Every few years a new project management philosophy comes along and takes the business world by storm. “Agile” was the hot new thing a few years ago and has since become commonplace in many companies, especially startups and creative agencies.
I had previously written about agile development at the internet startup. I was much more hopeful then, thinking that our grasp of agile was strong. Turns out I was quite wrong, which I can see clearly now that I’m working at an agency that uses agile development the way it was intended to be: agile.
Successful agile development relies on allowing team members to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of their projects. Meetings and sizings are kept to a minimum with much more emphasis placed on shorter check-ins and project review. Agile can be a great way to move projects along through multiple phases and ongoing revision. It’s not the only way to manage projects—nor is it necessarily the best way—but it can be a very practical and useful way to manage in certain companies and agencies.
The internet startup embraced agile development for the wrong reason: the CEO heard through his network of associates that it was the way to go. Unfortunately, he mandated agile development without an understanding of how agile works, and with engineering leads who couldn’t properly convey the management style to the team. In short order, “agile” at the startup became synonymous with the project management software we were using: at first Rally, then Pivotal Tracker. While these are both powerful web applications in their own right, they’re only tools best used by those who understand the practice. What we ended up with was a complete bastardization of project management philosophies: waterfall without project or functional requirements, run like agile without the emphasis on personal responsibility. It was barely-controlled chaos, at best.
The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter how your company manages projects, as long as projects are managed efficiently and effectively, and completed within deadlines at the quality level required. These requirements vary greatly from company to company so it’s important to find the best management system for your team. However, don’t settle for trends or buzzwords—find the best solution for your team and embrace it. It doesn’t matter what it’s called, it just matters that it works.