Project Management

Project Agility under Eyeglasses II

Employees are used to follow procedures and processes, and when they aren’t available insecurity rules — each day there’s another idea advanced how things are supposed to work. Practically, the Agile approaches (incl. Agile Prince2) focus on certain aspects and ignore specific Project Management activities that need to be performed inside of a project — releasing resources for the project, getting users on-board, getting management’s buy-in, etc. Therefore, they need to be used with a methodology that offers the lacking processes. Problematic is when is considered that the Agile approaches are self-consistent and the Project Management practices and principles don’t apply anymore.

It’s true that the Agile methods attempt reconciling disciplined project execution with creativity and innovation, however innovation is needed typically in design (incl. prototyping) , while in programing there isn’t lot of room for creativity per se. The real innovation appears when the customer lists the functionality it needs from a system and the vendor, after analyzing all the related requirements, is capable to evaluate and propose a solution from the industry trending technologies. That’s innovation and not changing controls in user interfaces!

User stories are good for situations in which an organization doesn’t know what’s doing or the tasks have a deep segmentation and specialization. Starting from user stories and building upwards to processes can prove to be a waste of time the customer pays for, while the approach leaves few room for innovation. In big projects it’s also difficult to sense the contradictions from user stories or their duplication. Even if the user stories allow maybe (but not necessarily) a better effort estimate the level of detail can become overwhelming for any skilled solution architect.

It’s also true that an agile approach needs a culture with certain characteristics. A culture can’t be changed with one project or several projects running in parallel. Typically, is recommended to start with a pilot test, assert organization’s readiness, disseminate knowledge, start several small to medium projects and build from there. For sure starting a big project with an agile methodology will involve more challenges to the extent the challenges will push back.

One sign of agility is when self-organizing teams emerge within projects, however it takes time and training to build such teams. The seeds must be planted long before, for such teams to emerge. The key is being able of working in such teams. In extremis, conflicts appear when multiple self-organizing teams appear, each with its own political agenda, agendas that don’t necessarily match project manager or stakeholders’ agendas, and from here a large range of potential conflicts.

The psychological effect of tight sprints (iterations) and daily status meetings for the whole duration of a project is not to neglect. It builds unnecessary stress and, unless the planning reaches perfection, the programmer or consultant will often find himself in the position to be in defensive. The frequent meetings can easily become a source for nuisance and in extremis can lead to extreme behavior that can easily affect the productivity and involved persons’ health.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend using an Agile methodology for a big project like an ERP implementation unless it was adequately adapted to organization’s needs. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Agile methods aren’t suitable for big projects, it means that the risks are high because in big projects there’s the chance for all these mentioned issues to occur.

Despite the weak points of the Agile methods, when adequately applied, they have the chance of better performing than the “traditional” approaches. Even if people tend to see more the negative sides there’s lot of potential in being agile.

See also:
Agile vs. Lean Organizations
Project Agility under Eyeglasses - Part I
The Butterflies of Project Management

® Originally published on sql-troubles

IT professional/blogger with more than 19 years experience in IT - Software Engineering, BI & Analytics, Data, Project, Quality, Database & Knowledge Management