These days it’s hard not to stumble across a new way of teaching Agile to organisations that are choosing to adopt the methodology for project delivery. While we’re all for standardising how it is adopted within an organisation, successful Agile projects require more than tools and frameworks.

It’s something of an understatement to say that Agile has become a favourite boardroom buzzword, especially in project management circles. Indeed, it’s fair to say that Agile, since its emergence in the IT sector back in the 1990s, has well-and-truly proved it’s here to stay.

At its core, the principles of Agile, as a project management methodology, are as sound as ever. Put simply, Agile, as is now near-universally known, takes an iterative and incremental view to delivering requirements throughout a project life cycle and encompasses central values and behaviours of trust, empowerment, flexibility and collaboration.

Setting the scene: Agile’s rapid rise

Agile’s game-changing nature as a methodology has led to its rapid, and ongoing, take-up within organisations across Australia and globally as statistics bear out with stark clarity. According to recent US research, for instance, 71 per cent of organisations now use Agile approaches sometimes, often, or always, while just 12 per cent never use Agile approaches.

What’s more, the trend to Agile is unlikely to slow down, according to KPMG, with 76 per cent of organisations believing that Agile projects will outnumber Waterfall projects by 2020.

The reason for the shift is not hard to identify — the success of the methodology. Indeed, projects that adopt an Agile approach are 28 per cent more successful than traditional projects, making it easy to understand why this shift is taking place, according to PWC.

The danger of Agile commodification

While the ascension of Agile has had a huge upside for thousands of firms worldwide, there is a potential downside of its staggering success. That is, the risk of Agile becoming a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all model that overemphasises implementing schemas and frameworks at the expense of what is truly important — ideas and mindset transformation.

Everywhere we turn, it seems that a new player is selling an Agile course or framework, especially as an increasing number of consultancies realise there is significant money to made from late-adopters and mature organisations jumping on the Agile bandwagon, only to discover that they lack the skills to deliver it well.

At the same time, we see a resulting focus by many firms on implementing standardised Agile tools and frameworks and less on bringing businesses on an authentic agile journey.

The role of AI

The growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) to complement Agile is adding to today’s increasingly complex picture around the methodology as well. On the one hand, there appears to be enormous benefit to be gained from adopting AI in Agile. For instance, according to Agile Alliance, a US non-profit that encourages exploration and application of Agile values, in a software development context around 30-40 per cent of tasks within Agile ceremonies can be potentially automated, massively increasing the efficiency of teams.

To this end, where AI is arguably having the largest effect on project delivery, is its ability to remove project uncertainty and risk in both project predictions and execution in project management offices (PMOs).  In addition to risk estimation, other benefits of AI in an Agile setting include quicker prototyping, reducing error handling through AI-based coding assistance, and providing more precise budget and timeline estimates via the ability of machine-learning (ML) to accelerate traditional project lifecycles.

The flipside, however, is that the benefits of AI can be used to sell Agile in a commodity-model as a set of machine-learning-based tools able to be deployed and used by organisations across various sectors, sizes, locations and markets. This is likely to lead to more failed Agile transformations as business leaders underestimate the challenges involved or mistakenly see the journey as little more than buying an off-the-shelf solution. There is also a risk of skill loss when project management relies too heavily on the tool and not enough on the ability of its people to contextualise the data in Agile reporting.

Time for a reset on Agile?

In this context, it’s useful to remember there is a big difference between implementing Agile as a methodology versus true “agility as an organisation”, which can be harder to achieve.

Genuine agility as an organisation means appreciating that Agile means different things to different people, is not the only way of delivering projects and — most important of all – that it’s all about people and so must be tailored to suit specific make-ups of individual organisations. In other words, Agile must be a fit-for-purpose approach.

Indeed, as we have written previously, it’s even possible, whether it’s in the banking, fintech, transport, or medical industries, that some components of projects can be delivered in an Agile way, some waterfall, some iterative, to deliver desired outcomes.

Remember, while it can be tempting to spend significant energy solving technical problems in a project management setting, the harder problems, when it comes to project delivery, are often those involving teamwork and coordination, which is the real key to creating and sustaining agility as an organisation. Agile, at the end of the day, is a methodology.

Indeed, as more companies make the shift to digital workplaces highly dependent on speed, boosted productivity, flexibility and agile methodologies, it’s critically important that people are kept at the centre of the process.

As project specialists, we develop fit-for-purpose strategy and project assurance.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 02 9098 6300.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...