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Topics: Agile, Benefits Realization, Change Management
Should Program Management be labelled as Agile?

Complex and turbulent situations require a cyclic and flexible approach that today is labelled “Agile”. The popularity of agile management has helped managers understand and accept the culture shifts necessary to manage programs. I will aim to explain how agile methods and program management share the same cultural paradigms.

Program management has evolved from the complexity created by a number of interrelated projects and multiple stakeholders involved; from the need to span from strategy to operations and from the ambiguity involved in constantly emergent decision-making. Agile methods were developed to deal with projects that could not be dealt with using traditional project management methodology. Projects that are complex, involving many unknowns in terms of design and the effect that results have on expected benefits cannot be managed using traditional project management methods.

In 2001 a group of thinkers of what was then called “lightweight methods” issued the “Agile Manifesto to tackle complex, fast-moving IT programming projects. This Manifesto states four basic ideas:

- Responding to change over following a plan
- Working software (measurable results) over comprehensive documentation
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

These principles are shared by program management.

- Agile Management and Program Management are based on the concept of a series of mutually reinforcing decisions that form a coherent whole aimed at achieving expected benefits.

- Both program and agile management evolve in an iterative way and are constantly realigned, based on measured results, to ensure they deliver stakeholder value.

- Both put the emphasis on simple governance systems that require minimal bureaucracy and rely on regular decision meetings where all key stakeholders are present.

- Both put a great focus stakeholder engagement and team empowerment rather than formal top-down relationships.

In today’s context, there is a need to manage ambiguity and high uncertainty. Whereas the ambiguity of programs and the inability to precisely predict results was a major hurdle in its acceptance by top management, this has started to change with the rising popularity of agile principles and culture. It has convinced many managers that you can be both adaptive and predictive in a relatively organised way.
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There is a big misunsderstanding about agile. The manifesto is for software, not for agile as a whole. Agile practices started in Ford Motors company in 1917, Toyota Motors in 1934 and terms like agility and organizational agility were formally definied inside the USA DoD NSF/Aglity Forum in 1990 (you can see Mr. Rick Dove´s work named "Response Ability"). Agile Program/Project Management does not exists. What exists is Program/Project management that you can "agilize" by using agile practices. Agile is not a method/methodology, is not a life cycle, is not the manifesto for software. I wrote an article that will be published in PMnetwork on march (I guess). I am leading my seventh project to implement agile in a hugh company in order to gain agility.

Sergio, many thanks for these insightful explanations, looking forward to your article. We used to do fast-track construction projects in the late eighties and early nineties that had all the characteristics of agile. I was just trying to make a point that programs have the same characteristics as what is today called "agile".

If agile is not a methodology, would you agree that it is an approach or even a culture?

I have been working with agile from the,very, begining including I was one of the authors of well known DSDM method (version 1 and 2). But,forget about me. Search for Rick Dove book "Response Ability" which contains the result of USA DoD Agility Forum which is the place where agile formally was born (I was part).
This thread has been Sergioized. Notice there will be no more discussion of the original topic.

You have been reduced to asking Sergio what Agile is - but he won't answer that! All knowledge is his! The Messenger of Agile has spoken!

Please, do not take my comments as a must. My intention is to bring to the table some points that usually people do not see outside there. Make some research. Agile is "a way of thinking a behaive with focus on client and quality". Whan organizations implement agile they gain in agility which is "react to the environmental changes and create environental changes". Inside the webcast and videos there is good information about that.

Most portfolio and program management frameworks and practices are premised in traditional management thinking - which is geared more towards command and control. Can they be reworked to include a more agile thinking premise? Yes. Would they need some very fundamental language shifts and changes in their principles to become agile like? Yes.

Agile is best seen as a set of values, and not a linear "methodology." Program management certainly, where appropriate, incorporate agile values into the methods of the particular program. This is especially important for strategic initiatives (which are specifically defined as programs that affect an organizational performance gap). Programs in the relatively more operational environment gain less benefit from agile values and can use more prescriptive and linear methods.

At the risk of incurring Sergio's disapproval, I would posit that agile is mostly an attitude that you can bring to everything in your life, whether personal or professional.

Heehehehehehe, Thank you very much Stéphane. I spend my time here becasue I learn a lot from your comments and other people comments.I fully agree with you. Sorry for the next because is something I will write about my personal experience. When I teach, when I perform conferences, when I help organizations to implement agile I ever say this: agile will help you to survive and decide about what side you want to stay: reactive or proactive. That is what agile gives to organizations and as you say to personal life. And it is the same with project management for example. In fact, I planned my wedding using project management practices following PMI way.
1 reply by Stéphane Parent
Aug 03, 2016 11:00 AM
Stéphane Parent
I would love to hear what lessons learned you captured from that project, Sergio!
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