Where is Traditional Project Management heading?

It’s coming up to 30 years since I first managed a project officially and almost 18 years since I ran my first Agile project. It’s been interesting watching the gradual take-up of Agile and Lean ideas, watching Agile spread out from IT and become mainstream. In some respects, it seems to have followed the same path as PRINCE. PRINCE burst out of the IT ghetto to become the general purpose PRINCE2. Lots of Agile ideas have now taken the same path. Plainly some aspects of Agile are so firmly rooted in software development they’re never going to make the transition, but many concepts are proving themselves as core to any organisational transformation.

Over the last year, I’ve encountered someone using an iterative development process to create custom electronics for giant mining trucks, an engineering firm who tried Scrum but found Kanban worked much better for them, and I have seen a case study where Agile was used to develop a new tractor – cutting the lead time for a new model from seven years to 18 months! That’s a business gaining agility. I’ve used Agile to redevelop a company’s quality management system and I know people who also see it as a key tool for marketing.

Delivering value in a collaborative way

Much the same has happened with Lean ideas. They’ve spread out from manufacturing and can now be seen across many sectors. My own opinion is that organisations have become more responsive as a direct consequence. So many more projects are now using Agile and Lean concepts to deliver. It’s less about the schedule and the critical path and more about delivering value in a collaborative way.

For someone trained in traditional methods that’s a little scary. Even though I’ve been using Agile for the best part of two decades, I still see value in the traditional methods. I still see a place for them. I still see certain sectors and certain kinds of projects as being a natural fit for the work breakdown structure, resource smoothing and earned value management. Except… I’m not entirely sure I do.

Civil Engineering has always struck me as a bastion of traditional methods. Except …engineers have been working iteratively since there’s been engineering. They design a bit at a time. They make models and mock-ups. They explore, reject and evolve ideas based on feedback from colleagues and clients. How much longer is it going to be before the traditional schedule retreats into a progressively smaller niche?

Evolution or revolution?

Should all traditional project management techniques be thrown in the waste bin? Of course not. Many of them have been adapted to become Agile techniques. Refining a Product Backlog, breaking down Epics into Themes and into User Stories, is nothing more than creating a Product Breakdown Structure which is what PRINCE2 has done for decades. The concept of a Release Plan is a variation on what the Project Management Institute (PMI) calls Rolling Wave Planning. I’m sure de-scoping has been around since there have been projects.

Traditional project management techniques have been and will continue to be absorbed into Agile and, I’m certain, Agile will be absorbed into traditional project management. In the not too distant future we won’t talk about Agile, Hybrid, Fragile, Waterfall, we’ll just get on with the job. How that job is led and managed will probably be different though. Lean has shown a better way, Agile has built upon it and project management is one of the beneficiaries.

 

Agile Project Management (AgilePM) combines the robust framework of traditional project management with the flexibility to adapt within a fast changing world

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