Agile Project Management Frameworks and Tools–A Summary

In the past series of blogs posts, I have gone over 9 agile project management frameworks, an alternative project management framework called Spiral (a variant of an “incremental” or “iterative” project management framework rather than an agile project management framework), and 2 agile project management tools.    What have I learned through going over this group.

1. The Agile Project Management Frameworks and Tools

First, let’s list the frameworks and tools I’ve reviewed: in previous posts

  1. Scrum
  2. Extreme Programming (XP)
  3. Lean Software Development (LSD)
  4. Feature Driven Development (FDD)
  5. Agile Unified Process (AUP)
  6. Crystal
  7. Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)
  8. Essential Unified Process (EssUP)
  9. Open Unified Process (OpenUP)
  10. Spiral (not an agile, but an “incremental/iterative” framework)
  11. Test Driven Development (TDD)–a tool, not a framework
  12. Agile Modeling (AM)–a tool, not a framework

A couple of observations about the frameworks and tools on the list.    Although the tools can theoretically be used in conjunction with any framework, it is worthwhile to note that Test Driven Development was developed out of the Extreme Programming framework, and retains the feature of having programmers work in pairs to create and test code in tandem.

Three frameworks on the list, Agile Unified Process (AUP), Essential Unified Process (EssUP), and Open Unified Process (OpenUP) are all simplified versions of Rational Unified Process (RUP) developed by IBM.   Perhaps the reason why RUP has such a robust lineage is because of the influence that IBM has on the computer industry in general.    Why does Scrum top the list?   Perhaps because it is the most “lightweight” of the frameworks, meaning that the number of roles, artifacts, etc., is relatively small compared to more ornate frameworks like Extreme Programming (XP) or Lean Software Development (LSD).    Because it is a “lean” framework in terms of its moving parts, perhaps that is why it has gained market share, because it is more portable and therefore more easily adapted by applications areas outside of the software development field.

2.   Common Features of Agile Project Management Frameworks

At any rate, some of the common features of all of the frameworks are:

  1. Communication with the key stakeholders–since the key stakeholders are the source of requirements, which must be fulfilled for the project to be a success, communication with stakeholders in terms of frequency and intensity is stressed in all frameworks.
  2. Letting the solution evolve organically rather than be “pre-ordained” at the beginning of the project–traditional project management tries to specific the scope of the project to the greatest extent possible at the very beginning of the project.    This makes sense for creating solutions to ordinary problems, but it starts to fail as an approach when dealing with a project of great complexity (like those encountered in software development).  Remember the saying by Einstein that “problems cannot be solved with the same thinking we used when we created them?”   When you try at the beginning of the project to solve a complex problem, you fall into the trap of being at the same level of the problem and trying to come up with a solution.    Letting the solution evolve organically allows the collective intelligence of the group, which is more powerful than the intelligence of any one individual in the group, to bear on complex problems, and thus provide a level of thinking greater than those problems which allows for their solution.    This is why communication is done as much as possible in face-to-face mode, sometimes referred to as osmotic communication where people are absorbing information from other team members.
  3. The constraints that are fixed are time and cost, whereas scope is flexible:  the exact inverse of traditional project management–the idea of some sort of time increment that fits together with the normal working life cycle of human beings, i.e., the week, is pretty standard throughout the frameworks.    Although the word “agile” is used to describe these frameworks, it is agile with respect to dealing with scope.    This agility is gained by having the other two major constraints, cost and especially time, more rigidly controlled than in traditional project management.   This allows the project to fit the life cycle of the human beings that work on the project, rather than the traditional PM practice of human beings trying to wrap their life cycle around the vicissitudes of the project schedule.
  4. Documentation is reduced to the bare minimum required for people to work cohesively together towards the solution–some frameworks are more ornate than others when it comes to artifacts (agile speak for “project documentation”), but the artifacts are used to assist the active collaboration of team members towards a solution, rather than being an exercise in corporate-level box-checking that fits administrative requirements that are not germane to the requirements of the project itself.

These four features are the ones that appeared in the various guises of the frameworks I was reviewing.   Why do these common features keep showing up?    Probably because the frameworks all evolved facing similar types of problems.   The icthyosaur and the dolphin are not related in terms of evolutionary terms (one is a dinosaur and one is a mammal), but their shapes are similar because they both evolved in the same sea environment, which is an example of parallel evolution.   In a similar way, the frameworks that are not related directly in terms of lineage (i.e., all of the frameworks derived from the “Rational Unified Process” framework, have the common features mentioned above because they all evolved in response to problems in dealing with complex problems in the world of software development that shared similar features.

3.  The Future of Agile Project Management Frameworks

Although some of the frameworks have been created by the work of individuals (Crystal created by Alistair Cockburn, for example), those that will ultimately survive will be the ones that have evolved to meet the problems that project managers face.    The interesting prospect now is what the future holds for agile project management frameworks.  Although Scrum has the widest market share, John Stenbeck suggests that PMI might have a larger market share in the future.

At present (and I say this as a member of PMI) it is hard to see the outlines of this emerging because PMI lists a about a dozen textbooks as references for those who are studying for the PMI-ACP, and PMI is not known for having lightweight documentation as a strong suit (given the PMBOK Guide for Traditional Project Management), we will see if PMI can also adapt and create a framework which is as strong and as flexible as Scrum.

In fairness to PMI, of course, they did not develop all of the documentation just for the sake of producing documentation, but rather as a way to help companies solve problems that happen generically on projects, such as

  • lack of clarity of the definition of the product of the project–remedied by a project charter and the project scope statement
  • scope changes pushed by stakeholders–remedied by stakeholder register
  • setbacks to the project created by external events–remedied by risk register

There are many examples I could give but the idea should be clear–the documentation must not meant to be a burden but rather as an aid to solving problems.

What would an successful agile framework be that is created by PMI?   In the end, those who are project managers or who are working on project teams are the customers, and PMI will have to deliver an agile framework that serves the needs of those customers    One mental model I have for such a framework si the geodesic dome created by Buckminster Fuller.    In and of itself, each strut of the geodesic dome is not structurally as strong as a girder or linking element of a traditional structure.  However, because each strut links to another one, the collective structure is strong enough to support itself even when facing hurricane strength winds.    In fact, he created the geodesic dome precisely in response to a request for structures to be created in the Antarctic for research stations that were faced with strong winds that would come from many possible directions.    In today’s project world, when stakeholders can affect the project from many different directions, it is important to have a structure that can withstand those changes.    Rather than strengthening the project manager per se, agile strengthens the entire team, and any framework that can assist in doing this will probably be the one that wins the market share for agile project management in the future.


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