PMI Global Congress
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Ultra Agile

Ultra Agile methods are best suited for small projects. Women are not suited for extreme endurance events like marathons and ultra (beyond marathon) races. Oh, how conventional wisdom seems ludicrous after being proven wrong time and time again.

“The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next.” - Helen Keller

I have been doing more trail running this year, and some ultras. It is great to see the sport is not male dominated and many events are won outright by women. Before the 1980s, there were no women's distance races in the Olympics at all; 1,500m was the furthest race distance allowed for them. Before 1972, women were barred from the Boston marathon and most other marathons.

Pam Reed beat all the men in the Badwater 135-miler two years in a row. Local girl Ellie Greenwood, often beats all the guys in her ultra races. Scientists believe women may metabolize fat more efficiently than men for better fuelling and that estrogen may delay mental weariness. I just know there are lots of ponytails passing me on the trails, and am good with that.

As women go from being thought of as too frail to run marathons to kicking major butt in ultra marathons, so too do agile methods. First described as “light weight” and only for small, co-located teams, we are now seeing more and more use of agile methods in truly huge, distributed, complex projects.

At last year’s Agile Business Conference in London I learned about Nokia’s massive agile roll-out where 1,800 software developers are using agile techniques to develop the Symbian mobile phone platform. This immensely complex endeavour is tightly coupled to quickly evolving hardware, divergent phone standards, and a variety of different cell providers worldwide. Using a variant of Dean Leffingwell’s “Agile Train” approach they are scaling agile to tackle a very complex domain and produce rapid, high quality results.

At this year’s PMI Global Congress last week Richard Spires CIO of the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) spoke about his role overseeing $6.5 billion of IT focussed spend annually. He has 91 projects greater $50M in his portfolio. So, how does he and his team manage it all? “With more and more adoption of agile methods” he said. It is the only way to keep up with the complexity and high rates of change required for this massive portfolio of projects.

Agile started small, and this is still my recommendation for companies looking to adopt it, but do not limit its application or growth there. Command and control structures get heavy and slow to change as they scale up. The weight of the control system seems to over burden the operation of the functions. Perhaps the lighter weight of agile methods can actually be an asset to solving truly huge projects by not smothering operations as they expand?

I think we will be seeing more accounts of ultra sized agile projects in the future.


While your contention that women can handle the rigors of long distance running are wonderful, and since I am not a runner nor care to be, they can not be applied to the comparison that Agile and traditional project management best practices can co-exist. Since I have yet to be convinced about the value of the Agile discipline (the 4 guiding values and 12 principles) as they might apply to project management, I do grant that project management best practices needs to be updated into the world of the instant message and world-wide SMS sound bite (twitter).

Whether its agile, scrum, tweedle-dee or tweedle-dumb (I have seen them come and go in my 25+ years of project management in the IT world) is really not the question for me; its how can be build better decision making support systems without increasing the already crushing level of complexity that we seem to want to shoulder and bear?

In the end, its all about the ability to make better decisions, no? From gaming platforms to the highest level of BPMN/BPEL articulation diagrams, its all about making better decisions -- no more, no less. Everything we do in life is based on making better decisions. In business, why do we need to make everything so complex that it takes a SME to sort things out. I am for simplification not more process and procedures on top of more! When is enough, enough? Will agile/scrum support better decision making? Do not know. I do know the practitioners feel so, hope so, argue so, demand others think so. Psst: I would not be too quick to tout the USG's ability to manage projects -- case in point, the recent FBI's Virtual Case File debacle. ;-)

Bottom line in anything you add to, expand upon, integrate, or expound -- does this make my decision making better?

Take care,

Mike Griffiths

Hi PNanouk,

Thanks for reading this post since the topic does not interest you. My intent, in case it was lost, was to illustrate how theories change over time. Ideas thought to apply only in one area are found to apply well in others.

It is interesting that you mention simplicity and decision making since I feel this is where agile offers most and yet is discussed least. A core component of DSDM back in 1994 was to “maximize the amount of work not done” i.e. to simplify, reduce complexity and find the smaller, more likely to be successful projects inside the large complex projects. Regardless of methodology, simplification of a problem has in my 25 years of experience proven to be a good thing.

How can methods (agile or otherwise) help you make better decisions, well I think engagement models that promote better communications will help us gather better data to make better decisions. Practices like daily stand up meetings, increased customer feedback, and retrospectives have better decision making at their core.

Best regards

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