Agile and Project Management are still uncomfortable bedfellows

Governance & Assurance

May 15, 2017

Renai LeMay is CTO Group’s Advisory Delivery Manager. He is certified across Project Management, IT Service Management and Agile methodologies.

Where does the new breed of Agile methodologies fit in with a traditional Project Management approach?

On paper, at least, each side should be more than comfortable with the other.

Project Managers essentially view Agile as a ‘delivery’ methodology that is outside their remit.

One of the key roles of a Project Manager is to allocate Work Packages for delivery teams to carry out. Theoretically a PM shouldn’t care how that work is carried out – via a traditional Waterfall approach or Agile – as long as the right end product pops out in the right timeframe.

Agile practitioners feel more or less the same way about PMs. They’re happy to work in a Project Management structure – as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their Agile processes down the stack.

In practice, however, things get a little ‘messy’ when these two important methodologies make contact.

At the Scrum Master course I attended several weeks ago, a topic of conversation at our table was how Agile ‘sprints’ – fixed in time, but not always in scope of products being delivered – would interact with Project Management ‘stages’, which require discrete products to be produced before a next stage can be approved.

The role of the Project Manager in an Agile world also came up for discussion. Are PMs just another ‘stakeholder’, for a Scrum Product Owner to manage? Or should they have a closer relationship with a delivery team? Can the same person be both a PM and a Scrum Master for that team?

Then there’s the topic of how to promulgate Agile methodology upwards throughout an organisation. Some organisations are doing this through the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), but this also begs the question of where Program and Project Managers fit in.

These are far from academic questions.

Most Federal Government departments already use some form of PM methodology. Now they are also being asked to adopt Agile as part of the Digital Service Standard. But the DSS itself doesn’t appear to directly mention Project or Program Management … leaving integration questions up in the air.

In my experience, often the answers seem to come down to having Agile practitioners develop a rudimentary understanding of PM processes, and vice versa – so that at least they can speak each other’s language.

Much of the rest of the solution appears to be tailoring each methodology to allow interfacing with the other, on a case by case basis. The PRINCE2 Agile module is a good place to start for guidance on how this can heighten effective project delivery.

I suspect we’re going to be wrestling with these questions for many years to come. Each methodology definitely adds value. Greater value still may come from the points where they intersect – but also potentially greater challenges.

Wrestling with the interface between Project Management and Agile? Post your thoughts below, or send a comment to Renai directly or through social media.