Applying the agile method to project management
The expression “agile method” is increasingly becoming a watchword in project management in the past few years. Though few projects are actually managed using the agile method, the approach does offer various concepts that can be used in any type of management and that help optimize the effectiveness and delivery of developments.
“Classic” project management is oriented around an overall long term vision, where everything has to be planned before the project starts. Although an overall vision and high level management of issues remain key to the success of an implementation project, a more dynamic approach – especially for managing development releases – has its own benefits that merit consideration.
A good approach consists of targeting shorter delivery cycles, aiming for less content, but allowing for more frequent releases and a more gradual evolution of the overall solution. That makes change management easier because users only have to adapt to minor adjustments on a regular basis. The result is that the transition to a new system already involving adaptation issues also becomes simpler for users who only have minor adjustments to absorb.
The real challenge of that approach is to start the project and determine what is to be included in the initial release. Once the processes have been analyzed, only elements absolutely necessary to the initial operation of the solution must be identified, and the content of subsequent releases must be properly established around the priorities of the elements remaining to be implemented. Smaller, more frequent releases thus make it easier to manage user expectations.
Another advantage of an implementation involving shorter delivery cycles is that it becomes easier to get user feedback as functions and processes are released. Besides helping dictate future developments, it is easier to revise the development plan if it appears that a decision that seemed viable at the outset, made during the process analysis, eventually turns out to be not so practical after all.
A more segmented approach such as this also makes risk management easier. An implementation with shorter phases necessarily involves fewer processes and thus fewer resources, with the result being that fewer resources need to be devoted to supporting those developments. As a consequence, a company that does not necessarily have the resources to implement a system companywide can do so with a more limited team and a smaller impact on budgets.
Such an approach obviously includes some risks that must be identified and monitored. The greatest risk is falling into “support” mode after the initial release. Ensuring that such an approach is successful means sustaining a good dynamic following the initial release and being able to keep up a strong pace of development concurrently with the support of earlier releases.
In short, once the risks are identified, all that is needed is good management and the knowledge of a few concepts to enable the transition to a more productive system, with minimum impact on a company’s processes, operations and budget.
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