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What Is Agile Project Management? What Transformation is Needed?

There is a lot of confusion about what Agile Project Management is. There is also some uncertainty about what transformation is needed to move to an Agile Project Management approach. I’ve even heard some people in the Agile community say that “there is no such thing as Agile project management”.

  • I don’t really believe that there is no such thing as Agile Project Management but it is true that the role of a project manager in Agile is not well-defined and is still evolving
  • I also believe it will take a major transformation of how we think about project management to reshape the project management profession to fill this new role

Although it is difficult at this point in time to precisely define how the Agile Project Management role may wind up, we can certainly see that a very significant transformation is needed.

What Is Agile Project Management?  What Transformation is Needed?

Agile Project Management Transformation

Transforming Caterpillars into Butterflies

I attended a very good webinar with Ankur Nagpal, the CEO of Teachable, which is one of the training platforms that hosts my Agile Project Management Training curriculum.   He was talking about how to market training and made a comment something to the effect of:

“We shouldn’t be providing “training courses”; we should be providing “transformation”

He used the example of transforming a caterpillar into a butterfly.  He is absolutely right and that is exactly the approach I’ve focused on developing in my Agile Project Management courses. 

What Transformation is Needed?

It’s not exactly transforming “caterpillars” into “butterflies” but I think that analogy fits pretty well. It’s about transforming:

  • Project managers (who may have been heavily indoctrinated in a traditional, plan-driven approach to project management that hasn’t changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s) into
  • A much more high impact orientation

This new Agile Project Management orientation is:

  • Focused on producing results in addition to simply managing projects
  • Based on blending together Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any situation rather than force-fitting all projects to a traditional, plan-driven approach

What’s Different?

There are obviously some big transformations needed in this area to shift people’s thinking:

  • Project Managers, and the project management profession as a whole, need to take a broader view of what “project management” is that embraces Agile as well as traditional plan-driven project management. We need to see “Agile” and “Waterfall” in a fresh new perspective as complementary approaches rather than competitive
  • We also need see “Agile versus Waterfall”  from the perspective of a continuous spectrum of approaches from heavily adaptive at one extreme to heavily plan-driven at the other extreme with lots of alternatives in between rather than a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between two extremes
  • And, Project Managers also need to see “project management” in terms of producing results and not just managing projects and using whatever methodology (or combination of methodologies) is needed to produce the results as effectively and efficiently as possible

Why Is This Transformation Difficult to Do?

This transformation not an easy thing to do for several reasons:

Integration of Agile and Traditional Plan-driven Project Management

A major challenge is to integrate Agile and traditional plan-driven project management. PMI has at least recognized Agile as a legitimate variation of project management; however, up until recently “Agile” and traditional plan-driven project management have been treated as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.

Rethinking “Project Management”

Another major challenge is to develop a broader view of what “project management” is. The prevailing thinking among many people in the project management profession is that, by definition, “project management” is defined as managing projects using a traditional, plan-driven approach and anything else isn’t really “project management”

Overcoming Stereotypes, Myths and Misconceptions

There also many well-established stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions to overcome. For example, one of them is that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” and you need to force-fit your projects and business environment to one of those extremes. The right approach is to go in the other direction and fit the methodology (or combination of methodologies) to the project and business environment

Overall Conclusions

I think you will agree that is a very tall order and a daunting challenge but that is exactly the challenge I have taken on in the Agile Project Management curriculum I’ve developed.  Check it out here:

Agile Project Management Academy

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