Agile Methodologies Are Not the Answer to All Projects!

July 29, 2011 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Agile Project Management

Agile Methodologies Are Not the Answer to All Projects!
By Kiron D. Bondale

At the risk of having to enter the “witness protection program”, I will state unequivocally that agile methodologies are not the right answer for all projects or organizations.

The allure of agile is seductive – an organization tries it with one or two projects, experiences greater success than they’ve achieved historically with waterfall approaches and decides to apply this new methodology to all projects. The risk is that when they hit a project that was not well suited to agile methods, the temptation to throw the baby out with the bath water is compelling and they revert to their previous approaches.

So what are some criteria that might rule out the use of agile methodologies?

  • I’ve written before about the importance of trust on projects and this affects agile projects to a greater extend than waterfall ones – environments with low levels of trust might be better suited to traditional approaches where rigorous (though onerous) decision & deliverable sign offs and change approvals could reduce the likelihood and impacts of finger-pointing.
  • Projects where real-world constraints prevent the ability to refactor components or to refine requirements through an iterative approach. When one is laying a building’s foundation, you usually only get one chance to do it right and the costs of rework are significant. This is not to say that construction projects can’t benefit from agile approaches (especially during the creative or design phases), but their utility will be restricted to those work packages that can support progressive evolution.

  • Projects that impose significant “hops” between the customer and the delivery team. This has nothing to do with geographic distance – there have been many successful virtual agile projects. The issue arises when requirements are distilled and translated multiple times from the customer to the team members. The likelihood of miscommunication and rework increases to the point where a traditional approach might yield better results with less effort.

  • Minimal or no change is expected to the requirements. If a project’s needs are very well understood by both customer & team, a traditional waterfall approach may be a better fit. A good example of this could be an application upgrade driven by the need to maintain vendor support (as opposed to re-engineering business processes).

  • Time-sensitive projects with project teams or customers that have not used agile methods before. As with any methodology change, the first time a practitioner experiences it, there is a resulting loss in productivity as they come up to speed on the new methods. If there is a deadline looming, sometimes tried and true approaches (though less efficient) should be employed.

  • Industries where strong external regulatory requirements drive the need for heavy artifacts or strict adherence with well documented processes. While agile methods can be used during research or analysis phases on such projects, product development and manufacturing phases in such domains are forced to use waterfall approaches to satisfy these compliance needs.

Agile is a way of thinking and once can find a way to apply agile principles in almost all projects but agile methodologies are not a universal solution.

Kiron D. Bondale (PMP) is the Manager, Client Services for Solution Q Inc. which produces and implements project portfolio management solutions. Kiron has managed multiple mid-to-large-sized IT projects, and has worked for over twelve years in both internal and professional services project management capacities. He has setup and managed Project Management Offices (PMO) and has provided project portfolio management consulting services to clients across multiple industries. Kiron is actively involved with the Project Management Institute (PMI) and served as a volunteer director on the Board of the PMI Lakeshore Chapter from 2003 to 2009. Kiron has published articles on project management in a number of industry publications and has presented PPM/PM topics in multiple conferences and webinars.

For more of Kiron’s thoughts on project management, please visit his blog at

3 people have left comments

Thank you!!! I for one am with you on everything you stated. I have my PMP and have been Scrum certified (years ago) and have had these same thoughts.

Project_Mom wrote on July 31, 2011 - 10:13 am | Visit Link

While you make some good points, it appears that you are making an all-or-nothing assumption. The project doesn’t have to follow a strict waterfall approach OR a strict Scrum/Kanban/XP approach. There are many blended variations.

In my opinion, adding some agile techniques to EVERY project will help improve outcomes. Over time, full adoption of an agile approach can and should be done.

The focus must be on improving outcomes not rigidly following a prescribed methodology.

Vin D’Amico wrote on August 2, 2011 - 9:33 am | Visit Link

Definitely, one size does not fit all. While I clearly lean towards iterative techniques, I’m also aware of their limits. An excellent book that covers the pros and cons of iterative/agile vs traditional methods is “Balancing agility and discipline – a guide for the perplexed” by Boehm and Turner.

Michael Gentle wrote on February 21, 2012 - 9:19 am | Visit Link

feel free to leave a comment

Comment Guidelines: Basic XHTML is allowed (a href, strong, em, code). All line breaks and paragraphs are automatically generated. Off-topic or inappropriate comments will be edited or deleted. Email addresses will never be published. Keep it PG-13 people!

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

All fields marked with " * " are required.

Project Management Categories