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DCE Magazine

Project Management vs. Agile: Which Works Best for Your Organization?

Project management and Agile methodology are constantly evolving. Here’s how to keep your company up to speed.

Fall 2021

Project management has a long history that goes as far back as the Great Pyramid of Giza. Archaeological evidence suggests that Pharoah assigned managers to lead the planning and construction of each aspect of the massive structure. But it wasn’t until 1969, when the Project Management Institute (PMI)® was launched, that it was brought into the modern age.

Fast forward to the early ‘90s, when Agile began to revolutionize the software industry, helping to propel tech titans such as Apple, IBM, and Microsoft. This innovative approach to PM proved to be highly effective for navigating a fast-changing landscape with small, flexible teams dedicated to finding creative solutions for each project.

Today, traditional project management and Agile are both ubiquitous in a wide range of industries and organizations. So, which one is the best fit for your needs? The first step is taking a hard look at the parameters of your project, according to a pair of DCE subject matter experts who spoke at length on the topic during a recent webinar.

Ask yourself: Does the task at hand involve new technology or more familiar content? Are the requirements established from the outset, or are they kind of fuzzy?

“How you answer those questions determines which approach is best for your needs,” said Bob Tarne, Agile coach at Accenture and an instructor for the Agile Project Management certificate program. “I find that an Agile approach is more appropriate when your requirements aren’t clearly defined, when you’re working in some new area, whereas a more traditional approach works well when you have a good understanding of the problem you’re solving and the technology you’re using to solve it.”

In the latter case, it’s usually best to employ a traditional top-down PM strategy called Waterfall, said Megan Williams, program manager at GE Healthcare and an instructor for the Project Management certificate program. Waterfall is a more linear and sequential process rather than Agile’s fluid and iterative strategy.

“I’ve learned from my experience that if you have a very defined scope, then you probably want to do Waterfall,” she added. “For example, a construction project or other highly regulated project where you have a lot of documentation along the way. But I’ve seen a growing trend where we have a mix between Agile and Waterfall.”

Scrums and sprints

Created in the early days of software development, Agile mandates a focus on individuals and interactions, short cycles over linear processes. One framework that is used to implement this methodology is Scrum, which relies on smaller teams and incremental project advancement. Each iteration, or sprint, is a cycle that lasts from one to four weeks long.

Both terms are lifted from rugby, referring to the way players lock arms in a Scrum to move the ball forward in short sprints, similar to how an Agile team joins with a Scrum master to advance projects. Scrum is an especially effective way to develop products when the parameters are fluid, Tarne said.

“The Scrum master isn’t really in charge of the team, like a traditional project manager,” he added. “They’re there to help the team understand and follow the principles of Scrum. They make sure the team is doing their planning every two weeks, see that the team is reporting impediments so that the Scrum master can help resolve those impediments. With Scrum, the traditional role of a project manager goes away.”

That way teams can remain, well, agile and adaptable as they move forward developing their project step-by-step, especially those involving software development or new tech products that require some brainstorming from concept to completion. Waterfall is usually more applicable to traditional organizations where the process is unambiguous, with a number of stakeholders providing feedback and input along the way. “There’s no one-size-fits-all method in managing a project. Therefore, it’s crucial to know which method to use depending on the project and your organization” Williams said.

Adding to your toolkit

A UCI Project Management certificate can burnish the credentials of a wide range of professionals, covering all principles, theories, and practices laid out in the latest edition of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), the industry bible. After completion, candidates will be qualified to sit for the Project Management Professional exam, the gold standard for excellence.

Taught by experienced professionals, the program is designed for current managers, or any aspiring PM looking to take their team or company to the next level. Each course addresses a different stage or aspect of project management, from launch to execution, with each instructor drawing on their own areas of expertise.

“We teach you the fundamentals and the knowledge, so then you have all these tools under your belt,” Williams said. “From that point on, it’s all about deciding which approach is best for your project and organization.”

Mastering the Agile mindset can provide a major boost for PMs who want to advance their company or move it forward on a new path. The Agile Project Management certificate program is a powerful way to help your organization transition to Agile or update employee skillsets to stay versatile and abreast of this ever-evolving methodology.

Taken together, they provide an exceptional foundation for staying flexible and current in today’s business landscape, regardless of the type of company or project. “A continuous learning mindset is really important,” Tarne said. “I would stress the need for experimenting and trying different things out.”

“You have to be adaptable,” Williams added. “You can’t just learn one method and resist learning Agile or anything that feels uncomfortable. You have to be willing to try new things because the world is constantly changing, especially if you work in technology. The skills you learn might not be specific to a certain project, but they can advance your leadership skills, improve communication as well as emotional intelligence.”

Megan WilliamsMegan Williams, MBA, PMP, is an enthusiast and knowledgeable program manager at GE Healthcare. Williams has extensive experience managing large-scale projects pertaining to complex mergers and acquisitions, strategy, healthcare, HR, and innovation/technology.

Bob TarneBob Tarne, M.S., PMP, CSM, PMI-ACP, is an agile coach at Accenture and has an extensive career coaching and directing process improvement initiatives using lean/agile project management techniques. Tarne has led efforts across large organizations, including IBM Software Group, PM Solutions, Sprint, and the U.S. Navy.

Learn more about the Project Management and Agile Project Management Certificate Programs.

PMI, PMP, and PMBOK are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.