The essence of agile project management is dealing with and adapting to change. Time and cost may remain the same but the scope within is open to fluctuation. It is this which allows it to be so customer centric and responsive to customer needs. In the constantly shifting sands of a pandemic, plummeting economies, lockdowns, restructures and restrictions, embracing change is the key to survival for many projects and the organisations which sponsor them.
What has changed?
It would be easier to answer the question ‘what hasn’t changed?’. Project team managers have had to deal with changes to project scope, viability, resources, fluctuating locations and working hours of team members. Also operations, budget, systems, all aspects of the project and organisational structure. So what is it about agile project delivery that is made for these shifting sands?
1. It’s team members
Agile team members are used to constant change and shifting requirements. This is the nature of agile delivery. They are well equipped culturally to deal with the constant changes in scope that will be expected at these times but importantly… keeping this manageable. Kanban methodology limits work in progress for example, so that not all of the changes are being dealt with at the same time. Agile team members also have a way of working that enables them to cope with changes in the team or project more quickly. ‘Everyone’ on an agile team is involved in the end product and has a responsibility to achieve it.
Scrum values such as 'transparency' require the whole team to have an understanding of what is going on with the project at all times and this enables responsiveness. There are tools and values which promote transparency in Scrum such as focus, openness and respect, which enable the entire team to be more reactive to unforeseen issues. Visualisation tools such as 'product backlog' and 'burndown charts' help make the status of the project remain transparent and enable a quick decision making process.
2. It’s working practices
Responsiveness is the strength of agile project management. It has been developed to deal with constantly changing requirements to factor in customer feedback. There have been times of intense uncertainty for most industries in the last 18 months. Financially, operationally and in how resources are distributed and managed. Being agile has enabled some industries to cope with intense fluctuations in activity, employee numbers and working locations.
The Lean approach to ‘stop starting and start finishing’ will enable the agile project manager not to take on too much of these scope changes at any one time. Also AgilePM MoSCoW allows for the appropriate level of prioritisation when there are intense and rapid levels of change. Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, Won't Have this time allows the team to work on what is most important in the project. At times where almost ‘everything’ is changing, this is an essential component of agile project management. It also allows some explanation to key stakeholders why everything can’t happen ‘right now.’
3. It’s scope
Time and budget may be static in an agile project but the scope, what is being delivered in any one increment, can change. The fact there is an opportunity to provide new requirements at every sprint, allows for incorporating changes caused by the wider financial, social and even political landscape.
For example, we have heard much about organisations needing to change their business models and sales strategies in the pandemic, often due to lockdowns. If a projects deliverables were based on a face to face or high street sales model but this had to be adapted to direct to consumer (online only) then agile can factor in these changes within the variable project scope. Each increment allows for a change in direction as necessary.
4. It’s speed
Agile working methods allow for a quick delivery. The approval process does not happen at project end when all of its products have been delivered. It’s constant cyclical approach allows for change to happen quickly in line with the wider environment. Project deliverables in the Scrum approach covered in both AgilePM and PRINCE2 Agile certifications, are ‘timeboxed’ so that the maximum solution is produced within the static time frames given and the team can move on to the next deliverable.This is essential when change has had to happen quickly due to an unforeseen challenge such as a lockdown (or even the opposite).
5. Its principles
Many of the principles which underpin agile project delivery are based on embracing and delivering change in the most simple and coherent way possible, through consistent evaluation and delivery and excellent communication between teams. Organisations that have projects which have been subject to these changes and have dealt with them in a responsive way, are likely to be the ones that are still left standing.
Other agile principles which rise to the challenges of the pandemic are 'early and continuous delivery, cooperation and autonomy amongst teams, simplicity and of course reflection and adjustment.’
The challenge for agile teams.
So, if these are the benefits then what are the challenges? The most obvious of them all is ‘communication’. Agile working practices rely on constant cooperation and often face to face communication techniques and these can be utterly lost in some organisations where remote or blended working has not been achieved effectively.
Agile teams need to have effectively nailed the collaboration techniques without having to necessarily share the same square footage anymore. In some cases there is no longer an office space to be shared at all, or if there is, then team availability is very different to what it used to look like. For more tips on these read our previous blog for project managers looking after newly remote teams.
SPOCE Project Management Limited is a global leader in delivering best practice training for project programme and risk management. We offer a wide range of courses which can be tailored to suit any form of training need. For example, public courses e-Learning, blended learning, ONLIVE Virtual Classroom, On Demand Virtual Classroom and client workshops. SPOCE is the flagship training provider for PRINCE2® and MSP® and PRINCE2 Agile®.
* Information correct at time of broadcast.