To be quite frank, the "agile" approach to managing software development projects does not appeal to us on project management grounds. But then we lack the experience of Gary Chin who, in this book, makes a good case for the "agile" approach in certain circumstances. Those circumstances are reflected in his book's subtitle "How to succeed in the Face of Changing Project Requirements".
As Gary has pointed out to us:
"[In today's] dynamic technology-driven environments, where customers often don't know, can't articulate, and/or are confused about requirements then, from the project manager's perspective, the requirements always appear to be changing. Traditional scope, cost, schedule control that works well in more mature environments will be ineffective in these cases and therefore, 'agile' is something to consider."
In other words, if the client is not prepared to become reasonably knowledgeable of what they want, then they must be prepared to pay for exploration. In fairness, you cannot "see" software, you can only see the interface that connects you to it. That means a "voyage of discovery" that does not readily support traditional scope and cost control.
How many clients are there out there like that? Well, it seems that in the struggle to always be on the cutting edge, quite a few. As Gary explains:
"In a fast-paced business environment filled with uncertainty and change, project management can feel more like running an obstacle course. You and your team are constantly running into internal and external factors that force you to change direction - in a hurry. But acting quickly to keep projects aligned with shifting business priorities doesn't mean acting hastily. What your PM team and processes need is agility."
The flysheet on the cover of Gary's book goes further by stressing:
"As the pace of business accelerates and competition becomes fiercer than ever, project requirements can change in the blink of an eye. Traditional project management methods that once worked in predictable, mechanized installations are much less reliable in today's technology driven and financially unstable environments. Revised product specs, slashed budgets, and compressed delivery schedules all conspire to throw off even seasoned project managers. Your project team needs to be able to keep pace, and the key is agility: the ability to move quickly and dramatically to get around any and all obstacles."
According to Gary: "Agile Project Management presents a practical and repeatable methodology for building a sound yet flexible project process." Sound? Slashing budgets and compressing delivery schedules hardly seems consistent with revising product specs, but if the methodology is practical, repeatable and flexible, we'll let that pass for now. It seems that what we have is a management problem, not a project management problem.
Still, if that is the prevailing culture, this book will explain how to deal with it.
1. By Email, 3/21/06
2. Agile Project Management back cover fly sheet
3. Ibid, front cover fly sheet