Trying agile on for size

Even mature industries can benefit from an iterative approach.

By Jennifer Kaniecki MacNeil, PMI-ACP, PMP

FOR PROJECT MANAGERS WORKING in mature, regulated industries such as defense or pharmaceuticals, the prospect of changing to an agile-based approach for project delivery may seem daunting. Project governance in these industries has achieved a level of maturity and success with a reliance on the traditional waterfall method. However, the ability to demonstrate value and calculate return on investment often lags project completion, particularly for multidiscipline and multiyear projects. Given the increased pressures on project teams to not just deliver value, but to deliver it early and often, it might be time to consider a change.

Seven years ago, when I began working in information technology for Bechtel Plant Machinery Inc. in support of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, the agile approach was often discussed but not used. However, by introducing the basic principles of agile, with an iterative approach and self-organizing teams, several of our project managers were able to lay the foundation for change.


Because agile is a philosophy, we didn’t have to focus on the mechanics of introducing a new project methodology and all that it entails (e.g., new governance). Instead, we partnered our project teams and project customers in order to decompose a project into iterations, each of which had well-defined value propositions. This change in philosophy helped our project teams in three important ways:

Strengthened Relationships

Prioritizing high-value items across and within iterations ensures the project customer and team are aligned and working toward the same goals, with a focus on delivering value in the near term. Delivering at more frequent intervals enables the project customer to have more consistent involvement with the project team and increased opportunities to provide input. With more frequent interaction, issues can be identified and resolved earlier to lower the project risk.

Increased Team Morale

With agile, project teams are not looking down a long project timeline toward handoffs and stages to keep the water falling on a project. Teams realize a sense of accomplishment with each iteration. They witness their impact on value when earlier return-on-investment calculations can be made. Confidence in the team’s ability to deliver is increased for not just the team but the project customer.

Improved Planning and Execution

As iterations are completed, the successes and challenges can be applied to future iterations to improve the project team’s delivery capability. Lessons learned don’t wait for project completion, but can be incorporated throughout the project. As teams understand what they can deliver in an iteration, they can better estimate future iterations.

As the pressure to deliver value early and often increases, project teams need to focus on the value proposition as part of project planning. Incorporating agile principles, particularly focusing on an iterative approach, enhances project delivery success and enables project teams to deliver a steady flow of value. PM


Jennifer Kaniecki MacNeil, PMI-ACP, PMP, is an adviser in program management at Bechtel Plant Machinery Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

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.




Related Content

  • PM Network

    Agile Infusion

    PM Network interviews Benjamin Marais, CIO at Liberty Group South Africa.

  • PM Network

    Unfamiliar Territory

    By Rockwood, Kate Size and agility don't always go hand in hand, but it's precisely the combination that large organizations need to become disrupters in today's fast-changing business environment. That's why some of…

  • PM Network

    Farmer Feedback Loop

    By Fister Gale, Sarah The pitch to farmers was much the same as in every other industry: The power of big data, analytics and remote technologies could improve productivity and avoid waste. Armed with tools like weather…

  • From agile to hyperagile

    By Cavarec, Yves | Fargis, Brandon Most large organisations operate in models from the 19th century. These models are typically hierarchical, filled with approvals, placing decision making with leadership only. They were thought to…

  • PM Network

    Agile command

    By Butler, Steve With today's accelerating business environment demanding a more agile project environment, portfolio managers working to increase their organization's flexibility should view the project management…