Why companies must adopt an agile approach to project management

Disruptive technologies and changing customer requirements have made the agile approach to project management more pertinent than ever

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Agile approaches allow teams to deliver projects piece by piece, further enabling them to make rapid, ad-hoc adjustments

Being agile in business involves the ability to adapt to internal and external changes quickly, delivering relevant results in a productive and cost-effective way. It’s a mindset based on a key set of values that enhance collaboration and drive value. As such, organisations are treating agility as an ongoing process that is essential in today’s fast-moving business environment.

Within this landscape, it is essential to have a culture of organisational agility that enables flexibility and promotes the use of the right approach for the right project. As the leading association for numerous projects, programmes and portfolio management professionals around the world, Project Management Institute (PMI) has long advocated organisational agility.

In doing so, PMI is helping the profession to adapt rapidly in response to changing market conditions, new competitors, emerging technologies, growing customer demands and sudden economic shifts. European CEO spoke to Mark A Langley, President and CEO of PMI, to find out more about agile approaches and learn how to deliver the best project outcomes.

What impact are disruptive technologies having on the industry?
Disruptive technologies are rapidly changing the playing field by decreasing the barriers to entry. More mature organisations are prone to being highly complex and slow to innovate, which can make them seem sluggish when delivering new solutions to their customers.

These organisations find themselves competing with smaller organisations and start-ups that are able to rapidly produce products that fit customer needs. This speed of change will continue to drive large organisations to adopt an agile mindset in order to stay competitive and keep their existing market share.

Are companies making progress in terms of their successful implementation of projects?
The results of our 2017 Pulse of the Profession: Success Rates Rise: Transforming the High Cost of Low Performance report suggests companies are making progress in this area. In 2016, for example, more projects met original business goals, while being completed within budget. But this isn’t the extent of the good news: compared with the previous year, there was a 20 percent decline in money wasted due to poor project performance.

While data from 2015 revealed organisations were wasting an average of €122m for every €1bn invested in projects, this figure has now dropped to €97m per €1bn invested. Further, organisations that invest in proven project management practices waste 28 times less money due to poor project performance. This is because more of their strategic initiatives are completed successfully.

Organisations now recognise more value when they think broadly of agility as a strategic competence rather than as a set of tools and templates

It’s encouraging that organisations around the globe are making significant progress in implementing the strategic initiatives that drive change. This improvement can be attributed to a number of factors, including greater organisational agility. Organisations now recognise more value when they think broadly of agility as a strategic competence rather than as a set of tools and templates.

How did the agile movement first come about?
While the agile movement accelerated after the creation of the Agile Manifesto in the early 2000s, it has long been a part of the project management process, being previously known as ‘short interval scheduling’. After Y2K, agile practices were used largely to manage software projects.

However, over time, agility has become symbolic for being quick, responsive and flexible — all desirable organisational traits in the era of constant disruption. We are now seeing agile approaches used in a range of projects, from manufacturing and education to healthcare.

As agility emerges as a response to fleeting competitive advantage, we see more organisations incorporating agile practices — as well as practitioners trained in specific approaches — into their project management portfolios.

How do delivery approaches work?
Agile approaches allow teams to deliver projects piece by piece, further enabling them to make rapid, ad-hoc adjustments. Predictive approaches, meanwhile, call for most of the planning upfront, which is then followed by a sequential process. However, it is not necessary to use only one approach for an entire project.

Often, projects will combine elements of different life cycles in order to achieve certain goals. That combination of predictive, iterative, incremental or agile approaches is known as a hybrid approach. It’s important to note that agility is not practiced in place of managing a project: rather, it is frequently introduced as a way to speed up the phases of a project.

Which approach helps organisations achieve the most positive outcome?
As studies show, both agile and predictive approaches are effective in specific scenarios and situations. That said, organisations with higher agility reported that more projects successfully met original goals and business intent – whether using hybrid, predictive or agile approaches – when compared with those adopting the same methods with low agility.

Staunch support exists for both predictive and agile approaches, but there is growing recognition that practitioners are most successful when managing certain activities with each approach. Of course, there are significant differences between traditional project managers and ‘agilists’; each group has certain biases.

PMI supports a broad spectrum of approaches, enabling professional project managers to select
the method that’s ideal for their project

But, despite real or perceived differences, both groups have a shared interest in successful project outcomes. With increasing competition and accelerating disruptions from new technology – as well as market shifts and social change – the need to demonstrate agility is becoming greater than ever.

Why do bespoke approaches work best when it comes to project management?
The considerations that led to the widespread adoption of agile approaches within the information technology industry now have implications across a wide range of industries. Software and other technologies increasingly affect everything from product manufacturing to marketing campaigns.

We know practitioners are most successful when managing activities based on the characteristics of each project, and that strong support exists within the project management community for both predictive and agile approaches.

With that in mind, PMI recommends evaluating approaches that will yield the most successful business outcomes. That was the rationale for offering the Agile Practice Guide together with the latest version of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide).

In doing so, PMI supports a broad spectrum of approaches, enabling professional project managers to select the method that’s ideal for their project.

How can the PMBOK Guide help industry professionals?
Since its initial release in 1996, the PMBOK Guide has provided project professionals with the fundamental practices needed to achieve organisational results and outcomes. It also identifies good practices that are applicable to most projects, most of the time.

Additionally, for the first time, specific and detailed agile approaches to project management appear in the sixth edition of the PMBOK Guide.

The Agile Practice Guide, created in partnership with Agile Alliance, is a fitting companion to the PMBOK Guide and is intended to serve as a bridge to connect waterfall and agile approaches. Together, the publications provide critical information spanning many approaches to ensure practitioners can select the method that is best suited to an individual project.

Our goal is to help project managers accustomed to more traditional environments adapt other project management approaches that may fit their project. This is in line with the increasing recognition worldwide that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to delivering successful projects.