Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

Agile or not?


Agile-Or-NotProject delivery in the IT space is a fun job. You get to do interesting things, usually no two things are exactly the same and in the process get to play with technology. Life couldn’t be better. That is until you run into some oddities. Agile methods have not been everyone’s cup of tea. Ambiguity is the enemy of most bureaucratic environments. Before committing to any spends, they want assurances in triplicate exactly what they would get for the project, when, and in what manner. By definition killing any agility.

What is interesting is that some of these organisations appear to be embracing Agile, but not because they want continuous improvement, or are looking to deal with ambiguity differently. They have found the dreaded requirements analysis phase of a waterfall project does not necessarily capture the requirements correctly, and consequently deliveries do not meet the outcome they set out to. Pushing that detail to be worked through in an Agile development method makes perfect sense.

Pushing the resolution of ambiguity later in the development phase means at the project initiation that ambiguity still remains. So any contracting for those services can only give you an estimate to a particular level of detail. What I find in many cases is there is little room for ambiguity when contracting for those services. The bean counters still want to know exactly what you will deliver, when, and how – so when the auditors turn up, they can show a clean bill of health.

As IT practitioners we have done a good job of convincing organisations of the benefits of Agile deliveries. However, we are yet to convince procurement that effort estimation is relative to the ambiguity that has been clarified. Wherever bureaucracy is involved, there appears to be a mismatch of expectations. It is not helped by IT companies willing to do business sometimes ignore their practitioners to take such projects and perpetuate this expectation.

What are you finding out there? Is this the norm or the anomaly?

Image credit: smokejumperstrategy.com

10 responses to “Agile or not?

  1. Nico Viergever July 18, 2015 at 12:33 am

    I recognize what Shoaib wrote.
    In an extremely bureaucratic organization nothing could be done about a project unless the Finance department approved the Business Case. At one point these Finance people wanted to think about improving their mechanisms on cost/benefit analysis and they asked me what the PRINCE2 views were. In line with Shoaib’s views, I was reluctant. Over the years I had very poor experience with IT people pretending to use PRINCE2 but in reality doing “Cherry Picking” and working with a distorted version of PRINCE2, most experts would call PINO (PRINCE In Name Only).
    So why would these bureaucratic Finance people be different?

    I presented them with the PRINCE2 Business Case theme. So I showed them that you would only be able to have a Business Case after planning; that their view that there should be a full Business Case before any work (including planning) could be done, was illogical.
    I showed them that most of the Business Case actually happens after the project: realization of benefits and cost of maintenance and support.
    Then I showed them that a PRINCE2 plan can only be fixed when all work is finished; when the plan has actually been realized and you know the results. That during a project work needs to be re-planned all the time, using those Management Stages (sounds really Agile when you think about it, doesn’t it?).
    And I took them through the logical consequence that a Business Case should not be fixed but needs to be updated and reassessed all the time. Most of all I told them about ownership of the Business Case: not by the Financial Department and certainly not by the supplier. So also certainly not by the internal supplier; in most cases the CIO (remember: suppliers have conflicting Business Cases. In the case of internal suppliers this usually results in very expensive, very dangerous unrecognized political power play and low quality).

    Maybe in line with Shoaib’s views, I expected to be shouted at by these financial bureaucrats who thought these ideas were unacceptable. Instead they loved the story; they told me this only at the surface looked like less control but in reality would give the organization far more and better control.

    If only their brand-new financial system would support these mechanisms (no relationships possible between benefits and cost)…

    • Shoaib Ahmed July 19, 2015 at 11:08 pm

      Agree entirely Nico. People want a framework or methodology to solve all their problems. Never stop to think if the approach may need adjusting in order for the methodology, sometimes implemented at great cost, to succeed. No methodology is a silver bullet!

    • Management Plaza July 22, 2015 at 1:09 am

      Nice comment Nico

  2. Joshua Partogi July 21, 2015 at 2:38 am

    Yes there are many people who does not care about building self-organising team and continuous improvement. When they hear Agile, what they are interested with is short-cycle delivery and making an excuse for not having good planning.

  3. Management Plaza July 22, 2015 at 1:11 am

    Hi Shoaib, I like when you say that another reason that companies are moving towards Agile is due the dreaded requirements analysis phase which takes a lot of time and captures requirements and launch the project off in the wrong direction.

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