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Linking Agile to HR Theory

Agile TheoryTo many people, agile is the opposite of sound theory. Instead of proceeding in a structured, well-planned manner, teams “self organize” and iterate through prototypes to try and create something. Ants can self organize and create transportation systems and large, complex community structures. Yet when people self-organize, we tend to get slum ghettos with no sanitation. Which outcome do your projects most resemble?

Planning is a slow, boring, unpopular exercise that attributes accountability to the planning group; if something goes wrong, we know who to blame. If everyone has a go at creating something and it does not turn out, then the blame is harder to pin on someone; excuses can be made around the project being complex and requirements not clearly articulated, etc.

So, is it laziness and dodging accountability that drives the huge growth of agile approaches, or is there something else to it? The Standish Group, which studies software project failure and success rates, recently reported:

“The agile process is the universal remedy for software development project failure. Software applications developed through the agile process have three times the success rate of the traditional waterfall method and a much lower percentage of time and cost overruns.”[1]

They sound pretty impressed, so what’s behind it? It turns out there’s plenty, but in the human resources domain, not the project execution domain. Projects are undertaken by people for people; they involve getting people to work together on things, collaborate, create consensus and sometimes compromise. As such, it is only right that the real key to project success should come from “people science” rather than “scheduling science”. Don’t get me wrong: work breakdown structures, Gantt charts and network diagrams have their place, but they are not the right place to start your journey for successful projects.

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