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Did you hear about the one about the Agile project that wasn’t? There are a lot of them about!

Agile is a buzzword, and although not a new idea in Project Management, it has certainly swept to prominence over recent years. The original concept related to ground-breaking management practices in software development projects, but has grown into a holistic workplace movement that transcends software development and encompasses organisational structure and operations as a whole.

Of course, Agile as a methodology can work brilliantly for some projects – especially when an iterative approach to planning is required. Dividing projects into short tasks including testing, feedback, review and adaptation, can be an extremely effective and efficient way to develop a product. There are many benefits to this approach – frequent testing results in high product quality, which in turn equals client satisfaction. It offers a high degree of control over the project and reviews and testing reduce project risks and the chance of anything going seriously wrong. The bottom line is that a faster process often results in faster ROI. However, even given these many benefits, have we as business owners all become a bit too obsessed with the ‘A’ word? And has Agile as a word become more important than the process itself?

I think we've all thought it and possibly even heard it whispered. A classic was when myself and a team member went to meet a new client for the first time. We started talking about how they run and manage projects in their business. They claimed to be a 'fully Agile' organisation. As we dug deeper into the specifics, the MD stated that there was a 'fixed deadline, fixed deliverable and a fixed budget, but we are Agile'. We left the meeting, winning the work, yet smiling wryly to ourselves. And it got me thinking.

Are companies who say they are Agile really fully Agile, and if they’re not – is it helpful for them to say they are? Are clients really clear on what Agile is and how to incorporate it into Project Management within the business? If they require a contract Agile Project Manager, are they as clients trained to work with the project team and contractors in an Agile way?

Agile is really Agile when project conditions are uncertain; with co-located teams working towards a Minimum Viable Product, working in sprints with a managed backlog and an unfixed budget. It seems that what many companies actually have is a Wagile approach – adopting a few Agile practices into a traditional Waterfall model – but calling themselves fully Agile. Although often seen as the ultimate dysfunctional approach to Project Management – Wagile can have some positives. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and sometimes the cultural transformation required to make a business fully Agile is too great to achieve in one go. One approach might be to choose some Agile concepts to start integrating into your projects. Once they are working, you can implement more. The key is clarity and continuous improvement. Don’t think you’ve become Agile overnight by introducing bi-monthly deadlines and daily scrums and end the innovations there. Keep going!

What is needed for effective project management then, is full transparency. If a company is fully Agile – then great! Everyone is clear on what this means and the processes can work as they are meant to. If not – don’t be afraid to admit it. What’s important for a successful project is that everyone is clear about the processes that are in place so that the team, managers, stakeholders and clients can act accordingly. If companies recognise Agile as a process of development and improvement, and are transparent with contractors and stakeholders about their current methods and capabilities, they will be much further along the road towards true productivity.

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