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Agile is here to stay and if you don't embrace it, youll be left behind

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Agile: It means nimble, fast, adaptable and efficient – all the things a project manager wants his or her teams to be. But what is agile to a project manager, and how do we do it right?  

Agile. You may have heard the term before and asked: “Just what is better about agile?” In a nutshell, agile practices enable companies to deliver value faster with greater quality by having high-performing teams focusing on incremental delivery of projects that have the highest business value.

As we all know, the pace of change is only increasing in today’s complex, competitive marketplace. Operating under conditions of extreme uncertainty, companies large and small are transforming how new products are built and launched by engaging people throughout the business to adapt and respond to change faster with agile. 

Agile practices have been proven to reduce costs and deliver higher-quality software and products that better meet customer expectations. In 2011, The Standish Group reported that agile projects had three times the success rate of the traditional waterfall method and a much lower percentage of time and cost overruns.

Let’s define what’s commonly known as the traditional way of working: business leaders in your organisation spend months defining the requirements for a new product or service. Then, they hand them over to development, followed by integration, then testing, production and finally to maintenance – six to 12 months later, there may (or may not) be a product for management to evaluate. In this time, the needs of your customers, business, and the market are likely to have changed, rendering the original requirements obsolete. So, it’s back to the drawing board while competitors are pushing out products and updates one after the other, and your business is losing time, money, market share and morale.

Agile solves this problem by releasing incremental functionality early and often, rigorously prioritising items that provide the greatest value for customers and the business. Rather than working with lengthy development and test cycles, dedicated, cross-functional teams break projects down into smaller pieces and deliver running, tested features. 

Agile provides everyone involved (including customers) the opportunity to provide feedback based on frequent inspection, enabling firms to pivot as they acquire new knowledge and business conditions change quarterly, monthly, and even daily due to new threats, competitors and opportunities.

With agile, project managers can closely align development and business objectives so everyone knows at any moment where projects stand and what teams need. It also reduces the risk involved in project management by speeding up learning – the more you know, the more you can refine forecasting, planning, budgeting, resource capacity, and so on. 

Ultimately, the visibility and transparency that agile provides allows for the rebuilding of trust between business and development. The business gets involved, becomes fundamental to the success of the final product, and begins seeing a return on its investment much earlier.

Adopting agile 
The first step towards adopting agile in your organisation is to identify, articulate and widely communicate the reason. What is the main point that is so important that your company needs to embark on this journey? What

benefit will agile bring? Quicker time to market? Gaining competitive edge? With this catalyst well understood, you are ready to inspire your people to change.

Organisational change at this level can be difficult. This process is a mindset change and a shift in the way an organisation operates – senior leadership must embrace it, be willing to adjust the culture as necessary and be open to admitting and learning from mistakes. It’s critical to speak to other professionals who have been through the process while leveraging the expertise in your own company. 

Questions to ask include: 

  • What development approach tends to work best? 
  • What are the possible pitfalls? 
  • How can we be successful with regard to the required behaviour change?

To best evaluate your options, it’s important to remove your planned product itself from the conversation. If you currently work in a waterfall fashion and want to go agile, the product will come back into the equation later. If you’re new to the concept of agile, increased awareness and understanding is vital and the agile community is inherently very open and willing to share expertise.

Ultimately, the core tenets of agile are collaboration, transparency and learning. It brings people together to work successfully and communicate effectively on a daily basis, giving individuals the power to make decisions and therefore increasing ownership of, and accountability for, their work.

As agile becomes mainstream in the business world, it’s inevitable that we’ll see failures alongside great successes. Agile is here to stay and if you don’t embrace it, you’ll be left behind.

Blog written by Ronica Roth and Phil Knight.

Ronica Roth is a certified scrum trainer and agile coach at Rally Software in the US.  

Phil Knight is a major account manager at Rally Software in the UK. 


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  1. Shields Neil
    Shields Neil 14 January 2015, 07:35 PM

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  2. Andrew Spiers
    Andrew Spiers 07 August 2014, 09:34 AM

    Agile is synonymous (in my mind) to good management.  We have to be careful that Agile is not set up as the new "management flavour".  It should be something that is championed at Board level as a catalyst for ensuring that there are good management practices focussed on outcomes (and this is relevant in general management as well as project management).  As I have mentioned elsewhere, people deliver projects - and if we lose this focus then the project fails. There is a huge amunt of management training out there, and it seems that these are worn just like those cub competencies you collect on your sleeve!  The school of experience and hard knocks is frowned upon as being seen as a failure, but in many ways that is where you grow stronger.  I am an advocate of good and appropriate management of our greatest project resource - people. Agile should be used to create the management environment, which empowers people who are supported.  There is no mystique in this, just reinforcement of what we all know , and do!

  3. Brian Wernham
    Brian Wernham 05 August 2014, 03:31 PM

    We have mentioned using the DSDM wrapper around Scrum.Just to be even-handed I should mention another approach that also encompasses the idea of an 'Agile Portfolio'.Brian Tucker from Ivar Jacobson explained to us at the recent 'Agile Governance' Sprint 3 meeting of the Governance SIG here: BrianGovSIG

  4. Brian Wernham
    Brian Wernham 05 August 2014, 02:46 PM

    Patrick,I agree that we mustn't oversell the applicability of Agile IT development methods.Methods such as Scrum are 'fit for purpose' for IT development.However, the military have used Agile Project Frameworks to develop innovative firmware technology.  An example is this Combat ID system: as for not using an incremental approach for building bridges, I can only point to the example of agile military expert Percy Hobart, and his funnies.  Many weird and wonderful ideas for agile bridge building: did you ever watch "A Bridge Too Far"? All about getting armoured vehicles across rivers a.s.a.p.Well worth a watch!  

  5. Adrian Pyne
    Adrian Pyne 05 August 2014, 09:13 AM

    Its great to see agile gaining more attention. Pat is right to urge caution that the Agile development method is not confused with project management. They are NOT the same as Pat suggests and as I have blogged this year. At a recent conference in Manchester, leaders from DSDM and the Scrum Alliance, both leading agile method groups, described Agile as at least as much a state of mind, as they are process.Before we rush into process, the normal...and wrong....approach for our profession. Lets understand what an agile project management state of mind (culture) is.APM lacks joined up thinking on this so far....i.e. we are not being very agile.

  6. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 01 August 2014, 10:55 AM

    Agile is a product development methodology that is very useful for soft products (eg, product designs or software) where the end result is not really identifiable at the beginning or the end result can be delivered in bits. Agile works best where evolution is required, and can be applied effectively to iterative developments in some circumstances. However, it would be patently stupid to try building a bridge using any of the agile concepts. Assuming the authors do not include Lean and Light concepts as uniquely Agile both of these pre-date agile by a significant period and have general application. Similarly, collaboration, transparency and learning have been core tenets of effective management since the Human Relations Movement of the 1920s and should be a part of any effective management process (refer the reports by Latham, Egan and others into the construction industry). Delegating bounded authority to apply innovative solutions is even older. Major General Gerhard von Scharnhorst developed the concept of auftragstaktik in the early 1800s, see: the best trategy for implementing a project to achieve a desired outcome is important, and needs to consider all of the available options with the selected option being chosen based on its usefulness and the culture of the organisation. Agile is one option that does have its use, see: agile has been selected, managing the project efficiently does require adaptation of traditional PM methodologies, these ideas are discussed at: There is a lot of bad management out there, but effective management is not synonymous with agile agile is simply one tool available to good managers.