The Agile Project Management paradigm has drastically shifted the world of business over the past two decades and has given us an entirely new perspective on work. This methodology is focused on the main unit of value creation in today’s economy: – the Team. The concept started in the software development industry as a reaction to the high failure rate and slow turnaround time for software development projects.
In the late 1990’s a few cutting edge companies and US government agencies started experimenting with a more iterative approach to project management. In 2001 a group of industry professionals got together at a ski lodge in Utah and codified the concept. They called it the Agile Manifesto. Made up of 4 values and 12 principles, it points us toward a future of highly motivated, self organized teams. The concept was to trade in the structured step by step process of the 1980’s & 1990’s for a fast paced, collaborative environment, where feedback loops happen in real time and progress is measured by working software rather than well documented speculation.
Since 2001 the internet has gone from a fad, to the main economic driver in nearly every business. It has been so impactful that experts are now calling this proliferation the fourth industrial revolution. As the internet has grown, the need for software has skyrocketed. The old idea of taking 3-5 years to develop and launch a software solution is no longer realistic. This change has driven the adoption of the Agile Methodology at a rate that could never have been predicted.
What makes Agile Project Management different than Waterfall?
First thing to note is that Agile is a methodology not a framework. We will discuss some of the Agile frameworks in latter articles. Examples include: Scrum, Kanban, and SAFe. As a methodology, Agile Project Management is a way of thinking and acting that demonstrates a distinct contrast from traditional ideas.
The first and most important mindset shift is that Agile is built on the idea of self-organized teams. In contrast to the traditional concept of management directing the efforts of individuals through a command and control type structure, Agile teams are given direction and left alone to do their best work. This creates a sense of team autonomy, and mastery. Two of the key ingredients for motivation. The manager of an Agile team operates as a coach and mentor rather than a project and task manager.
The second major shift in thinking is around speed. Agile Project Management teaches us to focus on speed over predictability. Teams must strive for early and continuous delivery of value to the customer. The old methods focus on efficiency at each step of a process, essentially sub optimizing the steps in hopes of getting a better and more predictable end result. If we read the principle of sub optimization though, it says
“Optimizing each subsystem independently will not in general lead to a system optimum, or more strongly, improvement of a particular subsystem may actually worsen the overall system.” (Machol, 1965).
Agile takes the approach of collapsing the steps into a singular team effort with everyone working together to accomplish the goal as quickly as possible. If something like documentation takes more time then the value it adds for the customer, it is discarded so more efficient efforts can take its place.
The third critical change is a focus on flexibility. The term ‘BDUF’ has emerged to describe the traditional way of project planning. It stands for Big Design Up Front. Traditionally project managers would spend months or years creating technical documents and designs before a single line of code was ever written. In contrast, Agile says that the team must be able to welcome changing requirements even late in the development process. This is ideally done by breaking work into small, independent, functions and developing them in a way to allow for future changes.
Is Agile Project Management just for Software Development?
Absolutely not. The idea originated in the software industry, but the agile mindset has grown significantly since then, emerging as the new way of thinking about work. Creative agencies, manufacturing companies, investment firms, and even schools are just a few examples of organizations, outside of tech, where we have seen adoption of this new way of working.
According to Peter Drucker, a century ago, corporations owned the equipment and knowledge that employees needed to create stuff. This means the employee needed the company. In today’s knowledge economy, that concept has been flipped upside down. Workers have access to vast amounts of knowledge and training through the internet, and the cost of tools such as computers, have decreased to a point that nearly everyone has access to one. Because of this shift, businesses now need their employees more than their employees need them. This has put employees in a unique position to vote on a company’s culture with their resume and tenure. Companies who are clinging to the traditional concepts of waterfall project management in a command and control type environment are having an increasingly hard time attracting and keeping the best talent.
Regardless of the industry, this reality is being proven true as we watch companies who fail to grasp the concept fall further and further behind their competition. The current trend seems to be that Agile companies attract the best talent, move faster, and adapt to ever evolving economic change better than their more traditional counterparts.
We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.
Agile Principle #1
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
Agile Principle #2
Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
Agile Principle #3
Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
Agile Principle #4
Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
Agile Principle #5
Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
Agile Principle #6
The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
Agile Principle #7
Working software is the primary measure of progress.
Agile Principle #8
Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
Agile Principle #9
Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
Agile Principle #10
Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
Agile Principle #11
The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
Agile Principle #12
At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.