As we near 20 years since the creation of the Agile Manifesto, Agile approaches are gaining ground in the world of project management and software development. Especially in the past year—when the pandemic has upturned our world of work—global organizations have realised that going Agile can help them to stay ahead of the competition and readily acclimatize to change.
But at the same time there’s a lot to be said for traditional ways of project management as well. After all, they have stood us in good stead for many years and continue to do so. So, when it comes to the big question; which would you choose for your way of working: Agile vs traditional project management?
This article takes you through the differences between the two methodologies, and on how to choose the approach that is best suited for your project. Read on!
Traditional project management follows predefined, sequential processes that are used through the project journey, right from planning through implementation, execution and releases. It works well in projects that are rigid and controlled, and where changes are not likely to happen.
Traditional project management has a long history. While it was formally introduced as a methodology in the mid-1950s, it has been mentioned down the pages of history; and in fact, rudimentary conventional PM methods were even used for the construction of the Pyramids in Egypt. Over the years, traditional project management methods have been fine-tuned and reshaped to meet the needs of modern organizations.
This type of project management must deal with many constraints, the three most important parameters being scope, time and cost. These three parameters make up the Project Management Triangle and must be kept in equilibrium. The interconnection between the three determines the quality, and only when all three constraints are balanced can the best quality be achieved.
Traditional project management follows an orderly, stage-wise approach that includes initiation, planning, execution, controlling, and closure.
Agile project management, on the other hand, follows an iterative and flexible approach that allows for frequent and regular introspection and feedback loops. Work progresses in short, time-boxed iterations, with an eye on evolving market conditions and on satisfying customer needs.
While the traditional project management work triangle balances scope, cost and time (or schedules), the Agile work triangle strives to balance the aspects of value against quality and constraints (which include cost, schedule, and scope). Value and quality are the goals of Agile, and the constraints are required to be kept flexible.
Agile was formalised as a project management approach in 2001, when a group of 17 software developers that included Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber met on a ski resort in Snowbird, Utah. They brainstormed together to come up with the first version of the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”, which we now call the Agile Manifesto.
Agile follows an iterative, cyclical approach, where define-build-test-release steps happen in iterative cycles, and at the end of every cycle there is a value increment that is released.
To help you make an informed choice between the two project management methods, we’ve listed out the salient differences in the table below. Let’s compare and contrast the two approaches.
|Agile approach||Traditional approach|
|Project lifecycle||Iterative, time-boxed||Sequential|
|Flexibility and adaptability||Highly flexible, can accommodate change||Rigid, non-flexible and non-adaptive|
|Project size||Small/medium, can be scaled to enterprise level||Used for all kinds of projects|
|User requirements||Interactive inputs, feedback loop after each cycle||Clearly defined before implementation, no changes allowed till end of project|
|Involvement of clients||Close involvement with clients and stakeholders||Involved in the beginning, but subsequently there is minimal involvement till the project delivery|
|Management of issues||Issues are managed by the entire team||Issues are escalated to managers who find solutions|
|Emphasis on product or process||Focus is on the product, not process||Focus is on processes, more than the product|
|Testing||Testing during each iteration||Testing is done at the end of the project lifecycle|
|Effort estimation||The team does the estimation, usually in the form of story points||The project manager provides schedules and gets approval from the Product Owner and management. The team is not involved.|
|Team structure||Self-managed team, each of whom is multi-skilled||Team members have a definite role to play and do not take on other roles|
|Reviews and approvals||Reviews are carried out after each iteration, team and stakeholders participate||Reviews and approvals by leaders only|
|Collaboration||There is a lot of collaboration and interaction between cross-functional team members||Collaboration is limited, and each team member plays only their own part.|
Especially in today’s volatile and uncertain project environment, Agile is the preferred approach and comes with significant benefits? Global enterprises are under immense pressure to deliver on time and stay aligned to changing customer needs. Businesses everywhere find that unless they can roll out quality products quickly and stay on top of improvements to existing products, they cannot keep up with the competition. All this calls for a more flexible and adaptive approach to project management, and Agile fits the bill perfectly.
Some of the benefits of Agile include the following:
Agile accommodates changes through every cycle, allowing for innovation and experimentation. As it focuses on the product rather than the process, the quality that can be rolled out is exponentially increased.
In contrast, traditional project management follows a rigid, inflexible style of working.
Agile requires constant interaction and daily status reports, ensuring that there is transparency across the board. Every team member knows what the other is doing, and decision making is shared and collaborative.
Traditional projects have very low levels of transparency and only the project manager has visibility into each person’s work.
Teams in Agile are self-managed, with each person taking ownership of the tasks that are allotted to them.
In traditional projects, on the other hand, the project manager is the one person who is responsible for all tasks, including schedules, costs and scope.
Traditional projects work well for smaller projects that are not distributed across geographies. Since there are lower levels of transparency and accountability, it is not easy to scale up this approach for more complex projects.
Agile holds all the cards, working beautifully well for small and medium sized projects, while at the same time having the ability to be scaled across large, complex projects involving multiple teams and even multiple geographies.
In the Agile approach, customer interactions and feedback are built into every development cycle. Customers are always in the know as to what is happening, and as they get small and frequent releases, they can start using the product very quickly and can suggest changes for improvement.
This is not the case with a traditional approach. Customers do not get to see the progress on the product till the very end, when they might even find that it does not meet their requirements or expectations.
There is no single time-tested and proven approach to choosing the project management methodology that is the right fit for your project. Several factors need to be taken into consideration and the nature of the project, size, and available resources are important considerations when it comes to choosing the right approach.
Think about the answers to these questions before you make your choice:
In the never-ending battle between Agile and traditional projects, Agile has emerged a winner in most types of projects. Agile teams can adapt to an environment of unpredictability, churning out products with consistent quality which satisfy end user requirements. Agile teams are more engaged and happier, in general, and this results in boosting productivity and accelerating profits. In the end, the choice is up to each organization, but it does look like most are choosing to go the Agile way!