Go agile or go extinct : Reiventing project management for the digital age

As this is fundamental to getting Agile right,  let me begin by reiterating what I said earlier,the two aspects of Agile  – an agile mindset, and agile methods and their associated practices need to go hand in hand. A mindset without the methods and practices is non-practicable Agile, while methods without the Agile mindset will result either in abandonment  of Agile or  more likely – given that Agile is the in thing to do – “Agile in name only ” implementation. However, getting agile right intellectually and getting agile right in practice – in a  project context, is going to be tough, unless project management practitioners make this mental shift.

And the mental shift is this – agile project management is all about successful product delivery. This is the central idea of agile – deliver working product.  Sounds simple, it isn’t; because implementing Agile in a project context involves upending the deeply ingrained traditional ways of managing and governing projects.

Traditional project management is all about management of processes – scope, cost, schedule, risk et al – and traditional project governance ( or direction) is about ensuring projects are managed within the constraints of scope, time, cost. The generally accepted belief is this – get the process right and product delivery will happen as a natural consequence.This meant project management practitioners ( project managers, program managers, project sponsors)  didn’t care or didn’t care enough to be deeply  involved in product development and delivery. Product delivery was the domain of technical teams. While this approach may have worked well, even until recently. It no longer works in a world that is being rapidly disrupted by digital technology. Like so many other things, digital technology has disrupted the largely isolated worlds of project management and product development, forcing the convergence of the two disciplines.

Innovations in product development and delivery – incremental, iterative development, continuous integration, continuous delivery – means project management has to evolve, adapt and integrate with these new ways.  And the onus for making that happen is with project management practitioners.

However, there is a lot of heavy lifting to be done. Agile is focussed on product development and  agile methods don’t specify a project manager role or project governance role.  There are two reasons for it :  its origin – agile was a response to the frustration of developers with traditional document intensive product development – , and an assumption that there would be a larger organizational environment that would take care of the project stuff. However, as anyone who has tried to implement agile, knows that the assumption is incorrect. To implement agile and scale agile at a project level, we need to deliberately create the project environment in which agile way of working will thrive.

The first step to creating an agile project environment, is for project management practitioners to go agile. This means learing the ever-expanding tools of the agile trade – methods such as scrum, xp, kanban; and practices such as product backlog, user stories, story point estimation, test driven development, continuous integration and so on.

The embrace of agile tools doesn’t mean the discarding of the tools of project management and project governance. They have to be adapted to serve the goal of high-speed, high quality project and product delivery.

So, the choice is really with us, the project management practitioners: embrace Agile and thrive in the digital age or ignore Agile and await the fate of dinosaurs – extinction.

Go Agile or Go extinct : Call to project management practitioners – Go agile and reinvent yourself for the digital age

PS : Check out Prince2 Agile for immediate guidance on avoiding extinction or putting it less dramatically – practicable  guidance on integrating Agile in a project context.

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