Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Project Delivery Continuum

Agile, the Dark Ages, and maintaining appreciation for project delivery as a method agnostic goal.


Agile methods have emerged and become popular over last few years as a response to perceived shortcomings of waterfall delivery model. We have seen agile proponents take an almost evangelistic approach, claiming that agile methods should be used in all cases and that those who don’t agree with them are living in the Dark Ages. Conversely, the agile approach is stomped on by some as being akin to chaos, and anyone who evangelises agile is a developer who has simply never seen a project managed properly.

Just as when you choose a courier, delivery can't be ignored in project management, whether your agile, waterfall or agnostic in delivery. Image courtesy snaillad @Flickr, re-used with permission.
Just as when you choose a courier, delivery can't be ignored in project management, whether your agile, waterfall or agnostic in delivery. Image courtesy snaillad @Flickr, re-used with permission.
There is some truth in both arguments, but devotees of the "either or" position show a fundamental lack of understanding of delivery. In truth, there is a continuum – a spectrum of project delivery, in fact, there always has been. It is simple, basic, good practice.

On the one hand you have the pure adaptive approach. Welcoming change, this approach is perfect in circumstances where there's an advantage to get something partial out now rather than everything later. Or, maybe the sponsor isn't entirely sure what they want – ok, so give it to them in bits so everyone can be sure the right approach is being taken. Or, maybe new technology is involved and we want to reduce risk by delivering iteratively.

Conversely, the culture of the environment may not be conducive to the flexibility required when delivering using an agile method – governance may be very rigid, and empowering a team maybe as likely as jumping over a house. Maybe there are very restrictive regulatory requirements that remove any chance of flexibility – or maybe the sponsor just isn't interested in a flexible approach.

In truth, it is very rarely a case of "either or". Agile practices can (and often should) be adapted in traditionally waterfall approaches, and vice-versa. For example, having weekly stand-ups in an infrastructure project where the sponsor has definite requirements and is not interested in flexibility. Or including a risk management plan to keep those overseeing regulatory aspects of delivery where an agile approach is chosen. Or delivering an individual work package in a purely agile way, where the rest of the project is waterfall.

So in practice, delivery methods form a continuum, with purely adaptive methods at one end and purely prescriptive methods at the other. As delivery professionals, we must lose the temptation to evangelise about one or other of these extremes and understand that we need to learn the skills to place our project or work package at the appropriate position in the delivery continuum, based on aspects such as what we are delivering, the nature of the team, who we are delivering to and where we are delivering it.

Steve Butler, p3m global
Steve Butler is Head of Delivery at p3m global. Steve served as co-author of the PMI Standard for Portfolio Management, 3rd Edition, and has been a key contributor to other recent PMI publications, including OPM3, 3rd Ed., and Software Extension to the PMBOK® Guide Fifth Edition, earning special distinction as the only co-author based in the UK.

Image courtesy snaillad @Flickr, re-used with permission.