Agility and Project Management

102It’s really not surprising that everyone wants to be associated with a concept called agile. In today’s cut throat world we all want to be perceived as quick, nimble and open to every possibility to drive the business forward. Agile techniques are often aligned with lean and six sigma methodologies, commonly used in manufacturing to hone production processes by eliminating waste and making continuous, small improvements.

In Lean Principles, by Jerry Kilpatrick, Lean methodology is defined as “A systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste through continuous improvement, flowing the product at the pull of the customer in pursuit of perfection.”

According to Wikipedia Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement. It seeks to improve the quality output of process by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. It uses a set of quality management methods, mainly empirical, statistical methods, and creates an infrastructure of people within the organization (“Champions”, “Black Belts”, “Green Belts”, “Yellow Belts”, etc.) who are experts in these methods. Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has expertized value targets, for example: reduce process cycle time, reduce pollution, reduce costs, increase customer satisfaction, and increase profits.

Agile was originally developed as a way of improving the management of software development, by breaking a project into a series of steps known as sprints. Work was tested immediately after development and daily meetings, or scrums, held to review progress. Another feature of agile project management is close collaboration between team members and the commissioners of the work. The concept requires team co-operation and quick reworking and so initially found acceptance in small and medium companies, where teams are more manageable, but now larger companies are seeing the potential benefits

Harish Grama, IBM’s vice president, believes larger enterprises can effectively adopt agile. “As you increase team size and distribution, even in different buildings, you need better tools that give you the same notion of putting Post-it’s on a whiteboard,” he says. They just need to develop the right processes, tools and discipline. For example, if project personnel work across different locations, there might have to be several scrums working together, co-ordinated by a “scrum of scrums,” so that groups of scrums can work independently, but can be directed centrally.

The agile mind-set was always present in Project management. It is really about the concept of managing change during a project, dealing with real world challenges, improvising, managing on the hoof, problem solving –something all project managers do naturally, or die! You can even become a certified Agile PM ® practitioner, which will alert employers to the fact that you can deliver projects with discipline, speed and flexibility.

As well as being a sensible approach for companies wanting to save time and money on projects – agile project management is becoming an imperative. All kinds of industries are facing disruptive forces generating from new market players, the internet and related technologies. Only an agile approach can deliver projects fleet footed enough to offer rapid return on investment in the face of these complex and ever-changing demands.