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Going Agile using formal project management and
delivery concepts: Agile Project Management™!

22/10/2013 - Kurt Lefevre

We live in an uncertain world where it is difficult to predict what will happen in the future. Organizations face unprecedented budget cuts, but are still under pressure to perform and deliver. Project Managers face tough challenges!

The key to successfully managing projects (and these challenges) is to break them into stages, plan the current stage in detail and be flexible regarding the subsequent stages.

Agile Project Management™ provides an approach that offers agility but retains the concepts of a project, project delivery and project management. Agile Project Management™ enables organizations to gain the benefits of an agile approach without introducing unnecessary risks. This ensures 'going agile' becomes a measured and balanced change, keeping what is good in the current organization and retaining existing good practices around project management and delivery whilst gaining the benefits of a more agile way of working.

This post explores the central concepts of Agile Project Management™ and positions it in relation to alternative methodologies.

Below an overview of the content of this blog post:

Introducing Agile Project Management™

Agile Project Management™ is the result of collaboration between APMG-International and the DSDM® Consortium.

DSDM® (Dynamic Systems Development Method) is the longest-established Agile method, launched in 1995, and is the only Agile method to focus on the management of Agile projects. The method has evolved over the years and DSDM® Atern® is the latest version. DSDM® has always operated predominantly in the corporate environment, and has consistently demonstrated its ability to successfully work with and complementing existing corporate processes.

Until fairly recently, Agile was still viewed by some as "bleeding edge" or "inherently risky", whereas the reality is that over many years of successful implementation Agile has become mainstream, and the drive to "go Agile" has been fuelled by the need to deliver timely and cost-effective projects, whilst at the same time embracing change and offering flexibility.

Agile Project Management™ is a new initiative which extracts the project management elements of DSDM® Atern® and makes them available as Agile Project Management™ - a certified approach in its own right. This enables experienced project managers to adopt a mature, scalable corporate-strength Agile approach within their organizations.

On a traditional project, the Project Manager may be actively involved in directing work and telling their team what needs to be done - a style often referred to as Command and Control. The Agile Project Manager follows a different style. In the early stages, the Agile Project Manager creates a high level plan, based on outline requirements and a high level view of the solution to be created. From that point onwards the end project is created iteratively and incrementally, with each increment building on the output of increments preceding it. Unlike a traditional project, the detailed plans for each step are created by the team members themselves and not the Project Manager.

Within each stage of the project the team works in an iterative and incremental style in close collaboration with a representative of the business and/or customer in order to understand the detail of the next step and to create and validate an evolving solution.

Agile Project Management™ comprises established and proven components that provide a holistic approach to the management and governance of projects. It has an overarching philosophy and guiding principles, together with a lifecycle (or process) and a set of deliverables to be created and maintained as the project progresses from a controlled start through to completion. It provides clearly defined roles with specific responsibilities designed to bring together all stakeholders involved in the project.

Benefits of Agile Project Management™

Organizations seeking to adopt an Agile approach are sometimes concerned about some of the messages and myths of Agile, and it can be very difficult to separate rumour from fact. For example, some Agile approaches suggest that project management is irrelevant or unnecessary – a very worrying message for organizations that rely on their project managers, and organizations that may have invested heavily in creating a pool of experienced and accredited Project Managers. This has led some to an incorrect perception that Agile is only applicable for small, simple pieces of work, and that organizations would need to choose either Agile or formal project management and corporate processes. However, this perception is incorrect.

One advantage of Agile Project Management™ for the organization is that they can adopt an Agile approach that has a track record of successful management and delivery in the corporate environment, and an approach that complements and works with existing corporate processes, such as PRINCE2®, quality and audit processes, etc. Indeed, DSDM® Atern® originally was designed to integrate with PRINCE2®. There is no need to develop and integrate company-specific Agile management processes, the organization can simply adopt a tried and tested approach.

Another benefit for the organization is that Agile Project Management™, and its parent process DSDM® Atern®, has a formal recognised certification process for individuals. Within the organization, this can be used to develop professionalism in employees, and as part of staff professional development. The certification can also be used as part of the recruitment process, to identify individuals who have already been independently assessed and certified as possessing accurate knowledge on Agile Project Management™.

At its simplest, using the Agile "Story" concept to define why an organization would adopt Agile Project Management™:
As an organization
We need Agile Project Management™ Training and Certification
So that we can skill our workforce, show they are valued and distinguish between those with Agile skills and those without.
As a Hiring Manager
I need Agile Project Management™ Certification
So that I can distinguish between job candidates whose Agile skills have been independently validated and candidates without external Agile knowledge validation.

