Agile project management: winning hearts and minds while transforming business

by Allan Thomson, PPM Product Ambassador, AXELOS / 4/9/2018 1:28:26 PM

Nearly three years on from the launch of PRINCE2 Agile, Allan Thomson – AXELOS’s PPM Product Ambassador – reflects on what organizations need from project delivery today, how an agile approach can support that need and how PRINCE2 Agile is changing:

Ways of working are changing rapidly around us and organizations are becoming more tech-centric, dynamic and flexible: think, for example, Airbnb and Uber.

With this change the new breed of businesses has also become more agile-focused, which isn’t solely about speed but bringing along the hearts and minds of the people involved.

The spread of agile behaviours in organizations – for example parallel working, transparency (honesty) between teams especially when dealing with bad news, sharing updates and information – is giving people greater courage to explore stubborn issues to see if they can be fixed.

AXELOS’ PRINCE2 Agile best practice guidance and certification – first launched almost three years ago – has been a step on the road to helping project managers benefit from agile approaches. Since then times have changed and we are responding to those changes with a new certification this year: PRINCE2 Agile Foundation.

More about that later, but I’d like to reiterate that elements we built in to the original PRINCE2 Agile guidance are perhaps more valid than ever before: for example, the behaviours such as being collaborative, self-organizing, customer-focused, empowered and trusting rather than blaming.

Project managers and agile working methods

Project managers are beginning to embrace agile methods more, particularly if it’s part of a governance-type structure, enabling them to deliver value earlier and increase stakeholder confidence.

Equally, I think we’re moving away from the concept that agile relates only to IT projects and the use of methods such as Scrum. The agile “purist” idea of dispensing with project managers has to be seen as careless. Yes, you might have an agile coach and a Scrum Master, but with a project you still need a project manager to manager cost, time and scope. Good organizations will recognize this and have transparency built in alongside the right principles and behaviours.

Agile for everything?

Despite the increasing recognition of agile’s benefits, we have to be clear that it won’t solve every problem.

For example, yes, you can include agile delivery in programmes, but it’s not the entire solution to organizational transformation. Agile can be a business transforming framework if you get it right, but it doesn’t negate the need for programmes, projects and the associated methods to support agile ways of working. It still needs top-down buy-in and the executive suite still remains wary of agile, as AXELOS latest PPM benchmarking study found (see bottom of article).

Ultimately it’s about using the right tools to get the job done and joining up what needs to joined up in a change initiative. You might need to change your business quickly, but that still needs a governance structure while making sure customers are aware of proposed changes and are involved in building a new product.

The new PRINCE2 Agile Foundation

When AXELOS launched PRINCE2 Agile in 2015, it was a Practitioner-level certification which needed prior knowledge of PRINCE2. The new certification – PRINCE2 Agile Foundation – opens up this best practice to professionals who are not already trained in PRINCE2.

That means anyone responsible for management and delivery in agile projects and project teams can access and benefit from the knowledge and guidance. This applies to people including project managers, project support, senior PMO managers and others working with delivery teams.

The certification gives both a basic understanding of PRINCE2 project management methods and the ability to tailor them to an agile environment. An introduction to popular agile concepts and techniques including Scrum and Lean Start-up is also covered within the learning and examination.

Also, as mentioned earlier, the need for a level of governance to support agile working means PRINCE2 Agile Foundation will equip existing agile practitioners – such as Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, delivery team members, product owners and managers – with additional project management capability.

Moving forward with agile

I think we can agree that organizations – if they want to survive – need to change their ways of working.

However, implementing agile working methods has to be top-down, bottom-up to be successful; involving the C-suite in setting strategy and empowering teams to work together more effectively, using collaboration and linking strategy to delivery in a transformational exercise.

Large organizations faced with the new influx of disruptive businesses need to change mind-set and the hearts and minds of their people to avoid the fate of some well-known companies.

They need to have methods to react to these disruptive threats and agile is one, increasingly important, method in the toolbox.

Designing PRINCE2 Agile Foundation for a broader audience of project and product delivery professionals is about enabling them to deliver value from their projects earlier, limit the risk of creating poor quality products with the use of incremental and iterative delivery and promote transparent behaviours and working practices.

It’s about embedding disciplined flexibility: a modern approach to the challenges of rapid change facing both private and public sector organizations.

Agile project management – what project managers really think

How agile is project management today?

AXELOS’ most recent PPM benchmarking study – which harvested the views of almost 600 project managers worldwide – found enthusiasm among practitioners for agile working (77%). However, this positive attitude to agile isn’t always shared at an organizational level, with only 39% saying their employer had a “significant appetite” for agile.

The reasons for this scepticism among senior management are driven by a perception that agile is attempting to short cut controls and sign-off processes; something that appears to be at odds with accepted project management protocols.

Commenting on the findings on the AXELOS blog, Duncan Wade of the Human Interface Consultancy said: “Agile has been fighting to get a foothold and has taken some extreme views at times, challenging the validity of traditional working methods and sometimes belittling the role of governance in project management. Good governance is something that senior management needs and it allows senior management to maintain confidence in the management of portfolios and individual projects. Meanwhile, some project managers have remained stubbornly traditional.

“What we need is a normalization process that shows how both sides bring something to the party. Ultimately, the respective approaches need to be tied together and appropriate for the job in hand. It’s about the best solution for both delivery and good governance to obtain the right outcomes.”

PPM practitioner and trainer, Michelle Rowland added: “With a method such as PRINCE2 Agile, there is an ability to provide the right level of governance at the management level while allowing agile delivery. That means seeing the “big picture” and ensuring strategic alignment while delivering iteratively and incrementally. In other words, having the best of both worlds.”

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