I’ve just spoken at an excellent conference on project management in KL. There were some truly interesting seminars on project recovery, risk, the danger of optimism in projects, and of course Agile. It is extraordinary what sort of reaction this topic generates amongst proven, seasoned project management professionals and the range was certainly on display at the conference. I saw everything there from fear and loathing, to contemptuous dismissal, to almost evangelical zeal and trust.
So, what is the issue here? Why does it generate such extreme emotions and reactions amongst my fellow PM professionals, most of whom are a pretty reasonable, grounded and intelligent group of people whose skills are without question and whose company I enjoy.
As far as I can see, there are a few reasons:
- As with all new concepts, the early adopters are driven, passionate and not afraid to claim that the new methodology is the solution to all ills. This plays badly with experienced PMs who probably feel that they’ve done most things, made most of the mistakes at some stage in one or other project. I’ve not met anyone who didn’t see some value in Agile…its the ‘snake oil’ sales routine which puts them off.
- Whilst most experienced PMs are used to, and to some extent, thrive on the challenge of change, one thing that they carry with them as a constant, is a way of doing things. I’m loathe to call it a methodology because it’s so much more than a framework or operating manual. There are certain activities or processes which we all have and feel ownership of that anchor us in the volatile and stressful world of a project. Whilst most PMs will claim to have an ‘open architecture’ approach to working with clients, “lets use what works in your environment”, I’m not sure its true. The thing about Agile is that in the eyes of the acolyte, there is no halfway house….you cannot be half pregnant with Agile! So adoption represents a big risk…and PMs manage risk but like all of us, don’t necessarily enjoy working with it and are fundamentally trained to be a pretty conservative bunch of folk.
- Finally, there is a huge amount of methodology related to people in Agile which instinctively makes sense…the concept of commitment, empowerment, autonomy, mutual obligation, the mature nature of the proposed relationship which in TA (Transactional Analysis) terms, one would classify as Adult; Adult. The problem is that it’s hard to do, in particular if an organisation operates in a hierarchical, or silo based manner outside of the project space. As has been proven over many years, the difference between good and excellent PMs are those communication, change, and people capabilities and making them aware of their limitations in this regard….well, lets just say, it provides yet another source of challenge at a deeply personal level.
From a personal perspective, I’ve absolutely no doubt that with time and the arrival of a new generation in the PM workspace, a form of Agile will become a key part of the landscape. As with all new concepts however, the teething period will continue to challenge.
Fellow PMers, responses please…what’s the cause of the extreme reaction? Answers on a postcard, or in this case, as a comment!