3 Agile Disconnects We Need to Address
By Lynda Bourne
The never-ending debate between agile and waterfall seems to be fuelled by different groups of people talking about completely different concepts with little understanding of other’s perspectives. From my viewpoint, some of the key disconnects are:
Agile vs. Agility: In the modern VUCA environment, agility is important. But organizational agility is not the same as the organization choosing to use an agile project delivery process.
Organizational agility is constrained by the nature of the organization and its assets. A major mining company cannot suddenly decide to stop mining iron ore and focus on rare earths; is has billions invested in its existing mines, and new mines take many years to bring on-line. It can refocus investments “immediately,”, but the results take decades to be fully realized?and suddenly deciding to reverse the decision in a few years’ time will waste millions. Adaptability is important, but decisions have to be nuanced.
Conversely, a small consulting business whose main asset is its people can decide to shift focus on an almost daily basis to keep up with fast moving trends?think of applying AI in almost any sphere.
However, any type of organization can choose to use an agile methodology to help deliver those projects that benefit from an inherent flexibility in working.
Agile vs. Projects: Agile methods are not exclusive to projects, and not all projects benefit from agile.
Agile methods such as Kanban and Scrum can be used for operational maintenance (particularly of software) without the overhead of project management. The maintenance team use its preferred method to prioritize the repair and upgrading of the operational system and keep track of the backlog. New requests are added to the backlog, prioritized, and completed in a stable business-as-usual function.
Where using a project approach to undertaking a defined scope of work is desirable, some projects are suitable for the use of agile methods, others are not. Most “soft” projects creating an intangible product such as software will benefit from an agile approach to development. But heavy engineering projects where safety and structural considerations are paramount need a fully planned and disciplined approach to avoid disaster.
There is a continuum from projects that are suited to agile through to those where a tightly controlled planned approach is essential. Deciding on how to best manage projects along the spectrum is as much a cultural decision as a technical one.
Non-Agile Projects vs. Waterfall: Agile advocates continue to try to divide the world into “agile = good”, “waterfall = bad”. I discussed this issue in my post “The Problem with Waterfall, Agile & ‘Other.’”
The simple fact is very few software projects use waterfall; the concept was promulgated by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1988 for software development and abandoned in 1994, but some organizations have hung onto the perception of “control” for various reasons. However, outside of the software industry, no one uses waterfall.
Contrary to the view of most agile advocates, the concept of change as defined in the Agile Manifesto and change in almost all other projects is based on the same premise. From the Manifesto’s second principle: Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage. Change that destroys customer value is no more welcome in an agile project as any other.
Every contract for the delivery of a project to a client I’ve seen in the last 50 years has included clauses for the management of change. What varies is the cost of implementing the change. If you have delivered 15 out of 20 software modules and the client asks for five more, there will be time and cost implications based on the 25% increase in scope. If you have built 15 stories in a 20-story high-rise building and the client demands an additional five stories be added, the only option is to demolish everything, install stronger foundations and start again. But if the client decides to change the building color scheme from pale grey to pale blue before the paint is ordered, the cost of the change will be minimal. Regardless of the project delivery approach, change is only beneficial if it creates additional value.
Where the Agile Manifesto is of value across all project type is in its focus on relationships, people, and communication. These concepts are becoming more important in all industries and across all project types.
What do you think?
 VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
What to Expect: Anticipating and Adapting to Dynamic Economic Trends
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By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.
In the ever-evolving landscape of corporate strategic planning, organizations face the perpetual dilemma of choosing between capital spending for growth—and optimizing operations for efficiency. Striking the right balance amidst economic trends and leveraging organizational strengths becomes paramount when navigating through strategic projects. Meeting shareholder and stakeholder needs, while aligning with the organization's mission, presents a constant challenge.
To anticipate potential initiatives, project managers must consider global macroeconomic conditions and CEO outlooks. A preliminary assessment based on the United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects and OECD Economic Outlook reports for 2024 reveals a projected global economic growth slowdown from 2.7% to 2.4%. This trend suggests a delicate balance between slow growth and regional divergences. Key considerations include:
Examining the corporate landscape, a survey of 167 CEOs in December 2023 indicated a confidence index of 6.3 out of 10 for the 2024 economy—the highest of the year. The CEO upsurge assumes inflation is under control, the Fed may not raise interest rates and instead reverse rates, setting up a new cycle of growth. Furthering the CEO agenda, McKinsey & Co. identified eight CEO 2024 priorities:
As project managers, navigating the uncertainty of economic shifts necessitates staying vigilant. The year may bring variables and predictions that impact the execution probability of strategic projects. Shifting between growth plans and efficiency drivers demands different preparation. To stay prepared, consider the following:
In an environment of perpetual change, proactive monitoring, adaptability and strategic collaboration will be key to successfully steering projects through the dynamic economic landscape.
