Agile methodology has experienced a meteoric rise in the world of enterprise project delivery over the past decade. Its benefits are well-known – as are some of its challenges. What do project leaders need to consider about agile delivery in the post-pandemic landscape? 

Agile methodology is far from a new concept in the world of project management, having crossed over from the world of software development to more widespread business adoption over the past decade. But has it lived up to its initial hype? 

If you run agile methodology through the lens of a Gartner hype cycle, it’s clear the concept arrived at the so-called Peak of Inflated Expectations around 2014-15, where it seemed like agile was going to solve all our waterfall-related project woes (such as addressing limitations around flexibility and delivery speed). Around 2019 or so, there was a quick descent into the Trough of Disillusionment – remember all the cries of “has agile failed?”.  

And then we arrived in 2020, with the backdrop of a global pandemic acting as a trigger for accelerated digital transformation across most of the economy.  

We all had to move quickly, or risk being left behind; and agile project methodology at an enterprise level almost become a must. Welcome to the Slope of Enlightenment, where more realistic expectations about agile started to emerge.  

From here it has been a quick climb to the final stage of the hype cycle – the Plateau of Productivity. And it’s a great place to be. This is where mainstream adoption occurs, in a productive and sustainable way. Indeed, agile methodology has become an important part of project delivery for many of our clients – right across the enterprise, in technical and non-technical teams alike. 

The lesser-known benefits of agile 

We may have arrived at the conclusion of the hype cycle, however there’s still a lot to like about agile project delivery. This is particularly so if you’re operating in an environment where constant testing and innovation are required, with a need to learn (and fail) fast and refactor your plans accordingly. Many agile evangelists also enthuse about improved customer experience, faster time-to-market and even better morale in the project team.  

Perhaps a less obvious benefit relates to how project delivery risk is approached. Most organisations that “go agile” focus on breaking down larger programs or projects into smaller “chunks” and running them more independently of each other, with more responsibility shifted to different business functions and teams rather than a centralised enterprise project management office (EPMO). 

Not only is there less impact if a discrete project “chunk” fails; there is also the possibility of reduced spend on governance and oversight – which means more spend on project delivery and less on checking. In this spirit, many organisations decided to scale back their EPMO when going agile, or even eliminate it entirely 

At the very least, a series of smaller programs will minimise the multiple layers of steercos, project control groups and program boards associated with larger, enterprise-wide transformation programs.  

The decentralised approach places agile teams closer to business units. Often, scrum teams are aligned to business units, which comes with the expectation that they will work together to define and execute initiatives for that division. That closeness creates higher levels of familiarity and knowledge of how the business unit operates, which can be a challenge for traditionally formed teams that are created on a project-per-project basis.  

Agile food for thought 

While the benefits of agile project methodology are fairly clear, there’s a point to be made for fine-tuning your agile practices to get them “right” – whatever that means for your organisation.  

For most organisations, culture, strategic oversight and leadership will be key to successful adoption of agile methodology. In the most recent State of Agile Report, the two most commonly observed weaknesses of agile listed by respondents were a generalised resistance to cultural change; and inadequate leadership participation, sponsorship and support. 

This reflects our own experience and observations. The best outcomes will almost always be delivered when your project portfolio has some form of centralised oversight and alignment with strategy – whether that means setting up or reintroducing an EPMO, maturing your existing agile practices, or something else entirely.  

Whether or not agile methodology has lived up to its early hype, there’s no doubt it’s here to stay across the project delivery landscape. The key takeaway is for organisations to focus less on strict adherence to the methodology itself; and more on closing the gap between strategic oversight and governance of programs and projects, and the reality of delivering projects at speed in an agile way.  

Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team or reach out to have a discussion today.  

About Quay

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