Does Agile also work on “REAL” projects?

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An increasing number of organisations are adopting agile project management methodologies to improve the outcome of non-IT projects. But there are also opponents, who believe Agile is just for software development and not for other projects. Does this work only in software projects, or does this work on REAL projects, too? How can organisations implement agile principles in their project management?

During our project management workshop `agile SPACE`, one participant asked: Does Agile work on REAL projects, too? By REAL project, he meant non-IT projects. From my experience, software development projects are as REAL as any other product development, construction or strategic project. 

It works because Agile bases its methodology around iteration, self-organising teams, and delivering shippable products after every sprint. The software industry which  originated this methodology has  achieved  tremendous results by delivering high quality  solutions faster. It has been proved beyond point that Agile improves the efficiency and the outcome of software development projects. The Standish Group compared in 2012 the effectiveness of classical project management (called “waterfall”) and agile project management across different types of projects.  

Key question is, whether agile methodology and tools can be applied in their original form, or if it is  recommendable to adjust the tools while adhering to the overall principles. Let’s look at a few examples:

User Stories and Continuous Adaptation

Agile methodology focuses on capturing user requirements via user stories. Unlike classic waterfall methodology which heavily depends on detailed and written requirements upfront, Agile does not focus on developing complete specifications or product requirements at the beginning of the project, because requirements change, and continuously responding to the change is a core principle of this methodology. The focus is always on “responding to changes over a plan” (Agile Manifesto). User stories are an effective way to capture the requirements of any kind of project. The tool captures the value for users, which is the basis to deliver successful projects. User stories capture the value at various levels, from the big picture to  details.

Every organisation wants to achieve the highest level of efficiency and effectiveness in project management. Agile methodology can help to achieve this. Other methodologies like e.g. Six Sigma have a fixed and formulated goal for accuracy. In Agile however, there is no definition of the desired end state. No end state means that the agile methodology is focused on continuous improvement of the result. Through this practical approach, Agile works really well for any kind of project. Hence, organisations continuously working on the improvement of their products and services can effectively use agile methodologies.

Product Prototypes

The outcome of every period (sprint) is potentially a shippable product increment. People often wonder, how to use Agile on the development of complex or innovative products? How can we develop a shippable product within each and every sprint? Shippable product increments in every sprint works really well in software development, but not if the objective is for e.g. to develop a packaging machine. Prototyping is an effective and feasible methodology for large scale innovative product development. When the product requirements are changing or evolving, prototyping is the best way to present the prototypes to the customer for feedback after every sprint. The tool provides the option to stop development when the expectations are not met and identify missing functionalities early in the process. 

Collaborative Methods 

Agile methodology offers a range of tools for team collaboration that can be used on REAL projects, too. Involvement of the user (customer) in the early stages of the development process completely changes the dynamics of the project. Agile teams are cross functional, self-organising teams who work in an empowered environment. Project teams are empowered to do everything necessary and remove all barriers that affect the completion of the sprint. 

So, does agile work on REAL projects?

Of course it does! There is no doubt that agile methodologies can be used effectively in any kind of project. Many organisations can and have successfully implemented the new approach across different sectors and industries. It is used in change programmes, strategy implementation, and HR related projects. However, to be successful, Agile needs to be customised to the organisational context. What works for others may not work for you. We believe in customised solutions for project management and have developed a Project Management methodology called agile SPACE, an intuitive tool box to help organisations in  establishing agile principles. Project management solutions, which are tailor-made to suit your needs. 

We conduct public sessions and customised in-house trainings in agile SPACE. Please contact us for further information.

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