How agile project management can save time and money

A lack of focus on business objectives from the start of a project can make them drag on, costing both time and money. Applying agile project management is one way to mitigate the risk, argues Chris Maund.

Current approaches to project management are often thought to slow down business change. As a result, a high percentage of projects are seen as failures. However, it is often not the project management methodology that is slowing down the delivery; it is a lack of focus on business objectives or outcomes from the start of the project.

A while ago, I was brought into a project which had become so caught up in the definition of requirements that a year after starting it had still not benefited the business; in fact, the requirements document was still not signed off.

The project was in the financial services sector with an objective to meet a fairly simple piece of industry regulation, but every time the requirements were analysed, implications for lots of other processes and systems were identified and the scope was duly expanded. The project just continued and continued with more time and money being spent, without checking back to the original business objective. The outcome would have been an overly complex and overly engineered solution.

Employing agile project management

When we took over, we went back to first principles and went through the requirements, refusing to accept anything that did not add value to the original objective. In two months, we had the requirements document signed off and delivered the whole project in nine months, with multiple intermediate deliverables, each adding value to the business.

We call this agile project management, a concept that has been around for 20 years. It is nothing new, but it is most commonly associated with software development, so a lot of people think it is just for IT. In fact, the principles can be applied to a broad range of projects.

PRINCE2 and agile

The strong project management methodology, PRINCE2, is well known and widely accepted. The problem is, it is quite a complex methodology. Many people who use it do not understand how best to apply the toolkit. If you acted on all documents identified under PRINCE2, it could take years to deliver a project. You should only use the tools that are appropriate for the project you are working on – not every tool in the box.

In agile project management, you still use the PRINCE2 documentation set, report on risk and control spending, but you do it in a way that is fit for the purpose of the project.

It's not just a sensible approach for companies wanting to save time and money on their projects; agile project management is becoming an imperative. All kinds of industries are facing disruptive forces generating from new market players, the internet and related technologies. Only an agile approach can deliver projects fleet-footed enough to offer rapid return on investment in the face of these complex and ever-changing demands.

And think, if you are not looking to disrupt your business model, your competition almost certainly will be.

This is an edited version of an article by Chris Maund, Associate Director, Consulting, that originally featured in Raconteur's Project Management 2015 supplement.