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In a world where so many project managers are discussing agility, I wonder if there is ever a time when managers should dig their heels in, manage to a plan, and resist a more agile approach. Change and agility doesn’t just happen, it requires management – regardless of what project approach is used. Sometimes, the need for flexibility is great.  Other times, change can be quite costly.  In this blog, I’ll offer five questions to ask as you ponder that idea, and search for a better way to manage your change and agility needs.

Given the nature of your project, how much agility is feasible?

Some projects require more definition than others. If you’re building a new house, you really should not go out and dig a foundation with no understanding of what you plan to put on top. Yes, you can remain a bit agile on what kinds of appliances to use when you get to that point, but you need to make sure the space allows for the oven size you need. Most people will find that their budgets constrain them. On a construction project, I’d vote for less agility – though using allowances for fixtures and appliances is certainly acceptable.

If your project requires great innovation, for example, the development of a new pharmaceutical or a new business process to streamline your manufacturing plant, then the agility question might be influenced by your budget. Jeff Bezos says that if you aren’t wasting money, then you aren’t innovating enough. Most of us don’t have his budget. We need to be innovative without breaking the bank.

To do that, I’d suggest you start with some of the basics, like asking what your overall goal is, before you start worrying about listing out every single step of the process.

Do you understand what success looks like for your project or activity?

Would you make a trip to the grocery store without any understanding of what you needed? If so, I hope you like hitting the store fifteen times a week. This is the equivalent of starting a new project or a new activity without understanding what success looks like.

There is no substitute for understanding what you want to achieve and why. If you’re starting a new project, remember that the success of the project is not the same as the success of the final product or service. The language can vary depending on who is doing the talking. Some people like the phrase Benefits Realization Management – a process of ensuring that your project is poised to deliver the benefits anticipated and having a process for measuring those benefits in the long-term.

There is also the objective of making sure the project is successful – in whatever fashion that means to management or to the client. Is cost, schedule, quality, risk, or scope most important? While benefits realization management is essential, you can’t really hold your project team accountable for benefits that might not be realized for five years. But you can definitely make them responsible for the project cost, schedule, quality, risk, or scope. Just remember that there will be tradeoffs – so decide what is most important and let them know.

Also, before you start a new activity, are you clear on what is needed? This could mean that your requirements document needs a bit of tweaking, or it could mean that you need to start over and re-think the entire activity. If you do start over and re-examine the entire activity, you need to ask yourself how your new understanding changes the cost and schedule.

Has your overall goal changed?

This is likely something bigger than the project. Organizations change strategies periodically – and that can impact outstanding projects.

When organizational strategies change, project managers must re-think whether projects remain aligned with strategy. They need to question if the overall goal of their project has changed or should be changed.

Has something in your environment changed?

This is a broad question that could refer to a lot of environmental factors. Has some relevant technology changed that might cause you to re-think part or all of your project? Has a competitor announced anything that is likely to impact you? Will recent personnel changes impact your project staffing?

In A Survival Guide for Leaders, by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky, the authors note that change leaders, and that includes project managers, need to constantly move “from the dance floor to the balcony,” figuratively speaking, and ask themselves where things stand, what’s really going on, and who is “defending old habits?” [Kotter, John P.; HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Change Management; Harvard Business Review Press. Location 1644, Kindle Edition.]

It’s a good way to think about your job. From 20,000 feet, how do things look on your project? Yes, project managers must dive into the details, but don’t spend so much time on the details that you miss the big indicators.

What does change look like on your project?

Do you have a client with a very tight budget who wants to be involved in every decision? Or have you been told to just get it done? How costly are changes going to be?  Said differently, when are changes going to break the bank and when might changes actually help you save money?

If you have determined that a change is needed, how will you process that change? Do you have a change management system in place? If not, consider reading this blog on creating a change management process.

Both change and agility require management. What are you doing that might help others? Share it the comments.