How else can you stay prepared as the demands shift on you and your team?
By Soma Bhattacharya
Everyone associates stand-ups and retrospectives with the agile way of doing things. Yet very few
What does your team or project do when defining the governance model?
By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP
We are almost at the end of 2023! As I take a moment to reflect on this wild ride of a year, here are three key lessons I learned that I wanted to share with you all.
1. Embrace change: Projects are like a box of chocolates…you never know which ones might get canceled.
It was super demotivating. But as technology continues to evolve, customer needs shift and market trends change, it's essential to stay flexible and change course as strategy demands. If you ever have to deal with such a situation, rather than feeling demotivated you should embrace it as an opportunity for growth and learning. By doing so, you'll be better equipped to lead your team through the ups and downs.
One of my mentors gave this perspective, which has helped me immensely: “We get paid to do the work without promises that the features/projects will be released to production. So as long as you get paid and you are continuing to learn, do your best work and leave the rest.”
What I realized is that we can pursue our interests in other ways and means instead of completely switching careers or trying to turn hobbies into a living. We can pursue our passions/interests in small ways like finding opportunities in the domain that we are interested in. As an example, if your hobby is photography and photo editing, perhaps you could continue being a program manager but find a job in a company that specializes in photo editing software like Adobe.
Find the domain or area that brings you joy—whether it's event management, innovation or team building—and find opportunities in that domain. When you enjoy what you do, everyone benefits—not just your own well-being, but also your program's success.
As a program manager, we have the privilege of working with talented team members who contribute their skills and expertise to our projects. Rather than thinking “they are doing their job,” make it a point to express gratitude toward them regularly. A simple "thank you" or acknowledgement can go a long way in building positive relationships within your team
By embracing these three lessons, you'll be better equipped to navigate the challenges of program management in 2024 and beyond. Remember, as a program manager, our role goes beyond managing projects; it's about leading people, fostering collaboration and driving impactful results.
As we bid farewell to another year, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you for your thoughtful comments and engagement. (A special shoutout to our editor Cameron for inspiring me to write and for shaping my musings a better way). Wishing you all a blessed 2024!
I recently wrote about the nature of artificial intelligence in project management, and I think people might have been confused that I’d put the highlight so heavily on the person managing the project.
My take has nothing to do with not believing that AI can be a powerful tool, if used well. Nor should my take imply that you should ignore AI.
As always, my take is about the people involved in managing a project. The things that only us humans can do.
With that in mind, I wanted to revisit some of the foundations of the human skills that we need to be successful PMs, no matter what kind of project we are working on.
1. Presence: You need to be there when you are working on a project. You need to listen to the stakeholders and team members you are talking with. You need to be aware of the situation you are involved in. You need to not try and juggle many things at once.
Great project managers are in the moment, working through the task at hand, even when there are tons of other tasks demanding their attention.
2. People Skills: People manage projects. People work on projects. Without people, there are no projects.
To be successful as a PM, you have to be successful in dealing with people. This doesn’t call for over-the-top extroversion, but it does require that you be able to build coalitions, negotiate and get people to take actions.
One of the challenges we all struggle with from time to time is our individual area of responsibility, but the best PMs recognize that everything is connected.
3. Perception: Another name for this is business acumen. I’ve written about business acumen in the past. I’ve even hinted at it in the point above. The key for PMs is that you need to know the context of your project and be able to actually take action on what’s going to deliver the most value for your organization and the stakeholders you serve.
Perception requires you to bring context to every encounter with team members, stakeholders and sponsors. It isn’t enough to look at the scope of work; to be truly successful, you have to go beyond the first level and look deeper to the core value that the project is creating in your world—and the world around the project.
4. Proficiency: You have to be able to deliver. As a PM, proficiency might come in the form of great negotiation skills. You might need the ability to get people to see their responsibilities and roles from a different situation, a more expansive POV.
Proficiency is also likely to change from moment to moment because one of the biggest skills we all need is managing change and uncertainty. Being proficient at that is likely the most important skill we can all develop, now and into the future.
Let me ask you: What are the core skills that you feel need to be in the tool kit of the modern PM?
Let me know in the comments below.