There was a time when agile was seen as a new and different way of delivering projects. Increasingly now senior managers believe that all projects must be agile. Lean, Agile and other terms and methods that are felt to deliver quickly at lower cost are popular. There is nothing wrong with the desire to contain cost and maximize timescale. But sometimes agile is not the best approach.
What can agile do for projects
The Agile method driven sensibly in the hands of an experience project manager, working with an experienced team can be a very effective approach. It can offer significant benefit over more rigid and traditional project methods. Agile should allow your project to:
- Deliver early returns of investment. Partial solutions can be used before the final solution is available.
- An earlier delivery of a fully workable solution. Time to market can be significantly improved in some cases.
- Customer visibility of the product being developed not just first sight of the finished solution. This allows the end customer to be more engaged in the building of the product. This gives better ownership and a better understanding of the solution required.
- Flexibility to adjust direction. Because partly developed solutions are visible, changes and adjustments can be made on the journey to the end goal. This avoids the high cost of change and rework after a false final goal is achieved.
- Once fully involved the customer is more invested in successful outcome so acceptance of the output of well-run agile projects is higher.
So what stops the Agile Method from working
Not all projects are suitable for an agile approach, but even some projects that seem suitable can fail as a result of the agile approach itself. Agile is suitable for most software projects, but difficult or even impossible to apply to construction projects. The main causes for agile to fail in project delivery are:
- Agile projects can become never ending cycles that never quite deliver the full solution. This can be handled by strict time and cost control, but a continuing drive to perfect the solution can be difficult to overturn.
- It is essential that the customer works closely with the project team, if that is not achieved then the end product will be corrupted by iterations not perfected by them.
- The project team need to be carefully guided if they have not been involved in agile projects. Some project managers and project team simply believe agile cannot work. It comes as no surprise to them when a project fails.
- Increasingly Agile as a method is being constrained by expected control points. It can if allowed disappear into a repeating cycle of mini waterfall subprojects. Once controls start to delay progress the agility is lost.
The agile method is not the only answer. It is a good and useful approach to some projects. It is essential you take the steps necessary to ensure that it is right for your project. Be sure that your team and organisation are positioned to maximize the good points and minimize the draw backs.