5 winning ways with agile and programme management

5 winning ways with agile and programme management

Jane NicholsHow can organizations and their programme managers ensure agile approaches and programme management work well together?

This is a hot topic right now, with a rapidly-evolving technology landscape which lends itself to agile techniques and the pressure on organizations to change more quickly. And if you can get programme management and agile to operate in tandem to deliver change, the results should be fantastic.

At present, the level of maturity in blending agile and programme management is mixed: while our business is working with some organizations using agile within both project and programme management, the problem with others is the management hierarchy and governance. Heavyweight governance is at odds with the rapid decision-making approach of agile and hierarchical management exacerbates the problem.

Companies get disappointed when they can’t get agile to work, even though they may be, inadvertently, an obstacle to using it well in the first place. According to research, half of agile practitioners are dissatisfied with the way it works currently. That dissatisfaction relates to the issues of governance, acceptance of agile and making it work inside their organization. Unless the up-front embedding of agile is handled well and the organization is prepared for it, life can become difficult.

How can agile and programme management techniques co-exist?

To bring agile and programme management approaches together effectively and get the best results, there are five key things to think about:

  1. Governance in the environment
    Creating acceptance of agile in a highly structured, hierarchical environment can be challenging as it means empowering people who are at a lower level than normally expected. And this also affects the mix of skills needed by people involved in making decisions. Their capability and confidence will need to be developed in that area. It’s not impossible, but just another change.

  2. The speed of agile within a programme
    The fast-paced nature of agile involves very short, iterative “sprints” in order to deliver. These can, potentially, sit within programme “tranches” if the programme is set up well, has a good blueprint and clear guidance. That way, agile practitioners can see where they need to go while the programme maintains a line of sight to the vision and ensures the ultimate benefits aren’t lost.

  3. Attitude to agile in the organization – asking key questions
    Executives and senior management may be sold on the concept of agile to the point where they think it’s the answer to everything. Until, unfortunately, it fails! While agile can be highly effective, organizations need to be aware that it’s not the best method for every delivery. Instead, it’s necessary to start at the beginning with the business requirements and ask some key questions including:
    • What are you trying to achieve?
    • Is the problem clear?
    • Is the solution/outcome understood?
    • Can you see the line of sight between the programme vision/benefits and the products/requirements?
    • Are there prioritized requirements?

  4. Winning over project and programme minds with agile
    In an environment where project and programme management is king – and everything is delivered in that way – there can be some suspicion or nervousness with agile methods. This can be seen in questions such as “why is governance being changed?” and “why are we being asked to do it this way now?” So, to get the collaboration you need to make agile work, you need to sell it internally in the right way: there needs to be give and take between PPM and agile professionals with a sharing of skills and knowledge. Only then will the PPM community recognize that agile has a rapid heartbeat while agile practitioners will see that fast decisions can’t be made in a vacuum.

  5. A winning combination
    A successful marriage of agile and programme management will lead to more successful, faster-paced change and increased organizational performance. Agile exponents will be introduced to change management and programmes will achieve a previously unheard of speed with, potentially, slightly lightly governance.

See our Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) and PRINCE2 Agile® sections for more information about programme management and agile project management.

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24 Feb 2017 Neil Walker
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Hi Jane, Insightful article, thanks for raising a topic in which many organisations are struggling.

Fundamentally it’s a shift from where so many are exceedingly comfortable. One where programme leaders are happy driving complex change and transformation in their organisations where it impacts others (we’ve all got the MSP, Change Management, etc. medals to support this). But move them away from their traditional approaches and they become wary (of Agile). We are asking these leaders to work in new ways, one that doesn’t dovetail into the way they’ve traditionally been operating programmes.

As programme leaders we must adapt. We operate in rapidly-evolving environments, whether it’s the technologies we use or some environmental factor (business or other) there is continual requirement to fine-tune, improve or occasionally evolve.

In 2015, I took over leading the delivery of a business change programme in local government; where for more than a few years the repeated Waterfall projects had failed to deliver the majority of the required change. Rather than continue with the same approach I adopted an Agile approach (to certain projects) but still encompassed within the MSP–based programme. This did require a fair amount of mentoring (from leadership down), but fundamentally shifted the mind-set of those involved, but also provided tangible incremental solutions (which were viewed as quick wins – the first for a few years, and the first that were delivered on time). These solutions delivered immediate business value, and ultimately turned opponents into supporters. This enable broader buy-in for Agile and facilitated more Agile projects within other programmes.

One of the hurdles to overcome was around governance and managing risk. Agile (DSDM’s Agile Project Framework) proved incredibly effective in this complex change programme environment.

I’ve found that the DSDM’s approach and style is founded on an underlying ethos of common sense and pragmatism. It’s an adaptable and highly effective approach for Agile solution delivery. Best of all where required, DSDM can be tailored, to complement other project management disciplines (such as PRINCE2, or to fit in with program management disciplines, such as MSP), so to avoid conflict or duplication of effort. Best of all it is designed to complement Agile product delivery approaches, such as Scrum, where these lack any project delivery focus.
12 May 2017 Gordon Tomes
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Agile (DSDM’s Agile Project Framework) proved incredibly effective in this complex change programme environment - agree Neil - the Agile Business approach is also easy to communicate - story telling!
2 Jul 2018 Lyronne Rangan
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I think that there is an incompatibility here. Agile methods are used to deliver products in highly emergent conditions. MSP delivers tranches of capability toward a blueprint. The blueprint assumes that the target is stable. In Agile methods the target is moving. Benefits realisation in Agile is based on the next "iteration" of a user validated product release. Benefits realisation in MSP is based on "increments" within the trance. I think MSP needs a few modes, a variant for emergent and iterative (this may turn out to be a Safe equivalent) and a variant for convergant incremental (this may be MSP as it is today).
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