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The end of 'traditional' project management ?

Does the increasing predominance of agile methodologies for I.T. projects spell the end for ‘traditional’ project management methodologies like Prince2?

If you have a vested interest in doing so, then sure, you can construct an argument to make any project management methodology sound compatible with agile development, in the same way that you can still play tennis with a wooden racquet.

The agile mindset is different, however. For example, in Prince2, an attempt is made to define everything up front to iron our as much uncertainty as possible (think product definitions and product based planning).  Once you have a plan, then you stick to it, confronting possible changes via Change Authority and Change Control Process. This flies in the face of what agile is about.

There are some obvious benefits that an agile approach has over the traditional way of dealing with large and complex IT projects, such as those commonly found in investment banking. It’s much better to have discussions about the actual software itself rather than arguing about interpretations of a Word document before anyone has actually seen anything working.  It’s also a lot better to have increased involvement of the customer in designing the end product, a blinding glimpse of the obvious if ever there was one.

But there are drawbacks to the purely agile approach. If I had just met the person who was going to build my house, I would be uncomfortable handing them a blank cheque and telling them to get on with it, and at their own pace. In the real world, you do need to know roughly what you’re going to get and when.

So, whilst being a scrum master is now much more a la mode than being a Prince2 practitioner, the real secret of success is drawing on the plus points of both approaches to get the benefits of agile – speed, customer focus and absence of bureaucracy – together with the predictability and control of more traditional approaches.

Better results, faster, but under control.

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Comments: (3)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 12 June, 2012, 14:56Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Project management methodology follows development methodology. Unlike the construction industry, software has two different development methodologies, namely, waterfall and agile, so it's logical for it to have PRINCE2 and scrum as two different project management methodologies. With mounting issues in agile over time, I'd place my bet on the pendulum of development methodology swinging to the side of waterfall. Just today, I saw Facebook's homepage promising "No periodic updates" in connection with its downloadable mobile app. Given that agile and frequent updates go hand in hand, looks like FB has already given the nudge to its development methodology pendulum.

Leon Orr
Leon Orr - Rule Financial - London 12 June, 2012, 19:34Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Just responding to Ketharaman’s note: I agree with you that issues with agile will shift us away from pure agile. You describe a ‘pendulum swing’ back to waterfall, however, I think it is more likely that we move towards a hybrid of the two.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 13 June, 2012, 09:27Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

@LeonO: Thank you for your response. Waterfall and Agile differ quite substantially. Much as a hybrid between the two methodologies is desirable, I'm not sure if it's feasible. At the risk of generalizing, I predict that startups will begin with agile and move towards agile as they become big, whereas large IT shops will continue with waterfall. My belief stems from, among others, my personal experience of seeing how change control process has become even more long drawn out in large banks and corporates, thanks to tighter IT budgets, greater IT savviness of end users and increasing involvement of business in reviewing and approving individual Change Requests.