How agile grows up into a programme method

How agile grows up into a programme method

The use of agile delivery to deliver large scale digital programmes is now is at previously unknown levels of maturity.

In fact, it has got to the point where I can’t think of a serious web development team not using some kind of agile method. Equally, it’s difficult to imagine a major transformation without a kernel of digital activity.

Dr Catherine HoweWe are starting to see the use of agile – or at the very least more iterative or experimental methods – to get something large done within and outside of the digital space. For example, the public sector is exploring open policy making - developing policy through iteration; a classic example is the use of experimentation in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to increase tax collection rates through behavioural insights. But running programmes which iterate and test ideas requires a different skillset and approach from project management.

Clearly, project managers need to be embracing the opportunity to work with agile teams but they need to do so with a real awareness of the strengths that more linear approaches like PRINCE2® can bring to a programme.

The question in my mind is “how does agile grow up into a programme method?” I think there are three areas where this needs to be looked at:

  1. Agile needs to learn how to embrace governance and accept accountability in “big ticket” projects
  2. Agile needs to accept that, as you scale, you don’t create bigger agile teams but think how to help those teams become more accountable and less masters of their own destiny; if they are responsible for delivering much larger outcomes, they need to manage the trade-off between what their focus is and the bigger picture. It’s not about limiting their autonomy and inhibiting progress but helping the entire “flotilla of ships” to move forward together
  3. Governance is essential in the programme director managing the transition from programme to product, while managing agile across a complex landscape.

So what are the skills and behaviours needed to make agile teams a realistic proposition for programmes?

First, there is a real need for people to take on greater personal, problem solving accountability: that means the ability to share ideas before they’re finished and for ideas to be peer-reviewed in order to improve them.

Of course, there are many skills from the programme world which agile lacks; for example, how do you manage the risk profile of a “complex creature” with many moving parts while maintaining absolute focus on stakeholder priorities?

What should existing project and programme managers be doing now?

My advice is this: get onto an agile programme as soon as possible! That means making a shift from the cascading information approach and moving into a more collaborative working environment. It requires the experience of living through the agile process, which is at least as much about behaviours and attitudes as what you’re doing. And agile offers the opportunity to be more engaged in the actual process rather than sitting on the sidelines as a “coach”. It’s also about future-proofing your job.

No, it’s not true that the whole world has become agile; yet it is currently dominant and these iterative, experimental methods have now overtaken the more linear, waterfall methods. Even in fields that you would think untouched by agile, such as major building and engineering projects, there is an increasing move towards it.

see our PRINCE2 section for more information.

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