Agile Project Management–What Agile Isn’t

Anthony Mersino, in his new book Agile Project Management:  A Nuts and Bolts Guide to Success, takes a unique approach in his first chapter Introducing Agile Project Management by explaining not what Agile Project Management, but what it isn’t.

It’s like the story I heard one time of someone who was in an art class.   The students were all given a block of marble and a model of an elephant, and were told to sculpt an elephant from the marble.    The students were all perplexed at the difficulty of the task, because they had all been given rather simple assignments in class before.   The teacher thought for a moment, and said “it’s quite simple.   Just take your block of marble and chip off everything that isn’t an elephant.”   The point of the story is that sometimes illuminating a problem via a negative example isn’t that illuminating after all.   But in Anthony Mersino’s case, I think it has merit.   Let’s see how he undefines Agile Project Management.

1.  Agile Project Management ≠ A New Software Development Method

Agile certainly includes software development methods, like Dynamic System Development Method (SDM) or Crystal Methods, but in reality the roots of Agile, if you look deep enough, are in Lean Product Development and the Toyota Product System.   Therefore, it has had from the beginning potential for being used beyond the realm of software development.

2.  Agile ≠ A Silver Bullet

If you watch any amount of television, you are bound to come across an add that promotes weight loss with a magic pill that allows you to lose weight without dieting and without exercise.    It often sounds too good to be true, and that’s because it usually is.   in the area of management techniques, there have been many contenders for the equivalent of a “diet pill”, but the reality is that Agile is not a quick fix or miracle cure.   It is, after all, a methodology but one that requires not just the mindless application of a algorithm, but the adoption of a mindset.

3.  Agile ≠ Iterative and Incremental Development

Well, here we are getting closer to what agile is.  Although Agile relies on iterative and incremental development, that is such the form that the process takes.   The purpose of Agile is a lot more important, and that is to “design and build … projects in a highly flexible and interactive manner.”   The word “flexible” is implied by “agile”, but the “interactive” is very important in that Agile is highly dependent on teams that are cross-functional and self-organizing.

4.  Agile ≠ Anti-Project Management

Traditional project management is for projects which are “temporary endeavors undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.   Agile teams, on the other hand, are not temporary but endeavor to stay together indefinitely.   Agile teams work on a steady stream of repeatable activities, and resemble product development rather than project management.   However, Agile is not the opposite of project management.   Agile takes the role of a traditional project manager and distributes them to the team or to the business owner for the team.   The “emergent property” that Agile Project Management has over traditional project management is that it:

    • helps reduce management overhead
    • puts accountability for results on those individuals who are in a position to impact those results

Project managers, according to Anthony Mersino, need to unlearn what they may have heard about Agile Project Management, and understand Agile so that they can play a role that adds the most value.   In order to reinvent themselves to participate in an agile team, they need to uncover the spirit of invention that is at the core of Agile.   Explaining that spirit of invention is what Anthony Mersino does in the rest of his book, which I intend to continue blogging about.


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