Chimpanzees self-organise their teams, so are they Agile

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self organising team

New project managers are told to focus on the product and embrace the agile way. Do not focus on the project but focus on its end goal. Time, budget, and scope are not important. The flexible approach of a self organising team will deliver results. Being hung on up estimates, costs and planning is all the work of the anti-agile devil and “fake news”.


Replacing one Constraining method for another

Exponents of Agile project management, too often, suggest the old traditional ways are rigid. They have us believe this ill-suited to delivering customer centred solutions. Flexible thinking and reliable communication have always been at the heart of good project results. This is regardless of the labels and language used to describe how the project is executed. But changing the terminology to burndown, sprints, stories, task boards, and all the other terms that come with Agile do not help projects to succeed.
In the worse instances; the person appointed to manage the project is not allowed to manage. But cannot act as effective enabler for the team either. The agile framework gets in the way and bogs them down with rules. Which ironically leads to the process being clumsy. In the very worse case, this is further from Agile than doing nothing.

Change of culture is more important than the terminology

Ok, let’s take an old example. If you put 50 chimpanzees in a room with word-processing computers and leave them long enough, they will produce the works of Shakespeare. But the real practical view of this is all the chimps are very likely to have died long before you get anything approaching Shakespeare. But in the agile world of projects, we are to believe that self-organising teams can be left to their own devices. They will produce masterpieces overnight that cost nothing and please everyone. In the real world away from the fairy tales, technical teams are not good at self-organising. Customers are not good at communicating. They are reluctant to get involved in their product/solution.
For the project to have better chances of successful outcomes, the culture needs to change. Specialist teams need to learn how to work together more effectively and to take more control of their work. Customers need to understand their involvement and maintain their input and feedback. Project managers here need to enable and not direct. While none of this is straightforward, it pales into insignificance when faced with changing the mindset of executive management. This set of people believe Agile equals quick and easy, with no rules. Changing the culture of an organisation takes time. But when it is done well, the results will be worth it.


Successful project managers had a clear eye on results long before the concept of Agile. The most successful project managers understood the outcome was not just based on time, budget and scope. But whatever the result costs will be important. Also delivering the perfect solution late is not a great outcome. Agile Project management can be very effective. But it is not something that can instantly be applied. You cannot expect great results without changing mindset and getting everyone working as a team. Self organising team can be highly effective.  But do not expect results overnight.
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