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Agile project management—for planners and doers

Michelle LaBrosse
May 25, 2012

Some of us are natural-born ‘planners’. We plan out every moment of our lives in detail, from what we will be doing on the weekend to how many children we want and what their names will be, to how our career will progress—in detail!

Others of us are ‘doers’ and are more spontaneous, nervous if too many plans are made for us; we would rather live our lives with flexibility and freedom to make plans as we go. If you sit down and think about how last year’s activities evolved, you will probably be able to determine on which side of the spectrum you belong: a planner or a doer?

What’s great about project management is that it brings both sides of the spectrum together so that planners will eventually execute and do their project tasks and doers must first plan their project tasks before jumping right in. A relatively new way to do project management has made this merger of ‘planners’ and ‘doers’ even more seamless: Agile principles and practices.

What exactly is Agile? Agile is a philosophy that focuses on people, collaboration and shared values to get projects done. The Agile philosophy can be best described by the Agile Manifesto, which was written in 2001 by a group of software project managers. The Agile Manifesto describes Agile as valuing the following:

Individuals and interactions over process and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

From taking a look at these, it would seem like Agile falls more to the side of the ‘doers’ than the ‘planners’. This is partially true. Agile practitioners pride themselves in doing what they say and saying what they do, as well as allowing for and embracing change in project requirements.

But not to worry, planners, there’s plenty of opportunity for you as well in the Agile realm. In Agile, teams plan in ‘sprints’, which is exactly how it sounds: planning in small, fast bursts. Before every sprint there is a sprint planning meeting where the team meets with the products owner and decides what needs to get done in the next sprint. After the sprint the team goes through a sprint review where the team will demonstrate the incremental value that was attained during the sprint.

Using this method, planning and doing go back and forth in rapid succession to create clear transparency in what everyone is doing and what the project team should be focusing on.

Fitting in with traditional project management

While the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide – Fourth Edition) does not specifically mention Agile methodologies, it does not contradict them, either. In fact, the PMBOK discusses iterative approaches to project management, which can be applied to projects managed using Agile principles and practices. Therefore it’s not an either/or relationship, but rather that they complement each other. The use of Agile techniques is particularly useful in projects that require quick responses to change along with communication to customers.

Let’s cut to the chase. Why are we talking so much about Agile when this isn’t even an article about yoga? In the project management field, Agile principles and practices are topics of growing interest and importance. PMI’s research shows that the use of Agile methodologies has tripled from December 2008 to May 2011. In fact, it’s predicted that by the end of 2012, Agile development will be used on 80% of all projects involving software development.

But it’s not just about software anymore. Agile methods are being use more and more by industries other than software because of its proven ability to decrease product defects, improve team productivity, and increase the delivery of business value. So what are you waiting for? Don’t miss the Agile boat!

Co-authored by Kristen LaBrosse

Michelle LaBrosse
Michelle LaBrosse (PMP) is one of the Project Management Institute's (PMI) 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World and the founder of Cheetah Learning, a former PMI Professional Development Provider of the Year. She boasts a background in engineering and is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Managers (OPM) program, as well as a prolific writer and educator, having authored Cheetah Negotiations, Cheetah Project Management, Cheetah Know How and Cheetah Exam Prep as well as numerous articles in publications worldwide.
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