Thursday, January 10, 2013

Is it time to go Agile?

“Is it time to go Agile ?”.
This is a very tough question.
Still I think that is not the right question, or more precisely, I think that there are better questions a project manager should ask himself, like “What time is it ?” or “What my project really needs ?”
More or less every project management framework/procedure is based on the old plain Plan-Do-Check-Act model.
There are planning phases in which decisions on project scope and actions are taken, there are moments in which work is performed and checked against what has been previously established and there are control processes to get the project back on track, whatever “on track” may mean for you.
The mode in which these four elements (Plan, Do, Check and Act) are mixed up and sequenced breeds all the differents project management methodologies we know and use in our day to day work.
The selection of the most suitable project management methodology for a given project is not an easy task. It requires great expertise and project insight, a deep knowledge of different project management frameworks and the freedom to choose which road to walk down.
An opinion that I have and that I would like to share with you and submit to your judgment is that the choice of the project management procedure/framework should not be based on the project deliverables type or specific industry (communications, construction, oil, food, software,...) but on intrinsic project characteristics.
Imagine to identify some project indicators and to assess their values for the project you are planning. It would then be possible to place the project in a multidimensional space and select a particular project management approach accordingly.
Figure 1 shows a qualitative representation of a bidimensional project space whose cartesian coordinates are Innovation, intended as the degree of innovation apported by the project and Complexity, intended as the difficulty to accomplish the project overall objectives.

Figure 1
Projects with a great degree of Complexity and Innovation (as those in the red circle marked B) could greatly benefit of an agile approach. These projects are not uncommon to have unclear scope, undetailed requirements, hidden stakeholders and tough and complex planning phases.
Conversely project with a low degree of Complexity and Innovation (as those in the green circle marked C) could be easily managed with more traditional techniques. Maybe even with a plain old waterfall approach.
Projects with great Complexity and low Innovation or great Innovation and low Complexity or other intermediate situations would benefit of division in phases (where each phase may become a project in itself and different phases can be managed with different methodologies), iterative planning, rolling-wave planning and other advanced techniques.
Figure 2 shows a qualitative spider chart of three fictional projects in a tridimensional space that adds Uncertainty as a third cartesian coordinate. Uncertainty is intended as the project overall degree of risk and is reported here to stress its importance to place projects in the proposed space. Uncertainty could be absorbed in Complexity and Innovation and as a matter of fact we can even say that it is a bidimensional function of these 2 variables.

Figure 2
Colors are chosen accordingly to Figure 1. Project 2 should belong to the red circle B, project 1 should belong to Circle C and so on.
Spider chart is an effective tool to display data in the form of a bidimensional chart of three or more variables and this make it an exceptional tool to analyze projects in a multidimensional space.
So if a project manager got stuck leading a construction industry project with a traditional management approach, maybe are the methodology selection process and the subsequent choice to blame and not the methodology in itself. Maybe the placement of the project in the suggested space would have indicated another methodology as more reliable to achieve the given goals.
Conversely I do not find absurd manage a software project with a waterfall approach if the given project has a very low degree of Innovation, Uncertainty and Complexity.
Of course there are also other aspects of the issue to be considered.
Some management options may not be viable because of project management team poor training in certain areas, executives decisions, stakeholders or sponsor explicit requirements and so on. For example it would be absurd for the project manager to select an Agile approach if nobody in his team has not even heard about it.  
Sometimes various options may be clearly unsuitable. Sometimes the use of some process or some instrument is imposed.
Since the choice could be tricky a project manager should maintain an open minded approach, without preconceptions and prejudices. He must understand the peculiarity of the project, the environment in which it has been conceived and in which it will have to be developed. He must understand his team members capabilities and their degree of engagement in the project. He has to adapt to the environment.
So my opinion is that the right question a wise project manager should ask himself is not “Is it time to go Agile ?” but “What time is it ?” or “what my project really needs ?”.

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1 comment:

  1. This surprises me. It is the opposite of what I thought. I have so much to learn about agile!


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