Project management and Agile - a marriage made in heaven or...

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I have been involved in project and programme management (PPM) for more than 20 years - mainly in the area of transformational and cultural change, but also with projects delivering IT systems and enhancements.

During that time there have been many new ideas, new techniques and some real improvements - Agile being one of them. Being an 'old hand' having managed all sorts of projects and programmes - I, and many other experienced project managers, know there is never a 'one size fits all' way. Projects differ, what works in one sets another up to fail. One of the secrets of good project management is knowing which approach will be most effective for your current initiative.

Our recent experiences with organisations using Agile-based project methodologies has given me and others much pause for thought. When done well, when used on the right projects with the appropriate level of governance, the results are excellent. But used on the wrong projects, or managed using inappropriate governance, the results can be awful!

Organisational Agility factorsThere appear to be three factors that demand special attention to enable organisations to make the best use of the evolving agile approaches to delivery and change management - ensuring that the best use is made of new ideas and techniques, while not losing the hard-won successes from the past 30 years.

To enable organisations to optimise their change agility, the three factors to consider are: People, Governance and Delivery.

Whilst it is important to consider these from individual initiatives' perspectives I believe this is far out-weighed by dealing with the impacts on the wider organisation and project environment. If the organisation, and in particular its governance structure, is not positioned to adopt the new ways of working - they will not be fully effective or become embedded.

The level of attention and emphasis that should be placed on each of the three areas varies from organisation to organisation. Think of the white circle of successful change as a plate balancing on the top of the coloured three disks - each disk will need to be adjusted and readjusted to keep the dynamic balance needed.

We have found it is important to consider the current attitudes and approaches to each different area within the organisation before selecting the appropriate course of action. These include:

GovernanceHow is a focus on benefits management developed and maintained? This is particularly important (and often difficult) in an agile environment or working in a programmatic environment which is running with Agile and non-Agile project management initiatives. Are the sponsors fully aware of the differences in demands made by taking an agile approach? Appropriate levels of sponsorship and clearly defined and relevant roles and responsibilities can require careful thought and modification. Right sized governance is always a critical aspect where the initiatives require a 'mixed economy' of traditional Agile and project approaches.

PeopleDoes the organisation have the right skills, in the right place at the right time? (the skills required may be different: for example, a greater emphasis of stakeholder engagement and enhanced facilitation skills for those leading in an agile environment.) In addition engagement levels, interests of stakeholders and communications are likely to require greater attention - especially if working in an agile way is new to the organisation.

DeliveryIs the user environment highly fluid? Are the requirements volatile, with complex interactions between solutions and ambiguous stakeholder agendas? Are there technical concerns and innovative processes involved in the design or delivery? Are the stakeholders comfortable with Agile's lite-touch levels of planning and monitoring and control? If the answer to these questions is 'yes' - Agile is an excellent approach to consider. In such situations planning horizons that stretch beyond short sprints can be both pointless and a wasteful investment. But if the answer is 'maybe' or 'no' - the question becomes how much traditional project management would be valuable?

These have been found to be barriers to success in many organisations. Do you recognise them in yours? Ensuring you can successfully govern, manage and deliver concurrent initiatives using Agile and traditional PPM techniques may well be the next big challenge to overcome. Are you ready and equipped to do so?

But what about your take on the recent interest in Agile? Do you think a blended approach could work? Have you tried and succeeded? Or is the jury still out? Is it better to adopt a single-minded approach, becoming more expert in that one approach? Or does a 'mix and match' approach suit the situation better?

AT CITI we have been working on concepts and approaches to give you and your organisation the edge, by sharing ideas and learning, and working with colleagues across businesses to ensure that these innovative approaches and techniques really work. Certainly one key is being adaptable to cope with the differing pressures brought into play by an organisation's environment.

If you would like to find out more about our thinking, or share your experiences regarding what has worked for you, please don't hesitate to contact us on 01908 283600, email JNichols@citi.co.uk or reach out to us on our social media channels.


Jane Nichols
Director, CITI Limited


Jane Nichols

Jane Nichols

Working for CITI and our clients has allowed me to realise my passion for developing change management capability in both individuals and organisations
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