Executing and Controlling a Project in Agile vs. Traditional Project Management

In a post two days ago called “The Triple Constraints …”  I explained how John Stenbeck in the second chapter of his book “PMI-ACP and Certified Scrum Professional Exam Prep and Desk Reference” showed the difference between how the triple constraints are handled differently during the planning process in agile project management versus the way they are handled in traditional project management.

In this post, I would like to explain his next topic, which shows the difference between the way that agile and traditional project management handle two other phases of project management, executing and monitoring/controlling.

As mentioned in the earlier post, of the triple constraints, scope is the one which is the focal point of planning under traditional project management, where it is as well-defined as possible, and the other constraints of cost and time are determined based on the resources available.     However, in agile project management, the time and the cost are the well-defined constraints, and the scope is determined based on those resources.    So rather than the work package, the unit of scope if you will in traditional project management, the work period or timebox is the unit of time used to manage product development cycles in agile project management.

Just as in traditional project development, you take the final deliverable and break it down with the decomposition method into smaller and smaller deliverables until you get to the level of work packages, timeboxes in agile project management can also be broken down.    Let’s look at the various levels of timeboxes in agile.

Level 1–Roadmap

A roadmap is used in agile project management to align the shorter development cycles with a desired future business result.   They are the equivalent of a portfolio plan in traditional project management.    Roadmaps are composed of release plans.

Level 2–Release Plan

A release plan is used in agile project management to guide development of sets of features that represent a component of the overall product solution.    Often, release plans represent the point at which deliverables can be used or implemented by customers.    Release plans are composed of iterations plans or iterations.

Level 3–Iteration

Iteration plans or iterations are timeboxes in the sense that they are units of time defined as either two, three, or four weeks, depending on the organization’s norms or rules.   Having a fixed unit of time for the iteration helps with stability, which allows the team to improve quality steadily over time.    Within each iteration, user stories are developed which are descriptions of work efforts for specific features or components that will be created by the agile team during the iteration.    User stories are probably most comparable to a combination of work packages and activities in traditional project management.

In traditional project management, deliverables are broken down through the decomposition process into work packages in Create WBS (process 5.4) in the Scope Management knowledge area.   Work packages are the smallest unit of deliverable, that is, tangible features or components that will be created.    Then, in the Time Management knowledge area, in Define Activities (process 6.2), the activities are listed which will create the work packages.    Work packages are nouns, activities are verbs.

However, in agile project management, both the description of the specific features of components that will be created by the agile team and the work effort  needed to created them are combine in the user stories.    Sometimes, the user stories can be broken down into tasks used to fulfill each user story.

Within each iteration, there are three feedback cycles.

  1. Daily meeting (sometimes referred to as a “stand-up meeting” or “Scrum meeting)–synchronizes the daily activities of all of the team members, and allows measurement of daily work progress against the iteration plan.
  2. Review meeting–at the end of each iteration timebox, this is a product-centric meeting which presents the completed deliverables to all interested stakeholders so that they can give feedback on how well it meets their needs and expectations.
  3. Retrospective meeting–again at the end of each iteration timebox, this is a process-centric meeting where the agile team, Scrum Master (the project leader), and Product Owner (the project’s key stakeholder) discuss process improvement ideas in order to produce better work products, reduce errors, and/or improve communications.

So the iteration plans are rolled up into release plans, which are rolled up into roadmaps.   This is the decomposition of timeboxes that is characteristic of agile project management methodology, as opposed to the decomposition of scope that is characteristic of traditional project management methodology.


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