Agile Project Management Is the Wave of the Future

By bcummings

business woman in a meeting

As project management continues to evolve to fit the demands of today’s business world, education, too, must evolve to fit the changing needs of the project management discipline and its practitioners. In 2001, a small group called The Agile Alliance published the Agile ‘Software Development’ Manifesto (Beck et al., 2001; Highsmith, 2001). The Agile Manifesto is a set of values and principles to help software development and organizations function in “new– more agile – ways” (Highsmith, 2001, para. 14).

4 Values & 12 Principles

The Agile Manifesto is customer- and people-focused and consists of four foundational values and 12 supporting principles (Beck et al., 2001). Agile’s four overarching values are:

  1. Individuals over process and tools
  2. Results (“working software”) over documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to changes instead of just following a plan

Agile’s 12 Supporting Principles are:

  1. Satisfying the customer with early and continuous delivery done at a sustainable pace
  2. Welcoming changing requirements, even late in the process
  3. Delivering working software frequently
  4. Having business users and developers work together on a daily basis
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility
  10. Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly

Software project teams now use agile values and practices as the norm for software development (Lechler & Siwen, 2017; VersionOne Inc., 2017). Project teams in various disciplines use frameworks such as Scrum, XP, DevOps, Kanban, Lean Startups, and eXtreme. Under the Scrum technique, aspiring leaders can serve on the project team, become a product owner, or a scrum master.

Since 2015-16, there has been a major increase in agile techniques outside the IT industry. Organizations like the Harvard Business Review (Rigby, Sutherland, & Takeuchi, 2016) and McKinsey & Company (Michael Bazigos, 2015) have facilitated this increase by touting the benefits of agile practices (Denning, 2016). Agile’s popularity stems from the belief that agility helps increase flexibility (Lechler & Siwen, 2017) and productivity (Cardozo, Neto, Barza, França, & Silva, 2010; VersionOne Inc., 2017) while accelerating product delivery, improving team morale, and enhancing the ability to manage change (VersionOne Inc., 2017). This acceleration is because the agile values are customer- and team-oriented, emotionally intelligent principles.

Agile’s emphasis on the all-important “soft people skills” is taking off. A 2017 survey of project management professionals, senior executives, and project management office directors from a variety of industries found that 71 percent of the organizations use or sometimes use agile approaches (PMI, 2017b).

Hybrid PM Models

The talk of creating “hybrid" project management models (Landry & McDaniel, 2016; Schwalbe, 2016) that combine the traditional “hard” project management skills with the “soft” human-centric agile values is getting louder. However, since the agile principles were created for software development, they may not transfer seamlessly to every project. Those incorporating agile ideals into established project management practices must understand both, so the best approach for the organization, project, team, and situation can be chosen.

For example, while the agile ‘software development’ principle of accepting changes even late in the process has revolutionized innovation and projects where the initial solution was unknown (Rigby et al., 2016), this principle is not the best choice for all projects or situations. In some projects, the project objective or scope can be set in the planning stage and changes to the project scope (a traditional project management term and concept) may lead to adjustments to the project's resources, time, and costs (PMI, 2013, p. 562). According to PMI (2013, p. 42), the later in the project the changes are made, the more likely the project's time, cost, and resources are affected.

Nevertheless, the value of both agile thought and traditional project management principles is clear.

The Value of an Evolving PM Education

Traditional project management methods like those from Project Management Institute® and the PRINCE2 framework have agile type certifications and are incorporating agile principles into their upcoming project management guides (Axelos, 2017; Klein, 2016; PMI, 2017a). Many universities in the United States, which have traditionally covered skills based on the Project Management Institute® methodology, will also need to incorporate agile principles into their curriculum. Since agile principles focus on communication, collaboration, and emotional intelligece, exercises to increase these skills are also key. Thus it’s important to introduce students to additional soft skills as well as criteria to select the best techniques for a given project, situation, and organization.

By creating curricula with the latest project techniques and principles, educational institutions will provide a strong foundation for students and practitioners who may work in a wide variety of circumstances, fields, and industries.



Written by Dr. Shawn Milligan, program chair for the BA in Project Management in the Forbes School of Business & Technology™.


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