Some senior agile evangelists might feel that the movement has gone too mainstream – after all, once you have been lampooned in a few Dilbert cartoons and have spawned a PMI certification, surely you have jumped the shark!
In spite of such cynicism, appropriate usage of agile principles continues to be a gift that keeps on giving. I’ve written a few articles on the better known benefits of agile including increased predictability for schedule and cost constraints, objective progress assessment, earlier value recognition and reduced waste, but another reward is a leaner approach to decision making.
In traditional organizations that have instituted consistent project management practices, an undesirable side effect might be the introduction of onerous governance for project decision making. While I advocate appropriate engagement of stakeholders, the slippery slope of inclusiveness and consensus-building can create critical delays. As decision makers begin to question their authority, the symptoms of this disease materialize as project meetings where more people show up than were invited or decisions (regardless of magnitude) being escalated to steering committees or executive sponsors. This behavior begins to fuel itself and project budgets get impacted (after all, all those meeting attendees need to log their time somewhere!) and executives become accustomed to operating at tactical levels. People working without process can generate chaos beyond a certain scale of work, but “process gone wild” is equally dangerous.
The difference with agile approaches is that decision making is a fundamental expectation of the product owner and project team. The team is expected to be self-managing which includes empowering them to know when a decision will require outside blessing or input. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that all governance gets jettisoned on agile projects – there is still a critical role for executive sponsorship and for steering committees. However, the expectation should be that recommendations brought forward by the team should require rubber-stamping as opposed to detailed analysis.
Such empowerment might sound like heresy to traditional organizations but since a critical success factor for agile projects is putting the right people with the right tools to figure out how to do the work right, isn’t it reasonable to also demand right-sizing decision making?