Project Management

Agile Needs to Remember to Be Agile

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

You should always remember where you came from.

That's good advice overall. It has an interesting dimension when we apply it to project management—and when we think about the role of agile in the context of project management.

Before we dive into agile, though, I want to talk about project management in general. As I've written here before, project management isn't terribly old. We've had it in its current form for only about 60 years or so (and it has remained surprisingly unchanged since then; the mechanics of scheduling, critical path, work breakdown and budgeting—not to mention earned value—all follow a straight line from there to here).

An essential question, though, is what were the underlying motives that drove the development of project management? Why did it come to be?

Now, depending on your source, project management's origins trace back to managing plant turnarounds at Dupont, or the Polaris submarine program in the U.S. Navy. They were parallel streams of development that may or may not have been aware of each other. They were also conscious development efforts, involving serious management consulting horsepower of the likes of McKinsey and the RAND Corporation.

In other words, project management wasn't an accident. It was the result of organizational need. Looking at the Polaris program, there was a …

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"Interestingly, according to modern astronomers, space is finite. This is a very comforting thought--particularly for people who can never remember where they have left things."

- Woody Allen