Delivering IT Project Success in Uncertain Times
- Professional Services Director
- IT Project Management
"Basic Project Management practices and tenets stay the same, but methodologies rise and fall in popularity and effectiveness all the time. In these uncertain times though, it pays to keep your team up to date and ensure that you have the necessary skills for the delivery environment."
On a Zoom call with a client today, he and I were discussing how things had changed over the space of the past year. In and among the small talk, he said something about Agile vs Waterfall that got me thinking – I’ll come back to it.
First, a short recap of the last year. As I write, it’s the start of February 2021, if you’re reading this around the same time, you’ll be able to easily conjure up your own list of what’s changed. If you happen to have stumbled upon this in the future allow me to remind you.
What changed over the last year?
Both football fans, me Manchester United, him not so much (he supports … actually, I can’t bring myself to type the word), we’re poles apart in terms of the teams we support but united in missing a night under the floodlights cheering our teams with tens of thousands of others.
We talked about a crafty pint in the pub on a Friday night after work; we touched on working from home while also home-schooling (don’t get me started on how much the way Maths is taught has changed since I was at school!!); we agreed we didn’t miss the commute but we did miss the companionship and camaraderie that it led you to; what we’d both give for watercooler moments and kettle conversations; we laughed about how “bring your own device” (BYOD) was his firm’s biggest IT security challenge a year ago (BYOD meant bringing your device from home to work – now work has come home to your device); and on and on it went.
Then he told me the Agile vs Waterfall thing. And I haven’t really stopped thinking about this since. In a nutshell, he said that due to the reactive nature of projects across his portfolio, his team’s use of Waterfall was in decline and had now all but been replaced by Agile.
Waterfall Drying Up?
To put it into context, this is a well-established project outfit. The Agile / Waterfall ratio was about 45%/55%. They hadn’t picked a “go-to methodology”, it wasn’t like me supporting Manchester United and him choosing to follow … nope, still can’t bring myself to type it. Methodologies would be chosen in the context of individual projects and there would most often be a hybrid approach (i.e., they may plan with Waterfall, and execute with Agile - or ‘Watergile’ as one PM friend calls it). Pre-Covid 19, the majority of their projects benefitted from a traditional, steady, linear approach to project management – so Waterfall was dominant.
Interestingly, this ratio is about right for the industry. In 2017, Waterfall was still used by 51% of organisations, according to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Pulse of The Profession report. I asked my client to share an insight into how the ratio would have evolved over the years, and, after some thought, he emailed this.
2010 Agile 10% / Waterfall 90%
2015 Agile 20% / Waterfall 80%
2019 Agile 45% / Waterfall 55%
2020 Agile 90% / Waterfall 10%
And then he projected …
2021 Agile 99%/ Waterfall 1%
I am intrigued that almost a decade after the launch of the Agile manifesto, these guys were still only executing a tenth of their projects (or elements of their projects) using Agile. Then, every five years there was, roughly, a doubling and halving of the methodologies’ respective numbers … and then came last year!
In ordinary times, charting the trajectory established over the previous decade you might have forecast an 80/20 split - but Agile had almost become the only show in town.
I asked him for a quarterly breakdown of 2020. Now, this is really interesting...
Q1 – Agile 80% / Waterfall 20% (so in-line with that forecast for normal times)
Q2 – Agile 90% / Waterfall 10%
Q3 – Agile 95% / Waterfall 5%
Q4 – Agile 99%/ Waterfall 1%
Now some important caveats: this is one organisation; these are gut feeling figures rather than accurate data-sets; and crucially, as I say, this organisation often uses hybrids so Waterfall may have played some role in an Agile project, and vice versa – but it’s an interesting trend isn’t it?
It’s a trend I’m seeing elsewhere and many online posts I see seem to be backing this up.
Unprecedented Times – Agile Response
I suppose back in March 2020, as everything ground to a halt and the UK entered lockdown, what we were delivering actually sped up.
Our industry already operated in a fast-paced, ever-changing landscape but as things started to ‘settle down’ during and after ‘Lockdown One’, the environment became even more volatile. For a while, it felt reactive, a lot less proactive and quite hard to forecast.
There was an increased need for Agile approaches, for many it was a steep learning curve, one client, who had never even used the term ‘Design Thinking’ could probably now lecture on it at Stanford’s d.school. There was a sudden and unprecedented need for nimble, iterative and agile IT responses.
Agile fitted the bill. The project delivery landscape is still this way.
So, is it a case of “the king is dead, long live the king?”
Is Waterfall forever to be reduced to a trickle?
I think waterfall will always be valid and a hybrid approach remains the most popular, and usually most effective.
Basic Project Management practices and tenets stay the same, but methodologies rise and fall in popularity and effectiveness all the time. In these uncertain times though, it pays to keep your team up to date and ensure that you have the necessary skills for the delivery environment.
Easier said than done! Few companies and organisations have hiring budget to bring in permanent new talent for what could be a reactive moment in time. Meanwhile, IR35 is muddying the private sector contractor market at a most inopportune moment. Decisions on skills and resources have to pander both to the times were in but also be sustainable for a more settled long term.
For instance, the client I mentioned, with the clear shift to Agile, even they see this as a blip - they foresee a return to more normal times. They have a project team made up of Waterfall legends – if you’re ever on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and a question on Waterfall comes up, they’d be your ‘Phone A Friend’.
Over time, the landscape called for a more Agile led approach, so they adapted and upskilled but during this last year, Agile dominated. What should they do? Rehire? Retrain?
Or do flexible and temporary conditions need flexible and temporary solutions?
Temporary, Flexible Conditions Require Temporary Flexible Solutions
By engaging with a PMaaS (Project Management as a Service provider), you can inject external skills and ‘new’ methodologies when and where you need them (for as long as you need them), all the while, upskilling your team! No need to commit to a root and branch rethink and redesign of the permanent make up of your team and no need to enter the quagmire that is hiring contractors in the post IR35 environment.
At Stoneseed, we work with many customers across many sectors and industries, so we have Project Managers with many different skill sets. With us, you can flex and change where necessary, making sure your delivery capability can react to technology trends or market needs.
From a Project Manager’s perspective, if you stay working at one company as a perm you can become a specialist but also miss out on new developments - this is what the team of Waterfall legends has found. Previously, engaging with contractors has been a decent fix, but the skills come and go with the contract lengths giving you an inconsistency and, as I say, IR35 has complicated things – great timing! With PMaaS, you avoid IR35 complications, you get access to a whole portfolio of different skills and you get to dial up and dial down the service in line with your current needs.
PMaaS Helping Delivering The Six Benchmarks Of Success
At the end of the day, no matter how different the market feels right now, the PMIs benchmarks of success haven’t changed, I’m paraphrasing but worth remembering them:
1 - Happy Customers
2 - Costs Within Budget
3 - Deliverables as Designed
4 - End Users Actually Use It
5 - Happy Project Funders and Sponsors
6 - The Goals That Drove The Project Are Met
Sure, achieving these six benchmarks is more challenging in these ever-changing times. Yes, we all are having to adapt. But when did we not adapt and flex? Project managers are the best change managers and thanks to PMaaS you have access to everything you need to succeed.
David Cotgreave MBA, BSc (hons), PRINCE II, is Professional Services Director at Stoneseed, with over 30 years’ experience in IT Project Management & Consulting. David has worked with organisations such as BT Engage IT and KPMG, before founding Stoneseed in 2009 and has gained considerable business experience whilst working with a wide range of organisations across the UK and Europe carrying out a range of strategy, review and implementation projects. David is currently responsible for leading the Programme and Project Management Services PMaaS offered by Stoneseed.