Getting It Done With Practical Agilism

Aug 28, 2019

The Luminate team are all accomplished project leaders. With decades in delivery between us, we’ve seen a few “hot” methodologies in our time. In our experience it can be exciting to see a new approach roll off the assembly line – a different methodology can truly galvanise an organisation. However, if not implemented properly they are just as capable of sinking a project before it’s even out of the blocks.

The rise of dogmatic agile

The biggest issue comes when an organisation believes any particular methodology is a guarantee of success. And in the last few years things seem to have gotten a little more dogmatic in this area. Businesses are adhering to a particular framework, mistakenly believing that’s them home and dry. It’s a common mistake and one we regularly help organisations address. At Luminate we know it’s people, and not any framework or methodology that makes a project.

Even with changing methodologies, good project management truisms hold true. One of our favourites is this – any framework can work, but only if it makes sense given other environmental constraints. It’s this constant that seems most under threat at the moment, as more and more businesses embrace (with an almost religious zeal) a single framework. It seems a sure fire way to promote failure to us. In fact, here’s one of our Luminate secrets – our  project leads are multi-denominational in their approach. We don’t adhere to any one guiding framework… instead we select the methodology best suited to the organisation.

Not that this is easy. Too many organisations have succumbed to “agile good, waterfall bad”, making discussions around delivery difficult. None of this means we don’t believe in agile methodology. Far from it – working with highly effective agile delivery teams is powerful, with real value in the common-sense elements of agile delivery. But that doesn’t always make it the right choice.

Delivery through the right framework

Over the years we’ve worked with multiple delivery specialists, many of whom delivered beautifully using non-agile methods. It wasn’t the methodology that brought their projects home. It was years of hard-won experience, working in different environments, and across different methodologies. Too many organisations today would discount this, hold tight to agile and throw the baby out with the bathwater, simply because it’s not well understood.

The problem with that sort of dogmatic agilism is this. The ideal conditions for agile projects often don’t exist. A more common reality is distributed, large or cross-functional teams, outsourced (often from offshore), along with limited availability of key stakeholders and critical resources, a fixed scope and duration. All these are sub-optimal conditions for an agile delivery.

So if these conditions don’t conform to an agile framework, it follows organisations need to reconsider their stubborn adherence to agile delivery. By taking an agnostic and holistic view of the environment and problem being faced, they can then apply the best approach and tools for that situation.

Because let’s face it. The really important thing here is whether the project output is delivering value to the business. And whether the team (or tribe or squad) is taking accountability for delivery and driving to realise the benefits underpinning the business case.

That’s why at Luminate we practise what we call Pragmatic Agilism.

Pragmatic agilism and project excellence

Pragmatic agilists champion agile, while dealing sensibly and rationally with environmental constraints based on practical experience and capability rather than theoretical considerations.

Compare this to dogmatic agilists – often they’ve never worked outside of an Agile framework, causing them to compromise principles so long as the framework is maintained. It doesn’t take much to realise that very resistance to adaptation is fundamentally at odds with the principles their framework is built on.

With experience of multiple frameworks a pragmatic agilist is most likely to modify their approach. They’re the guys who test and implement new ideas in order to maximise business value. Simply put, pragmatic agilists do what’s necessary to get the job done.