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July 25, 2014

Tips for Successful Project Management Using 'Agile' Development

By TMCnet Special Guest
Tushar Patel, VP of Marketing, Innotas

“Quick and well-coordinated.” It’s one of the definitions of the word “agile,” and it certainly describes why agile development is here to stay. With adoption rates rising from 24 percent in 2010 to more than 40 percent in 2013, companies are clearly seeing the value of this non-traditional approach in which customer feedback drives iterative product improvements, resulting in better quality and faster times-to-market than is possible with traditional development processes. In fact, research by A.T. Kearney shows that agile projects can increase product quality by up to 63 percent and reduce time to market by up to 37 percent.

Agile (News - Alert) development poses significant challenges to PMOs and business stakeholders because developers champion agile’s focus on “doing,” but most commonly ignore the planning and forecasting (the boring stuff).  Most of this is due to poor training or incorrect use of the process, but nonetheless the challenge is still there.  With over half of companies using a blended agile and waterfall approach to development, it is easy to develop bad habits, making it critical to be aware of how an agile approach impacts planning and alignment with the overall business strategy.

Here are the most common challenges I have seen in enterprise agile development and some tips for how smart companies are navigating the new landscape.

Lack of visibility: Without clear visibility into both waterfall and agile projects, PMOs and executive management are only seeing half of the picture. Unfortunately, the metrics that managers and stakeholders use to provide insight into resources (or “developers”) and project progress aren’t part of the traditional agile lexicon or are poorly understood by non-agile audience members.

Taking a holistic, portfolio-level view of all development projects is key to prioritizing projects and translating agile terms into metrics understandable to the rest of the business. The latest new agile portfolio management solutions enable PMOs and executive stakeholders to analyze maintenance versus new product development; track costs; manage resources; and provide dashboards and reports to keep PMOs, executives and CIOs apprised of statuses, needs, capacity and progress of agile projects and programs.

Limited release predictability: While waterfall development is heavy on schedules and critical path, agile development focuses on iterative development. Agile teams don’t spend time on creating the long term plans and timelines that guide traditional waterfall development. This can make it a challenge for everyone else down the line, from c-level executives to marketing to sales teams, to forecast when releases will be market-ready and what functionality these releases will contain – especially when looking out several months or quarters. This is partly due to the lack of participation in the agile process because agile is commonly viewed as what “developers” do and not looked at holistically for the entire enterprise.

With the right level of visibility of projects’ status and resources in place, organizations should next focus on when features and projects will be delivered. Timely reports that highlight elements such as what new releases will include; when specific user stories or epics are expected to be completed; and what progress has been made toward these targets can go a long way to bridging expectations between agile teams and management.

 Disconnect between agile and waterfall projects: Since more than half of companies leveraging agile development are doing so in a hybrid approach alongside traditional waterfall, it’s not surprising that there’s a lack of standard processes for clearly mapping progress, resources, costs and releases for agile and waterfall teams in the portfolio.

Consistent reporting capabilities that are part of new agile portfolio management tools can help standardize project data in one central location, so PMOs and executives can compare apples to apples through configurable reports and dashboards.

 Risk of misalignment with business strategy: When visibility, release predictability and common metrics between agile and waterfall projects are absent, the stage is unfortunately set for a misalignment between development activities and business strategy.

Putting standardized portfolio governance practices in place helps keep everyone aligned with and accountable to the same organizational priorities — reducing the risk of rogue projects distracting development teams. Taking a proactive approach to requests (user stories or epics) can help prioritize new features and bugs by putting them into a “pre-backlog,” so that only prioritized work moves into developers’ workflow at the appropriate time.

Portfolio management solutions and tactics also establish a “single source of truth” for development teams, PMOs and business stakeholders to steer by. With a common set of metrics, dashboards and reports, it’s easier for everyone to stay aligned with business priorities and overarching strategy.

It is possible to strike a happy medium between agile’s flexible development approach and a traditional reliance on planning, metrics and program management required by the rest of the business.  It is easy to simply say that everyone must understand agile and participate in the process, but that is not realistic due to various reasons. However, by taking the best tactics from portfolio management and applying them to your agile teams and portfolio, the enterprise can achieve the best of both worlds, resulting in more innovation, better resource efficiency, and increased competitive advantage for the company.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson
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