Agile is a popular methodology for developing software and IT projects. According to Amazon, there are over 600 books about agile software development. In contrast, there are 360 agile project management titles. In this article, I will introduce agile project management and show how it can be applied to non-software projects. Today’s case study will be an economic development project in Pakistan run by the Peace Through Prosperity charity.
Agile Project Management: A Very Short History
Given the wealth of titles available through Amazon, agile project management is an important field. Even with hundreds of books on the topic, many project managers are still unfamiliar with agile. Agile is unknown to many for two reasons: the movement’s formal origins date back to February 2001 (source: History of the Agile Manifesto) and it is mainly concentrated in technology project management.
The Agile manifesto expresses the key principles of the movement. In contrast to traditional project management, agile welcomes changing requirements. According to the Agile Manifesto, delivering working software quickly is a key priority. The methodology emphasizes speed, regular conversations and delivering working software. Agile is also notable for emphasizing the importance of “motivated individuals [who need to be] trust[ed] to get the job done.”
Fast Facts About Agile Project Management
- In 2011, over 25% of PMI members reported using agile principles in their projects. (PMI’s Pulse of the Profession, March 2012)
- Only 2% of executives are knowledgeable about agile (8th Annual State of Agile Survey, 2013)
- Over 70% of agile adherents use Scrum (8th Annual State of Agile Survey, 2013)
- The daily stand up meeting is the most popular agile technique (8th Annual State of Agile Survey, 2013)
- Loss of management control is one of the main reasons for slow adoption of agile (8th Annual State of Agile Survey, 2013)
Applying Agile Project Management Beyond Software: Agile International Development
Creative application of ideas is one of the best ways to spark innovation and achieve better results. Project managers outside of the IT field have studied the agile approach and found ways to apply it to their work. As you read this case study, ask yourself what new ideas you could adopt from other industries. Limiting your knowledge to your direct industry peers will lock you into a provincial mindset.
Improving the efficiency of international development projects is difficult. That’s why Kubair Shirazee, co-founder of Peace Through Prosperity, decided to adopt agile in Pakistan. As readers may know, Pakistan is a developing country facing significant economic challenges. According to the CIA World Factbook, 22% of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line and 55% of the population is literate. Commentators have suggested that the country’s socio-economic woes are fueling radicalism and violence. Providing greater development is one way to address the situation.
Note: My source for this article is an article from the September 2014 issue of Project Manager Today, “Boundaryless Agile: Peacekeeping in Pakistan.”
Kubair Shirazee combines agile expertise and a passion to make the world a better place. In his previous work in IT project management, he started using agile methodologies in 1998. In his opinion, many international development projects “… fail because most of them take a waterfall approach.” Turning his eye to the problem of radicalization, Shirazee focused on the talent management strategy: “Poverty doesn’t lead to radicalisation in itself, but desperate social conditions create a ripe breeding ground where it is easy to sell a dark narrative.” Equipped with this understanding,
Peace Through Prosperity launched a five day mini MBA to provide additional business skills to local entrepreneurs. The project provides traditional classes and several weeks of customized consulting to program participants. Thirty percent of program participants have achieved 50% revenue increases shortly after completing the program.
Agile Project Management Lessons from Pakistan
- Adjust plans quickly based on feedback
Sometimes project managers are criticized for devising plans far removed from the reality of project work. By working closely with participants, Shirazee learned what worked and could make adjustments quickly.
Tip: Rapid change means having a pragmatic attitude regarding your project planning. Your project plan is not a law of nature.
- Measure results quickly as the project unfolds.
In some project management circles, it is common practice to delay measuring the benefits of the project until it fully complete. This case study shows that benefits can be measured, albeit imprecisely, while the project is still underway. In the case
- Embrace micro-failure.
Early in the project, a lawyer was hired to determine the feasibility of established a trade association. The effort met with laughter from some quarters and it was uncertain if the effort would succeed. The willingness to risk some of a project’s budget and time to explore new options was a key ingredient for its success.
- Use small budgets.
As Shirazee puts it in the Project Manager Today article: “I think the key lesson [major aid organizations] need to embrace is micro fail experimentation. Instead of spending £1b on a bridge nobody needs… they should fund start-up and pilot projects for much shorter time periods.”
Consider this perspective they next time you plan a project with a seven figure budget.
What has your experience been in adopting agile project management? What challenges did you experience in adopting a new way of running projects?
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