Agile Innovation : I love blues singer Keb' Mo' song "Keep it simple. Oh! real simple" :) A sweeping innovation wave called ‘Agile’ is shaking up classic Project Management with its 'simplicity' of approach. In fact after many years only lately Project Management had got the respect it was long due - even high schools and colleges teach PM principles as part of regular courses now. Also many management gurus are dumping 'strategy' and jumping to 'execution' bandwagon :) ..and when it was looking good and comfortable, the disruptive force called Agile shows up!! The compelling proposition is its simplicity ..really "keeping it simple" !!.
This revolution is similar to what happened to classic six sigma when lean six-sigma wave came. Traditional six sigma was very rigid and the slimmer and faster lean six sigma is now adopted globally including GE.
Originally we ignored this (I am an old PMP who believes in upfront planning to detail and am a list lover!) as the noise was in the software waterfall arena only – now the sexy agile is everywhere including non IT projects.
It is a well-known fact that most IT projects fail .We don’t need a consultant to tell us the time! But Standish CHAOS Report that comes out every couple of years consistently state the obvious – Over 50% of IT projects fail to deliver. Many of us hate these guys though :) and live in denial mode! For example read the Let’s say “No” to groupthink and stop quoting the Chaos Report “It is amazing how the report managed to become an authority on IT project management, just by continuously showing how much IT is lousy at project management. I don’t blame them. There is apparently a lot of money to be made from this report. I believe the report costs $1000” One can keep denying the fact but like it or not,the fact is most IT projects fail.
More and more surveys confirm the effectiveness of agile approach.Development teams utilizing agile practices were on average 37 percent faster delivering their software to market and increased their teams' productivity by 16 percent, according to QSM Associates (QSMA) study. The report also concluded that agile teams were able to maintain normal defect counts despite significant schedule compression.
Back of the mind we always knew this though – something is wrong with classic Project Management. How many times we landed in crunch as the PM waited for the ‘Project Charter’ to be signed off! How I wished that my customer is my partner in fighting the Triple Constraints – Scope, Time and Cost, instead of the PM fighting the battle alone…How many times we wished the team reads the MPP we created with lots of difficulty! … We knew the perils of decisions made in the beginning (also called project front loading) but kept quiet! And well, you're only as good as your last mistake! Been there done that ..experienced that ..Scars all over :(
Writing on the wall is clear. This disruption is here to stay. Studies from Forester Research, Dr Dobb’s etc. indicate that agile methods are now used more than any other approach for IT projects. With 35% of companies using agile and a further 21% using some kind of iterative approach and only 13% using a waterfall approach. Big companies, Small companies, Medium companies – all are going agile. Original pioneers were Yahoo! And Amazon but now all have embraced it - Over 25% of IBM projects are now agile! That is a big number!
The torchbearer, Project Management Institute (PMI) also is waking up. For example the PMI Agile Community of Practice is the result of a grass-roots initiative between a pioneering group of Agilists and PMI to create a new Agile Community of Practice within the PMI, with the stated purpose "to equip PMI members with Agile knowledge and skills".
There are many forums and training on managing this transition .The Agile PMP: Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks is one good place to start. And trust me on this as I have been through this – it is very very hard! How on earth can one equate ‘flexible’ with ‘scope creep’? Simplicity vs. 500 page PMBOK (PM Book of Knowledge) Unlearning is hard indeed!
Agile Project Management comes in various flavors – SCRUM, Extreme, DSDM etc. The Agile Manifesto sums up the essence “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Working software over comprehensive documentation. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Responding to change over following a plan”
My agile guru Pete Deemer sums it nicely “The traditional approach has strengths and weaknesses. Its great strength is that it is supremely logical –think before you build, write it all down, follow a plan, and keep everything as organized as possible. It has just one great weakness: humans are involved. Humans are not able to predict the future. For example, your competition makes an announcement that was not expected. Unanticipated technical problems crop up that force change in direction. Furthermore, people are particularly bad at planning uncertain things far into the future – guessing today how you will be spending your week eight months from now is something of a fantasy. It has been the downfall of many a carefully constructed Gantt chart.”
Often the two are compared to Music. Agile projects are like jazz. The players are given a lot of room to improvise inside of an agreed-upon framework. Traditional projects, on the other hand, are more like classical music: well orchestrated, directed and you stick to the score – the conductor (Project Manager) is god!
