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I just walked out of an Agile presentation. Not for the first time. This is getting tedious

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I just walked out of an Agile presentation. Not for the first time. This is getting tedious.

Dont get me wrong, I am enthusiastic about Agile as a potential technique for project managers to use. Sometimes only an Agile approach will do so I am certainly not against it.

But why do people always feel they have to justify Agile by misrepresenting traditional (waterfall) approaches?

The logic seems to be; Some projects go badly therefore all projects using established approaches must go badlytherefore traditional project management must be broken.

Do you want to buy some Agile?

The way these events go the presenters seem to be evangelising for a completely new approach across the profession (reinventing all aspects of project management to fit in with their new belief system).

It would be refreshing if they accepted the strengths of traditional methods, and the limitations of their own approach, and presented themselves as members of the project management profession, rather than as people who appear to want to overthrow it.

In fact many projects using traditional project management methods go remarkably well and in many areas performance is improving. Indeed many projects may not fare so well if Agile were used.

So surely the message must be: Project management is good but we need to continue to get better at it. One way to get better is to understand when an Agile (or other) approach may be appropriate, and know how to use it.

We may then start to look like one profession, and not a collection of competing methods with each new brand seeking to undermine the rest.


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  1. Tathagat Varma
    Tathagat Varma 06 October 2014, 10:38 AM

    John - fair point. I agree that agile way of thinking is simply yet another way to solve problems and not the only way to solve all problems under the sun. In my traings, I always talk to people about Stacey Matrix or Cynefin framework to demonstrate that not all problems were created equal, and hence it makes no sense to blindly over-apply agile thinking to all kinds of problems (notwithstanding the fact that a single 'agile' process for all possible problems rapidly deteriorates into an un-agile process). In fact, for some class of problems, six sigma is perhaps still the best approach, and there should be no shame in accepting it! 

  2. Alex Shapley
    Alex Shapley 02 October 2014, 03:28 PM

    Couldn't agree more with your comments - unfortunately 'Agile' is currently a trendy buzzword so sales people are jumping on the bandwagon to try and milk the gullible for all they can.I have to repeatedly explain to clients that different projects need different approaches, and that most often a pure-Agile approach is the not the most appropiate.I'm interested to know how many people ever used some form of Project Approach Questionnaire? (There is a good example in the Appendices of the current DSDM Agile Project Management Handbook).I've never managed a pure-Agile project, because this approach has never been appropriate - however, I have managed many blended-approach projects, where Agile techniques have been used very successfully at the Stage / Work Package level, within the wrapper of an overall Waterfall Approach (eg Prince2). 

  3. Brian Wernham
    Brian Wernham 02 October 2014, 03:17 PM

    John,I hope it wasn't one of my talks!Seriously, I have always put my advice on 'Agile' into context: if you are running an innovation project then a more 'agile' approach (with lots of incremental development, piloting & phasing in) is more appropriate. If you are running a project relying on well understood technology, and where previous similar projects have been run, and where you have an experience change team, then you can use a traditional approach with a waterfall of design first, then build and test.Recently I have been talking more of the need to recognise 'hybrid' programmes which contain agile innovation projects (e.g. mobile IT technology)and conventional waterfall (staff training: design, train the trainers, and then rollout).APM can lead the way on this as a mature 'voice of the profession' whilst some others still fight 'religious crusades' on behalf of proprietary agile methods...Brian 

  4. Dan Strayer
    Dan Strayer 02 October 2014, 10:30 AM

    We cannot afford to treat Agile as just a buzzword: project management capabilities and competencies still need to be there to get the job done. So if it lies in the soft skills, then Agile or Waterfall make no difference whatsoever. Deloitte revealed in Raconteur recently that a wealth of sectors do not deliver on time, on budget or on scope. Only IT and Government even met or passed the 20% mark in at least one of those three different categories. Telecomms, professional services, manufacturing, healtcare, engineering/construction and energy/utilities are all below 10% in all three categories. I commend you John for pointing out the need to accentuate the strengths in whatever method we choose to employ, I recommend that we - as a profession - would do well to priotise P3M Competence Services and P3M Capability Development across the board.

  5. John Rowley
    John Rowley 01 October 2014, 08:51 PM

    Thanks to all of the contributors to this item; I am pleased it has elicited so many comments.  And there is clearly a high degree of consistency in the views expressed (although of course everyone is coming at this from a different perspective).  Perhaps the most gratifying aspect is that we all clearly have a focus on the effectiveness of project management as applied in different settings, and the importance of continuing the development of our profession.

