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Can agile be scaled?

This APM Research Fund study builds on the 2015 APM North West Volunteer study on the practical adoption of agile methodologies which provided a review of approaches at a project level, this study aims to investigate the level of practical adoption of those programme and portfolio components addressed by Scaled Agile methodologies. 

The objective of the study was to understand the extent to which scaled agile tools, techniques and roles are practically in place in corporate portfolio, programme, project and development management methodologies, to determine the level of corporate commitment to exploiting scaled agile, e.g. pilot, full use, selective based on need, as well as drivers for selection or deselection of the framework based on the overheads

Who is the intended audience?

The proposed target audience is APM corporate members and their employees but would also be of interest to individual practitioners, training providers and those who are considering or have adopted Agile and now want to expand its use, or who have been struggling to align timeframes and products across multiple agile deliveries.

Why is it important?

We hope that the findings help to improve the understanding of Scaled Agile adoption, and identify practical steps rather than theory, for members, both corporate and individual, to understand what they may need to consider when adopting any scaled agile methodology.

The findings help provide an overview of the state of the uptake of scaled agile project management in the North West whilst understanding the methods, tools and techniques from project professionals to add to the understanding of good practice.

Who took part in the research?

To avoid concern about gaining approval to publish, even anonymously, potentially sensitive information about project performance, individual project managers, rather than corporates, were approached for interviews.

The research is based on an online survey and interviews with 12 project managers who all had had first-hand experience of leading and delivering agile projects of varying sizes worth on average around £20 million. All participants had recognised agile project management or management qualifications.  Only one project manager had used agile for non-IT delivery. All had undertaken some form of formal training or accreditation in at least one scaled agile management approach.

What did we discover?

We hope that the findings help provide a useful overview of the state of the uptake of scaled agile project management in the North West whilst enhancing understanding around the practices, tools and techniques from practitioners to add to the existing understanding of good practice. However, it proved difficult to have a complete interview about agile project management without falling into the discussions around agile development. Consequently, some of the findings relate more to scaled agile development methods in a project/programme context. Therefore, further research questions are indicated into why the adoption of agile project management is still confused with agile development approaches.

Findings included:

  • Agile project management and agile development are not necessarily seen as different practices and the terms are used interchangeably.
  • Adoption is limited and still largely restricted to use by IT; however, the determining factor is the existing maturity of agile adoption. Agile is still predominantly seen by the majority of study participants as a development approach, rather than a project management framework.
  • An agile enterprise portfolio can provide the right environment to gain executive Support
  • Most organisations start with a pilot, then decide on whether to simply scale up a team method or go for an enterprise-driven framework when success can be proven.
  • Drivers for adoption of scaled agile were determined by the participant programme managers rather than from a corporate appetite and are mainly related to speed to market.
  • The mindset is more important than the method, as most techniques are adaptable and transferable.
  • HR support for reward mechanisms and multiskilled job profiles is needed to aid new ways of working.
  • The change in reporting approach is radical – reporting under the new approach needs careful consideration, explanation and practice

Further research is needed to understand how to scale up team-level agile project management methods.

What were the main challenges?

  • Obtaining participating organisations and individuals that provided a good cross section of the UK project profession that enabled handover to be assessed across a range of business sectors. The projects delivered by the participants were, in the main, IT solutions; this could be due to some membership or network bias
  • It proved difficult to have a complete interview about agile project management without falling into the discussions around agile development

Download the report

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