Agile vs Traditional Project Management

Traditional Project Management Model

Traditional Project Management

  • A linear progression of activities: Initiate, Plan, Execute, Monitor & Control & Close.
  • Clearly defined processes that ought to be utilized within each knowledge area of project management
    • i.e., Project Scope, Schedule, Cost, Quality, Resource, Communications, Risk,
  • Procurement & Stakeholder Management
  • Assumes the project planners know what needs to be done, what it will cost to do it, how long it will take to complete the project and what resources are required to complete the project.
  • Feedback loops between the Execute and Monitor & Control phases to help keep project on-budget/on-track.
  • When there is a high degree of uncertainty, unanticipated risk and/or the magnitude of the project is larger than the experience of the project team, traditional project management may not be the best approach.

Agile Project Management Model

Agile Project Management: General Comments

  • An iterative approach to project management
  • A project is broken down into incremental iterations and the outcome of those iterations are evaluated to make adjustments moving forward with subsequent iterations.
  • Iterations sometimes referred to as “Back Logs,” “Probes,” “Learning Experiences” or “Stories.” Their purpose is to separate the promising from unpromising options in order to quickly deliver project objectives and value.
  • Iterations are purposely short in duration to rapidly generate data/outcomes that will help deliver project goals/objectives in increments. The learnings from each iteration are applied to the subsequent iterations to achieve further data/outcomes that generate more deliverables and value. Project scope is defined and redefined throughout the project.
  • Project Managers rely less on decision-making tools that assume project predictability such as Earned Value Analysis, Return on Investment, Net Present Value and Internal Rate of return. Instead, it is the outcome of each iteration that dictates ongoing discovery and refinement. Agile methods rely on the building and review of prototypes and multiple releases to define requirements.
  • The Agile Project Management Process is best suited for projects where the Project Scope or requirements are evolving, there is a high level of project planning and/or execution uncertainty and/or when the range of potential project outcomes is very wide.
  • Detailed project planning and delivery is delegated to the project team capable of working in an agile environment. The Project Managers job is to focus on building collaborative teamwork that fosters a strong analytical process and a sound decision-making environment.

Agile Project Management: Scope Considerations

  • Less time is spent in the early stages of an Agile type project versus a traditional type project defining project scope. More of the time is spent on defining and establishing the process for discovery and refinement that will help best yield ultimate project scope.

Agile Project Management: Schedule Considerations

  • Due to the high degree of uncertainty surrounding Project Scope and/or requirements, the Agile approach to project management uses short cycles, (i.e., Backlogs, Iterations, Phases, tasks, etc.) to conduct its work. Results from each iteration are reviewed and learnings are utilized to plan subsequent iterations and what it must accomplish. This allows for rapid feedback on how to achieve project deliverables, opportunity to adjust the process to achieve them and tight control on project cost.
  • A Project Manager must work with the project team to:
    • Compare the amount of work delivered and accepted against the estimates of
    work completed
    • Analyze completed iterations for lessons learned and apply them to subsequent
    iterations to advance the project
    • Prioritize what elements ought to be included in each subsequent iteration
    based on backlog and lessons learned
    • Complete each iteration within the agreed upon timeframe
    • Properly manage all changes to keep the project team and stakeholders
    calibrated on current and desired results

Agile Project Management: Budget/Cost Considerations

  • Due to the high degree of uncertainty, changes per iteration and lack of a fully defined project scope, it is harder to create a highly detailed budget for an Agile type project than it is for a project being run using a traditional project management process.
  • An overall estimated budget for an Agile type project can be developed. However, it is strictly an estimate used to stay within cost constraints for the project. A detailed cost estimate for each iteration of an Agile type project is calculated based on the required resources needed to execute the iteration. At the end of each iteration a comparison ought to be conducted of budgeted versus actual cost.
  • Project cost control is an iteration to iteration process. If each iteration produces its intended results to achieve the ultimate project goal/objective, the project continues to be funded. If it fails to produce intended results, the project can be cancelled.
  • Traditional project management financial tools such as Earned Value Analysis, Return on Investment, Net Present Value and Internal Rate of return are not applicable to predicting Agile project progress. Instead, it is the outcome of each iteration that dictates the ongoing discovery and refinements to achieving project success.

Agile Project Management: Quality Considerations

  • Agile project management methods focus on incremental steps and/or small batches of work that incorporate as many elements of project deliverables as possible into each iteration. This helps identify quality issues early on in the project life cycle when the overall cost of making a change is lower. Hence there are frequent product and process quality checks to identify the root cause of issues and to create new approaches to improve the quality process.

Agile Project Management: Resource Considerations

  • Because of the ambiguity and frequent changes associated with a project being run using Agile Project Management, the Project Manager needs to facilitate more frequent communications and updates versus a project being run using a traditional project management process. Project Stakeholders and Project Team Members require more frequent access to data/information and more frequent team meetings to keep everyone calibrated on project status. Current project data/information needs to be posted 24/7 in an easy to access portal.
  • For maximum productivity, Agile Project Teams ought to be co-located. It helps drive “real-time” results quickly.

Agile Project Management: Project Risk Considerations

  • Risk is evaluated as each iteration is designed, as well as, after it is completed to understand its level of severity, chance of reoccurrence and how it can be managed. The learned level and severity of risk is utilized to design subsequent iterations in order to improve the quality of deliverables, reduce risk and accelerate the achievement of overall project objectives.

Agile Project Management: Procurement Considerations

  • It is not uncommon to have specific suppliers of key components critical to project scope, definition and success to be part of an Agile Project Team. Usually, this arrangement involves some degree of shared risk whereby both the company who will purchase the component and the manufacturer (Seller) of it share in the risk, as well as, the reward connected to the project.

Agile Project Management: Project Stakeholder Engagement

  • Projects that experience a high degree of change to achieve goals/objectives require aggressive and proactive participation from its stakeholders.
  • It is not uncommon for an Agile Project Team to directly connect with the project stakeholders as opposed to the project manager having this sole responsibility. This helps to secure alignment with project goals/objectives, get agreement on acceptable project risk and how to mitigate it, build understanding on project status and support for adjustments as each iteration is completed, which in turn can help reduce project cost and increase the likelihood for project success.


Richard Broo

Principal/Founder, True North PMP Consulting, Inc.

Richard has over 40 years of company leadership and project management experience. He delivers commercial, technical and operational efficiencies for companies across different industries helping them improve competitive differentiation, client value and profitability.