Agile and Complex projects

Catching up with my posts… Here is the trigger of this post: an interesting twitter discussion with my #entarch fellow: @RSessions
mcgoverntheorymcgoverntheory: Most #CIO dont know how to deal with issues in #Agile projects. Troubled projects lead to a backlash against #agile approaches. Endless loop 12:17pm, Nov 01 from Web
RSessionsRSessions: @mcgoverntheory Agile methodology methodology doesn’t scale to complex projects. 12:37pm, Nov 01
enectouxenectoux: @rsessions Don’t agree. It all depends of the scale of the project and awareness of project members.
RSessionsRSessions: @enectoux The scale of the project is what I mean by it doesn’t scale to complex projects.
enectouxenectoux: @rsessions lol, ok then I agree :o) But “complex” is not equal to “large”, isn’t it? To me, a complex project can be a small ones as well and the #Agile issue is more related to scale (large /small) than complex
RSessionsRSessions: @enectoux But I believe Agile can be applied to large projects once we get their complexity under control.
enectoux: @RSessions Well, this time I fully agree.

@RSessions is much more knowledgeable about managing complexity as I pretend to be. If you are interested, you will find lot of interesting thoughts and information at his website: http://www.objectwatch.com/

My intention here is to dig a bit more into this “complexity thing related to Agile”. Basically, if we look at Agile’s manifesto, here are some of the main principles underlie in it (short extract):

  • Customer satisfaction by rapid delivery of useful software
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development.
  • Simplicity
  • Regular adaptation to changing circumstances
So, if we look at these principles, some of them will be very difficult to argue with when it comes to manage complex projects through Agile. Take the principle “simplicity” for instance😉 or on the other hand, other principles like “adaptation to changing circumstances” are more in favor of managing the complexity.
My point is that we cannot state that Agile doesn’t scale to complex projects. It is all about how you can deal with complexity. How much you (as the project leader or project member) can deal with a complex situation. Are you afraid of complexity or are you comfortable with it? If you are comfortable with it, then Agile methodology can help you to manage your complex project, parallelizing activities, having short development loops, enabling you to validate your “still fuzzy” concepts by testing them towards reality quickly than if you were in a “not Agile way of working”. Agile methodology is, to me, very powerful. But, like any powerful tool, it has to be handled with care. It is very easy to get trapped when using Agile and then, blame the method. I’ve seen and I see it many times. Among the principles I mentioned above, two are missing in this list (but not missing in the full list):
Close, daily cooperation between businesspeople and developers” and “Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted“. these two might look obvious, but they are to me the fundamental ones. Without trust between IT and business in a Agile project, there is no way to make it a success. As enterprise architect, one of our challenge is to achieve “Business and IT alignment“.
There is many ways to try to achieve this alignment, but I think that one of the best one, when the trust is lacking, is to re-establish this trust by succeeding a complex project using Agile methodology. Then you prove what you prone  as “alignment of Business and IT” has a value for both and for the enterprise.
I have many examples of such projects, at different sizes. Some have failed and some have succeeded. But let’s me ask you about you’re experience. Try to remember, any good personal experience of using Agile methodology in a complex project and making it a success?

2 thoughts on “Agile and Complex projects”

  1. Agile is not suitable for projects with multiple, overlapping / parallel activities that have dependencies between them.

    Usually if there are multiple, parallel workstreams that are dependent on each other then agile methods are a disaster. It would be like a 5 foot tall juggler trying to manage 20 balls in a 6 foot room and with one hand.

    The parallel and overlapping depencies create a requirement that is more suitable to traditional project management methods with:
    – full project plans,
    – discretely defined tasks and responsibilities (to avoid “border wars” at transition points),
    – clearly defined deliverables,
    – management of parallel workstreams and parallel critical paths,
    – etc.

    Now, Agile and SCRUM may have some application to discrete tasks within these types of complex projects, but to apply these principles to this type of project creates the high likelihood of blown timelines, blown budgets, and collapsed scope. Essentially delivery suffers and stress balloons.

    I know, I’ve been on three of these types of projects and the “project managers” who allowed this to go on should have been FIRED!

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