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Agile with everything

Is it just me, or is the agile bandwagon getting a bit out of control? Dont get me wrong, I think agile thinking has a lot going for it and its a valuable addition to the project management toolbox and the skill set of project managers.

Im no great expert in all things agile, but it seems to me that the hype has led to the word agile being prefixed to just about anything in an attempt to make it more saleable. We started off with agile Development, which I understand and appreciate as a highly iterative, collaborative and often effective way of developing software applications. Like all new ideas, agile attracted evangelists who see it as the one true path and panacea to all that is wrong with the dreaded waterfall approach.

We fairly quickly moved on to agile project management - although many people warn that agile is a development process not a project management process.

Having established agile project management there was clearly need to move on to the next challenge agile programme management. Why stop there? We are now seeing the emergence of agile portfolio management and agile governance. Since, some agile evangelists maintain that in a true agile environment, you dont need a project manager at all then presumably this means there is no need for programme and portfolio managers any more either.

Just about every project management technique seems to be getting an agile makeover. There are plenty of organisations promoting their newly created processes for agile risk management, agile value management and even agile earned value management, to name but three.

I know Im taking a big risk, sticking my head above the parapet on this one, so I need to repeat agile development has a lot going for it and I can see its benefits. The danger is that if we push the idea too far, it loses credibility when it doesnt solve everyones problems at a stroke. Ive seen it happen too often in project management over the years the latest big idea comes along only to be superseded by the next big idea a few years later. The thing about bandwagons is that once too many people climb aboard the axle breaks.

My plea to the evangelistic arm of the agile fraternity would be curb your enthusiasm. Seek to integrate the ideas of agile with everything that already works, present it as another string to the project managers bow and not something that will sweep all before it in a grand revolution.

That's the secret to embedding all that is good about agile in the professional culture of project management.

Read more about what is agile project management

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  1. John Rowley
    John Rowley 18 November 2014, 03:33 PM

    There is a link here with a number of previous contributions to the APM blog, including my own in September.  This is fast becoming the dominant  theme.  In fact checking back, my first blog on the subject of fads in project management was in 2010, which specifically referenced Agile.  And I am sure others were there before me.  I wonder how we can adequately address this, so we do not continue to worry about - and debate - the same point endlessly.  (The professional equivalent of Groundhog Day...).  Two possibilities are; 1) let us have a clear directory of project management language, and its use.  Too much time is spent with semantics.  Does anyone have such a directory, or the motivation to prepare a 'starter for 10'? 2) we should not be talking to each other about these issues, but directly engaging with employers, employer and industry representative bodies, in-house professionals involved in recruiting project managers, other professional bodies, technical press, etc.  If we help them to to have a clear idea of what they need, the project management profession will not get away with its seeming addiction to fads.  Is this a role for APM?  Is it currently doing enough of this?

  2. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 14 November 2014, 05:06 AM

    Unfortunately agile is becoming a fad word used by the ignorant to pretend they have knowledge or by the insecure to look clever. It is rapidly joining the use of the terms Gantt and PERT as a clear indicator of someone dangerous.  This is a real problem!Agile done properly is a very useful soft product development methodology with well tried methods and techniques that work in the correct situations. Unfortunately the valuable parts of agile are likely to be trashed along with the faddy misuses of the name as the inevitable accumulation of so-called agile failures build up. The fact that normal project bar charts predated Henry Gantt by 100 years and Gantt never produced a project bar chart - ever. And that PERT faded from use as a technique more then 20 years ago (replaced by Monte Carlo) means the misuse of these names only serves to indicate the ignorance of the person using the term incorrectly. Agile advocates who actually know what Agile is have a far more serious problem. Protecting a potentially useful technique from oblivion through association with unrelated failures called agile by people wanting to look trendy.For more on the misuse of Gantt and PERT see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-History.html#Gantt 

  3. Brian Wernham
    Brian Wernham 07 November 2014, 06:38 PM

    Adrian,Re: [Seek to integrate the ideas of agile with everything that already works, present it as another string to the project managers bow]I am leading the work of the Governance SIG on a (slim) guide to 'Agile Governance' - we aim to do exactly this.  We need to look carefully at the BoK and incorporate agile ideas where relevant.  My view is that 'innovation projects' (esp, technology, but also process innovation) are where 'agile' is very applicable.The recent Arras People report notes 'Agile' as a major growth trend, with 15% of project professionals working on or controlling agile projects.  Unfortunately the APM Body of Knowledge hardly mentions 'agile', and the APMP syllabus is 'agile' free.The report notes that APMG, PMI and DSDM all offer agile certification. Amazingly APMG have now certified 16,000 people in Agile.APM have certified zero.See here page 9:http://www.arraspeople.co.uk/assets/ckeditor/ckfinder/userfiles/files/BenchmarkReport/ArrasPeoplePMBR2014.pdfBrian

