Agile: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

According to the Project Management Institute website, the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) is their fastest growing certification.

In the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), Agile methods are discussed under the Project Lifecycle definition as follows:

“Adaptive project life cycle, a project life cycle, also known as change-driven or agile methods, that is intended to facilitate change and require a high degree of ongoing stakeholder involvement. Adaptive life cycles are also iterative and incremental, but differ in that iterations are very rapid (usually 2-4 weeks in length) and are fixed in time and resources.”

The Agile concept grew out of collaboration between seventeen software developers around 2001. Their ideas evolved into the publication of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, focusing on “delivering good products to customers by operating in an environment that does more than talk about “people as our most important asset” but actually “acts” as if people were the most important, and lose the word “asset”.”

According to our textbook, “The key point is that traditional PM techniques were developed to operate in the predictable zone where the scope of the project is fairly well defined and technology to be used is established. Agile lives in the unpredictable zone.” (Larson and Gray 584). Key differentiators of Agile include; continuous design, flexible scope, high uncertainty, and self-organizing teams engaged in high customer interaction.

Clearly Agile Project Management has reached the point of mainstream adoption. In our ever shifting, rapidly expanding world, think of the following types of projects which fall into the Agile sweet spot:

  • Where requirements will change drastically during the lifecycle.
  • The customer does not provide the specifics of what they want up front, but has a loose idea instead.

I spoke with a coworker, an experienced Product Manager, who feels that Agile is great in concept, but harder in implementation, especially in large organizations. The Agile model thrives on simplicity, which may be difficult to achieve in a big firm. Our employer is global, so a geographically distributed Engineering and Marketing group makes face-to-face meetings more difficult and prolongs the quick iterations that Agile strives for. Although, technology is helping to bridge the gaps.

Another topic of discussion surrounded total buy-in at the enterprise level. Agile is not something to dip your toes in. Success is realized and repeated through dedicated Agile teams. The Agile model does not necessarily align with a matrix team environment and may end up defeating the purpose due to a lack of team cohesion.


Questions / Discussion:

What are your thoughts on Agile Project Management? Good, bad, indifferent?

Feel free to share any personal experiences surrounding Agile, a shift away from Traditional PM or a hybrid approach.

Is it realistic to introduce Agile on a team-by-team basis? Do you see any roadblocks?



Larson, Erik W. and Gray, Clifford F. (2011). Project Management: The Managerial Process. New    York, NY: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

7 thoughts on “Agile: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

  1. Agility, speed-to-market, adaptive, flexible. Who doesn’t want to be all these things? It makes sense that the PMI recognizes the Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) as its fastest growing certification program. Is it realistic and practical for large companies to expect to be “agile?” I doubt it’s a practical or realistic goal for a large company, but it’s commendable to strive for. I work for a large, global company which is family-owned. Because they are not publicly traded, they think they are more flexible and entrepreneurial. In reality, because of its size, communication, empowerment, and engagement lack. These are critical components to an organization that seeks agility in the marketplace. I view Agility as a business requirement to stay competitive and responsive to changing customer needs but realize there are “degrees of Agility”. Agility seems obtainable to different degrees, depending on the project team, the company culture, and the company size.

  2. Great post. My opinion on Agile is that it really truly depends on the product or project. For example, in my company we are trying to engage our customers with more software products versus our traditional hard goods offerings. I feel Agile works in software because of how relatively quickly code can be changed based on end user feedback. We recently had multiple parallel paths for UX/UI, audio, graphics, backend data, plus a few others all being worked on and tested at the same time. The paths would merge every two weeks, testing as whole would be conducted, feedback collected, then they would split again. It was amazing as to how fast we moved and the dramatic difference in what our software product started out as versus what it looks like today. We liked the experience so much that we tried to layout several hard good development project(s) in an Agile format and it was nearly impossible due to a lack of resources or logistical or tactical concerns that would never allow it to work or be as fast. Agile works, but I definitely do not think it is a one size fits all option.

  3. I agree that Agile is a great concept but might not work in all the instances. Unlike sequentially structured projects, Agile provides greater flexibility and ability to perform continuous adjustments which could result in a product that is better matched to customer requirements at less cost. Agile stresses out an importance of teamwork, shared responsibility and face-to-face communication. Communication is the key! If the project using agile methodology is lacking effective communication structure and is not managed properly, it can become chaotic and disastrous, result in budget overruns, missed deadlines and final product being significantly different than desired and expected by the customer.

  4. This is a good post on agile. I understand why this is the fastest growing PM approach for software, because it allows software developers to be creative and eliminates micro management to a certain extent. Agile is growing so quickly due to the proliferation of the internet and development with all products.
    I have looked into taking this PM certification and believe it could help in many instances. In my mind the approach is still very similar with defining specifications and allowing them to develop.

  5. I really liked this post, because our company is in a constant transformation about what method to approach technology projects. Agile seems to be “so last year” and is evolving further and many larger companies are trying to keep up. I agree that Agile is great in concept, but since it thrives on simplicity, it is not the holy grail that all technology projects need to follow. For technology-based customer-facing companies like Spotify (see link below) or Uber it is possible to test a lot of different tweaks based on solving a small, specific, customer problem. When implementing complex technology that links customers to individuals within the company to complete core business transactions, Agile is much more difficult to follow. The autonomy needed to make Agile efficient, as you mentioned, is harder in a matrix environment with multiple stakeholders.

    We’re now chasing the POD concept: Spotify Engineering Culture

  6. Great post. I agree with previous comments, Agile developed for fast moving, changing project structure which best suited for software companies, where things are changing really fast and client need and expectations are also changing. I interviewed one project manager of software industry and she couldn’t stop taking about how Agile and how it is boon to software companies where there they check weekly updates,and their task are define one or two weeks long and have client feedback every 15 days. but this is definitely not suitable tradition work culture environment companies

  7. Interesting! I agree with many of the comments above and your post that agile might not always align neatly within larger corporate structures, but I think it’s interesting that PMI is specifically offering a certification with the Agile title. In the way you describe the implementation, I saw a lot of parallels to the lean startup methodology, which works incredibly well for smaller organizations. It’s a useful skillset, regardless of company size, but isn’t always the perfectly-aligned solution for an existing company.

    While I don’t have much hands-on experience with agile project management, I could certainly see this certification becoming trendy in hiring processes for project managers. The agile specificity seems to call attention to the constant changing nature of the project, which in all likelihood, some project managers are not as well skilled.

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