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The 4 key factors needed to make an agile project work

Blog posted by: Steven Deneir – PPM coach, trainer and consultant, owner of be.Projectized, 23 October 2017.

Two female project managers using Post-it notes against a clear screen

Steven Deneir – a project, programme and portfolio management trainer and coach with 20+ years’ experience – highlights his top four tips to agile project management success and reiterates the importance of ongoing learning and certification in approaches such asPRINCE2® and PRINCE2 Agile®.

Steven DeneirThe level of agile use in projects during the past 12 months shows that project managers and their employers are now more aware of the need to change their approaches.

If organizations are going to achieve business objectives they need to be more responsive to customer demand, move faster to market and be able to offer the same quality of product and service. What used to take years can no longer be left for so long.

Companies adopting agile frameworks – while they are not silver bullets – reflect a move in the right direction and a greater chance they will achieve their objectives.

But the move to agile does not please everyone: people who are accustomed to more traditional project management methods can be struck by the degree of openness and transparency involved in agile practices. Certainly, it’s not a place to hide or try to obscure mistakes! So, as organizations make the agile transition they need to both promote its advantages and recognize how it might be perceived negatively by some.

From my experience, there are four key factors that will make an agile project work:

1 The entire team needs to align to all agile principles

Project team members have to commit to the agile approach if it’s going to be successful. So, if even one person chooses to not follow the principles it leaves the remainder of the team susceptible to copying the behaviour, resulting in an overall reduction in commitment and effectiveness. Lack of commitment can be shown in, for example, not showing up for meetings or workshops or not delivering what was promised during time boxes without a good reason. This indicates that something is going wrong. The agile principles are the foundation on which all agile practices are built.

2 On-time delivery is essential

An organization is sponsoring a project because it wants benefits. If the project is late, by definition, the additional effort and cost incurred reduces the benefits expected. By virtue of being late the product can’t be used soon enough and benefits realization starts later, which is a double blow. Moreover, the team, including the business representatives, cannot start working on other initiatives. As such the entire project portfolio of an organization looks like an earthquake just took place – everything is shaken up.

Whatever framework you use, there should be a business case that prioritizes needs which will deliver the greatest business value and the entire project team should understand that.

3 The business must make itself available

The frontline business must be available all the time in an agile project in order to get frequent feedbackcycles.

For example, within a time box of three weeks the business needs to be available to give feedback on screens and reports or whatever products the project develops, how flow will work, etc. Every day in this period needs to demonstrate progress in the right direction. And business availability also provides flexibility with changing needs, which means there is less lost time if the business wants to change something.

4 There must be a prioritization of needs

Using the MoSCoW principles (must have, should have, could have, won’t have this time but maybe later) in order to deliver something on time, something might need to be dropped from the list of needs if things go wrong. If a business doesn’t understand that then it can’t work in an agile or flexible way. The result is that businesses can say “we want everything” without consideration for the timeframe and whether it’s actually worth having everything.

In 2017, if it’s imperative for your organization to stay in its market and remain competitive there is no choice but to be agile. I’m not saying “Scrum” here, but agile. Take an agile mindset, follow the agile principles. Companies are witnessing the need to move much faster and be more responsive just to stay in business, even in niche markets.

And training and learning is an essential part of this: I’m convinced that practitioners learn from each other as fellow trainees as well as from the professional experience of their trainer. A strong trainer and coach will help you interpret how to use and understand the values behind best practice approaches such as PRINCE2 Agile, along with examples of putting it into practice in different contexts in order to achieve your objectives.

Remember one of the PRINCE2 principles: Learn from Experience. It will certainly help you in becoming a better agile practitioner.

See our PRINCE2 Agile section and Agile Wheel for more information.

More AXELOS Blog Posts from Steven Denier

Standardize your project processes with checklists

My CPD Life

The top myths about PRINCE2® and agile methods.


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