Once Upon a Time…

…there were business leaders all over the world who thought they understood Agile. Alas, they were wrong.

They were convinced Agile was the solution to all the woes of their kingdom, or company, as it were. Alas, they were wrong about that, too.

And they truly believed they were adhering to Agile principles in the management of their projects. Again, alas.

True story.

Unfortunately a lot of what people think they know about Agile is fantasy, not reality. Agile project management is an iterative approach to managing and delivering a project throughout its life cycle. If you are completely unfamiliar with Agile (or need a gentle refresher), you can get the basics here.

Today we’re going to battle fantasy with facts.

Grab your sword or staff or ranged weapon, and let’s have some fun.

Fantasy #1. Agile is a Cure All

There is this phenomenon I like to call “Management by Airport Magazine.” That’s when the big boss jumps on a flight (not happening so much anymore) and reads something in the inflight magazine that convinces him he’s found the key to turning the business around. This is the way many leaders have learned about Agile.

Unfortunately, Agile isn’t magic. It isn’t a panacea that can solve all your Waterfall woes. It’s a different way of thinking and delivering results that works better in some cases. But not all. Which brings us to…

Fantasy #2. Everything Should be Done Agile-ly

Not everything. Not even most everything. Let’s talk about cases where an Agile approach to project management is preferable to a traditional waterfall methodology and vice versa.

Agile is useful when you are not entirely sure what you are going to accomplish and/or how you are going to accomplish it. No wonder Agile was born in the world of applications development. In the midst of so many uncertainties, software developers needed constant feedback from their customer. Providing small deliverables on a constant basis helped them tweak and nudge and dodge and weave along the way in order to meet expectations and deliver results.

Certain projects simply cannot be managed in this fashion. For example, if you’ve got to deliver the Mars Spaceship, you can’t hand over half the project today and the rest when it’s up in space! You can’t be changing things up all the time on projects where there are costly materials to order or buildings being erected or hundreds of thousands of units needing to be produced. Not to mention constant customer feedback in these situations would be a nightmare.

In short, if you are already familiar with the type of project you are doing, are confident in your plan, and/or need to have one large deliverable at the end, a traditional waterfall approach is going to work just for you for you. If there is a lot of uncertainty around your project and you need to be nimble, Agile is the way to go.

Fantasy #3. You Can’t Schedule or Budget with Agile

A pass on time and cost constraints? Woo hoo! Sign me up! That’s a fairy tale I think all of us project managers have fantasized about at least once or twice in our careers. But, unfortunately, an Agile mindset doesn’t amount to a free-for-all.

One of the great things about Agile is that it’s always focused on value. Sometimes your sponsor might think, “We’ve got 80% of what we thought about doing, and that’s really all we need from a value perspective, so we are going to stop and save the rest of our funding for something else.”, and that’s acceptable. When it comes to managing time and money in Agile, we say it’s like “flipping the triangle.” You either have X amount of money or Y amount of time, and from that you extrapolate the scope of the project. If your resources are just people because you are building a piece of software, it’s a simple math problem involving dollars per hour, hours per week, number of people and number of weeks. Voila– a high level budget and schedule, achieved.

Fantasy #4. Agile is an All-or-Nothing Proposition

Project Management is not like going vegan. You can mix methodologies according to your needs, and nobody is going to judge you for it. In fact, most project managers I come across who claim to be Agile, aren’t 100% agile. They cherry pick what aspects of the mindset suit them and toss the rest. They are like the “vegetarian” who still puts bacon bits on his salad. They are doing Agile (eating salad), but they aren’t being Agile (giving up meat).

What’s great about a hybrid approach is that you get the best of both worlds (and you get bacon). You might, for example, take an Agile approach with the design of a new building, but switch to Waterfall once construction actually starts. You can use an Agile approach to develop and test three different prototypes of a vacuum cleaner. But once you decide which one to produce, the actual creation of the manufacturing portion can be achieved with Waterfall.

What is the moral of this story? Use the right methodologies for the right projects, and you’ll live (and work) happily ever after.

Want to learn more about Agile and how to best use it in the context of your real-world projects? Join me for a brief introductory webinar on June 4th from 1:30 to 2:00PM EDT as we walk thru the ‘true’ story of Nick Knight of Castle Corp., a part-time project manager, who needs to find a better way to run the projects assigned to him and how Solarity’s Training Wizards help. Or sign up for our Agile Project Management course today and live the dream!

About the Author

Glenn Thomas, PMP®, CSM, is a Project Manager and Trainer with Solarity, helping our clients achieve their strategic goals by assessing their current situation, defining their desired future state, and then acting upon an approved plan to help them reach their desired outcomes. Before joining Solarity, Glenn served as the Director of IT Governance for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He is a member of both the global organization & local chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI)®, and has served on the Board of the PMI Bluegrass Chapter as a past President and VP of Communications. Glenn possesses a wealth of experience and knowledge in Project Management, Strategic Planning, and Governance, and we are excited for him to be a part of our team.

Christy Swift has been a writer and correspondent in the United States and Canada for over 10 years. With a degree in English and technical writing, she has a knack for making complicated subject matter digestible and even tasty. Christy regularly conducts research into the latest trends in project management to provide the Solarity Group with engaging content for its website and e-newsletters. 

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