PM Boulevard is running a series on Agile methods in their Agile section. It’s called ‘5Qs on Agile’ and various Agile enthusiasts are contributing to it in a Q&A format. Thus far, David Anderson, Bob Schatz and Steve McConnell have contributed. I’m providing my own response below. Click here to go to PM Boulevard’s Agile section:

Q1: Why use Agile methods?

Here are my top reasons to use Agile methods:

  • To reduce process waste (non-value added activity, resource sub-optimization, etc) and to reduce product waste (unused features, poor quality, etc);
  • To deliver products and services with faster time-to-market and better flexibility to change; and to thereby
  • Increase customer and employee satisfaction.

If you are operating in a turbulent environment with changing business conditions and complex technologies, and need to respond to your customers and markets quickly, Agile is clearly for you. For instance, some of our private-sector clients have achieved time-to-market reductions in the 60-70% range by adopting Agile. If these conditions don’t apply, you might still benefit from the increased customer collaboration on Agile teams, as well as the employee satisfaction that comes from working on Agile teams.

Q2: Biggest challenge of implementing Agile methods?

In my experience, organizational culture and the lack of a clear role for middle management.

Notwithstanding all the hype about Agile in CIO circles and aided by the familiarity that other ‘C-level’ executives have with Lean process improvement, executive management generally likes the idea of delivering faster with less waste and being flexible to change. Bottom-up, delivery professionals (developers, business analysts, product owners, etc) take to Agile well because of its ability to get them to unite across silos and deliver customer value in a collaborative environment.

However, mid-level managers who are now attached to prescriptive, linear approaches to project and program management and governance (how’s that yearly budgeting process going to support Agile projects?) have a hard time getting enthusiastic about Agile. Without a clear role and tools for middle management on Agile projects, it’s hard to achieve the necessary buy-in from this community. We Agile proponents have just begun articulating the financial benefits of Agile adoption in business language like real options, incremental funding, time value of money, throughput accounting, etc. so maybe we’re beginning to move on this.

Q3: In what environment will Agile be most successful?

Agile fits best into organizations with entrepreneurial, minimal hierarchy, change-tolerant and disciplined cultures. If the organization is bureaucratic and risk averse on one hand, or ad-hoc and chaotic on the other, adopting Agile wholesale will be a Sisyphean challenge.

Q4: What is the future of Agile?

I don’t own a crystal ball, so I’ll give you three potential future scenarios:

1. Home-run: Agile crosses the chasm from IT to business and benefits the whole company. Early adopter companies continue to adopt Agile as a powerful operational and delivery differentiator, resulting in tremendous market gains and setting the bar for everyone else. Other companies simply have to adopt Agile or go out of business.

2. Fad-of-the-Year: Agile remains in the IT silo, but is continually hyped by vendors, media and consultants, and people simply jump on the bandwagon because of the increased short-term rewards (remember CRM, dot com frenzy, etc). Steady dilution of Agile methods results to the point that Agile projects fail in great numbers and the Standish Group writes an “Agile CHAOS Report.” The “next big thing” is recognized (it’s already out there somewhere now) and the fad cycle begins again.

3. Ho-hum: Agile? Wasn’t that the supply chain software company that got acquired by Oracle?

Q5: Can you recommend a book, blog, podcast, website, or other information source to our readers that you find interesting or intriguing right now?

E.F Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful is a book that I’m enjoying again after many years. I’m relating some of his thinking to my work of evolving Agile to complex, multi-project environments. Peter Drucker’s Management Challenges for the 21st Century has great ideas about productivity as it relates to knowledge workers.

Bob Payne’s Agile Toolkit podcast series has some really good stuff – check out this podcast by Bud Phillips, a business-side VP at Capital One. In setting up our company, LitheSpeed, I was personally inspired by this podcast on entrepreneurial leadership qualities by Janice Fraser of Adaptive Path.

Check out the Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN)’s website and attend the upcoming Leadership Summit in Richmond, Virginia. Finally, let me know how you rate our LitheSpeed Blog.