Project management has been around since the time people first started building shelters. Any time humans need to figure out how to get from the current situation to the desired situation, they are practicing project management. Whether they realize it or not.
Without getting into what methods of project management were used to build the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the structured methods that we today recognize as project management started in the 19th century. Over time this introduced us to the concepts of scope, tasks, workload, time, budget, people, materials, equipment, scheduling, work breakdown structures, critical path, Gantt Charts, and so many more labels to help us manage the time-money-people dependencies of all of our projects. All these methods were introduced at a time of the industrial revolution that called for order, predictability, and standardization.
Enter the world of computers. While the first ‘computer’ can be traced back to 1937, the first computer program ran in 1948. But it wasn’t until the late 1950’s with the introduction of the integrated circuit chip that computer technology really started moving fast and became accessible to other than just science and government. Introduction of COBOL as an English-like programming language allowed people without a PhD level science degree to write code to solve mass-processing issues in business.
Developing computerized solutions is expensive and time-consuming but like with all other undertakings in business, someone somewhere always wants to know how much and how long. And so, the most common project management methodology, the Waterfall method, was introduced into software development. This method requires that each major category, or phase, of work is completed before the next phase can start. In software development, this translates to requirements needing to be completed before design can start after which the writing of the code will commence followed by testing. The task is not made easier by the fact that the very technology we are trying to harness continues to change at a dizzying speed: the technology that is in place today will most likely be obsolete in 5 years! Embarking on a multi-year software project using Waterfall project management will most certainly lead to an out-of-date and obsolete product by the time it hits the market.
Agile was formalized in 2001 as a method to work on software projects but it is being recognized as something that can be used on non-software projects too. The original definition of Agile does not identify any roles by name or purpose, but Agile Project Management has been getting a tremendous amount of attention for the last 10+ years – Amazon has over 5,000 books with Agile Project Management in their title and Google returned 144 million hits for the same phrase! Based on these results, there obviously are tons and tons of information, articles, resources, and opinions regarding Agile Project Management.
The topic of Project Management has multiple aspects to it. And adding the more refined definitions of Waterfall and Agile just add to the conversation. Discussions are being held to decide which method is better but the reality is that it all depends on the type of project you have. There is no doubt that Waterfall works on projects that follow well-established standards with predictable results. But if your project is exploring something new and unproven, or is relying on ever-changing technology, you would greatly benefit from giving Agile Project Management a try.
Agile Coach, Planstreet Inc.
November 26, 2019