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Project management – what is agile and is it strategic?

Project management – what is agile and is it strategic?

In this second of a two-part blog post series based on AXELOS’ recent research, The Future Project Manager, consultant trainers Duncan Wade and David Hinde explore agile in project management and how it aligns with a strategic approach:

Duncan WadeWhile the term “agile” is becoming more widely used in project management – and 61% of AXELOS’ webinar attendees polled claim to use agile principles – does it mean the same thing to everyone involved in projects?

“Agile, for those engaged with it, has certain meanings related to certain behaviours while others see it as a synonym of nimble,” Duncan Wade suggested.

David Hinde agreed: “There are a number of defined modes of agile, e.g. Scrum, but to others it just means flexible. There are lots of fallacies around agile when really it’s a set of values based on collaborating, valuing end products and having an adaptable approach. For me, Scrum and PRINCE2 Agile® are giving us a way of being definitive [about agile].”

“The challenge,” Duncan said is in “starting to understand what agility means: working iteratively, having a customer focus – behaviours that almost anyone working in delivery would buy into whether they are PRINCE2® or Scrum professionals. But the next level is looking at the detail of working practices and frameworks to really get what people are doing differently to before.”

An agile future in project management

AXELOS’ The Future Project Management Professional research has highlighted a greater need for agile in project management. However, our experts recognize the need for something more:

Duncan commented: “I see more and more agile; what was trapped in IT and software development is changing and is a way of working appropriate to many disciplines in an organization. However, I see a future of PRINCE2 professionals working with both waterfall and agile delivery mechanisms; in other words, a mixed delivery using the right tool for the job.”

“The PRINCE2 2017 update,” David said, “will show well how PRINCE2 works in an agile environment. And yet, certain situations don’t suit agile, such as constructing a support system for a rocket. And the problem in agile is scaling – the bigger you get, the less agile you are!

“Also, with a large infrastructure project such as London’s Crossrail, there’s a point where you have to freeze the design. But you can still use agile values of collaboration, responding positively to change, and having less management documentation where it’s unnecessary.”

An agile learning curve for project managers

How should project managers expand their knowledge of agile approaches?

David HindeAccording to David: “Scrum is quite easy to learn but how do you get it to work in practice? First, learn the rules and then have a go at adopting it in an organization. This can be challenging and scary for senior management, so introduce it gradually!”

But in order to embed agile methods more widely, Duncan suggests the need to “build teams that are self-managing along with management that can interface with them. You need sponsorship from those who see the benefits and engage with customer teams who are working to deliver business value. Agile must be something we all do, not just a small team in IT.”

Aligning agile with strategy

There are two sides to blending strategy with agile: “If you’re doing the right things, agile helps formulate strategy and when working well is a brilliant combination,” Duncan said. “However, agile can be uncontrollable and when poorly applied it charges off and then you see the dark side and lose benefit.”

David’s view is that agile can be synonymous with strategy, citing Apple under Steve Jobs: “One of [Apple’s] strategies is constantly adapting and creating new markets, so strategy can have element of agility to it.”

The key elements of the strategic project manager

For project managers to be working strategically, they need to “make use of the best practice tools available to deliver the right products which lead to good outcomes, whether it’s waterfall or agile working,” Duncan said. “PRINCE2 Agile asks what should be open to discovery and tailors PRINCE2 to work with agile frameworks successfully. For example, with Lean you’re trying to reduce waste and be more efficient.”

He added that “best practice approaches are a means to an end, not the end in themselves. You should use all the tools in the toolbox where appropriate; think about the environment and what works well – a hybrid approach.”

David concurred: “That’s exactly where we’re going! And while there are evangelical elements for both agile and traditional project management, the truth is we’re going to do both.”

Read the first post in this series, Project management – can you be agile and strategic?.

For project management practitioners wanting to advance their careers, AXELOS Membership supports people thinking about or already have PRINCE2 certification. It helps develop skills through online resources, tool kits, plus content to support studies and help you pass exams and meet your CPD requirements. Membership allows you to record your CPD and earn a digital badge.

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