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Agile and traditional project management – a meeting of minds?

Agile and traditional project management – a meeting of minds?

Duncan WadeHow agile is project management in 2017?

Our latest PPM Benchmark Study suggests a discrepancy between project managers and the organizations they work for in the way agile is perceived and adopted.

The majority of project managers continue to be enthusiastic about agile, with 77% recognizing value in agile working methods. However, fewer than half (46%) of project management functions and only 39% of organizations overall have a “significant appetite” for agile.

Project managers who shared detailed views with us said that senior management remain sceptical about agile, seeing it as a short cut around controls and sign-off that goes against their understanding of project management protocols.

The agile disconnect and the future of agile project management

Yet, despite this persisting “agile disconnect” between practitioners and employers the gap between them is narrowing when comparing this year’s and last year’s study results.

So, where does agile project management go from here?

Duncan Wade of The Human Interface Consultancy, coach and trainer in both traditional and agile project management methods, said: “As a project manager I care about delivery and agile is an exciting delivery mechanism that I’m passionate about. However, agile is not the only way to work and we need to select the delivery approach that offers the greatest benefit to the project.

The relative lack of support for agile at organizational level is, Duncan suggests, a shared responsibility among the agile and traditional project management communities:

“Agile has been fighting to get a foothold and has taken some extreme views at times, challenging the validity of traditional working methods and sometimes belittling the role of governance in project management. Good governance is something that senior management needs and it allows senior management to maintain confidence in the management of portfolios and individual projects. Meanwhile, some project managers have remained stubbornly traditional.

“What we need is a normalization process that shows how both sides bring something to the party. Ultimately, the respective approaches need to be tied together and appropriate for the job in hand. It’s about the best solution for both delivery and good governance to obtain the right outcomes.

Need for senior management buy-in

Duncan is adamant that senior management reluctance to embrace agile is missing a trick in improving project management results: “In agile delivery, if you conduct a retrospective today then you can implement the results tomorrow; the immediacy of this allows us to gain benefits that are compelling. That ability to learn and share is not so immediate in traditional environments. Organizations might ask how to make time for this – my answer is how can they afford not to?”

Nevertheless, senior executives are not entirely responsible for the agile disconnect, according to Michelle Rowland, PPM practitioner and trainer: “Agile is a victim of its own marketing. It has deliberately sold itself to the individual and the team. At the macro level it has tended to either oversell the benefits or to challenge the value of a senior perspective on a project.

“Equally, organizations have been perhaps reluctant to introduce agile as a stand-alone concept due to an apparent lack of governance. In fact, the opposite is true with even more governance being applied, but at the delivery team level rather than at the senior level.

“With a method such as PRINCE2 Agile®, there is an ability to provide the right level of governance at the management level while allowing agile delivery. That means seeing the ‘big picture’ and ensuring strategic alignment while delivering iteratively and incrementally. In other words, having the best of both worlds.”

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