Aim, Aim, Fire vs. Fire…. Then, redirect the bullet is another analogy :)
The tool vendors also have started singing new songs (traitors) and Microsoft Project Plan leads the way! See this article where they are trying to ‘re position’ good old MPP ... it is mere lip stick , Renaming ‘work breakdown structures’ to ‘feature breakdown structures’ Same old wine :)
There are many myths though (depending on which side are you) - One common myth is that agile is just simple set of principles and guidelines that are not well-defined – I have practiced both traditional and agile – My experience is that though agile is 'simple' it is very structured with a built in sense of urgency. What makes agile tick..the secret sauce, is not just the concept (you can keep changing while executing) but some key cogs like time boxed short subprojects/sprints (during Sprints no changes are allowed) and Standup Meeting (where all team members stands up for 10 mins start of the day and ask three questions - What have you done since yesterday’s meeting? What are you going to get done today?What obstacles do you need to be removed?.. )
So what we do ..Which road to take?
I would recommend an ‘either’ ‘or’ approach. Either use classic Project Management methods – OR use agile Project Management.Also don’t mix the agile approaches – stick to one. By the way SCRUM now leads with a big margin compared to other agile methods.
The argument against this puritan approach is very compelling though :) you can hear knowalls say! “Don’t copy the textbook.Every organization is different – " You should interpret it in the ‘context’ of the business and project 'environment' and the company ‘culture’. You should 'adapt' to your environment" . Arguments using ‘contexts’ and ‘culture’ can justify anything! Though the customization idea is good..let us admit! ..usually we are poor in 'adapting' , we end up bending rules while 'adapting' ..and mess it up! Don't fall into that trap – stick to either agile OR classic.
I have seen a two months agile project extending to over a year due to scope creeps, which was legitimized as we were running so called agile! The original two month MPP was discarded and we adopted agile. The project was done by five partners globally – each followed their own ‘adapted agile’ .Though we delivered well ,certainly we did not gain any benefits attributed to ‘agile’. If we had followed classic, we could have atleast made loads of money on scope change! (remember that ‘change control log’ – usually PMs are loved by management for the rigor in maintaining the change log!)
I have also seen a one-year traditional project shrunk into 3 months as all of us worked together (we called it hothouse) without cabins, ran 'honest agile' and delivered value to client as well as us. The only difference here was ‘following the agile rules’ (may sound like an oxymoron – like 'honest politician' or 'true love' :) but it is not) Remember - god is in structures! We had daily stand-ups and huge whiteboard visuals showing day trends. Last bit of the ‘design’ was done few days before the 'go live'! The only rule we did not follow was late nights – we ended up late nights and weekends but guess what..as the team had ‘visualised the outcome’ , they brainstormed creative ways to get the job done. Building a ‘sense of purpose’ in teams is perhaps the biggest plus of adopting agile project management .Just imagine projects where every team member is ‘engaged’ ..100% engaged project team – are you joking ? another oxymoron eh? No – its possible.
And don’t discount traditional Project Management. Agile works well in highly empowered work cultures but many of us do not have this luxury. Many boring tasks have to be done within a time frame and often scope is very clear. Just deliver.... period! In these cases there is nothing to beat classic project management.Some of the agile principles,for example XP pair programming, are difficult to implement as it depends on 'culture'. The idea is to have two developers work on the same machine and same code. At any given time one is driver and the other navigator. The roles switch either every hour, or whenever really. Two heads instead of one is a great idea but to make this happen is not easy!
Many PMs don’t have time to analyze how to ‘engage’ their team members (which is a prerequisite in Agile) – sometimes all we need is a bunch of disciplined hedgehogs. With a well-planned mistake proofed WBS we can make wonders even with a demotivated workforce (yes!). Remember what Swami Sukbodhananda said :) , “If you don’t get what you love – love what you get”. However hard our pep talk is, many of our projects are not intrinsically inspiring and classic project management fits in well!
If you are building a Taj Mahal – it is better to get the requirement right at the beginning and brutally execute over 20 years. Don’t let the fickle minded kings change it often! And why not? - it is nice to be a command and control PM rather than a facilitative servant agile PM :)
I would agree with Wikipedia “It does not offer any advantage over waterfall when it comes to classical projects where requirements are nearly always constant and unknowns are rare, such as construction projects”.This is more or less the ‘situational leadership’ theory .. You do what the situation calls for instead of sticking to one approach always.
Keb' Mo' also sang “She said ain’t nothing wrong with Texas...But I’d really love to go to France” :) Repeating ..either do honest agile or do classic project management. Don't try to create France in Texas :)