Late last month, I had the privilege of presenting a workshop on the topic of Agile Project Management (APM) in Milan, hosted by the Northern Italy Chapter of the the Project Management Institute (PMI). You can get a copy of my presentation here.

I had been invited to present at PMI NIC because, having read my book Managing Agile Projects earlier, leaders of PMI NIC told me that they believed that APM is a better fit for the needs of Italian business than other heavier project management methods because of its balance between structure and flexibility. They consequently invited me to present a workshop on APM in Milan. Needless to say, I was more than pleased to present on my APM framework’s six practices: Organic Teams, Guiding Vision, Simple Rules, Open Information, Light Touch and Adaptive Leadership to an appreciative audience!

On a different note, I had picked up Alan Greenspan’s book, The Age of Turbulence, and found it to be suprisingly great reading, perhaps because it is much more relevant to agility than I would have thought. As can be expected of an oracle of the free market, Greenspan spends a lot of time ruminating on the concept of creative destruction. That got me started thinking about the relevance of Greenspan’s insights on creative destruction and free markets to APM. Here are some thoughts based on presenting APM in Milan, reading Greenspan’s book and learning more about Italian business.

1. APM is great for small business. According to my hosts, the large majority of businesses in Italy are small businesses with less than 200 people, and APM is potentially a great model for business owners to run their businesses. This is different from just applying APM on projects within companies as we tend to do here in the U.S.A. Incidentally, I remember similar conditions in New Zealand from my visits there some years ago.

2. Virtual teams are ubiquitous. Distributed software development, with virtual teams being sourced from all over Europe and Asia is as ubiquitious in Italy as in other parts of Europe and North America. Agile teams in Italy (and elsewhere) will be well served in determining how to adapt Agile methods appropriately for distributed delivery.

3. Central planning is a no-no. Central planning is unsustainable and contrary to human operation. Greenspan ruminates on this at length in his book, citing the clash of ideologies between centrally planned economies and free markets with the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union as the prime example. APM eschews centralized, top-down control in favor of self-organization and Light Touch leadership. Or put differently, we favor a ‘thin, enabling center’ instead of a ‘fat, commanding center.’

4. Creative destruction carries baggage. Creative destruction is often viewed as simply destruction. In Schumpeter’s pertutual cycle, today’s dominant behemoths will eventually be replaced by nimbler, innovative challengers. Innovation, doing cool new things, etc comes at a price and provides only temporary advantage. Also, creative destruction hurts – layoffs, job redeployments, etc upset the stability that many seek in their careers and lives. So, when Agile teams are interacting directly with their product owners, someone’s job just got altered or a part of it got “creatively destroyed.” The most impacted would see this as simply “destroyed.”

5. Trust is a great business enabler. The greater our trust in people with whom we trade, the greater the all-round accumulation of wealth. Robert Axelrod, in the Evolution of Cooperation, examines the conditions under which fundamentally selfish entities cooperate. It turns out that a “nice, but provocable” strategy is the best for long term cooperation and trust. APM advocates integrated multidiciplinary teams that cut across organization silos, with lots of feedback all the time, making for increased trust. And that trust is a great business enabler.

6. Rules are essential. At the macro-economic level, the rule of law is the key to prosperity. With APM’s Simple Rules, we have an essential set of generative rules that we can evolve in response to changing conditions for maximum flexibility and minimum waste. Without rules we have only chaos; too many rules and we have rigidity, unnecessary complexity and waste.