Expert Opinions Vary

While attending the Agile 2015 conference in August, I heard a lot of discussion about pure agile teams, waterfall teams, and a combination of the two. A number of the presenters stressed the importance of being a 100 percent dedicated agile team. They stated that the only way to be successful is to make sure your team or company follows the Scrum/Kanban/XP/etc. methodology in its purest form. Other presenters called out these statements as false and went on to discuss numerous examples of blended approaches that have worked at their company or with their clients. How can an organization trying to understand agile figure out the best approach when so many experts in the field have different opinions?

Methodology Versus Project Structure

If we, as an organization, want our projects to be more successful in our customers’ eyes, we need to start asking the right questions. Not what methodology is best to complete this project, but how do we create a project structure that works for our current environment, team, and clientele? Is this a product we need to get to market faster? How can we get our stakeholders/customers more involved? What really defines success? In today’s environment, many organizations are trying to figure how to be more “agile” or adaptable. Many organizations are transitioning to the agile approach, kicking off agile pilots, and having great success. Wonderful! But just as many are failing. This is why I’m suggesting that we need to ask the right questions to determine what will be successful within our organizations. What really is the best approach for our environment?

What About a Blended Approach?

It is possible to blend agile and traditional project management practices together in the right proportions to fit your project and environment. Blending some of the structure of traditional project management with the fluidity of agile can be quite liberating. I have seen this type of approach work in organizations where there’s resistance to agile among the leaders and mid-management. Leadership support is key when making any type of organizational transition. Change is very scary to many individuals. It is easier for leaders to buy in to agile when the project team is asking, not to throw out all of the current processes (which usually have been in place for ten or more years), but to blend the approaches in a way that means more value, quicker release to market, and more satisfied customers and employees.

If you are interested in taking more of an iterative and adaptive approach to project management, consider the following key points:

  • Communication is critical. Collaborating with your key stakeholders on a daily basis can only make your project more successful. Increased visibility is never a bad thing.
  • Emphasize maximizing business value. How can we get to the market more quickly with a minimal viable product?
  • Reduce unnecessary documentation. Using an agile approach does not mean there’s no documentation, but there is less documentation than in traditional project management. Figure out what level of documentation is necessary to ensure your leaders, team members, and customers feel comfortable.
  • Be more adaptive to change. Customers constantly tell us they know what they want, but in reality, they discover what they want when they experience it. Using an iterative approach makes us more adaptive to change requests, but also allows the customer to experience the product as the team is building it.

Chose the Approach that Works for Your Organization

In conclusion, with proper planning, coaching, and training, organizations can choose an approach that works best for their project teams, customers, and environment. At the conference, most presenters really stressed the importance of working with a qualified agile coach to help assess your organization’s maturity and determine the best approach for your project and environment. Waterfall, agile, and blended approaches all work! Planning, coaching, and training for any type of project transition are the key to success with any methodology. We all need to drop our preconceived notions that one particular methodology is better than another. Find the one that will make your team and project more viable, productive, and collaborative.