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Project management
When Agile is Not the Right Fit for Your Project
Project management
When Agile is Not the Right Fit for Your Project
7 min read
7 min read
The choice of methodology is one of the pivotal aspects of modern project management. However, discussing methodologies can resemble a doctor's consultation, with the audience (like the patient seeking expert advice) wondering if they'll be sent home or to the metaphorical "cemetery" of failed projects. My proposal is simple yet profound: let's empower participants in our discussions and those seeking expert opinions and actionable recommendations.
Download our worksheet, which can be helpful for top managers and project leaders. Reviewing these criteria allows you to identify pitfalls that may undermine Agile's effectiveness.

Why Agile Doesn't Work?
Let's acknowledge that contemporary management techniques such as Scrum, Kanban, and other Agile methodologies are seldom implemented as envisioned upon their inception.

I've overseen project development in various corporate settings for years, from large enterprises to startups. Even in nimble startups, where adopting management paradigms should be more accessible, I've never seen a team strictly follow these methodologies and recommendations.

Initially, there's enthusiasm, but it often dissipates into perfunctory rituals, leading to emotional exhaustion among team members, frustration among leaders, and confusion among clients witnessing their budgets evaporate.

Upon analyzing project performance, execution teams, project managers, and managerial personnel, I've come to the following:
Agile management possesses critical nuances that must be understood before it is adopted for a project, with consensus from all stakeholders.
Agile management possesses critical nuances that must be understood before it is adopted for a project, with consensus from all stakeholders.
A decision to adopt the methodology should only be made after thoroughly understanding these intricacies. Integration into the company's project management framework, including the initiation process, implementation steps, and risk evaluation, should follow this understanding.

I emphasize these nuances not because Agile methodologies fail to meet project requirements but due to their often loose interpretation. Typically, they are treated as mere recommendations or selectively applied formalities. This issue is usually worsened by the lack of qualifications among team members, especially in managerial roles.

Client Team Essentials
To ensure the effective use of these management methodologies in a project, the client team must meet several critical requirements:
  • Exceptionally high qualifications, sometimes even overqualification, among managers, especially in larger teams.
  • Full customer involvement throughout the entire project lifecycle (in this case, the product owner may act for the customer along with whoever controls the project budget).
  • Financial autonomy or strict financial discipline on the client's side, accompanied by a clearly defined roadmap, marketing strategy, and measurable success benchmarks (such as user numbers, revenue, or other quantifiable metrics with clear justification).
  • The willingness of top management to share financial risks or the existence of mechanisms to mitigate losses.

Key Criteria for Agile Project Teams
Critical project team requirements that must be met to succeed with Agile are:
  • The expertise of team members (developers, QA engineers, project managers).
  • Choosing the right technical approach to meet project goals.
For a comprehensive overview of this topic, please refer to our post on selecting the most suitable technology for a project:

Selecting Technology for Long-Term Project Success.
  • The business analyst's extensive experience and high qualifications, including:

    • forecasting skills,
    • using templates for problem-solving,
    • making quick decisions on pivots and
    • prioritizing secondary goals.
  • A highly qualified system architect with:

    • experience in designing systems under uncertainty,
    • access to templates for standard solutions in case of technological challenges.
Failure to meet these conditions can lead to mere imitation of agile principles, team burnout, and doubts about project success.

Critical Business Elements
Implementing approaches like Scrum or Kanban might not yield favorable results if your company lacks the following:

1. A system for tracking staff time.

2. A technique for assessing the skill levels of personnel (not methodology).

3. Transparent personnel motivation mechanisms.

4. Technology for staff development and quantifiable qualification standards.

5. Either a matrix or project-based management structure.
6. Effective communication channels between sales and project management teams and simple mechanisms for distributing responsibility are crucial, especially in large companies.
7. A plan to mitigate financial losses if project profits decrease within a year.

8. A project office with a system for allocating resources, conducting weekly project planning, and overseen by an experienced manager proficient in controlling and forecasting project and financial issues, along with decision-making frameworks for significant deviations from strategic plans.

9. A clearly defined and discussed system for sharing responsibilities between top management and the project office.

10. An implementation plan, a suite of tools, and criteria with comprehensive training for all involved participants, not just management or line staff.

Before insisting on an agile project approach from a software development contractor, it's crucial to honestly assess how many of these elements are already in place within your company.
Scenarios Where Agile Excels
Let's highlight specific scenarios or project types where agile management systems perform best:
  • Developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
  • Finding innovative solutions to overcome technological or marketing challenges.
  • Executing internal company projects.
  • Operating within seasoned teams with at least 3-5 years of collective experience, where team members possess skills above industry standards and are guided by experienced management with direct access to key decision-makers in budget and strategic management.
  • Operating in small startups where each team member carries multiple responsibilities.
  • During the preparation phase for investment rounds, if a designated product owner taking charge is a marketer or product manager.
In any of these scenarios, adopting agile methodologies can significantly enhance project efficiency, provided the conditions I've outlined earlier are met by both the client and the implementation team.
However, it's crucial to accurately evaluate whether both parties can embrace agile methodologies rather than merely imitating them.
This requires specific business processes within the company and the introduction of necessary technologies and methods.

Hardly anyone researches the feasibility of applying or implementing agile methodologies in project management. There's a lack of engagement in preparatory operations and pre-project analysis of the team or the project landscape.

Often, clients demand Agile without fully grasping all its conditions; they're more drawn by the hype or simply because "everyone else is doing it." Clients aren't adequately warned that Agile typically operates on a flexible budget rather than a fixed bid. Sometimes, sales teams promise a fixed bid, leading to conflicts between client expectations and budget allocation agreements within the company.

These issues don't arise because the methodology is flawed but because most teams aren't adequately prepared to apply or implement agile management technologies due to insufficient professional expertise.

I suggest that experts in this field engage in discussions regarding criteria, their implications, and questions (such as a functional questionnaire for business analysts or those responsible for selecting management methodologies) that can aid in analyzing and assessing the feasibility of applying agile technologies to a specific project or integrating them into the company's project management practices.

This collaborative effort will serve as a valuable contribution to enhancing the effectiveness of utilizing agile methodologies, providing significant assistance to top managers and project office leaders across companies.
Don't hesitate to contact us to ensure optimal development and project implementation. With expertise in greenfield projects and ongoing troubleshooting, ITUNIVERSUM LLC is here to assist you promptly and effectively. Let's optimize your project's success together!
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