The Agile approach to IT projects is a winner, says Comtrade’s Ćušić
15 January 2015 | 0
Right now Comtrade has just over 200 IT projects in progress across all of our operations in 11 countries, in Europe and North America. That is about our normal level of activity, but an interesting characteristic is that a full 75% of those projects are using Agile project management. Four years ago that proportion was just about a quarter and the majority of projects were managed using traditional waterfall methodology.
In many respects that trend towards Agile as the project methodology of choice reflects the reality that ICT projects no longer come in neat, defined packages — if indeed that approach was ever anything but artificial, giving some reassurance of control. Today we see ICT projects as dynamic, changing in scope and in the details of implementation while staying true to the agreed objectives and the best practical solutions to the business need. That is just being realistic, in many ways, but it does mean that there is scope for innovation and creative thinking at every level and stage of the project — control with flexibility.
One of the key characteristics of the Agile method is that it always involves the project client, the business side, directly on the team and as part of the ongoing process of decision making. The benefits should be clear and obvious, but it is not traditional in technical projects. So we have been seeing something of a challenge in persuading the business side to participate actively in the way that is envisaged.
“The trend towards Agile as the project methodology of choice reflects the reality that ICT projects no longer come in neat, defined packages — if indeed that approach was ever anything but artificial”
Business clients have been accustomed to spending a lot of time up front documenting the requirements and specifications, in fact attempting to design the solution as comprehensively as possible. Then there would be a long implementation phase based on that, with very little room to manoeuvre or to respond to changes in the market environment or elsewhere. At the end of the process the client gets what was wanted back at the beginning — but not always what is currently needed.
With Agile, the direct participation of the client at an appropriate level in the project team gives flexibility with authority. The project agility comes from that, because each step or element is validated as it is finished by someone with both the domain knowledge and the authority. One result, and it is a major reason why Agile is gaining such traction in the market, is that the project delivers actual business value earlier and in usable modules.
One challenge is that this does not fit with the traditional business mind-set in commissioning projects. For example, it is seldom possible to fix in advance exactly how much the project will cost. That can be hard for people to grasp. But it is not at all a question of dispensing with budgets or having an open-ended draw on resources. The disciplines are just different, from the business point of view. The emphasis is on delivering real business value and that is the criterion.
Yes, that will be largely in hindsight. But Agile enables tangible and measurable value to be delivered progressively, so there is no question of a nasty surprise at the end. In fact, although it may seem hard to credit, an Agile project has much more chance of coming in early or under budget than the traditional approach, precisely because of that flexibility.
Dejan Ćušić is country manager, Ireland and the UK, with Comtrade.