Project Management Institute

The right fit

THE AGILE Project Manager

Consider these misconceptions when choosing an agile approach.

BY JESSE FEWELL, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Over the last few decades, the use of agile approaches has extended beyond IT, becoming more and more mainstream in general business. But as the number of agile adopters increases, the community has become plagued by three specific fallacies.

AGILE OFFICE EQUALS AGILE TEAM

Experts often declare that to be agile, team members need an agile environment. That means shuffling org charts and overhauling human resources policies.

It’s a fallacy that businesses only need the right personnel policies to spark agile thinking. Consider the fact that the heralded Steve Jobs was a notorious micromanager and ruled with an iron fist, even as his company churned out some of the most innovative consumer products. There is much more to agile approaches than a feel-good work environment.

FULL-SCALE OR BUST

At this year’s global agile conference, I heard one speaker ask, “If you benefit from uncertainty, wouldn’t you want more?” More than just responding to change, these agile experts believe creating change is the universal competitive advantage.

“While it seems logical that going to market with shorter and fewer cycles is key to every business model, it’s not always the case.”

But there is a time and a place for smaller pilot projects. Any agile practitioner should know that learning and delivery are not the same. Stanford business professor Jim Collins calls this the difference between bullets and cannonballs. If you’re a wireless provider, using techniques like Lean Startup will help empirically validate new ideas and ventures. But once you’ve proven that 5G works in Manchester, Marseille and Munich (bullets), you can launch larger projects to expand that 5G product across all of the U.K. and Europe (cannonballs).

Iterative learning helps mitigate business risk. Incremental delivery mitigates delivery risk. While these are two very different kinds of agile project models, both are necessary for a strong, sustainable business.

ONE SIZE FITS ALL

I hear experts telling us that more agile is better. While it seems logical that going to market with shorter and fewer cycles is the key to every business model, it’s not always the case.

The idea that your strategy fits my business is a fallacy. In reality, choosing among various business models is only one variable; the actual execution can be even more complex:

  • ▪ If you’re building a water pipeline, you don’t need incremental delivery to discover what the customers need as much as you need frequent testing that lowers execution risk.
  • ▪ If you’re a mobile gaming company, your market is too fickle to tolerate any kind of agile release plan.
  • ▪ If you’re a retail company, you face the firm fixed deadlines of a holiday shopping season and will prioritize which highest-value products to deliver.
  • ▪ If you’re a government agency, you want to improve execution, but not as much as you want the increased transparency of frequent reviews and visual management systems.

One size does not fit all. Do not judge your agile maturity merely by your frequency, but by the alignment of your execution to your strategy.

Agile approaches vary in their people policy, business strategy and project execution. Today’s business world demands the modern project manager build his or her projects to be agile in the eye of the right beholder. PM

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Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, is a founder of the PMI Agile Community of Practice and participated on the core team of the Software Extension to the PMBOK® Guide. He can be reached at email@jessefewell.com.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK DECEMBER 2014 WWW.PMI.ORG

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