Agile Killed the Project Star

As a reformed project manager (My “900 days since I built an MS Project Schedule” chip is around here somewhere), with a PMP and active membership of PMI, what I am about to say is rather controversial. But, it needs to be said. From a software delivery perspective, the concept of a project has run its course. It’s time for companies to rethink their IT strategy to focus on smaller units of value (sound familiar?) vs. bloated large-scale collections of stuff (defined start/end date, scope of work, yada yada).

Why? Well, organizations waste too much time and money trying to control projects. From PMO’s wanting to-the-minute time tracking and project status to QA and release management units creating self-imposed false constraints within organizations the concept of a project is a wasteful endeavor. Every attempt to reduce this waste only results in more layers, more organization, more process, more waste. Let’s drop the pretense of all this management and truly lean out the organization. Redirect the funding away from control and use it to deliver more. How much easier would it be for organizations to:

  • Approve a series of small $5,000-$10,000 bundles of updates vs. justification of $250,000 worth of large-scale changes?
  • Have a product owner carve out 2-4 weeks to work with a team vs. 6-9 months of focus?
  • Prioritize valuable features for the organization vs. prioritizing projects that may have one or two high value features but is bloated with much less valuable pork.
  • Deliver needed functionality across the enterprise, vs. benefiting only a handful of LOB’s

The potential for waste reduction is astounding. PMO’s would only have to track a small 2-4 week work package (OK, you got me, PM buzz word). No need to predict the health of a project or what will be delivered six months from now. Instead of multi-page status updates, predictive analysis and fortune telling, these groups would only focus on the health of the current sprint. Weekly status meetings would go the way of the dinosaur.

Initiation and project approval costs would be greatly reduced or eliminated. Many companies sink tremendous cost just getting a project approved, and rightfully so. Who wants to authorize spending $250,000 or more without the proper due diligence? Wouldn’t it be easier to evaluate document the benefits of a feature that is $10,000 or less? Take the BA horsepower you are sinking into pre-project work and get them onto teams.

Portfolio Management? Ditch it. Transform the time and effort to focus on prioritizing the features and bundles of value your organization needs, vs. trying to understand, report and manage an umbrella of projects.

Finally, let your business team focus on the business. Their time would only be required when their feature is “up”. The time commitment would be a short, focused engagement for something they need, vs. a drawn out effort over months that requires a large investment of time.

Reinventing a software delivery organization will not be easy. Convincing all the MBA’s of the world that have deluded us into believing project are required will be a hurdle to overcome. However, we have arrived at a time when we have to think, act and deliver differently. The only question is, who is willing to take the first step?

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  1. Brian Irwin says:

    Hi Brian -

    Great post! I love this concept and it sure would help clear up the confusion of a project manager and their role in agile. It obviously sounds great, but anytime there are fiefdoms and role authorities at stake the change will be long in duration and come with an even greater fight. Everyone’s on board when they speak of value but as soon as they realize it threatens their individualized authority, suddenly there are issues.

    Brian I.

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  2. Excellent read! I’ve said for a long time that the longer a project sticks around the higher the probability of failure. Smaller projects often have a clearer vision of what success means, don’t have to mitigate the landmine of broad stakeholder management, and let the project manager and team focus on getting the thing done. Keep up the good work, sir.

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