Moving IT PM to Agile
One of the trickiest and formidable challenges facing many organizations is that of moving from the Waterfall to Agile lifecycle approaches to their IT project management activities. For instance, government organizations have a long and practiced history in the application of the traditional or sequential approach to managing all types of projects. These involved major weapon systems and construction projects such as the US Naval Nuclear Fleet build-up and the US Interstate Freeway System.
These types of ‘atoms-based’ projects delivered large physical outcomes that required well-defined, up-front requirements. When the computer digitalization revolution began to overtake everything in modern business activities, it was natural to continue managing IT project in the manner they were most adept at using. However, since IT projects produce deliverables that are ‘bit-based’ these traditional, sequential practices did not provide an adequate requirements definition or management practicum.
In early 2001 a group of disgruntled software engineers codified a more flexible and powerful approach to defining and management IT projects called Agile. This philosophy of ‘bit-based’ software projects was soon paired with a delivery methodology called Scrum and has now become the most popular form of IT project planning and development.
Agile/Scrum is based on several very difference principles than the predictive styled approach, these include:
- Software development is inherently an innovative development activity
- Heavy up-front effort of defining the entire requirements package for IT projects is wasteful
- IT projects must respond to user requirement changes during in-flight development activities
- More permanent, smaller, cross-functional teams are better at developing innovative solutions
- Software projects need to deliver smaller, more frequent working software components
These concepts have provided a significant challenge to many in governmental organizations, given their more glacial ability to change and implement innovative processes. However, the ice is beginning to thaw as the sunlight of Agile/Scrum successes is beginning to shine on the older predictive project management approaches. Several oversight agencies such as GSA, GAO, OMB, and OFPP, to name a few, have begun to highly recommend a more modular approach to IT projects. These oversight groups suggest that Federal agencies and departments consider the use of Agile/Scrum in the planning, development, and management of all their IT projects.
While the Agile/Scrum approach (as defined by the 2001 Agile Manifesto and other process defining organizations such as the Agile Alliance, Scrum Alliance, and the Project Management Institute) is likely to be too extreme for direct implementation with Feds, it can be implemented using a more ‘disciplined approach.’ Such an approach realizes that a hundred years of traditional project management cannot be overthrown easily, but needs to be implemented more carefully and in phases. Our new IT PM Mastery Series is an entire IT project management curriculum designed from the ground up to address the needs of such transition challenges.
Moving from the sequential/predictive or Waterfall project management approach to the more adaptive Agile approach will take time, effort, and most importantly, planning for most large, complex organizations. Change, while valuable and necessary, requires overcoming a significant amount of inertia and standard operating procedures. The following are aspects that such organizations can begin to accomplish that can ease this transition from the predictive to the adaptive without ‘upsetting the apple cart:
- Establish an adaptive strategic planning group to oversee the transition
- Develop an organizational-wide adaptive approach strategic transition plan
- Seek competent and experienced outside consulting talent to assist in these endeavors
- Start off small and contained in choosing which project to apply the new adaptive approach
- Be prepared and willing to accept initial failures needing adjustments and modifications
- Be flexible, but be committed to the change
We will be discussing more of these issues and ways to move to Agile to best meet IT project management challenges, not just because going Agile is a new mandate. Innovation requires discipline and planning as is said in a paraphrased and slightly altered quotation attributed to Thomas A. Edison: “Innovation is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.”