It is time for software development to move from its long-standing “project paradigm” to something much closer to how business actually works. In the process, the venerable project management office will morph into something quite different.
By Jaco Viljoen, Agile consultant at IndigoCube
Traditionally, IT has seen its role in terms of projects, each with a finite timescale and burgeoning overhead of business analysts and an all-powerful project management office. But, of course, that is not how business works: products are what it sells to customers, not projects.
This disconnect between the way IT and business actually work has, of course, not gone unnoticed. One could argue that Agile and then Lean were both developed to bring IT’s modus operandi closer to that of business. For example, the fact that Scrum has a product owner, not a project manager recognises that any development initiative is not an end in itself.
However, because the project paradigm was not displaced, a hybrid “water-scrum-fall” methodology emerged that essentially combined traditional waterfall project methodology with Agile. As a result, Agile has only been able to make projects run more efficiently–not quicker to complete. Value is still only delivered at the end of the project, and the life of the project is largely disconnected from its true mainspring, the product the business is trying to sell.
The growing use of Lean within business generally has helped to reveal the inherent weaknesses of this hybrid model. Lean is very compatible with Agile, and sees software development as a continuous flow of value: yet more pressure to move away from the project mentality.
Similarly, the various frameworks that have evolved all attempt to combine Lean-Agile’s impetus towards a product- rather than a project-focused paradigm. None of them delivers their full value when they are applied to a project. In other words, truly to realise the benefits of Lean-Agile methodologies and deliver what business wants, IT departments will have to complete the transition from a project-based to a product-based mindset.
What will all of this mean? It will certainly involve the devolution of software developers into product teams located in the relevant business units. These teams will be freed to manage their own initiatives in line with the product life cycle and overall business strategy. Developers will no longer work on projects with all the attendant distraction of trying to integrate projects into products; they will be more able to devote themselves to development–a real step in the right direction.
Some have argued that this shift will mean the end of the project management office, but I think it will redefine itself as a “product management office” or something similar. Rather than managing and funding projects, it will now focus on governance, capacity building and training–with a particular focus on training product owners and managers. The lack of proper training for product owners has long been a weakness within Agile.
So, if your organisation is finding that Lean-Agile is not delivering all the benefits you expected, it is probably a clear signal that it is time to take the final step from a project focus to a fully product-centric development process.