Does Agile Project Management Exist?

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I have been reading a lot about something called “Agile Project Management.”

Agile project management is very popular for something that doesn’t exist.  Agile is a software development methodology and not a project management method.  It is often contrasted with the Waterfall model of software development, which is also not a project management method.  It is about doing incremental development with a co-located team of developers and a customer.  The development is also ongoing and the product is constantly changing and probably requires a dedicated team.

It is obvious that project management covers more than just software development or even the broader field of Information Technology.  I don’t think I would want to drive across a bridge that was built using “Agile PM.”   :)

I also don’t think Agile Software Development is appropriate for all software development efforts. What about software that goes into devices that cannot be updated easily? Sure, the Mars Rover can get a software update, but it takes a long time and you can’t replace it if a bug causes it to wind up in a ditch. How many people really update the BIOS in their PCs after they get them? There are a lot of corporate software systems that are large and complex that would not be good candidates for Agile software development. This is because they are so pathologically coupled that a small change in one system can have a lot of repercussions if it is not thought through and vetted with a lot of people.

Does this mean that Agile is not a good software development method? No. Agile did great in commercializing the web and is still valuable in that environment and perhaps others. It just isn’t appropriate for everything. Just because it is the hot new thing, does not mean it applies everywhere.

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18 Comments on “Does Agile Project Management Exist?”

  • 9 November, 2010, 7:32

    Bruce, thank you for the mention in your post. What I’m trying to do is raise awareness of Agile and iterative tools and techniques. Just because Agile was originally defined for software development, I think “traditional” project managers could benefit from using some Agile or lean practices. I’m not saying Agile is the savior of the project management industry. Nor am I saying it’s always appropriate for an entire project lifecycle, like the Mars Rover. But, could that program have benefited from leveraging Agile or lean techniques? Sure, maybe it’s by prototyping the physical rover design. Maybe it’s by having a 15 minute meeting every day with the design team. All I’m saying is we should be open to approaches that work for some and see if it could work for us.

    The PMBOK is a book of knowledge, not a book of methods. What I’m proposing could be included as potential tools and techniques.

    If more projects could be defined as “successful”, as a result of utilizing some Agile tools or techniques, it’s it work considering?

  • 9 November, 2010, 22:08

    I don’t have a problem with Agile techniques or methods. I am reacting to all the buzz about it. It is becoming over-hyped like so many things before it.

    The PMBOK is kind of abstract in its current form because they want it to apply to anything. Adding methods like iterative development and working directly with customers instead of documenting everything might be helpful in some places, but it would be specific not just to something like software development or engineering, but perhaps to the nature of a project.

    Maybe there needs to be a PMI practice standard for managing projects using Agile techniques.

    Thanks for the feedback! :)

  • rainer
    18 November, 2010, 21:13

    thanks for an interesting article. small correction: agile is *not* a methodology. it is a set of vaue statements (as articulated in the manifest) and associated principle that i like to refer to as distilled common sense. as such i reckon it has much to offer many of the traditional roles including not only the pm, but the ba as well. it makes good sense beyond the software development context as well. Derek has said as much already. Otherwise i agree that the agile pm is likely an oxymoron. After all, the role doesn’t exist in Scrum, one of the most popular agile mthodologies. Again, i think same goes for the traditional ba role. btw the BABOK is also busy trying to reinnvent itself for the agile context. I’m skeptical, and i am a ba. :-)

  • Leise Passer Jensen
    20 November, 2010, 14:46

    Very interesting post and comments!
    Just like I claim there to be no such thing like “agile testing” there is neither ‘true’ Agile Project Management. We certainly test a lot when developing software the agile way, and we use the same traditional test techniques BUT execute them at different times when working agile.

    Likewise: We do a lot of ordinary project management techniques when the agile development team is bigger than just a handful of software developers (provided they don’t use rigid Scrum). But by using the agile principles and practices for the dev. team, my responsibilities and daily Project Manager tasks automatically change to a certain extend.

    The daily stand-up meetings and ‘osmotic communication’ totally change the need for written minutes and tedious weekly around-the-table status meetings.

    The Iteration Planning Games takes over for the detailed Gant Chart for the dev. team, and I can plan with and follow up on the overall milestones for the whole project instead of having to spend hours on updating an MS Project plan on a weekly basis.

    I aim for always providing an overview of the required functionality for a whole release by writing use case cards, or one-liner user stories. Both to be further detailed before each iteration. That’s a quite different way of providing estimates (Story Points) than by using ordinary Project Management practices.

    Thereby it is my experience that the nature of my daily activities change when I manage agile teams.

    I prefer to talk about “Testing Agile” instead of “Agile Testing”. Likewise we could talk about “Project Management principles for agile teams” instead of “Agile Project Management”.

    Why this is important? Because many misunderstand agile software development and think that if they e.g. do daily stand-ups then they work agile. Which is absolutely not the case!! Some even claim that agile teams don’t document anything – a total misunderstanding! True agile teams that have success are highly ‘mature’, but write the critical and useful documentation instead of for example just producing ‘shelf ware’ which is never used afterwards, or not documenting anything at all.

    We need to correct that misunderstanding, but until it is well known what it takes to really be agile, then I prefer not to talk about Agile Project Management. So maybe I should change my business card where is says I’m a “Agile Project Manager” :o)

  • Mitch Goldman
    20 November, 2010, 16:59

    I think “Agile Project Management” is an appropriate term. Software is developed as part of a project. A project manager is responsible for managing that project. If the software is being developed using Agile practices/values/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, then I think it’s appropriate to use Agile Project Managers to define people who manage those projects.

    This group is for those project managers who have to manage Agile projects. To share our ideas, experiences, job postings, etc. And if there’s some knowledge that can be added to the PMBOK and it helps others, that’s great.

  • 20 November, 2010, 21:58

    Leise, thanks for your comments. I agree with you. Project Management principles for agile teams is far better than Agile Project Management in my opinion.

  • 20 November, 2010, 22:16

    The problem I have with that term is that it sounds like a “me too” term. We do not usually talk much about software development project managers because it isn’t the latest buzzword. To some, the “software development” part may be assumed because they have not seen other types of projects. For them, the qualification of “Agile” is important because it is different from traditional software development projects.

    Back when RUP (Rational Unified Process) was all the rage for software development projects, no one called themselves RUP project managers, but everyone said they used RUP. In fact, almost no one did. They just used RUP terminology to describe what they we already doing. A lot of energy was put into capitalizing on the buzzword though. I see the same thing happening with Agile.

  • Mitch Goldman
    23 November, 2010, 3:33

    Actually, I worked in a company that used RUP quite successfully for 3 years, and the PMs that were on that project were called “RUP Project Managers.” That’s also what was used in the job descriptions. I think hanging an extra qualifier on the title helps to identify the focus area of that role, and it can work for anything: “Prince 2 Project Manager” or “Lean/Kanban Project Manager.” All it tells me is that it’s a PM role that focuses on a certain type of practice.

    Don’t get me wrong, as much as it can be helpful it can also be abused. For example: “Agile” is a catch-all that can be used for XP, Scrum, Lean, Kanban, DSDM, or a host of others depending upon your definition. As long as they intend “Agile” to be inclusive of all those practices and not exclusive, I’m okay with the moniker.

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