Trends come and go. What is hot this week will be forgotten next month. Buzz happens and often it’s down smart marketing and the passion of early-adopters. This brings us to agile management – is it all hype and buzz or is it the real thing? Is agile management and its methodologies the secret sauce you’ve been looking for?
Is agile management right for you? This cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.
It all comes down to weighing the pros and cons. Can your team and organization fully harness the benefits of agile management? Are you operating in a domain that needs agile to succeed? Is your organization missing out on contracts, losing clients, and experiencing high staff-turnover? Is your organization ready and willing to go through the growing pains that come with transitioning to agile management?
These are not easy questions to answer, doing so requires taking a hard assessment of your organization, your team, and yourself. However, in this fast-moving business world, you cannot afford to keep on doing what you’ve always done – when you don’t even know if this approach is working.
To help you work through your organizational assessment, we’ve put together the key pros and cons of agile management. Keep this in mind as you take steps to refine how your organization functions. You might find that agile management offers some strong benefits for you or you might decide to adopt a few key agile principles gradually. Whatever you decide, remember there is no right or wrong – it all comes down to knowing your organization and making the management methodology decisions that fit.
Pros of Agile Management
Agile management is based on the Agile Manifesto:
We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
- Responding to change over following a plan.
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
While this manifesto is targeted at software development, the same principles are being widely adopted across all industries and enterprises. The agile approach to management, offers some key benefits and advantages, including the following:
- Responding to change. Perhaps the primary benefit to agile management is the inherent ability to respond to and welcome change. In traditional waterfall management approaches, change is a danger zone – the opposite is the case for agile. The flexibility that comes with shorter planning, project, and work cycles means that teams are able to adapt to blockers, customer demands, and any other new demands.
- Ready for the unknown. Coupled with the ability to respond to change is in being ready for anything that comes along. This could be a change in client requests, a sudden turn-over in staffing, a new project added to the schedule, or even a natural disaster that causes a change in productivity. Teams immersed in agile management accept that not every aspect of the project can be planned or anticipated for – the concept of rolling with the punches is very much applicable here.
- Faster reviews and feedback. With short iterations and sprints, it’s expected that there will be reviews and constant feedback. This approach enables teams to continually improve their processes and to learn as they move through the project. This serves to strengthen the project and fosters a better team environment. This also trickles over to the clients, with receiving regular feedback on what is and isn’t working for them.
- Feature-rich approach. Because of the shorter iterations and project cycles, teams are able to deliver a more feature-rich project. Teams are able to change focus and respond to customer demands for a new feature or a change in existing work. This strengthens the organization’s ability to remain relevant and responsive.
With these agile management pros in mind, review the questions we posed above and think about how your organization’s ability to benefit from agile management. It’s important to remember that agile management is an approach, there are no fixed rules or strict standards – successful agile organizations have learned how to adapt agile to their people, clients, projects, and goals.
Cons of Agile Management
Of course there is always a flipside to any management approach, and agile management is no different. It’s not all perfect and there are cons to agile management that teams and organizations must recognize and assess before rushing head-first into agile management.
When assessing your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, consider how these cons to agile management may impact your organization:
- Lack of experience. All too often organizations rush into agile management without doing the necessary training and agile coaching. Any change in management and project planning requires everyone in the organization to understand the how, why, what, when, and where behind the new processes. To be successful at agile management, organizations must invest in agile education. When this doesn’t happen, teams slowly but surely slip back into their old ways of working – the very habits the organization wants to eliminate.
- Flexibility. Yes, flexibility is both a pro and con of agile management. Some teams can see flexibility as a way to avoid any planning or as the freedom to make rushed decisions. Again, this comes down to having a real understanding of how agile management methodologies are best applied. There is danger in adhering to the Agile Manifesto too closely, which can inadvertently encourage bad behaviors (such as zero documentation or no contracts or a complete lack of planning).
- Making it fit. Not every organization is ready for agile management. Think of the questions we posed above – how you answer these can help you understand if your organization is ready for agile. Remember you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole – in other words, just because agile works for your competitors, doesn’t mean it’s right for your organization.
- Team challenges. Not every team is ready for agile. Think of the diverse skills in your teams and the people you have working with you – do these people and their skills mesh with agile? Take a close look at your teams and talk to them about their willingness to adapt to new work and project processes.
In moving forward, it’s important that you really do your research about agile management. Talk to agile experts, invest in training, attend a conference – learn everything you can about agile management. Once you’ve done this, then it’s time to talk to your teams and management, discuss the issues holding your organization back from improving and assess how agile management can help solve these barriers.
No management approach is infallible – know the pros and cons and make the decision that makes most sense for your organization.