Agile and Project Management

With the popularity of Agile Project Management, there is growing confusion about what that exactly means. Is Agile an approach? A method? A practice? A framework or a toolkit? If you choose to use Agile, does that mean that you should no longer use a traditional or waterfall approach?

To answer these questions, I sat down with Dr. Michael Crawley, Acuity Institute’s Authorized PMI® PMP® Trainer. Michael Crawley is a Project Management Professional® with over 20 years of experience in IT, project management, project management offices, and Agile organizations.

“Agile has its roots in software and IT. However, since about 2010, Agile adoption has been growing and expanding to the broader project management office. Furthermore, between 2012 through 2015, the Agile narrative began to be accompanied with solid, evidence-based use cases.” Quoting the Agile Practice Guide (2017) “Today the demand for ‘being agile’ is higher than ever”, Michael shared.

Defining Agile for Project Management

An Agile approach to project management aims for early, measurable ROI through iterative delivery of product increments that involve the customer throughout the product development cycle. In project management, the intent is to adopt a mindset that fulfills the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto. Those values include:

  • Individual and Interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

While there is value to the items on right, agile value the items on the left more.
@2001, the Agile Manifesto authors

Is Agile the right approach?

There is no one right way to approach project management. In fact, a hybrid approach that combines the best of each of these approaches is gaining popularity in organizations. The point is to select a life cycle or a combination of life cycles that work for the project, the risks, and the culture.  Hybrid approaches include:

  • Combined Agile and Predictive Approaches: Used when some project aspects can benefit from short iterations, daily stand-ups, and retrospectives, but other aspects require upfront planning, work assignments, and progress tracking.
  • Predominantly Predictive with Some Agile components: Used in cases when a portion of the project has uncertainty, complexity, or opportunity for scope creep. This portion of the project may leverage Agile, while the remainder is predictive.
  • Largely Agile with a Predictive Component: Used in cases when the majority of the project can benefit from Agile but a particular element is non-negotiable/not executable using an Agile approach (for example: when a single integration is required as the component is delivered).
  • Hybrid as Fit-For-Purpose: Used in cases when the project goal is to produce business value in the best possible way given the environment. Used to answer the questions, “How can we be most successful?” “Is feedback needed as the team produces value? “Is it necessary to manage risk as ideas are explored?
Traditional ApproachHybrid ApproachesAgile Approach
Referred to by PMI ® as the predictive approach. Also commonly referred to as a Waterfall approach.
The bulk of planning occurs upfront

Activities are executed in a single pass

The project is run as a sequential process

The project lead selects and sequences the work.

The project leader assigns the work to the team members
Combines development life cycles (DLC): predictive, iterative, Agile and/or incremental, to achieve certain goals.
Leverages the traditional and Agile approaches that work for the project, the risks, and the culture

May leverage Agile mindset and tools such as short iterations, daily stand-ups, and retrospectives

May leverage traditional aspects such as upfront planning, work assignments, and progress tracking.
Planning is done in iterations to deliver successive subsets of the overall product

Activities are executed to produce incremental deliveries that the customer may be able to use immediately

The team delivers the highest value work first

Feedback from these deliveries is used to improve or modify work

Higher-level objectives for each iteration are explained and the team members are empowered to self-organize specific tasks as a group determine how to best meet those objectives.

Each team member manages their practical plans for each iteration
2017, Agile Practice Guide

Are you interested in learning more about Agile or Project Management? Check out these project management courses.

Agile Project Management Certification (APMC™)
PM Skills Certified Professional (PMSCP®)