In the project management world, the term "agile” is already over 20 years old. The hype surrounding agile work is still going strong. Today, almost all companies use the term "agile" in their job postings, in their method manuals, in the PMO and in lectures. Despite this fact, there are very few 100% agile companies. Only about 8% of companies in the state of agile survey stated that they were completely agile. All others use hybrid methods or traditional project management. A hybrid approach presents management with its own challenges.
In this blog post, we will look at the benefits of Agile, but also why in reality most companies use hybrid methods instead of 100% agile or 100% traditional methods. We will also take a look at the challenges facing management in hybrid environments - and how those challenges can be solved by using Lean PPM and Meisterplan.
What Exactly Is Agile?
Agile approaches in project management originally came from software development and originated in the 1990s. There's a reason for that. Companies in the IT industry were struggling with high market volatility and high innovation pressure. This demanded a quick response to the ever-changing conditions. Classic project management was not up to these requirements. Finally, in 2001, the 12 principles of agile software development were published as a manifesto. Since then, Agile has been a firmly established and now industry-independent term.
Why Traditional Project Management Didn’t Work for Software Development
In traditional project management, the project result is fixed from the beginning. The goal is to create a plan on how to best use people and resources to achieve this goal. Projects often follow the so-called waterfall model, where the project process is divided into sequential phases and all sub-results build on each other. For instance, if a milestone is not completed on time, all subsequent milestones will be delayed.
Traditional project management is well suited to achieving fixed goals in ways that are well-planned out in advance. Does that sound like IT projects you’re familiar with? Probably not. There are nearly always deviations from the plan during IT projects. New features are added, and old ones fall away. Challenges that seem simple at first turn out to be hungry monsters that devour tens or even hundreds of man-days. How many times did your teams have to develop solutions so that they could develop the solution that was sold to the customer? How many times did customers have to change requirements during a project because they need something different now than at the beginning of the project? In short, the market economy is merciless. Fast processes, complex dependencies and the increasing flood of information make it impossible to look far enough into the future and think of all eventualities right from the start. The further the end of the project lies in the future, the more uncertain the forecasts are. Experience shows that IT projects are long-term projects with a hard-to-estimate effort. And often there are big changes in the implementation and in the product during the implementation - either because the requirements of the client change or because there are difficulties with the programming.
Traditional project management just can’t handle this situation very well. Any change to the project plan requires effort and (often indirect) costs. There are delays because plans need to be updated or resource conflicts resolved. Additionally, the budget is often overstretched, which brings chaos and, in the end, broken promises and dissatisfied clients.
This is exactly where Agile comes in. Agile teams do not work towards a well-defined goal, but develop a product over a longer period in close collaboration with the customer. At the same time, short-term and long-term goals are compared with each other in an iterative way. Agile project management has no problems with changes; in fact, it welcomes them.
Advantages of the Agile Method
A good analogy for traditional project management is archery. The athlete initially spends a lot of time aiming for the target. He takes into consideration the environmental conditions to ensure the arrow hits the bull's eye. Agile PM is more like a game of golf. The player takes a look at the course beforehand and knows roughly where to go. With the first swing, he tries to get as close to the hole as possible, but it may take many swings. Where the ball lands after each swing can only be planned to a limited extent. The golfer must look at where the ball landed and adjust his plan after each stroke, and he must change direction accordingly.
Those who use agile principles, see changes as part of project work and agree at the same time that these changes produce positive effects. Agile management focuses on achieving business value, and as the project progresses and requirements change, delivery dates, resource usage, and cost are typically tightly defined.
A central element in Agile is the high level of client involvement throughout the project. This requires regular communication. The focus is clearly on customer acceptance and satisfaction. Intermediate results are delivered periodically so that clients can provide feedback. In other words, the end product to be delivered is initially only roughly known and will be specified during the project.
Agile project management also includes detailed planning, but only for short time periods. Work is done in iteration cycles and not in sequential phases. These cycles are for a fixed duration, and the process, use of resources and goal are specified.
Agile teams are independent and self-organizing, which results project managers having a less central role than in the traditional PM. Planning and leadership intensity deviates in favor of high adaptability and quick implementation.
In summary, the agile approach is particularly useful when projects:
- involve unclear requirements that will be worked out during the course of the project.
- are expected to be long-term with a complex scope.
- are characterized by a short time-to-market.
- take place in industries with a high-risk, constantly-changing environments.
- include tasks where the project team breaks new ground (for example, when developing a prototype or creating a new product).
- include goals that can be achieved incrementally (for example, an extensible software prototype or a marketing campaign).
The Reality Is Hybrid
Most companies have very different projects, both internal and external. Some of them may be very open-ended and difficult to plan from the beginning, while others are focused on a clear goal that can be achieved with clearly defined steps. Still other projects are somewhere in between. The best solution is to decide by team and project, which method is suitable, so that in the end all parties are satisfied. The PMI Pulse of the Profession study also shows that 79% of companies do it this way: they use different methods in parallel or let the teams decide how they want to work. Reality is neither agile nor traditional, but mixed or hybrid.
What sounds great at the team level ("We work the way that fits us best.") Can be quite a headache at the management level. We have to prioritize all our different projects, decide what we should do, when, and with what resources. Should we also let our teams work with different methods and tools? How is this supposed to work? These worries are justifiable. Agile and traditional teams do not just work differently, they speak different languages and have different processes. Additionally, there are prejudices that can affect the collaboration between agile teams and management, if you do not know how to handle them. However, the benefits of a hybrid approach are very powerful and compelling.
Does that mean that management has to put up with headaches? No, it means finding a solution that can manage a hybrid portfolio of projects. Fortunately, this solution already exists.
Meisterplan and Lean PPM for Successful PPM in Hybrid Environments
Lean PPM is a method that is perfectly suited for implementing effective project portfolio management in hybrid environments. And Meisterplan is our tool for implementing Lean PPM:
- Project teams have the freedom to work how they want to work and simply have to pass on a few details.
- Lean PPM reduces unnecessary meetings and high overhead – teams should spend their time only on value-added activities.
- Management sees all projects, traditional and agile, in one view.
- Decisions are systematically made at the right level – management decides on the portfolio, teams on implementation.
- Both the method and the tool are easy to implement because the teams themselves do not have to change much. Everyone is allowed to keep their favorite tools!
Meisterplan for Jira
Speaking of keeping your teams’ favorite tools! If you have agile teams in your company, there is a good chance that they work with Jira. Meisterplan for Jira is just what you need. You can easily get an overview of all current projects, agile and traditional, in a single view. The "estimated completion" feature takes into account what tasks need to be done and what resources are available to automatically predict an end date for agile projects (so agile projects can be planned after all!). It all works even if several Jira instances are used, and without the teams having to enter any additional data in Jira.
In short, most companies today work with agile teams and teams that rely on traditional project management. Lean PPM and Meisterplan are a great answer to the challenges that arise in such hybrid environments. Try it for yourself for free!