Agile methods and frameworks continue to take the project management world by storm.
No longer confined to software development, agile approaches have become popular with a wide variety of organizations that need to be flexible and responsive as the pace of change continues to accelerate in business.
Why so popular?
Essentially, the iterative and incremental nature of Agile allows organisations to keep their eyes on the prize – the product or services they are looking to launch – while allowing development teams to adapt their approach as they go. Typically two-to-four week ‘sprint’ work cycles, culminating in a review of progress made so far before the next phase of development, contrast sharply with timescales for traditional project management that stretched into months and even years. Frequently this resulted in the end product being obsolete before it was ready.
In a recent Benchmark Report* based on a survey of 2,000 project managers confirmed the growing popularity of Agile. In 2015 25% of the respondents indicated that they use Agile methods and techniques in their day-to-day roles, while 60% have some exposure to Agile and only 15% indicated no exposure. This is a 10% increase from the response provided by UK-based practitioners 12 months previously.
Amongst those Agile methods that have experienced an explosion of growth is AgilePM – a guidance, training and certification scheme developed by APMG International and DSDM Consortium. Training and certification is based on the AgilePM Handbook, itself a subset of DSDM’s all-encompassing Agile Project Framework. The AgilePM Handbook offers a complete framework for the management of an Agile project from start to finish.
We can take a look at the principles of DSDM’s Agile Project Framework as a good indicator to the rise in popularity of Agile approaches in project management. The eight principles support DSDM’s philosophy that:
“best business value emerges when projects are aligned to clear business goals, deliver frequently and involve the collaboration of motivated and empowered people”.
- Principle 1 – Focus on the Business Need | Every decision taken during a project should be viewed in the light of the overriding project goal – to deliver what the business needs to be delivered, when it needs to be delivered.
- Principle 2 – Deliver on Time | Delivering a solution on time is a very desirable outcome for a project and is quite often the single most important success factor. Late delivery can often undermine the very rationale for a project, especially where market opportunities or legal deadlines are involved. Even for projects without a need for a fixed end date, on-time delivery of intermediate or contributing products is still the best way to demonstrate control over evolution of the solution.
- Principle 3 – Collaborate | Teams that work in a spirit of active cooperation and commitment will always outperform groups of individuals working only in loose association. Collaboration encourages increased understanding, greater speed and shared ownership, which enable teams to perform at a level that exceeds the sum of their parts.
- Principle 4 – Never Compromise Quality | In DSDM, the level of quality to be delivered should be agreed at the start. All work should be aimed at achieving that level of quality – no more and no less. A solution has to be ‘good enough’. If the business agrees that the features in the ‘Minimum Usable SubseT’ meet the agreed acceptance criteria, then the solution should be ‘good enough’ to use effectively.
- Principle 5 – Build Incrementally from Firm Foundations | One of the key differentiators for DSDM within the Agile space is the concept of establishing firm foundations for the project before committing to significant development. DSDM advocates first understanding the scope of the business problem to be solved and the proposed solution, but not in such detail that the project becomes paralyzed by overly detailed analysis of requirements. Once firm foundations for development have been established, DSDM advocates incremental delivery of the solution in order to deliver real business benefit as early as is practical. Incremental delivery encourages stakeholder confidence, offering a source of feedback for use in subsequent “Timeboxes” and may lead to the early realisation of business benefit.
- Principle 6 – Develop Iteratively | DSDM uses a combination of Iterative Development, frequent demonstrations and comprehensive review to encourage timely feedback. Embracing change as part of this evolutionary process allows the team to converge on an accurate business solution. The concept of iteration is at the heart of everything developed as part of the DSDM approach. It is very rate that anything is created perfectly first time and it is important to recognise that projects operate within a changing world.
- Principle 7 – Communicate Continuously and Clearly | Poor communication is often cited as the biggest single cause of project failure. DSDM practices are specifically designed to improve communication effectiveness for both teams and individuals.
- Principle 8 – Demonstrate Control | It is essential to be in control of a project, and the solution being created, at all times and to be able to demonstrate that this is the case. High-level plans, designs and standards outline the fundamentals of what needs to be achieved, how, by when, etc. It is also vital to ensure transparency of all work being performed by the team.
These eight principles are essentially designed to provide an effective basis for an Agile project.
It’s also worth reminding ourselves of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development which provides the basis for DSDM’s principles:
A note of caution; it’s important to remember “over”, not “instead of”! And although born in the software development industry, the manifesto’s principles translate perfectly into the world of Agile project management.
But remember, individual adoption is not enough…
Agile is commonly credited with delivering business benefits quicker. However, to deliver these consistently, the organisation needs to become an ecosystem in which an Agile culture can be encouraged to grow.
Which leads me to a great comment to conclude with that I heard from a colleague: “If a great seed is planted in the wrong environment it won’t grow”