The conventional approach to project management has long been for managers to follow an established sequence of events, working with a specific budget, to an explicit deadline with defined scopes, the execution and fulfilment of which renders the project complete.
However, this traditional, fixed approach may increasingly be challenged as organisations become more agile in responding to change in their environment or marketplace. As systems and processes evolve at an ever-increasing pace (for example, the speedy uptake and now ubiquitous use of remote working and Zoom meetings as a consequence of the pandemic), the concept of a ‘finished’ project may become less easy to define.
The ability to react quickly and adapt to changing circumstances or unforeseen challenges means that the more efficient systems will be the ones that move from being fixed to fluid. Likewise, the concept of a system as being complete or absolute leaves it vulnerable to diminishing in value as environments change and become increasingly complex or unpredictable.
This, in turn, means that the traditional project management tools could become less straightforward to implement and may run the risk of losing relevance.
So how do traditional organisations, which for years may have operated very successfully in a static, hierarchical, siloed environment, and focused on fulfilling the predetermined requirements of a project, become more agile?
Teams that are willing to develop and learn throughout the project and recognise that following a pre-defined plan to the letter is not necessarily the optimum route to project success can adapt to, and prioritise, events as the project progresses. From there, project requirements can be tailored in real-time to create the best actual solution rather than the assumed and predetermined one.
Individuals benefit from an aligned view of their company’s version of agility and a review of how they measure a successful project based on ongoing evidence rather than previous assumptions. This goes hand-in-hand with continual reflection, evaluation, and adaptation.
Project managers who embrace agility will remain relevant. Becoming an agile organisation does not diminish or undermine the value of a professional’s experience and insight. Their knowledge and skills are still fundamental to setting goals, focusing input and prioritising actions. However, individuals bringing these attributes to a team and working together rather than in isolation could have a dramatic positive impact.
Being on time and on budget is still critical. However, providing the perfect fit for a project will come by embracing feedback, having open communication, and a willingness to evaluate and adapt.
Perhaps the key to agile project management in the future is to look ahead as well as behind.