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Agile—beyond software projects

Lynn Shrewsbury
January 12, 2012

There is a pervading myth that the Agile methodology is only good for software projects. While the iterative style of Agile certainly makes it best suited to software development, there are plenty of other aspects of the methodology that make it a good candidate for projects in other industries.

Personally, I have had great success using Agile with teams on non-software projects. The collaboration, quality, visibility and team work that happens with Agile is relevant to any type of project. Even maintenance or support type work can greatly benefit from Agile tools and practices.

The first Agile project I heard about was Heathrow Terminal 5. The project was not without its problems during deployment, mainly as a result of staff unfamiliarity with the building and processes, resulting in significant delays in baggage drop and baggage reclaim. However, construction of the building itself was not only completed on time and to budget, but with one of the best safety records ever achieved on a project of this size.

What seems to have made this project so successful is the way that construction teams from different companies were encouraged to ‘work with other teams in a more collaborative way, solving problems together’. This is a core Agile value: collaboration over contract negotiation.

Aspects of Agile

For those who are willing to set aside some of the assumptions inherent in heavy-weight methodologies, the Agile approach tends to intuitively reflect how things actually get done. In fact, when I discuss how we work in detail with those less familiar with Agile projects, they often conclude that there are aspects in the way we work on an Agile project that isn’t so different from the way that they’ve been working all along.

In his study of project teams, Forrester Research analyst Dave West found this commonality: “A smart Agile project manager does a lot of things the PMBOK talks about without calling it PMBOK, and a smart PMBOK project manager does a lot of Agile things without calling it Agile.”

While projects may well be making use of Agile practices, teams often don’t realise the full benefits that Agile can bring. For Agile to be truly successful, the Agile values and principles need to be applied to every aspect of a project.

Sadly, there is no magic software or prescriptive formula to be used when implementing Agile. Every company, team and project is different, and the approach taken to implementing Agile needs to be adapted and tailored accordingly. The only thing that is universally common is that adopting Agile requires a mindset change, and expert Agile mentoring and coaching can help guide the project team and your stakeholders through this process a little less painfully.

If certification is of value to you, there are Scrum Master qualifications and certifications. For project managers, PMI now offers an Agile certification.

Ultimately the end result should be more engaged project team members and happier customers, and projects delivering successful business outcomes.

More about Agile

Lynn Shrewsbury
Lynn Shrewsbury has spent 25 years working in project teams across the UK, Australia and New Zealand, primarily in the software development space. Throughout her career she has used many methodologies and frameworks but has recently identified a preference for Agile. Lynn is an iteration manager and Agile coach for Solnet Solutions ( in Brisbane, Australia, a business with an established track record in the Agile delivery of major systems into some of Australasia's largest government and private sector organisations.
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One thought on “Agile—beyond software projects

  1. Great article, Lynn. I wrote a similar blog a while back which PMI recently cross-posted to the Agile CoP. You hit some things right on the head and I love your comment on PMBoK vs Agile and doing it all along.

    Agile, the concepts are not new. Agile, the name is.

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