Project Management Methodology
The modern world of software projects appears to be flooded with agile terminology. Whether it is companies that claim to be at the cutting edge of agile or companies trying to catch up on the latest trends to improve project delivery, there is no escape from the seemingly ubiquitous agile approach and all its trappings.
The desperate need to change the way projects are delivered and the hasty adoption of agile have caused some problems in certain organizations. Some companies are continually breaking the corners off their own processes and project scope to make them fit into an agile model. I have seen organizations become consumed with the agile terminology, tools and buzz words and lose sight of the fact that there is still a lot of work to do. This may sound cynical but there are still the normal bread and butter mundane elements of a project from which there is no escape if you want to run an effective project. This is particularly prevalent in the area of Life Sciences.
It’s about the project
If there is a possibility that scope and priority may change because you’re working in a turbulent and complex environment maybe it’s because the requirement has not been well defined at the from the start it’s preferable to work in a more agile way where you can adjust as you go but the agile approach it doesn’t lend itself to efficient requirements gathering nor doesn’t guarantee an efficient delivery. The agile approach won’t guarantee effective requirements gathering (where most project problems begin and end)
Rather than getting caught up in the fashionable aspect of agile, it is more prudent to take time to understand the scope of work and the associated complexity. Often, a careful blend of both agile and waterfall methodology is the most effective means of delivering a project.
To GANTT or Not to GANTT
To use a specific example, at the beginning of a large project or program in industry in every organisation there is always Gantt chart assembled using a software application. There is a huge focus on the plan but rarely is there a strong focus on the planning process itself. Some organizations treat this chart as the only means of planning and tracking. Those who choose to do this often end up in trouble. I take a completely different approach to the use of Gantt charts particularly on large complex projects and programs.
The biggest error that I see made in most Industries and most projects is where the Gantt is seen as the only tool available to both plan and run a project. The Gannt contains all resources, roles and responsibilities, tasks millstones and inter-dependencies. When visiting a client for the first time I am often presented with a monster Gantt chart plastered across one wall of an office. Sometimes these contain thousands of tasks in the work breakdown structure. This issue with these types of plans is that by the time it has been removed from the plotter it is normally already out of date.
Gantt charts provide a very effective means of understanding the complexity and the order of magnitude of a project. For example, a Gantt chart will be able to give me information on a project as to whether it’s going to be a 12 month or a 15 month or a 9 month or a 6-month project. The Gantt chart can also provide a better understanding of interdependencies within the project and the impact a specific dependency can have on the outcome and duration of the project.
Gantt charts provide a very effective means of understanding the complexity and the order of magnitude of a project.
So, when we take this into consideration Gantt charts have a valuable role to play at the very beginning of a project or if there are any major changes the project. Another important output of Gantt charts can be the resource estimation of the time skill sets required in order to deliver the project.
Once the Gantt chart has been developed (it takes several attempts to get a reasonably accurate Gantt chart of the project or program) it can then be possible to break the specific portions of the program into more bite sized chunks look at them individually. It is very important here however never to lose sight of the big picture and all the major milestones that have been defined by the Gantt chart.
Enter agile. So then we can look at the difference sections of the plan and it is here we can begin to look at the more agile approach such as Sprints run by daily scrum meetings.
The titanic shift from conventional waterfall methods to agile can introduce just as many challenges as many agile experts claim it can overcome.
Two fundamental features that constantly need challenge are:
No Project Manager needed
I’ve only seen this work in exceptional circumstances where all the corporate planets are aligned – i.e. company culture, innovation, high performing team members, and 100% accountability. Regardless of the approach, a large body of work still needs to be managed.
So when we take these brief points into account, we are starting to talk about a hybrid approach where the benefits of the waterfall approach and agile approach can be realised by focusing on what you need to deliver and then choosing the best method of delivery. Being careful not to cement the method of delivery too early on the project and always leave it open to change. This will ensure that your project delivery approach is truly agile instead of it towing the agile line for the sake of it.
In truth the method of delivery is not too important. What is important is the delivery itself. It is very difficult at the beginning of a project or program particularly one that’s never been done before, to define the exact method of delivery. On a long term (12-18 Month) project it is virtually impossible. The advice that I would give here to let the size complexity and the strategy of the project delivery define the method.One of the main challenges in industry today is massive use of jargon or the desire and use of more jargon without a good working knowledge of what the words mean, what are intended to mean and so agile within one organisation have a completely different meaning when you transpose to another organisation. Different industries will view what agile is differently too.
It looks like Hybrid is a new buzzword on top of many buzzwords, for example agile was a buzzword concept at one stage. These approaches have existed for many years in different Industries such as manufacturing.
So although Hybrid is the new trend/fashion/buzzword, it will no doubt create another need for training, knowledge transfer and learning.
In truth when one of our clients looked at how that had been doing projects for years, they were effectively taking a Hybrid approach, they just didn’t call it anything in particular.
The purpose of a project or program should be to add value or reduce the risk to a business by implementing a new system or product. The business therefore should not see projects a something else outside of the business. The focus should be very much on what it takes to deliver those benefits to the business.
Therefore, the question should now move to how you can deliver those benefits in the most efficient way for your organization. From my experience, nobody is really interested in how hard you are working, but in what you are delivering.
The most effective method may be Agile, it may be Waterfall or most likely it could be a careful mixture of both. Don’t lock yourself into an approach too early in the project or program. Don’t be afraid to review and adjust the approach until it’s working.
On a related topic read The Project Mindset
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