Agile is a relatively well-known suite of methodologies and frameworks designed for digital development and in the project world often referred to as Agile Project Management. These frameworks and methodologies are designed at the core of continuous improvement practices, where the Customer needs are not fully understood, and collaboration is the key to delivering a solution that solves a challenge or an opportunity. 

‘Traditional’ Project Management is designed in a waterfall style for delivery to happen in a predictable manner, utilising defined stages to deliver a solution that is understood, scoped, and estimated in terms of time and cost. 

Pros and cons for Waterfall & Agile Practices

Waterfall Practices Agile Practices
  • Works best when there are defined requirements
  • Best for a stable environment
  • The team is distributed and hence control can be managed by defined deliverables, milestones and dependencies
  • Best if scarce skills or resources have limited availability
  • Plans are repeatable for similar projects
  • Works well when the detailed requirements are unknown or subject to change
  • Give flexibility to ‘course correct’
  • Needs regular stakeholder feedback
  • The team is co-located, multi-functional and enables to work in a collaborative way
  • Early return on investment by regular delivery
  • Requires investment to define scope and schedule before work begins
  • Scope changes can be slow and the adverse impact increases over the life cycle
  • Risk of nothing to show for the money until the end
  • Change adds effort and risk, so a strict change control process must be in place to avoid ‘scope creep’
  • No advantage for projects where the scope and detailed requirements are well understood and change can be controlled
  • Uncertainty around scope and schedules can make stakeholders nervous
  • Less effective if the ‘team’ is distributed
  • Demands management and prioritisation of the backlog

The Practical Application of Agile Methodologies, APM

It is widely acknowledged that most of our Business and Customer projects now have some element of digital development, and therefore most organisations have a team dedicated to working utilising Agile practices (typically within the IT function).

Marrying up these two different approaches to work often seems like an impossible task which is why ‘Agile Project Management’ is a commonly searched for term on Google (other search engines are available) and organisations ask for ‘Agile Project Management Processes’ instead of taking the time to understand the real need and the real options available to them.

So Agile Project Management? Not really a thing, but it is possible to find the best of both worlds and make the best practice that exists fit the organisational reality.

How to Choose?

The Agile Practice Guide from PMI represents the Agile umbrella using the below visual, including some of the approaches that are available for Business and Project Leaders to consider.

Different Agile approaches have different characteristics and work best in a variety of environments.

The Practical Application of Agile Methodologies, APM

Considerations include:

  • Level of collaboration needed between the team and the Customer
  • The size and availability of teams
  • The need for release and validation of functionality
  • Modelling needs
  • What-if scenario analysis
  • Alignment potential with existing processes

Iterative or Incremental?

The need for releases and validation of work done has a critical impact on the choice of Agile that can be utilised, as some frameworks are iterative while others are incremental.

Iterative or Incremental, releases and validation

Artists work iteratively. They often create sketches, decide to create a painting, create an under-painting showing colour and form, and then eventually begin finishing the painting. They stop when it’s “good enough” or they run out of time or interest.

They can collaborate with the customer at the end of each part. Effectively we are improving on our work with each iteration!

Working iteratively

By incremental development, we mean to incrementally give the Customer adjustable or testable (in terms of art, understandable) software at each point in time. Each increment adds more functionality until all the requirements are complete.

So, rather than improving, on the whole, each cycle creates one building block allowing less opportunity for changes to occur without further investment in time or cost.

Bringing Agile Approaches to Life

When considering the implementation of Agile Project Management, it is important to understand:

  • portfolio balance in terms of activity types
  • organisational culture and process dependency
  • understanding of Agile within the teams

Unless the organisation is 100% digital development, upon identification of these considerations a decision can be made on how to blend traditional approaches (waterfall) with Agile practices. The reality for many organisations is that they are not culturally ready for working in a pure Agile way, so instead, they need to take various steps away from Agile towards Waterfall.

Linear Lifecycles, Hybrid and Iterative Lifecycles

Where an organisation ends up on this scale is OK. There is not a right or wrong way to make project management work – as long as it works.

Best-Fit Practice

The best-fit practice exists and is recommended by most organisations that do not exist in an easily defined environment and industry. As our world continues to become more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous it is going to be more and more important for organisations to educate themselves on what is available to them, and take this knowledge to develop their own way.

And that is what ‘Agile Project Management’ really is.

For more on how to apply this in the PMO space, you can check out our white paper on Changing the PMO Mindset and our recent article on the Agile PMO.

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Monthly Newsletter

By: Emma Arnaz-Pemberton

Emma Arnaz-Pemberton
Consulting Director FAPM, MCMI, MPMI, MIoD PMO-CC, MoR, MSP, PRINCE2

Published: 27 April 2022

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