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Managing Agile Projects

Methods that make traditional project managers nervous

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Book review Some of the more fundamentalist exponents of agile development methodologies would reduce the totality of roles within software development to two: developers and customers. And even then you get the impression that customers are viewed as no more than a necessary evil. Architects, project managers, DBAs, testers, integrators, build masters and the rest barely get a look in. In particular, the role of the project manager is conspicuous by its absence in most of the formal agile methodologies (with the notable exception of SCRUM, which mandates the need for a SCRUM Master to manage the process/project).

Managing Agile Projects

Sanjiv Augustine's Managing Agile Projects is a book expressly designed for those project management-types who are wondering where they fit in the brave new agile world. And for those unfamiliar with the territory, there's plenty of new terminology, paradigms, metaphors and other fancy stuff to get hold of before things start to make sense. In particular, those used to more heavy-weight methodologies, with strictly defined project phasing, reams of documentation, modelling tools and more GANTT charts than you can shake a stick at, are apt to find the new landscape strangely ill-defined.

Where more traditional development processes draw inspiration from engineering, agile techniques are often loosely based on "complexity theory" - the science of complex adaptive systems. The emphasis is on evolution, adaptation and complex behaviour emerging from simple interactions. In the software field this means accepting that software requirements are never fixed, so rather than pretend otherwise it's about leaving room to change and adapt as the requirements do.

In practice there are a number of key practices that pretty much all of the competing schools of agile development have in common: rigorous unit testing, regular automated builds, an emphasis on small releases of functional code, reduced emphasis on documentation, and a high degree of customer involvement during development. All of these are touched on to some extent, though the focus of the book is not on these practices per se.

In addition to the practices, the book describes the role of the agile project manager. Rather than safeguarding the project plans and juggling priorities, deadlines and the need to get something out of the door, the agile project manager is much more hands-off. Developers, working closely with customers, have more say in the day to day running of the project. Instead, according to this book, the project manager is more focused on building an "organic team", developing a shared vision, maximising communication, evolving and adapting the agile process so it better fits with the project. At times it all sounds a bit too touchy-feely - not helped by a tendency to grab the nearest scientific metaphor for support - but the core idea of working to foster collaboration and communication is a good one all the same.

Like a lot of books on agile, this one sells a good story. The underlying principles of agile development are compelling from a developer perspective, though perhaps less so for those who manage developers (and those who manage the managers). This book suggests that agile methods don't necessarily mean project managers disappear from the scene.

Managing Agile Projects

Verdict: If you’re a project manager who feels threatened by the agile wave there might be something here worth investigating.

Author: Sanjiv Augustine

Publisher: Prentice Hall PTR

ISBN: 0131240714

Media: Book

List Price: £35.99

Reg price: £28.79

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