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Agile Project Management: When Following What’s Hot is not Always a Good Idea

Every year, a few topics become “hot” and many companies blindly follow the trend and rush to implement whatever that topic may be. Additionally, consultants pop out of nowhere claiming to be experts in these latest fads. Millennials? Mindfulness? Servant leadership? No problem. There’s an endless supply of people that can train you on that.

The problem is that companies assume that if a topic is hot, then that topic must be important for everyone. They don’t think about whether that topic, skill or approach actually holds any relevance for their leaders and employees.

One topic that I see greatly misused is Agile project management (PM). It originated in the software world where it was very appropriate to software development. This approach to project management then spread to different functional areas. In some companies, I have even seen a mandate that all projects will be managed using the Agile approach instead of the traditional approach. This is not a good decision for your project management. Here’s why…

What is a Project?

  • A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end time.

  • A project has a defined scope and defined resources.

  • A project is not a routine operation. It is a specific set of operations designed to accomplish the defined objectives.

Your project manager is responsible for keeping the project on-time, on-budget and meeting expected quality levels.

What is Agile PM?

In traditional project management, we know what we need to accomplish and by when. We have a schedule for the entire project and we can list all of our activities on a Gannt chart for tracking and monitoring.

With Agile PM, we do not know all of the activities for the project. The project cycles through phases and each phase is a smaller project. We know only the activities that we will complete in the current cycle. Customer demands and priorities will determine what happens in later cycles.

Agile PM works well in the software world because software companies use ongoing customer feedback to determine the new features they will add to the next release of their product. The more customers that want “Feature A,” the more likely “Feature A” will make it onto the development list for the next release.

Agile PM works well in situations with:

  • Rapidly changing technology,

  • Changing customer preferences,

  • Rapidly changing skill set needs, and

  • Uncertain project scopes.

So What’s the Problem?

The problem I see is that some companies are trying to force all projects into an Agile framework. If the project is something where all of the deliverables are known and the entire project can be planned, then traditional PM will provide a more structured and organized project environment.

In Human Resources, most projects do not need an Agile approach. If your project is a technology installation or the creation of a new handbook, traditional PM will work well and is easier to explain to those on the team that are unfamiliar with PM.

When I worked in engineering many years ago and our automotive customers handed us a 100+ page specification document, traditional PM worked well. The specification document defined the product size, performance criteria and all of the testing that the product had to pass before it would be accepted by the customer.

When I led an engineering R&D team, the circumstances were different. We only knew the first phase of research since the results of the first phase defined what we needed to research in the second phase. In the analytics world, the approach to conducting an analysis is identical to R&D. We often need to see the results of the first phase of analysis for the data to “lead us” to define the next phase.

The Bottom Line

While new approaches to “getting things done” can be innovative, it is important to think about whether these new approaches will help or hinder your company. Don’t jump on the bandwagon unless it makes sense to do so.

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Tracey Smith is an internationally recognized analytics expert, speaker and author. Her hands-on consulting approach has helped organizations learn how to use data analytics to impact the bottom line. Tracey’s career spans the areas of engineering, supply chain and human resources. She is CPSM certified through the ISM. If you would like to learn more, please visit or contact Tracey Smith through LinkedIn. You can check out her books on her Amazon Author Page or on Kobo.