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Agile Versus Traditional Project Management
By Michelle Symonds

Tipped to be the hottest trend in project management for 2014, Agile has seen its heyday come at last. Not a new concept, agile project management has been used to some degree in the software industry for several decades, but is only now coming to the fore as a workable project management method for other industries too.

Using agile project management techniques is not a million miles away from traditional methods. You still do the same work and arrive at the same end goal, but with the agile method work tends to be faster, more productive and risks tend to be diminished. Here’s why.

Traditional Project Management

This method, also known as the waterfall method, is the most widely used form of PM worldwide. It typically involves six key steps from start to finish:

  1. Requirements
  2. Design
  3. Development
  4. Integration
  5. Testing
  6. Deployment

Each one stage is completed before the whole team moves onto the next stage, making this sequential method seem like something of a waterfall cascade, hence the name. Not all projects include all stages, and some may include a few more, but in essence this is the formation of waterfall PM.

Traditional PM is widely accepted as being valuable for smaller, well designed projects, but can sometimes struggle when dealing with larger and less well defined situations. It is designed for use in construction and manufacturing industries, where later changes are impossible or not cost effective, meaning everything needs to be done in a certain order.

Agile PM

The agile method differs in that everything can take place in any order, and is not necessarily sequentially completed. The method relies on human interaction management, and works on the project as a set of small tasks which are defined and completed as the demand arises. Large projects can be simply broken down into smaller components, known as ‘sprints’, and tackled for a short space of time until complete.

In agile, the design, testing, integration and development are all undertaken during each sprint, which makes the likelihood of errors being built into the final project much less. This means there may be major changes made throughout the lifespan of the project, and the final product might not be exactly what was envisaged at the start. It will, if done right, be relevant, useful and flawless.

Which is best?

The most suitable method for managing your project is something you will need to decide for yourself. It will largely depend on the type of project you are delivering, as well as the scale. Projects involving creative industries or software development benefit much more naturally from agile than those involved in creating physical products, as they allow for changes to be made even at very late stages in the project delivery.

Consider how stable the requirements of the project are. Projects that are likely to undergo changes to the brief or the requirements will respond much better to an agile project management framework, whereas those with well-defined business requirements and where certain stages need to be completed before moving on are more suited to traditional PM.

Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management training can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and is essential for a successful outcome to any project.

There is a wide range of formal and informal training courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses from organizations such as Parallel Project Training.

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