by Jim Vaughan

Agile, friend or foe to project management?

Sep 08, 2009

Is the agile methodology compatible with project management?

I was asked by a reader to provide my thoughts on agile methodology. First let me state for the record that I am no expert on agile by any means so I did a little research on the topic to prepare for this blog.

I must admit that when I first heard about agile I had a lot of negative thoughts. Agile seemed like a way to rush the work to produce an earlier delivery date than would a well thought out plan. I felt that the quality of the deliverable would suffer as a result.

Now that I have looked more closely at agile I see that quite the opposite is true. However I still have my doubts about the actually application of agile. I fear that organizations will shortcut the process in the spirit of agile. I fear that organizations will charge ahead yelling “Agile” and “Scrum!” Those type A personalities, myself included, may see this as an opportunity to recklessly forge ahead, head down, toward the goal line.

When I was back at Motorola there was a general manager there who spoke about “small fanatical teams.” While we did not use the terms agile or scrum, nor did we have a manifesto, these small fanatical teams operated in much the same way as is described in the agile methodology. These small fanatical teams did not give up on six sigma; that was a part of our DNA at the time. Nor did they give up following the process. That would have been simply unacceptable in our culture. Rather these teams followed the processes, measured their performance and looked for improvements along the way. The difference between these teams and most other teams was that they were small, focused and dedicated to a small deliverable. These small deliverables were often just small pieces of a much larger project. I liken these small fanatical teams to the small teams which are a key part of the agile methodology.

Since I first heard about agile I have talked with many people and read a few articles about the methodology. Ne’er do I hear people speaking of short-cutting the process. Nor do they utter the word “rush” as they speak of agile. In fact, one of the most knowledgeable people I know in the area of project management has embraced and even developed a course on the agile methodology.

While I recognize that agile methodology in its purest form is probably a good thing, I urge you to take caution should you choose to implement this methodology. Be sure that you have a process oriented culture and that you have a way to manage these agile teams to be sure that they are not getting off track. While I still admit to being a mere novice in agile I do feel that there is merit in the implementation if done properly. Please share your thoughts so that I can continue to learn more about this methodology.