  4. Eileen Roden
    Eileen Roden 13 November 2014, 08:10 AM

    Having heard the term Agile being bandied around, I was keen to get an understanding of 'Agile' so I put myself thruogh the Agile Practitioner certiifcation.  As I had anticipated, the word 'agile' now has multiple meaning and those using and hearing the word don't always clarify the context.  When I hear 'agile' I try to clarify which of the following it refers to . . .- Agile Scrum - a structured development method used primarily within IT projects- Agile Project Management - more correctly, Project Management for Agile projects- Agile Project Management - an agile approach to project delivery based on effective use of stages, scope management and change control (what any good project manager would be doing anyway)- Agile - an ability to react quickly to changes (can be applied to individuals, projects, PMOs or organisations)I'd hasten to add, 'agile' is not new.  When starting my career (many moons ago) we used JMA IEF which offered an agile approach with inclusion of users within the development team.  When working on the systems to support the privatisation of the gas industry, we had a 3 stage, iterative approach.Nice to know my skills are still current.  :-) 

  5. Laura Taylor
    Laura Taylor 11 November 2014, 02:42 PM

    Popular discussion on this topic has also started up over in the APM LinkedIn group:Agile with everything - is the Agile bandwagon getting a bit out of control

  6. Ian Koenig
    Ian Koenig 11 November 2014, 06:45 AM

     There are major IT database projects in the US and UK that have used agile development and failed and subsequently reapplied the same approach, such is the allure of this style.  Technical debt (an agile term for fundamental future rework) is growing because of insufficient design upfront.  The practice of agile development alone is literally dangerous and that is why it has not been adopted on engineering and other critical projects.  Do not blame the training companies; they follow the fashions.  APM should maintain an objective stance and not, as we say in the US, drink the Kool Aid (a person or group holding an unquestioned belief, argument, or philosophy without critical examination).  Thank you, Adrian. 

  7. Stephen Jones
    Stephen Jones 09 November 2014, 11:07 PM

    Agile is not appropriate to all project environments.  Agile is a tool, not the whole toolbox.In fact, I have been struggling to find any real examples of Agile projects, other than IT related.I think this might be because there is nervousness about Agile when it comes to construction and engineering projects.  It is a lot easier to delete lines of code, than to remove concrete and steel.Agile has its place but it may be appropriate to deliver the project using predominately the waterfall approach, but be Agile when you can, like in the design stages of a Project. 

  8. Ralf Finchett Jnr
    Ralf Finchett Jnr 08 November 2014, 09:57 PM

    Adrian I support your comments completely. I'm an Agile fan and Agile is a great way to deliver, on certain types of project, but there needs to be a sensible discussion prior to the start of the project to understand if Agile is the most suitable method and approach to be deployed.Agile is now getting sole to PMO people as 'The Agile PMO'. How can the PMO itself be Agile? Project Departments will have to ensure the appropriate approach is taken and in some cases this will be Agile, but there will also be times when Waterfall approach is more suited, therefore PMO's will need to be versed in both Agile and Waterfall, but how can the PMO itself be Agile? Surely it's the Project department thats Agile or Waterfall or both, not the PMO?Some are also stating the prioritisation of projects is Agile? but if since the dawn of time, organisations have always had a finite amount of resources and budget, does that mean we have been Agile since the dawn of business?I feel the Agile bandwagon is now turning into a salespersons dream - there are a few out there like Brian who are keeping Agile real, but there are also others using Agile to sell themselves.Should the Agile buzz shift to understanding when best to use Agile and when best to use Waterfall approaches?Afterall, wouldnt we all like to be a little more Agile? ;-)

  9. Brian Wernham
    Brian Wernham 07 November 2014, 06:38 PM

    Adrian,Re: [Seek to integrate the ideas of agile with everything that already works, present it as another string to the project managers bow]I am leading the work of the Governance SIG on a (slim) guide to 'Agile Governance' - we aim to do exactly this.  We need to look carefully at the BoK and incorporate agile ideas where relevant.  My view is that 'innovation projects' (esp, technology, but also process innovation) are where 'agile' is very applicable.The recent Arras People report notes 'Agile' as a major growth trend, with 15% of project professionals working on or controlling agile projects.  Unfortunately the APM Body of Knowledge hardly mentions 'agile', and the APMP syllabus is 'agile' free.The report notes that APMG, PMI and DSDM all offer agile certification. Amazingly APMG have now certified 16,000 people in Agile.APM have certified zero.See here page 9:http://www.arraspeople.co.uk/assets/ckeditor/ckfinder/userfiles/files/BenchmarkReport/ArrasPeoplePMBR2014.pdfBrian

  10. Gideon Simons
    Gideon Simons 19 February 2021, 04:30 PM

    7 years on, this topic is as pressing as ever and still quite pertinent. In my experience, I often hear Agile used to equate to "anything goes", without the understanding of the fundamentals and this often creates not just a less effective output but a lack of sense of achievement for people involved. I work in a very traditional industry with a dominant project-based, waterfall approach - I've found a DSDM approach - ensuring that strong link between business and project with AgilePM/BA roles - used on several advisory tech projects and design projects can be done with great success.