What’s Wrong with the Plan?

Sriram Narayan

Topics: Agile, Leadership, Strategy, Talent Management

Top agile organizations favor a product-centric model of execution over a project-centric model. They chase value instead of predictability. Let’s look at what’s wrong with plan-driven projects, and why it’s better to organize your efforts along business capabilities, supporting capability teams instead of project teams.

A project is a temporary organization that is needed to produce a unique and pre-defined outcome or result at a pre-specified time using pre-determined resources. With three occurrences of the prefix “pre”, it is a definition predicated on predictability. Although there are other definitions, the one quoted largely captures the mindset of a community brought up on a diet of PMP, PRINCE2, etc. Even when they manage so-called Agile projects using Scrum, project managers are strongly guided by a project or release plan rather than just a prioritized backlog. A release plan represents an elaborate prediction of scope, budget, and schedule — a prediction that rarely materializes.

This plan-driven mindset is also a reflection of the demands made by people who sponsor the projects. They in turn are perhaps influenced by the Wall Street model of expecting predictable quarterly results. We can’t do much about Wall Street behavior (although Dell went private for this reason), but we can certainly choose to behave differently inside the organization.

A change in …

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