The Agile methodology evolved from being a flexible approach to software development to becoming a widely popular way to successfully manage projects in general. Still, while Agile is a huge name in businesses and industries around the world, the concept itself is quite fluid. There are several versions of what constitutes ‘Agile project management’, with different approaches offering varying points of focus, as well as their own respective advantages and disadvantages.
AgilePM, ‘Agile Project Management’, is the world’s most popular framework to utilize the Agile methodology. It emerged from the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), giving it a greater level of control that makes it far more viable for larger organizations that are used to traditional project management practices.
However, as with any framework, it is important to keep a few things in mind about AgilePM:
- No methodology offers ‘one size fits all’ instructions that can be followed to the letter in any project regardless of its size, focus, environment, and so on
- No framework is 100% infallible
- It almost always takes a qualified practitioner to successfully apply a framework in practice
- As popular as AgilePM is, it may not always be the best choice for a project
That is not to say that AgilePM is undeserving of its popularity – far from it! There are simply a few potential points to watch out for when implementing it in practice.
With that in mind, here are the most important pitfalls to avoid when utilizing AgilePM.
Are your clients interested in incremental deliveries?
Setting small and incremental goals is a hallmark of the Agile methodology. The idea is that this approach allows companies and clients to enjoy the benefits of a project before it has been fully completed. This can be ideal for certain project types, such as those which are aimed at updating or solving flaws in code.
However, this is not always feasible. For example, some clients will only ever be interested in getting the end result in full. While this may not sound like a mutually exclusive goal, part of the reason why AgilePM takes an incremental approach is so that alterations can be made to the scope and direction of a project – but if the project has strict limitations in terms of time and budget, the client may be against going off track.
Of course, when it comes to saving time, it is also important to keep the other extreme in mind. In other words, try not to save time with a limited solution at the cost of accumulating technical debt. While your client will get their end results more quickly, they won’t stay happy for long!
How big is your organization or team?
AgilePM emphasizes flexibility, the decentralization of autonomy, and the ability to change projects in order to reflect evolving environments and requirements. This can be quite an efficient approach, albeit one that is more well suited to smaller teams than it is larger operations.
Big businesses usually lack the structure and flexibility to be able to make changes quickly. Instead, attempting to amend projects in these environments will often cause significant delays.
This is one of the reasons why larger businesses tend to prefer traditional project management frameworks. That isn’t to say that they cannot benefit from Agile, however, especially when there are also combined frameworks such as PRINCE2 Agile on the market.
Are you making too much time for customers?
AgilePM has users focus on creating end products that fully meet the needs of clients and end-users, rather than strictly adhering to a static version of an end goal or prioritizing a framework’s processes above everything else. In many cases, the AgilePM approach will involve taking on new tasks and making alterations for the sake of achieving the best possible results.
According to the Agile Manifesto, practitioners must “welcome changing requirements”, while also making sure that customer satisfaction remains their “highest priority.”
Unfortunately, focusing too much on customers can have its drawbacks. There will always be other aspects of a project to consider, and failing to devote enough time for them is almost guaranteed to cause problems in the long run.
Do you have a long term vision?
Naturally, the success of any project requires a vision of an end goal. The difference with AgilePM projects is that these goals can often be subject to change, depending on how the requirements of end-users evolve.
However, this is not necessarily a good thing. While you do not necessarily need an unwavering goal in the same sense as traditional project management, relying on nothing more than a vague notion of what you want to achieve can be risky. Your teams, clients, and stakeholders must all be firmly on the same page; after all, how can you adapt and improve a project if you aren’t even entirely sure of what the end result will look like?
Are you giving your team members too much freedom?
Delegating more autonomy and freedom to team members in an AgilePM project can greatly increase efficiency. Qualified employees will be able to make decisions without constant management oversight, allowing them to complete jobs faster while higher-level team members are free to focus on the big picture.
However, delegating FULL autonomy can be a bad idea. Without a certain level of control, project teams can quickly begin to suffer from fragmentation and a lack of clarity. At the same time, your project manager will need to understand the team and project direction, as well as the AgilePM framework itself, as intimately as possible.
Are your ‘sprints’ too short?
Having short term goals that can be adapted based on feedback is integral to AgilePM, with individual ‘sprints’ usually lasting no more than a couple of weeks.
However, there is such a thing as too-short a short term goal. Product designers and other team members will still need enough time to do their jobs properly. Otherwise, work will be rushed and results will not be sufficiently comprehensive. Your team members may also find themselves having to constantly restart and redevelop their work just to keep up with the constantly-switching goalposts.
Is your entire team on board?
AgilePM is widely known, at least as far as its name is concerned. Knowledge of its practices, on the other hand, cannot be taken for granted.
Before getting started with your project, ask yourself: is your entire team aware of how AgilePM works? If not, do you have a qualified AgilePM practitioner in charge who can facilitate its use?
You will also want to prioritize creating project documentation. This is usually overlooked, as Agile methods often put less of an emphasis on it than more traditional frameworks. However, without sufficient documentation, you may find it difficult to get new team members and stakeholders up to speed on what you are doing, why, and how.
How necessary is flexibility?
Agile is fairly synonymous with flexibility and adaptability. Even so, they are not always required for a project’s success.
How likely are the requirements of your project to change before completion? Is your project environment so unstable that you will need to switch things up?
Depending on your answer, the AgilePM approach may not be the best choice available.
Don’t be afraid to combine frameworks
One of the biggest advantages of Agile is how it is often factored into the design of other popular frameworks, including ITIL 4, DevOps, and PRINCE2. Indeed, it is not uncommon for it to be actively combined with other methodologies.
If you are adopting AgilePM for the first time, and already utilize other frameworks, you will want to take the time to look at how to combine them effectively. This can be particularly advantageous with frameworks that have a primary focus outside of project management. ITIL 4, for example, focuses on the continuous optimization of IT services, while DevOps is more about optimizing collaboration and efficiency. Remember, these other methodologies will often specifically reference Agile as part of their syllabuses.