  6. Melanie Franklin
    Melanie Franklin 01 October 2014, 09:10 AM

    I did a master class at an expo in the summer here in London on aligning an agile approach with PRINCE2 precisely because I believe life should not be either/or and it went down a storm. Over 70 people really interested in bringing the agile mindset into their frameworks for managing projects in traditional ways. This is the summary of the key points - we can continue the message of integrating the best from every approach.

  7. Chris Johnson
    Chris Johnson 30 September 2014, 01:26 PM

    These comments are music to my ears!  I thought that I was the only person who could see that Agile wasn't the silver bullet to every single project delivery ill known to humanity. What a relief.  I was just about to register the domain "" which was to be a group of likeminded  people who met in secret and greeted each other with the phrase "My name is .......and I'm NOT an agile extremist". Scary or what?I have worked on some software delivery projects that used Agile exclusively, and strictly, and it was a great success, no complaints at all. But I have also seen Agile evangelists jump through an infinite number of hoops to "prove" that Agile is the right way, indeed the only way, to delivery projects, any kind of project; software, construction, research, engineering etc etc.  Unfortunately evidence, real evidence, to support the evangelist's claims of experience of delivery has generally been a little thin on the ground.There is little I can add to the other comments in this thread except to say that I agree with them whole heartedly and to suggest that there is another factor which fuels the enthusiasm and that is "CV Enhancement".  There will always be people who will tick the box and get the certificate just so they can add something to their CV and thereby enhance their value or at least their perceived value, in the job market.  I have no problem with this as long as we see it for what it is.  Of course this behaviour is driven by the positive feedback provided by employers who, having been sold the "Agile" dream are searching for "Agile" in CVs. And so it goes on.Agile works if it is used in appropriate situations, waterfall works if used in appropriate situations. Would it be too harsh to suggest that anybody who disagrees vehemently with this statement may have missed the point?csj 

  8. Sarah Coleman
    Sarah Coleman 29 September 2014, 03:06 PM

    I'm enjoying this thread.  I've watched Agile over the last few years trying to gain traction in the industry, and why not?  I used to make extensive use of "time-boxing" for ICT projects: for clients it certainly focuses attention on priorities, and works to ensure collaboration is paramount.  However, I am uncomfortable with the "Agile: Good", "Everything else: Bad" school of thought.  This view is both simplistic and blinkered, as well as smelling strongly of commercial self-justification.  Agile is certainly a useful additon to a project manager's tool box since we all recognise projects come in different shapes and sizes, and there is room for a variety of approaches.  So context matters - not an earth-shattering revelation but perhaps a sanity check. 

  9. David Lynch
    David Lynch 29 September 2014, 12:40 PM

    JohnI can understand your frustration about the selling of Agile, but this is I think no different to the selling of other in tools and techniques. I myself make no case for or against Agile as opposed to Waterfall projects; to me these are techniques that can both be used in the same programme or even project to ensure delivery to time, cost and quality.I have for many years specialised in programme and project recovery and in many instances the crisis I find has been caused by poor requirements (or requirements/change management). As a tool Agile sprints etc. can be highly effective in tying down what is to be delivered (and is important) and at the same time delivering it.It is my view that Agile, its principles and techniques are valuable and can be used in their entirety in a fully Agile project or they can be used to guide the way Waterfall projects are constructed e.g. having multiple incremental deliveries rather than a big bang can hugely de-risk projects.So, there are many techniques, tools, approaches and methodologies out there for project managers to use. We, I think, need our project managers to have a large toolbox from which they can select what is appropriate in their environment to define and/or meet the requirements that, when satisfied, define project success.

  10. Darren Dalcher
    Darren Dalcher 27 September 2014, 08:35 PM

    Hi John,A fair point. I wonder if this is simply down to human inability to deal with more than one potential solution, or simply a selling and positioning technique. Adopting a binary position (or a direct enemy, such as waterfall) galvanises opinions and creates a pseudo-justification for a particular stance. It also enables inclusion in a given camp or community. The resulting intolerance also implies abandoning previously held ideas, insights and perspectives associated with the counter-position depriving our repertoire, common sense and response capabilities from legitimate answers. Some of the agile proponents now regret the dogma that these presentations create, as binary division ultimately requires a preference between black and white in a world that seems to be increasingly grey.