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.

Project Strategy and the Panama Canal expansion project

During our class session on June 27th, we began to discuss the importance of why project managers need to understand strategy. The ongoing Panama Canal expansion came to mind as an example of a project that is having a monumental effect on the strategy of a wide variety of organizations. The Internet is full of articles discussing the project overruns for the expansion itself, along with discussions surrounding the port expansions around the globe.

The expansion, set to open in April of 2016, ran overschedule and over budget. In early 2014, with the project about 75 percent complete, work on the project stopped for two weeks. The reason for the stoppage was a disagreement between the Canal Authority and the construction firms over who should page for the $1.6 billion cost overrun. Of course, some last minute financing pulled the project out of a nosedive during the final stretch.

Think about the long-range goal setting and scheduling that went into the expansion project. Not to mention the multiple projects within the project and numerous phases to implement and tweak along the way. According to the consortium of European construction firms, the cost overrun was due to “surprises that we could not have foreseen”. Cost adjustments were required due to rare soil conditions and a higher-than-expected earthquake potential along the canal.

From an outsider’s prospective, isn’t it hard to imagine that the talented and experienced construction firms involved were “surprised” by such factors? Why didn’t the Canal Authority share these concerns with the construction firms from the beginning? It’s the explanation for the overruns that baffles me. Labor issues or material shortages are more understandable.

As the canal project was underway in Panama, project managers at ports throughout the United States were adjusting their firm’s strategy. A deeper and wider canal means larger ships carrying more containers must be able to be offloaded at the ports. Each port faces unique challenges to increase their capacity for the new ships. There is no doubt that the organization’s mission and strategies evolved.

While the east coast and southern U.S. ports are increasing capacity to accept larger ships, they are also planning on an influx of direct Asian shipments. It is expected that 25 percent of the shipments coming through the west coast could shift to the east coast. Other industry perspective’s are that southern ports do not have the distribution capacity to handle the increased shipments from the west.

I am not a shipping or supply chain expert. I find the Panama Canal expansion fascinating due to the sheer size of the project itself and the domino effect it will have on the supply chain across the globe. Efficient, effective and strategic project management plays a central role in high profile projects such as this.

Are any classmates more familiar with the project and the potential shift it may cause in the supply chain? How has your firm’s project strategy changed?

For more background, simply Google “panama canal expansion”. Some links included: