Agile is NOT a Project Management Methodology!
A range of IT commentators are confusing a product development methodology with project management. Agile is not an IT project management methodology any more than choosing to use pre-cast concrete in preference to brickwork is a construction management methodology.

Agile is certainly a useful product development methodology for many IT applications and is extremely useful in other situations such as developing training materials and many business change projects where most of the deliverables are relatively intangible and the work can be undertaken iteratively. However this cannot turn it into a project management methodology.

Project management is the process of defining scope, deciding on the optimum strategy for delivery and appropriate methodologies, creating teams, and all of the other project management processes defined in the PMBOK® Guide. If Agile is chosen as the product development methodology for an IT project it will certainly influence the way the project is planned, resourced and controlled but Agile itself is not ‘project management’. This is no different to the need to plan and execute a building project differently if all of the walls are delivered to site as precast panels compared to having workers build the walls in situ using bricks or blocks. If a project exists, project management is the overall controlling process not the selected work delivery process.

What is lacking in most commentary I’ve seen on Agile is any sensible discussion on using Agile within a project environment. The critical changes to scope management, change management, cost management and time management needed to deal with the fluidity of Agile effectively within the constraints of a project are discussed in a related article‘Managing Agile Projects’. Project Management is still about delivering optimum value based on a predefined framework of time, cost and output and managing changes within this structure.

It would seem many of the advocates of Agile are actually suggesting abandoning project management in situations where the client cannot really define its requirements and adopting a different form of management where conversations control the process development in a collaborative environment and the overall team’s focus is on achieving a ‘happy outcome’ for everyone. The primary constraint in this space is the resources capacity to deliver and the budgeting process is focused on paying for a more or less stable team of people working consistently on improving the business’ IT infrastructure to service its operational areas.

As discussed in 'De-Projectising IT Maintenance' there certainly are limitations to the traditional ‘project management’ paradigm. If this observation is correct the real focus of discussion should be where PM works best and then where the new collaborative ‘agile paradigm’ works best.

In summary I’m advocating:

  • Agile is not a project management methodology, it is a product development methodology that has wider application.
  • Project management is not always the optimum approach to managing work (particularly in IT).
    Agile principles can (and should) be appropriately applied to projects
  • Project management needs to adapt it's approach, if an Agile product development methodology is selected for a particular project.