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Does agile work? - A quantitative analysis of agile project success

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This article looks at the benefits, or not, of applying an agile (i.e. flexible) method of project management, as opposed to more traditional methods. The article concludes that agile methods have a positive impact on a project’s success. More research is needed to look at what impact continuous planning and the structure of that planning has on the success of a project.

Read more agile material in the agile project management section


  • Agile
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What does the paper cover?

Methods of project management often fail to take into account changes outside the project that can be beneficial or harmful to its success.

Projects that achieve the goals set at the beginning can still fail if, for example, it has ignored new technology that has been developed during its course. By remaining open to new ideas and changes throughout the course of a project, agile methods of project management appear to contribute to a more successful end product.

The focus of agile methods

  • People (rather than processes or tools);
  • Technology that works well (rather than lots of documentation);
  • Working with customers (rather than for them);
  • Adapting to change (rather than always sticking to the initial plan).


The paper looks at over 1,000 projects in several sectors and a variety of countries. The information was collected by the authors by way of an online questionnaire, which members of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and certain LinkedIn groups were invited to complete. Those questioned were asked to describe one more successful and one less successful project that they had worked on. Success was defined in two ways: did the project meet its allocated cost and time and its goals; and did it meet the expectations of the commissioning customers.

Research findings

There is a correlation between using agile methods and the success of projects.

Planning: There is often just as much early planning in projects using agile methods as there are in others. In agile methods of management, planning continues throughout the project’s  duration and this can make a positive difference to the outcome of the project.

Sector use: Projects in technology, health care and other professional services are more likely to use agile methods than projects in other sectors. This is probably because these sectors rely heavily on software and IT; areas for which agile methods were first developed.

Goal setting: The quality of the goals set for an agile project has some bearing on its success.

Experience: The success of a project carried out using an agile method is not dependent on the experience of the project team or the complexity of the project.

Efficiency: Using agile methods are more likely to make the project successful in meeting cost and time targets but most of all in meeting customer and sponsor goals.


  • The study showed that agile methods had been widely used in managing projects.
  • The more that agile methods had been used in a project, the greater the success of that project in meeting all its aims.
  • There was no significant difference in the relationship between using agile methods and the amount of upfront planning.
  • While this study showed that there is a relationship between using agile methods and the success of a project, more investigation is needed. 
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