Project Management

Has Agile Jumped the Shark?

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

I recognize that the title of this article will likely spark some raised eyebrows, if not some raised hackles. All well and good, but stick with me for a bit. There’s a method to my madness and a means to my mien.

It goes without saying that in the years since its advent, agile has taken hold in many places. So very many people, teams and organizations have adopted agile as their principal means of product development, and particularly of building software.

The intent of agile is an important one to remember. It was supposed to enable faster delivery of more relevant value to customers, by providing solutions that support their needs and allow them to be more successful. These are all very, very good things to want.

The rise of agile was a response to the reigning paradigm of the day, lovingly referred to as “waterfall”—and disparagingly referenced as “big design up front.” What’s important to recognize is that waterfall wasn’t a methodology so much as its own philosophy. It showed up in many different ways of creating products (not just software), and in many different forms. More to the point, it evolved to become what it was for a reason. It was as much a reaction to problems with what came before it as agile was a reaction to waterfall.

A common failing in many projects (and arguably still amongst the leading …

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"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I... took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

- Robert Frost