The Project Management Institute has recently made announcements about incorporating agility into its project management programs. Ken Schwaber, one of the founders of the agile project management concept, has welcomed the changes by the PMI in his recent blog post, Agility and PMI, stating that the PMI’s traditional predictive approach has experienced less than a 50% success rate (on time, on date, with the desired functionality) whereas the agile community has traditionally enjoyed a far higher success rates over time.
The question that I would ask regarding Ken’s success statements are – is Ken demonstrating his agile bias in his blog post by only considering software engineering projects and the successes that he has personally experienced over the years? How would an agile construction project work for the construction of a new bridge or a tall building that has never been built before? How would Ken manage a 100 million dollar software and infrastructure project in a truly agile manner with enough planning and financial reporting to keep the project sponsor(s) happy?
I don’t believe everything can be planned 100% upfront and expect that almost every project would experience some form of change, whether it be scope, cost or time. I am almost certain that a project such as the construction of the Burj Khalifa would have had numerous variations during the construction phase as the engineer’s uncovered issues during the construction of the world’s tallest building. So in my mind, change is expected, and the selected project management methodology should cater for it in an efficient and effective manner with predictable outcomes.
This leads me to my next point – what is the cost of change in a traditional well planned construction project? I would expect the cost of change to be significant considering all the upfront planning and estimation effort that has already been applied to the project which will need to be reviewed and re-estimated after the variation has been accepted. Are the change management processes in traditional project management frameworks too rigid and causing us to incur significant additional costs that are not required? If you believe they are, my question to you would be how to have a defined scope, light weight change management process, few defects, a known end point and accurate estimates of the final project cost for a construction project such as the Burj Khalifa?
I believe that the project management methodology and governance procedures for any project should be proportional to the size of the project. I believe that smaller projects that are run over a short period of time would be better suited to an agile approach. I also think that many projects would benefit from a hybrid approach bridging formal and agile methodologies. I don’t believe that the Burj Khalifa could have been built in a totally agile manner with just in time planning and iterative engineering on such a significant project.
After working in the industry for some years and discussing project management methodologies with a number of well-respected project managers in a variety of industries, the conversations often uncover agile aspects in many projects that have been managed using the PMBOK or PRINCE2 frameworks. I remember talking to the project manager of a construction project building a new multi storey building. The interesting part of this project was that at the time of constructing the foundations they were not aware of exactly how tall the building was going to be. They simply catered for the tallest option and continued with the construction of the foundations. Doesn’t that sound a little agile to you?
I am intrigued to see how the PMI puts this all together and hope that it will be something that we can all benefit from. I am particularly interested in how the planning, change and reporting processes are going to be handled and if given the opportunity, I will participate in the beta certifications.