Updated: Jun 24
Agile agile agile this and agile agile agile that. Agile is one of the most overused and oft-misunderstood buzzwords in management consulting these days.
So what is agile project management, really?
Agile stems from early approaches to software development. It seems that developing software was a real challenge because:
Although the use cases for the software might have been reasonably well understood (A tool for creating and saving written documents) the features of the software (Users need to be able to write a document and save it to the computer, change fonts, change colours, insert pictures, create automatic references and citations, send it to another user and allow other to create the document in real time) were very difficult to define and many were discovered along the journey.
Although it was initially possible and probably necessary to list the features in some kind of order to properly plan resources, projects "failed" because they could stay on track, on schedule and within scope - or budget.
We have found that many of the larger capability acquisition projects we have delivered have been plagued by similar concerns.
Capability definition documents have been frozen early enough to support a business case but way to early to have meaningful and enduring input to the requirements
Requirements have been created and frozen too early to allow proper integration into adjacent projects or capabilities.
Projects have run over budget, out of scope, late and have delivered systems that are not well certified as meeting the capability gap, which over the course of the project has most likely changed.
Agile project management is an iterative approach to delivering a project throughout its life cycle. It is now an essential tool in the box for software projects and in our experience, it has become an integral part of our DNA for the delivery of all of our projects, with discipline, it is a powerful methodology for estimating and planning, delivering, remediating and closing projects. It is also a great tool for business planning, continuous improvement and document creation. Many of our musical friends and creative artists describe a creation model that mirrors the agile methodology - without the management buzzwords.
Iterative or agile life cycles are composed of several iterations or incremental steps towards the completion of a project. Iterative approaches are frequently used in software development projects to promote velocity and adaptability since the benefit of iteration is that you can adjust as you go along rather than following a linear path.
The 12 Principles behind the Agile Manifesto
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. (Or benefits)
Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
Working software is the primary measure of progress.
Agile processes promote sustainable development.
The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.
The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.
One of the aims of an agile or iterative approach is to release benefits throughout the process rather than only at the end. That is, as early as possible and not before it has meaning, benefits are released to users that they can use as is, while not yet fully complete. This is no different than releasing a draft of a document. Although in some of our programs, the creation and approval of a draft document has become a project in itself - mired in process that serves no meaningful purpose and adds no benefit to the user.
At the core, agile projects exhibit central values and behaviours of trust, flexibility, empowerment and collaboration. It is highly dependant on discipline, the fastest way we have seen to destroy a project is to call it an agile project without the necessary controls and discipline to keep it on track. This is where the true secret sauce of agile methodology resides. It is not an excuse for poor project management, it is indeed a structured, highly disciplined approach that when properly resourced, often delivers highly successful projects, on time, on budget and creates enduring cultural change in organisations - by making people happy.
We have a range of references that we would recommend to anyone wanting to read more about agile. All of our staff are Certified Scrum Masters and many are Certified Product Owners, our team is on a continuous journey of personal and professional development an it shows in the project we deliver.
Want to learn more?
The Agile Manifesto is a brief document built on 4 values and 12 principles for agile software development. The Agile Manifesto was published in February 2001 and is the work of 17 software development practitioners who observed the increasing need for an alternative to documentation-driven and heavyweight software development processes.
As commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), General Stanley McChrystal discarded a century of management wisdom and pivoted from a pursuit of mechanical efficiency to organic adaptability. In this book, he shows how any organization can make the same transition to act like a team of teams - where small groups combine the freedom to experiment with a relentless drive to share their experience. It has become part of the Anywise induction.
This article will examine how Mirko Kleiner’s Lean-Agile Procurement methodology helped a Swiss company slash its time-to-market to 6 weeks, down from 6-12 months.
Richard Williamson is an Australian Defence Force veteran and a senior project officer at the Defence Science Centre. This article for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute is a critique of the ability of the current innovation structures in Defence to deliver meaningful capability benefits.