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Agile Project Management Questions Answered

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November 16, 2009 by Kelly Waters

Agile Project Management Questions Answered.I was asked recently to answer 5 questions about agile project management for a feature on PM Boulevard. I thought you might appreciate seeing them here too...

1. How has the Agile practice evolved over the last two years?

I don’t personally think that agile practices have particularly changed in the last two years, however there is clearly a stronger emphasis on some elements more than others now.

Scrum certainly seems to have crossed into the mainstream since I started my blog. Even though it was less than 3 years ago, Scrum still felt quite new and innovative in the UK at that time. I work in the web development sector and now every company I meet seems to be doing Scrum.

Another change is the interest in agile from the project management community. This seems significant as people start to think more about how best to apply agile on larger projects. Looking at Google Trends, which shows search volumes over time, the graph below shows that search demand for ‘agile project management’ started relatively late in terms of agile adoption, and interest is still growing strongly now.

The other thing that seems to be a clear trend during 2009 is a much stronger emphasis on Lean software development from the agile community. It seems to have really gathered pace in the last year or so.

2. What would you tell someone who thinks Agile is just another fad?

I don’t think agile can be called a fad now! Admittedly it may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly not a small minority any more. Again using Google Trends to gauge search demand and therefore people’s interest in a topic, 'agile software development' has been in high demand on Google as far back as 2005 (although it’s obviously been around a lot longer than that), and has remained high ever since. I don’t think something can be called a fad when the buzz has been going for over 5 years already and is continuing to grow strongly. For anyone that hates the idea of agile and is secretly hoping it might just go away, you’d better get used to it because I think it’s here to stay!

3. What are some tools that you use?

I know this might sound like it isn’t much help to others, but we don’t actually use any project management tools or any specific agile tools. Those who read my blog will know I’m a big fan of Excel and the whiteboard, although clearly agile project management tools would be a useful addition in some circumstances, particularly where teams or stakeholders are distributed across multiple locations or projects are particularly large.

In my experience, I’ve had several development teams practicing agile web development using Scrum, and they have been able to operate Scrum on a team-by-team basis without the need for any specialist tools to help manage. Instead we have placed a much stronger emphasis on face-to-face communication and collaboration, using Excel to manage product backlogs, user stories to convey requirements, and whiteboards to provide visibility.

4. Do you think that Agile and the PMBOK can coexist?

I definitely think agile and PMBOK can coexist, although some elements of PMBOK would be irrelevant to apply on an agile project. However there are plenty of elements of PMBOK that are not addressed at all within agile methodologies, for instance project initiation, cost management, risk management and various other aspects too.

I think the problem here is that a project manager must know PMBOK-style project management methods like PRINCE2 and agile methods such as Scrum very well to be able to choose the right techniques for the right situation. This obviously demands a lot of skill and experience from the project manager and is potentially very difficult for anyone new to either method. This is where experienced project managers that have successfully transitioned to agile have a really strong advantage over others who have only really managed projects with one approach or the other. It gives them the ability to blend the methods based on the unique characteristics of their particular situation, which along with leadership skills might be the thing that differentiates a good project manager from a great one.

I have blogged about this topic before here: Agile Project Management Is Not Enough!

5. Can you recommend a book, blog, podcast, Web site, or other information source to our readers that you find interesting or intriguing right now?

Apart from my own, I would recommend various other blogs, some of which you’ll find in the sidebar of my blog. My personal favourites at the moment are Leading Agile by Mike Cottmeyer, Succeeding with Agile by Mike Cohn, and Agile Techniques on InfoQ. In terms of books, you’ll also find some books I can recommend on my blog; they’re on an Amazon affiliate widget in the middle of each page. 'Agile Project Management with Scrum' by Ken Schwaber and 'Agile Estimating and Planning' by Mike Cohn are particularly recommended.


Photo by Marco Bellucci

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