Agile: The Great Debate

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Categories: Agile


Over the last week or so, there seems to have been a flurry of activity in the blogosphere discussing Agile and waterfall software development, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and project management. This is an important debate.

A letter in the Feedback section of the March PM Network said Agile is not a project management methodology--I agree. Waterfall and various forms of Agile are definitely software development methodologies, not project management methodologies.

However, we can learn a lot with an open dialogue in both directions.

One common misconception among IT professionals is the assumption that the PMBOK® Guide approach to project management and the waterfall software development methodology are synonymous. Nothing could be more wrong.

Certainly you can manage a waterfall development using the PMBOK® Guide processes but nothing in the PMBOK® Guide mandates developing a fully detailed project plan before starting work on development. All the PMBOK® Guide requires is the current phase is planned before starting work. This is absolutely compatible with the Agile approach to iterative development.

Another misconception is that any new software development is automatically a project. Projects are temporary endeavors--this means temporary teams. If your IT shop is set up with stable teams working on a prioritized list of jobs using scrum or something similar, it is far more likely to be operational work rather than project work.

With these misconceptions cleared, there seem to be three key areas for discussion. (Your comments will be welcome leading into some future blogs.)

What are the differences in the way project management processes are applied in an Agile project compared to a waterfall project? Some thoughts:

•    The need for a much lighter "touch" managing an Agile project
•    The need for a higher level of trust in managing Agile teams
•    The need for robust change management and configuration management to track the evolution of the Agile project
•    The critical importance of developing the correct strategy and architecture at the beginning of the Agile project

Can traditional project management learn from Agile? Some of the trends in Agile seem to have wider application in any project involving knowledge work, including:

•    The need to trust knowledge workers more than manual workers
•    Success measured by customer satisfaction rather than quantitative outputs
•    The need to keep the client involved

What triggers the choice between operational maintenance and development versus projects and waterfall versus Agile.

More later.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: April 08, 2009 12:24 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Thanks for sharing

There is nothing new under the sun. Iterative is still iterative regardless of the new marketing spin on it. Agile doesn't deal with at least a couple PMBOK knowledge areas: Human Resources and Procurement Management. Agile work is one section of many in a bigger, possibly enterprise class project. Agile doesn't deal with risk planning to avoid budget overruns and customer dissatisfaction. Agile doesn't deal with the budget at all. Agile is good for the subset of project work patterns it's intended for, but it doesn't cover the universe of project types. Some of its tenants are just good sense. Of course the customer needs to be involved. Of course someone has to be responsible for the product. If your team can't figure out a delivery pipeline, maybe they aren't the right people. Agile is not the entire universe of project management. I see a lot of Agile voices, speakers, & writers who believe that since they discovered Agile, they understand the entire project management competency framework. It's like landing on the beach and believing you have conquered the continent.

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