You're Only as Agile as You Feel

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

Agile is an approach that, used appropriately, has a lot of promise.

Here’s the thing, though. Any approach, used appropriately, has a lot of promise. Agile is traditionally positioned against waterfall. And there is nothing wrong with waterfall approaches for delivering projects, either.

When you have a clear result, well-defined requirements that will stay well defined, and you know exactly how to get from start to finish, you would be insane not to adopt a waterfall approach. And that is not a remote scenario, by any stretch of the imagination. I work in a linear fashion all the time, despite the fact that the projects that get me excited are the uncertain and complex ones.

But we keep positioning agile as an either/or proposition. And we do that in particular when we think about agile as compared to waterfall. There is an assumption that not only is agile different, but that agile has to be different. That it is opposite from traditional approaches. And that for agile to work, it cannot come from a traditional context.

This got driven home for me in a presentation about project management offices that I did a little while ago. A comment came in over the last few weeks that said:

"Another point to think about is the remarkable progress the agile framework is making. PMOs are still largely structured around waterfall projects and I am yet to hear of …


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"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on; it is never of any use to oneself."

- Oscar Wilde

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