Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A commentary on Agile

I was looking back at some prior essays on Agile and came across the April 2012 PMNetwork magazine. Specifically I was attracted (again) to page 58 for an interview with some agilists on the state of the practice.

Here are a couple of quotes from Jim Highsmith worth tucking away:

Agile project management embraces both “doing” agile and “being” agile—and the latter is the hardest. It defines a different management style: one of facilitation, collaboration, goal- and boundary-setting, and flexibility.

... agile is changing the way organizations measure success, moving from the traditional iron triangle of scope, schedule and cost to an agile triangle of value, quality and constraints.

My take:
Doing agile and being agile: Good insight, but these ideas are certainly agile but not unique to Agile.
  • To my way of thinking, all enlightened project managers have been doing this all along, or they should have been.
Now, I certainly agree: Agile calls for a reset of manager's and management's approach (aka style) to projects.
  • Fixed price, for a fixed scope, in a fixed schedule is ok if you're in "we've done it before" or some kind of production, but not if you are trying to cure cancer, etc.

Value shift: Agile shifts the discussion from fixed value to best value. And, what is best value?
It's the best the team can do, with the resources committed, towards achieving project goals that will ultimately lead to business success.

Who says what's "best"? In the Agile space, that is a collaboration of the project team, the sponsor, and whoever holds the customer/user's proxy. That's the key:
  • The customer/user--through their proxy--gets an input to the value proposition because they may use or buy the outcomes, but the customer/user has no money at stake; it's other people's money, OPM
  • The sponsor also gets an input  because it is their money at stake. (The sponsor may be a contracting office, as in the public sector)
  • The project team gets an input because they are in the best place to judge feasibility.

Measuring success: Highsmith's second idea is certainly Agile, but it may be too agile for some. Why so? First, there's still "other people's money (OPM)".... . you can't work with OPM and not have metrics of performance to stack up against the money. So, the cost-schedule-scope tension may be hard to manage, but at least there are metrics.

I don't have a problem with another paradigm, say Highsmith's value, quality and constraints, so long as they come with metrics that align with the value that sponsors put on money.

That's why I associate myself with best value: It's OPM with metrics that align with a value proposition leading not only to project success but to business success as well.

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