Probably the most common question I get is "Is Agile really that much different to traditional project management - surely they're the same thing really?" In the past I agreed. I couldn't see why a decent project manager wouldn't be just as much at home running Agile Development as Waterfall Development. In fact, I believed that the Agile thing was a bit of hype & bluster and was really just another way for large consultancies to realise just a bit more fees from their creaking accounts.
Now I have to admit I was wrong. Not just "a bit" wrong but "you've completely missed the point" wrong.
It was a friend of mind who's also a great Agile Coach, Bob Lupton, who put me on the straight and narrow. He was passionate that I'd really missed the point. That Agile wasn't really what we were trying to achieve - the most important aspect was Agility. To understand that I needed to rethink my whole philosophy on how projects should be delivered.
The most important of these was understanding the mindset I needed if I really wanted to be Agile. I had to let go of my "Command & Control" management approach, something I've built up over the last 20 years, and embrace "Servant Leadership".
Not being sure what that meant he went on to explain that I'd always seen myself as responsible for delivering the project. If problems happened I'd take charge and escalate issues to the relevant managers. Indeed, I'd even set up Rapid Action Teams on some of my larger programmes to deal with major issues that kept happening. What I needed to do, he explained, was to delegate issues, get the team to take responsiblity for finding the solution and mitigating the problem. My team would do this in full consultantion with the Product Manager. Mainly, I had to show trust in the team and, when needed, provide leadership that supported them rather than managing them.
Actually that was what made me think about the whole way that we train our project managers. We educate them in the ways of PRINCE2 and MSP - both of which are prescriptive processes. Every aspect of the project is the responsiblity of the Project Manager and we make sure that we control everything. As a result, in our efforts to control everything we stiffle innovation, relevance and benefits to meet arbitary deadlines & budgets which, quite frankly, no one cares about once the project is complete.
Do I think Project Managers can be Agile? Absolutely - as long as they have the right mindset to lead rather than manage.
Do I think Agile Project Management exists? I really hope not. It seems like too much of an oxymoron for me. You can have Agile or Management but not both.
In fact, I'm becoming more and more convinced that the time of the "project" may be over. A project is really just a container for activity that delivers a specific outcome or change - does it really need all of the baggage that goes with it?