The word du jour in project management ‘agile’ is in stiff competition with the job title ‘Project Manager’ for misuse. 

Has anyone come to you and announced they were running their project using agile methods? 

It’s an immediate red flag to me as it’s often used as an excuse to not write anything down, agree on project goals, plan or use any project management basics.  Rather, it is just “making it up as we go” and that never got anyone, anywhere successfully.

There are a number of methodologies within the Agile family, Scrum being the darling of the set. 

There’s lots of information out there about the fabled meeting in Utah, 2001 where the Agile Manifesto was handed down on stone tablets (OK, maybe not) giving true principles to this approach or philosophy.

So are you really using Agile or just not planning? 

I will outline some key characteristics that are typical; there are of course always exceptions to these.  I am not going to get wrapped up in the Scrum terminology, just the characteristics:

  • A dedicated team working in a non-hierarchical way, each person bringing something to the table. Ideally, 6 – 10 people with a solid focus on this project
  • The project is run by a facilitator, not a command and control person. Everyone is involved in deciding what needs to happen in the short term. Short term is typically 2 – 4 weeks (yes, it’s a Sprint) and projects are made up of multiple Sprints.
  • During this short term period, outside influence from stakeholders is seriously frowned upon. Let the team crack on!
  • During this period of work, a daily meeting enables the team to state clearly what they worked on yesterday, what they plan on doing today and what hurdles stand in their way.
  • Each Sprint is bookended by a planning meeting and a show & tell at the end to stakeholders followed by a team lessons learned review. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Scrum, that sounds all pretty reasonable doesn’t it? 

It’s a good way for any team to work together, provided they are given the freedom to focus on a piece of the project and make solid progress. 

Winning by taking bite-sized chunks, rather than seeing the whole project and wondering how to start.

The key to Scrum revolves around two core considerations; working as a team and good communication. Scrum “enforces” both of these things by making people work closely together off a common task list with daily updates. 

Surely, this makes sense for any type of project particularly during key phases of activity such as a Go-Live, Launch, Commissioning and other critical steps. 

What else can any project take from Scrum? 

  1. Empowerment of the individual.  Everyone has a voice as an equal member of the team, rather than having tasks & task estimates imposed on them by a Project Manager. 
  2. Removal of interference. The Product Backlog drives the Sprint Backlog; the list of tasks we are looking to undertake during this 2-4 week period.  Stakeholders are not allowed to then get involved halfway through the Sprint to pull team members onto other work, or to change what they are doing.  If they have a voice, then talk at the start or end.  There are exceptions but this might lead us to restart the Sprint formally.
  3. Visible success. Each Sprint provides an opportunity to showcase the completed work and demonstrate practical progress to stakeholders.  This has shown to have a significant positive effect on those working hard on the project as they get feedback and thanks for these little wins. Everyone feels motivated, warm and fluffy.

So my food for thought. Are you really running an Agile project or are you saying something is agile to avoid writing a PID? 

The Scrum methodology requires a well-defined structured approach and it isn’t “making it up as we go”. 

If you’re doing that, you are just doing rubbish project management.

Also, there are many reasons why (well-run) Scrum projects are successful. 

But some of these can be lifted for use by any project or team. 

As organisations become more team-centric and small projects become possibly less formal, think about how your informal project teams can lever some of the traits of Scrum; empowerment, removal of interference and quick wins.

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