Project Design: the Quest for Agility and Robustness
Crossovers or hybrids are in the fashion. You find them in cars, to meet fuel efficiency, environmental consciousness and safety concerns in the urban “jungle”.
You find them in gastronomy, where chefs revisit traditional dishes with cooking techniques based on modern-day physics or chemistry to reveal new tastes in “molecular” cuisine.
You find them in racing sailboats where foils (the “moustaches” visible on each side of the hull in recent racing sailboats, see picture above), a technology stemming from record-breaking multihulls, have been used in monohull boats participating in the last Vendée Globe round the world race, to increase speed and performance.
The same trend of combining traditional “designs” and new approaches to enhance client experience or increase performance also develops in projects, where elements of linear, phase-gated delivery processes and agile-based methods are increasingly being used together.
Prince2- and agile-based methodologies have their inherent strengths and weaknesses and attempts to integrate elements of each of them to address their flaws and enhance competitiveness are being developed by the project community.
Linear, phase-gated project delivery methodologies have traditionally been used in capital intensive projects, where the focus is on scope and concept definition, followed by cost estimation and planning, based on engineering definition, leading to the execution phase. Front-end preparation until concept definition is key for value creation, engineering definition, cost estimation and planning govern value preservation during the execution phase, where the tolerance to change is low and strictly managed. Predictability and stability of the end result are the pursued objectives.
Predictability and stability are great attributes for the business value of a project, when they are driven by value to the end-user. They are synonymous with robustness and “getting things right first time”. Issues arise, especially with phase-gated approaches, when internal value drivers take precedence over the customer-centered ones. Then, an inward-looking focus on scope and concept definition coupled to a low tolerance to change generates ill-defined concepts, which are costly to fix. It is a common flaw encountered in benchmarking studies about capital intensive projects. This issue is related to one of the 3 cornerstones of competitiveness: the definition of value to both “internal” and “external” customers.
Agile-based projects are by nature customer focused. The customer is put at the centre of the solution definition, which is not surprising, since agile project delivery methodologies originate in IT projects, where user acceptance testing is a critical success factor. Comparatively to phase-gated projects, less time is spent on upfront scope and concept definition, which can lead to scope creep, as the first elements of a development become available for testing and their flaws surface. As a customer, the impression is sometimes one of organised chaos and, at times, lack of an overall sense of direction.
Although agile-driven project are more tolerant to change, the management of change is not always as rigorously applied as in phase-gated projects. Agility is a great attribute for the pursuit of business value. It sometimes makes predictability and stability harder to achieve, which can erode value, if it is not anticipated and properly managed.
Benchmarking studies start to appear in project management literature for agile-based projects and they tend to focus on similar performance indicators as linear, phase-gated projects, including the importance of scope definition and management of change to achieve competitiveness.
Finally, a risk-based approach is the third element of competitiveness. Linear, phase-gated projects have a strong risk identification and management emphasis, translating into a risk-based concept definition. This trend is also visible in agile-based projects, especially with the emergence of cybersecurity threats. Risk-based approaches are essential for competitiveness, as they ensure solutions are neither under- or overdesigned, balancing value and risks through quality or reliability trade-offs.
Based on this experience and learnings, ALL4ONE consulting has developed a scalable framework designed to enhance the competitiveness of projects and organisations.
It is based on design thinking and lean start-up elements, embedded in a serious game, re-creating competitive business situations to learn by experience the skills, attitudes and mindsets making product or service development successful.
The “ALL4ONE TROPHY” simulation reinforces the linear, phase-gated and agile-based methodologies by combining their strengths to address project delivery weaknesses.
This one-day training event can be delivered onsite or offsite. It can also be integrated in a more comprehensive team building event.
Interested in putting your competitiveness skills to the test? Ask for a free demo or contact [email protected] for more information.
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