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Managing Agile projects for the end user

Ravi Sahi
February 15, 2012

With increased transparency and the need for greater compliance, examples of failed projects in the public sector, schedule lapses, technologies becoming obsolete before they are launched as well as cost overruns, are widely known today. And then there are also the IT projects that required years of mammoth investments that never launched at all.

To ensure IT investments deliver benefits early and often, a modular approach to project management, known as Agile, can save both public and private sector organisations grievances and embarrassment. This resembles Agile software development, which is commonly practised in the software industry where projects are delivered in a highly interactive and flexible manner with deliverables submitted at regular intervals, often in weeks instead of months. Agile enables project teams to deliver working products or prototypes in increments for customer input that later feeds into succeeding iterations.

While traditional project management is task-driven and predictive, in other words, it assumes that circumstances affecting the project are predictable, the Agile approach operates well in a more fluid, more adaptive environment.

Agile is conducted through the collaboration of a small, co-located team that usually consists of the customer or end user, a project manager, a business analyst (or someone conducting business analysis) and specialists. Specialists could include system developers, subject matter experts, IT architects or the sole person with specific knowledge or expertise who understands how all the project pieces fit together.

It is important to recognise that moving from a traditional project management approach to an Agile framework is also an exercise in cultural migration. Depending on the geographic location, the business, and the organisational structures and culture, some firms will make the journey from traditional project management to Agile methods in an enthusiastic and seamless fashion, while others may display considerable resistance to Agile’s ideas and approaches. It is important to select the right team members for the project, keeping in mind that some excellent project managers may be a poor fit.

The traditional project manager who manages the triple constraints of scope, time and resources through the use of a project plan will need to change his or her approach to managing the Agile team. The successful Agile project manager must migrate from management to leadership, from monitoring compliance to enabling self-direction, and from acting as a foreman to becoming a facilitator of creativity and innovation.

A key concern of organisations that wish to adopt Agile is the question of dispersed and virtual teams in Agile environments. Communication, collaboration and customer interaction are key tenets of agility, and many of the Agile methods require attendance at a daily session. The ability to form and manage teams across multiple geographies and times zones through the use of video, collaboration tools or other virtual techniques is thus critical to the success of Agile projects.

To adopt Agile project management, companies must take an iterative approach to introducing the framework within their organisations. They must become familiar with Agile frameworks, assess their current capabilities to adopt Agile, develop and implement short-term and long-term initiatives, and adopt the framework over a period of time.

Once the company makes the decision to give Agile project management a shot, it is critical not to turn the implementation into a ‘big bang’ project. Instead, the company should select a small and relatively easy project and build a team to execute the project. This will require assigning the right project manager and the best team members to the project. Once the team has been determined, the members should receive some formal training to learn about Agile structure and best practices. The team should, led by the project manager with the help of the project sponsors, execute the project in an iterative manner using Agile methodologies.

As the project progresses, the team and the organisation should conduct regular ‘reflection workshops’ to assess the maturity and improve the team and the organisation’s capability to execute Agile projects. Over time, the organisation can use the lessons learnt to build more teams and execute more projects using the Agile framework.

Although the Agile movement was the brainchild of the software development world, it has grown and evolved over the past several years. There is no question that today Agile project management can be, and has been, applied successfully to a broad range of projects. Both users and stakeholders have benefited from this approach: one in which the end user and the project team are partnered in a collaborative effort focused on the project vision and end result.

Ravi Sahi
Ravi Sahi PMP is the regional director of Client Solutions for Asia at ESI International, a subsidiary of Informa, which specialises in helping people around the world improve the way they manage projects, contracts, requirements and vendors through innovative learning. Ravi has consulted and delivered project, program, and portfolio management training at all organisational levels. He has an MBA in finance, holds a Masters in Project Management from The George Washington University, and is a Stanford Certified Project Manager (SCPM).
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