Agile Project Management Is Too “Lightweight”

The term, agile project management, became known as a set of methods developed specifically for the software industry including Scrum, Lean Software Development, Crystal, Feature Driven Development, Adaptive Software Development, Dynamic System Development Method, and Extreme Programming. These methods were called “lightweight” or “agile” and their overarching principles were codified in a manifesto, called the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

Since 2001, numerous books have been published describing agile project management practices and techniques. Here is where the confusion began. I would have accepted the phrase, “agile product management,” but to equate agile to project management is a mistake. With all the hype around agile, project management practitioners think that agile is the “silver bullet” they are looking for. It’s not.

Some authors argue that agile practices can be adapted to other types of industries, products and project environments that are innovative and experiencing constant change. Maybe, but there are a few critical characteristics to consider before embarking down that road.

Here are a few agile practices that could be incorporated in today’s modern project management practices:

  • Product vision in lieu of project objectives
  • Use of visual artifacts such as storyboards, sticky-notes in lieu of predominantly textual work breakdown structure
  • Shorter planning horizon and time-boxing to develop “value-driven” results in lieu of a single plan for the entire project

But, here are a few agile practices that are difficult to use because of the nature of today’s business environment:

  • The use of small, fully dedicated, co-located teams in lieu of globally-dispersed teams
  • Active customer involvement during the entire product development cycle to provide continuous feedback in lieu of periodic progress monitoring
  • The mindset of “failing fast” to validate learning in lieu of gathering requirements that provide reliability, traceability, and quality of results

Overall, research studies are identifying that if your projects have team members floating in and out as you need them, you can’t put your project team in the same room or in the same building, have more than 15 team members on your project, and your key stakeholders aren’t standing with you shoulder-to-shoulder – then agile should not be your preferred project management approach.

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