makes us a nightmare to manage!
As a consultant you never know what is coming. Any day can get completely turned upside down – it’s the ultimate in being agile.
What happens for an organisation to call you in? Why do they engage you?
My most recent “gig” was an organisation that I had worked with previously. They were starting a large complex transformation across five continents, involving complex business change, tailoring software and working with multiple external consultancies, each with a slightly different view of how to work. Agile helped shape the work, provide consistency of approach, and ensure everyone was working towards the same end goal.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in a career in agile?
Go for it! Look for certification that is valuable and provides a path to grow your knowledge. Understanding AgilePM by attending a training course is a good starting point, and the associated theory exams are useful to help embed the theory. Then get experience, and work towards the next certification step - the experience-based Agile Project Professional oral exam, run by the Consortium.
The Consortium has had a professional development path since 1995, and that is a great way to build a career in agile. Get practical agile experience, combine this with common sense, and use that base to become an Agile Project Professional.
What are you most proud of personally and as part of the Consortium?
As part of the consortium – definitely the creation of AgilePM. Nine years after the initial conversations, it’s gone global, with 100,000 exams taken - I am incredibly proud of that.
Personally – obviously I’m very proud of my family. But I am also proud (and lucky) to have done a job that I love, and which allows me to make a difference – to people, and to organisations. For me, developing others is my major motivator – I have mentored so many people over the past 25 years, and watching them grow has been incredibly rewarding. This is probably why I still haven’t given up work. My friends keep asking me when am I going to retire, but I am having far too much fun.
So, if I had to choose one thing, it would probably be making a difference and seeing the world change. When I first started, I worked for F International which was an organisation for women coming back to work after having a family – at the time, a truly innovative and inspiring organisation with a leadership style many years ahead of its time. This taught me the value of flexibility and showed me how a different style or viewpoint, or even what is seen as a disadvantage can actually drive true innovation.
"Developing others is my major motivator – I have mentored so many people over the past 25 years, and watching them grow has been incredibly rewarding. "