Individuals who work in the Agile arena are as keen to demonstrate and prove their knowledge as those who work in a more traditional environment, both to themselves and to their employers. Agile Project Management™ provides Foundation and Practitioner level certifications, and so enable a candidate, or team, to progress from a basic level, to a more advanced, applied level of knowledge. For those who wish to progress even further, the close link between Agile Project Management™ and DSDM® Atern® allows an individual to become a DSDM® Atern® Advanced Practitioner, a certification based on experience, and an oral exam which examines both practical experience and theoretical knowledge.

To outline why a Project Manager would adopt Agile Project Management™:
As a Project Manager
I need Agile Project Management™ Training
So that I can develop my Agile management skills based on recognised best practice.
As a Project Manager
I need Agile Project Management™ Certification
So that I can validate my Agile skills using an external, independent measure, and so that I can differentiate myself when applying for Agile project management positions.

Comparing Agile Project Management™ with other agile methodologies

In the Agile world, there are a number of approaches available; the most common of these are DSDM® Atern®, eXtreme Programming (XP), SCRUM and Lean. To put these Agile approaches into context ...

DSDM® Atern®
Agile Project Management™ is based on DSDM® Atern®, which has always been the only Agile method to fully address the concept of an Agile project, and provides detailed guidance on how to manage and deliver Agile projects.

Agile Project Management™ focuses on the elements of Atern® that are specific to the Agile Project Manager; it is important to note that Atern® also provides detailed guidance on delivery techniques and solution development, which are outside of Agile Project Management™.

eXtreme Programming (XP)
Focusing on IT development, XP provides developer techniques and practices such as Pair Programming, Continuous Integration etc. There is no concept of a project in XP, and with the exception of planning, little guidance around management, since the primary purpose of XP is to provide Agile delivery techniques.

Typically where XP is to be used to deliver Agile projects, it is often combined with other Agile approaches which add-on the project and management elements. Examples of this would be XP with DSDM® Atern®, XP with Scrum.

Scrum provides an excellent team based approach to allow work to be prioritised and delivered, using the concept of a constantly evolving "Backlog" to provide the team’s workload. The strength of Scrum is its simplicity, and since it is so easy to describe and to start to use, this has driven its popularity to date.

However in Scrum, there is no concept of a project, simply a Product Backlog of work to be done. For those wishing to scale Scrum to work as a corporate-wide Agile approach, or to use it for management of projects and releases, there is usually significant extra work needed to overlay the project and/or release concept onto the basic Scrum process. Scrum does offer a very simple version of corporate-wide Scrum (referred to as "Scrum of Scrums"), but in the complex corporate world, there is little confidence in the successful practical application of this.

The end result is often that complex organizations using Scrum, but needing a corporate-strength Agile approach, end up re-inventing the information and guidance already available in DSDM® Atern®.

On IT projects, Scrum is often paired with XP, with Scrum providing the team management process and XP providing the developer techniques. Scrum is also often combined with DSDM® Atern®, where Scrum is used at the development team level, and DSDM® Atern® sits above the team to position the work within a project and to provide the project management elements.

Lean is an approach which originated in the Toyota manufacturing environment in the 1940s. Lean drives work to be done in an efficient way through its main principle of "Eliminate Waste". In practice, this means avoiding anything that does not produce value for the customer. Examples of Lean thinking are "don’t do all the detailed analysis up front, because it will change or some will not be progressed to delivery" and "test throughout, then you don’t waste time working on things that do not fit the business".

A lean approach can be applied at development level, but it is also often used at the organizational level.

Lean is often used in conjunction with other Agile approaches, since it is complementary to most of them, e.g. Lean and DSDM® Atern®, Lean and Scrum, Lean and XP.

When choosing which Agile approach to adopt, at its simplest, an organization could choose a single Agile approach, focusing on the area of highest concern to them, as demonstrated in the following diagram.

What the Agile method covers

Alternatively, various Agile approaches may be combined to provide a blended approach to fulfil different needs, as demonstrated in the following diagram.

Combining Agile methods

Agile Project Management™ and PRINCE2® - one or the other, or both?

A significant advantage of adopting Agile Project Management™ is that it is a process based on DSDM® Atern®, and over many years Atern® has proven its ability to work alongside and complement PRINCE2®. So for an organization which already uses PRINCE2®, adopting Agile Project Management™ enables the continued use of PRINCE2® with Agile Project Management™ providing complementary, tried and tested Agile management processes.

For an organization that may be new to project management and wanting to deliver Agile projects in a controlled way, Agile Project Management™ alone will provide sufficient guidance to allow for successful management and delivery. However, if the organization wants to further strengthen their project management, then adopting Agile Project Management™ alongside PRINCE2® provides options for the optimum way forward.

DSDM® Consortium - Agile Project Management™ Handbook
DSDM® Consortium - Agile Project Management™ White Paper