Many organisations who consider themselves mature as far as Project Management is concerned have established in-house Methodologies, which are often based on a ‘Waterfall’ approach. Some even consider that this is the only way to run Projects. The term ‘Waterfall’ is used to describe the approach whereby a Project is run as a sequential series of phases – in a predictive way, where once a phase is complete you cannot go back and revisit a prior phase. Typically all design and decisions are made up front and in detail in the early phases, and then the later phases focus on execution and delivery against those designs. This approach does accommodate Change during the cycle but subject to rigorous review and analysis processes.

There has been much talk over the years of alternative approaches that adopt more adaptive practices, whereby design decisions are only made at high levels to start with and then deepened as the project progresses, and with a more accommodating attitude to Change within the cycle. In many sectors this talk is becoming reality, with many organisations adopting these approaches, known collectively as ‘Agile’.




But, by definition, if you leave your design decisions until later, doesn’t that imply loss of control, which Project Management is supposedly all about ? Doesn’t it also mean the Customer doesn’t have to think very hard about what they want until later in the project, meaning constantly shifting goal-posts?  These are popular views held by some dyed-in-the-wool adherents to Waterfall approaches. Within the umbrella term of Agile, there are many different practices or flavours – some of which do indeed eschew the concept of a Project (such as Scrum or eXtreme Programming, for example – which are much more focused on delivery), others take a more holistic view and embrace the concepts of Control and Governance at the same time as enabling an adaptive approach at the Delivery layer. Two such examples are Dynamic System Development Methodology (a.k.a. DSDM Atern, or rebadged latterly as Agile Project Management, or Agile PM), and Prince2 Agile.

Typically Agile methods are geared at and more suited to IT Projects, but can be used for any Project where early Benefits can be delivered through frequent and rapid delivery cycles. Agile PM and Prince2 Agile are very similar and both incorporate the concepts of high level sequential Governance Phases such as Pre-Project, Start-Up/Feasibility, Project Initiation/Foundations, Delivery, Close-out, but it is at the more detailed Products within the Project Management Layer and at the approaches within the Delivery Layer that they different from the more traditional Waterfall approaches. The Benefits from these approaches can be summarised as below:-

  • Business more likely to feel ownership of the Solution
  • Prioritisation enables the project to deliver on time while protecting quality
  • The risk of building the wrong solution is greatly reduced
  • Deployment is more likely to go smoothly

In the next post we’ll look at how Agile methods work to provide these Benefits.