Is Agile Project Management the Business Solution You Need?

Last updated: Apr 16, 2020

What’s in a word? “Agile,” for instance? Lexico.com, an online dictionary/language tool, says “agile” means the ability “to move quickly and easily” and/or “to think and understand quickly.” In business, “Agile” is a proper noun that’s an approach to project management; or, per Lexico.com, “relating to or denoting a method of project management … characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.” Suffice it to say that Agile is a process or philosophy defined by agility. If you’re thinking about going Agile, the foundational question is whether Agile project management is the business solution you need.

For Clarity’s Sake, Let’s Get on the Same Agile Page

Even now, roughly two decades after 17 software pros gathered and produced the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, many old-school businesspeople see it as revolutionary, and not necessarily a productive revolution. The argument against that perception is that Agile is evolution, not revolution. To understand and initiate that evolution, you must:

To get a basic understanding of Agile, you can check out the Agile Alliance’s primer, Agile 101. Here’s an excerpt worth highlighting:

“Agile software development is more than practices such as pair programming, test-driving development, stand-ups, planning sessions and sprints. Agile software development is an umbrella term for a set of frameworks and practices based on the values and principles expressed in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.”

So, what is Agile? Depends on whom you ask. There’s even an argument over whether it’s a methodology, framework, or philosophy. It appears “philosophy” is getting the most traction.

three project management professionals reviewing a project using a project management tool on a laptop

You Might Need an Agile System if...

Progress, a company that provides customers “the tools, services and platforms businesses need to enable highly productive teams,” shares these 10 signs you need an Agile system:

  1. It’s hard to coordinate workflow in the analyst-developer-product tester chain.
  2. Your team is using yesterday’s tools to do today’s work.
  3. Your team’s efforts aren’t visible to other departments.
  4. Customer feedback isn’t reaching you.
  5. The product isn’t meeting customer expectations.
  6. You’re managing too many projects at once.
  7. Some stakeholders aren’t being apprised when plans change.
  8. You’re manually compiling data for progress reports.
  9. Systemic problems with deadlines, team performance, and product quality are taking too long to investigate.
  10. You’re trying to adopt the Agile approach but are having trouble training your staff.

Progress says you don’t need Agile if you check off fewer than three of those 10 boxes. You need it if you check three to five of the boxes. And you have a pressing need for Agile if you checked six or more boxes.

Your Company Might Be a Candidate for Agile if…

So, your project management process needs to change, and you want to know whether Agile would be a good fit. McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm founded in 1926, harnessed the expertise of its McKinsey Agile Tribe to list the five key elements of Agile organizations.

The Tribe, “a group of over 50 global colleagues bringing expertise from the digital, operations, marketing, and organization disciplines,” says Agile entails a shift in perception of organizations as machines to organizations as living organisms.

Consider whether you can envision your company embracing some or all of these five hallmarks of Agile companies.

 5. North Star Mentality Embodied Across the Organization

The McKinsey Agile Tribe notes that Agile companies need a unifying vision and purpose, a North Star that guides decisions/changes and enables employees to “sense and seize opportunities.”

Stakeholder needs and satisfaction are the embodiment of these companies’ North Star, the Tribe says. Having an eye on that North Star facilitates the allocation of resources “flexibly and swiftly to where they are needed most.” So Agile companies:

  • Have employees monitor customer preferences and external forces and act on them.
  • Gather stakeholder input through myriad sources and means, from product reviews to crowdsourcing.
  • Identify and use the tools and opportunities that help them understand and serve customers, from social media and internet forums to FaceTime.

The Tribe calls this a shift in strategy mindset.

From this: “In an environment of scarcity, we succeed by capturing value from competitors, customers, and suppliers for our shareholders.”

To this: “Recognizing the abundance of opportunities and resources available to us, we succeed by co-creating value with and for all of our stakeholders.”

woman in front of a clear board with sticky notes in an office using agile project management

4. Network of Empowered Teams

The top of the hierarchy remains the same, but the rest becomes a network of teams that, the Tribe says, “operate with high standards of alignment, accountability, expertise, transparency, and collaboration.” To that end:

  • Implement clear, flat structures.
  • Ensure clear, accountable roles.
  • Foster hands-on governance.
  • Build “communities of knowledge” that offer a sense of stability and “home” to people as they continually join new teams.
  • Create partnerships that extend internal networks.
  • Have open physical and virtual environments that empower employees.

The Tribe calls this a shift in your structure mindset.

From this: “People need to be directed and managed, otherwise they won’t know what to do – and they’ll just look out for themselves. There will be chaos.”

To this: “When given clear responsibility and authority, people will be highly engaged, will take care of each other, will figure out ingenious solutions, and will deliver exceptional results.”

3. Rapid Decision and Learning Cycles

Forget waterfall or stage-gate project management processes. This is Agile, and it’s about “rapid cycles of thinking and doing.”

Here are some of the characteristics of the rapid-cycle model:

  • A focus on rapid iteration and experimentation
  • “Standardized ways of working to facilitate interaction and communication between teams”
  • Staying current on performance- and consequence-management approaches that are goal-driven
  • Full transparency that enables teams to easily access and share information

The Tribe calls this a shift in your process mindset.

From this: “To deliver the right outcome, the most senior and experienced individuals must define where we’re going, the detailed plans needed to get there, and how to minimize risk along the way.”

To this: “We live in a constantly evolving environment and cannot know exactly what the future holds. The best way to minimize risk and succeed is to embrace uncertainty and be the quickest and most productive in trying new things.”

2. Dynamic People Model That Ignites Passion

Across the business spectrum, people are the heart, soul, and locus of an Agile operation. Empower your people to “create value quickly, collaboratively, and effectively.”

The Tribe calls this a shift in your people mindset.

From this: “To achieve desired outcomes, leaders need to control and direct work by constantly specifying tasks and steering the work of employees.”

To this: “Effective leaders empower employees to take full ownership, confident they will drive the organization toward fulfilling its purpose and vision.”

two women looking at a project on a board of sticky notes

1. Next-Generation Enabling Technology

This is about being aware of the next thing in communication and work-management tools, and that includes effective and rapid sharing of technologies from team to team.

“Business and technology employees form cross-functional teams, accountable for developing, testing, deploying, and maintaining new products and processes,” the Tribe says. “They use hackathons,  crowdsourcing, and virtual collaboration spaces to understand customer needs and develop possible solutions quickly.”

The goal is for that to happen in weeks, not months, or in months instead of years.

The Tribe calls this a shift in your technology mindset.

From this: “Technology is a supporting capability that delivers specific services, platforms, or tools to the rest of the organization as defined by priorities, resourcing, and budget.”

To this: “Technology is seamlessly integrated and core to every aspect of the organization as a means to unlock value and enable quick reactions to business and stakeholder needs.”

Want to Go Agile? USF Can Help

Along with relevant courses such as Agile Project Management and Service Excellence for Today’s Customers, the USF Office of Corporate Training and Professional education offers a redesigned project management certificate program and project management professional exam preparation.

If you want more information on what CTPE can do for you, email us at CE-Inquiries@USF.edu, or phone 813-974-0950.