The road to Agile project management - Agile for you and your organisation

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I have blogged much on two subjects in recent years. One subject is so-called agile project management, and the other organisational project management.

Good to see by the way that the latter is finally gaining a little traction. It’s a long overdue realisation that organisations need to create an environment in which projects - especially agile ones - can thrive, and not merely, survive.

Statement: Agile project management does not exist.

This is not a new message from me. My contention has been that anyone claiming a new project management method has to show clear blue water between it and other, existing methods. Books and papers I have read on the subject – so far – are adaptations, not creations. Nothing wrong with adaptation at all, except when it is claimed to be wholly new and different.

The DSDM Consortium are amongst those who have come closest. And they have not proclaimed new Agile PM, but adaptation (e.g. of Prince/2) to agile software development projects. Lots of gold stars to the DSDM Consortium.

Paul Bamforth in his webinar Kanban vs. Gantt, provided an excellent example of agile adaptation. Paul actually proposed an agile Gantt. Here, a high level Gantt would then be combined with Kanban boards for detailed task identification, ownership and delivery. Such a combination of “traditional” planning, and work lists is an adaptation I have recognised for more than 20 years.

And it was while chairing a conference which included Steve Messenger, Chair of the DSDM Consortium, that made me realise that, wait for it. Well that I have been wrong.

There is lots of agile project management.

Steve Messenger stated that agile is a state of mind. I had said something earlier about agile being at least as much behaviour as process and Steve nodded sagely (or nodded off).

APM’s Governance SIG is currently leading an initiative to develop a brief guide to agile governance, planned for release in 2015. I am hopeful that this avoids the trap of focus on process and recognises the cultural aspects of being project agile.

I still hold that I have not – yet – seen a compelling Agile project management method with clear blue water etc. But Steve Messenger’s point about the agile state of mind, coalesced a number of ideas I have been thinking about.

My conclusion is that we do not need an agile project (programme or portfolio) management method. This is because good project professionals are agile by their very nature and behaviours. They are output/customer focussed, flexible, self-organising, they embrace change.

So, the answer is not to develop agile project management methods, but to develop project professionals who are then, agile.

That is you taken care of, but how to make an agile project organisation?

This is where organisational project management comes in, and is much harder than the “you” bit as it requires organisational culture change. For an example of the challenges of trying to do an agile (development) project in a non-agile organisation, take a look at this animation.

The phrase “but I want to run an agile project” will become like a tune you cannot stop humming.

The key steps developing an agile project organisation for this are:

  1. Understand what an agile project organisation looks like
  2. Understand the existing organisation culture(s)
  3. Sell the value of being an agile project organisation
  4. Create a change programme to evolve and agile project organisation
  5. Sustain that change programme.


This blog supports my presentation to South Wales and West of England APM branch event on 9th September 2014. Slides are available here.


Posted by Adrian Pyne on 23rd Oct 2014

About the Author
Adrian is a consultant who’s practice for more than 20 years was the delivery or rescue of Change programmes and the design, build, operation of portfolio, programme and project management capability. Starting in telecoms he has worked in commercial and public sectors: e.g. investment/retail finance, central & local government, diversity, nano & energy technologies and mining. Adrian is a visiting lecturer at Nottingham & Kingston University Business Schools. He has always specialised in and championed the people aspects of our profession, notably stakeholder management and behaviour. In recent years much of his practice has focussed on developing cultures and organisations in which programmes and projects can thrive and not merely survive. Adrian has been a long time contributor to the APM, especially within ProgM, e.g. the BoK 6 refresh. He is a frequent speaker, in the UK and internationally, and is co-author of the Gower Handbook of Programme Management. Adrian is RPP certified and an RPP Assessor.

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