Everybody seems to be talking about Agile. There’s a huge wave of enthusiasm and focus on it, and it’s being heralded as the way forward for the effective management of projects in the modern world. But what is ’it’? Does each person that commends Agile actually mean the same thing?
This blog aims to unravel and demystify some of the confusions around Agile.
For a start, we need to separate Agile Project Management from Agile software development.
Agile software development includes a group of methodologies that subscribe to the Agile Manifesto, which comprises of 12 principles that were put together back in 2001. These define an Agile focus on software development, prioritising communications over processes, the production of working software over detailed documentation, and responding to change over sticking to the plan: SCRUM is a popular Agile software development process. Until relatively recently, when people talked about Agile methods, there was an assumption that the reference affected the IT world only and that software development was the topic. This is no longer the case.
So what changed?
The project management community, and specifically those in the IT sector where Agile was being used, could see the value of developing iteratively. They liked the focus on collaboration with the business, and making things happen a bit quicker – letting the business gain some value even while additional functionality was being added. But for project managers, the balance between ’just getting it done’ against planning, process and documentation, wasn’t quite right. Project managers needed more analysis, more governance, and firm foundations on which to launch a project. A whole life cycle approach to project management was required.
So now we have Agile Project Management (AgilePM) – not a way to produce software, but a framework for managing projects of all kinds. It derives from the DSDM philosophy that:
“best business value emerges when projects are aligned to clear business goals, deliver frequently and involve the collaboration of motivated and empowered people.”
It combines the rigour of waterfall methods with the flexibility, the collaboration, and the iterative approach of Agile. (’Waterfall’ refers to the inexorable flow of water downhill – in project management terms, once you’ve done one bit and moved on to the next, there’s no going back. You cannot make water flow back uphill. In Agile, progress comes in iterations, or repeating sequences, and the team is consistently going back and enhancing what’s being delivered).
IT project managers like AgilePM, and find it combines well with other approaches such as SCRUM’s team focused process. But, AgilePM is a perfect way to deliver any business-related initiative. Take a look at the AgilePM principles – these are relevant across the commercial world. Note ’Build incrementally from firm foundations’ – AgilePM allows things to change fast to respond to changing requirements and a changing world, but only on the base of agreed firm foundations.
We’ve talked about the difference between Agile software development, and Agile Project Management (AgilePM), but there’s a third important use of ’agile’ too. There is increasing discussion about organisational agility. This refers neither to software development nor project management, but the ability of an organisation to adapt in a timely and effective manner. When ChangeQuest works with clients to equip them to respond to change and build their ability to embed new change, this relates to organisational agility. By being able to transition to new ways, a business can move faster than the competition, absorb the impact of new technology, and enable their people and their teams to work more effectively.
’Agile’ only has five letters, but a lot of different meanings to convey. Perhaps we should be more specific what we intend when we talk about ’Agile’?