Agile, a practice that is strongly associated with software development, is taking on a new role in business. Agile techniques and thinking are being applied to a wider range of projects where workers see the opportunity for increased performance. There are a few critical areas to outline when discussing the emerging role of program management for Agile—evolving vision, solid framework, team structures and relationships, decision making, and strategy implementation.
Agile projects rely on rapid execution of an overall program in a piece by piece, progressively defined fashion. To keep these various pieces from becoming disjointed, overlapping, and dysfunctional, it is commonly accepted that a powerful vision needs to be the guiding force. But that vision must evolve and become successively more detailed as the individual initiatives themselves evolve and play out. Integrating and managing the overall vision is seen as a key leadership role.
Multiple small teams with fast-moving concepts create significant potential for disconnects and redundancies that can result in waste and destructive internal competition. The need for simple but effective mechanisms to ensure frequent and meaningful cross-team communication and collaboration is enormous. That collaboration can be facilitated by the use of technology to provide an effective platform for collaboration, but the platform needs to be purpose-driven, valued by team members, easily adopted, and minimally intrusive into the focus and operation of the teams.
Without a general framework that guides the definition of individual initiatives, it would be very unlikely that those initiatives would eventually add up to an integrated whole. Without some sense of common structural guidelines, integration of the pieces becomes difficult or impossible. A guiding definition of the enterprise and systems architecture is even more critical in an Agile environment than in a traditional top-down development program.
Traditional programs move forward in fewer, larger bundles of activity, typically with longer distances between the need for key decisions. Agile programs require a decision-making process that is much more responsive in dealing with a much larger volume of smaller incremental decisions.
In an Agile program, many small work teams need to form quickly, come up to speed quickly, evolve significantly as the work takes shape, disband without disruption, and reform as needed to evolve with the program. A conventional mindset to team formation and building will not be effective. The PMO needs to be much more proactive and provide a source of needed flexibility to the organization to maintain energy, pace, and productivity, and retain and effectively redeploy skills to meet evolving needs.
By their very nature Agile programs are likely to produce end products at significantly different points in time. There is often value in moving pieces to implementation rapidly rather than waiting for “the whole” to be ready to launch by conventional means. This can produce very different needs for roll-out strategies, communications tactics, workforce readiness initiatives, etc. It also produces an environment where some implementation activities begin long before other related development initiatives have matured.
These areas are critical to take into account when considering the role of Agile beyond software development. Finding the balance of leadership and collaboration is crucial in successfully adopting Agile. The role of the PMO in the areas detailed above will be discussed at greater length in The Performance Institute’s upcoming research report on program management for Agile.