Adrian Pyne on episode. 29 of The BEST Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire

“What are the 5 most expensive agile mistakes?” Find out in this episode of Appfire Presents: The Best Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire.

Adrian Pyne joins Appfire’s Kerry O’Shea Gorgone to explain the most dangerous (and costly) assumptions project management pros and organizations make about project agility.

About the guest

A project professional for more than 30 years, Adrian Pyne has led change in 11 industries and in the public sector, in the UK and abroad. Adrian is the author of Agile Beyond IT: How to develop agility in project management in any sector.

About the show

The BEST Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire covers everything you ever wanted to know about PPM by talking with project management experts who’ve seen it all. And every episode is 10 minutes or less, so you can get back to changing the world, one project at a time.

For your convenience, here is the transcript of this episode:

What are the 5 most expensive agile mistakes?

Kerry:  Today we’ll answer the question what are the five most expensive agile mistakes. Here to help us is Adrian Pyne. He has been a project management professional for more than 30 years, has led change in 11 industries, in the public sector, in the UK and abroad, and is the author of the book Agile Beyond IT: How to Develop Agility in Project Management in Any Sector. Stick around for 10 minutes of project management awesome. 

Adrian, thanks for joining us. What are the five most expensive agile mistakes?

Adrian:  I think what we’ll do first is just list them and then see if I can go through and cover them in the time we have. 

Kerry:  Price them. 

Adrian:  I don’t know. It will vary from organization to organization just how expensive each one is. The list is scrum, which is software development approach, often taken as being a project management approach and it’s not. Secondly, that projects where agility is applied can only have an iterative lifecycle, which again comes from the software development origin, but it’s just wrong. 

Then the third one is agile means leaving stuff out. “We’re agile, we don’t have to plan or anything stupid like that.” The fourth and fifth ones are similar. The fourth one is that the C-suite board level people don’t get agile. They might understand it, but they don’t get it in the heart. That relates to the fifth one, which is senior management, whether it’s C-suite or below, are just insufficiently engaged to make agility happen. That’s quite common in projects anyway, but it’s particularly dangerous for agility, as I hope I’ll get to explain.

Kerry:  Those are the five overall. I guess let’s dive in. You started with scrum.

Adrian:  Absolutely. If you look at most writings out there on the web about what is agile project management, the thing that recurs most often is you can use scrum, which is a software development method using iterative development to manage projects. In the book, I very simply show a couple of diagrams to show the scope of what scrum does. Then I have another diagram that puts the rest of what happens inside a project around it. 

The scope of scrum is a tiny part of the totality of what you do in a project, so it’s madness to try and use scrum. You can bend scrum completely out of shape and add loads of stuff to scrum to make it do what project management does, but what you end up with is project management. Why not just use project management in the first place? That’s number one. 

The second one is agile projects must be iterative. Again, this is a mistake that has come out of the fact that agility has come out of the software development environment. Most agile software development approaches, like scrum, tend to work on iterative lifecycles, you do short term developments a few weeks long and you’re regularly delivering software products in that way. It seemed quite natural to say it’s fine, when you adopt agility into the project management space, you start with an iterative lifecycle. 

But that’s just madness, because that means only projects with an iterative lifecycle can have agility applied to them. I’m afraid projects are about a hell of a lot more than just the lifecycle. There’s loads more stuff going on inside a project than just the lifecycle. You have risk, you have planning, you have stakeholder management, business case development, etcetera, loads of stuff.

Kerry:  You would know, having been in all of these different industries in different countries and everything else. 

Adrian:  I’ve run projects and programs and portfolios with agility, and I’ve seen every kind of lifecycle used and combinations. I’ve seen a program where one project has an iterative lifecycle and another one has waterfall lifecycle. Sometimes there are hybrids. All sorts. 

Lifecycle is just lifecycle. Agility in projects means the whole of project management, not just the lifecycle. It seems crazy to just limit agility in projects just to those that happen to have an iterative lifecycle.

Kerry:  Those are two. 

Adrian:  Yes. The third one is agile means leaving stuff out. Now, a lot of very senior managers love agility because some not very bright person has told them that with agility, the phrase ‘just enough’ is very common in the agile world, and that’s often taken to mean let’s leave stuff out. 

I’m going to nick a story from Professor Steven Carver from Cranfield just very briefly. He was asked to go work with a game software company that said, “We’re having problems using agility.” This was actually about agile software development, but the story is still valid. He went to see them and said, “Describe your agile software development approach.” They said, “What do you mean approach? We’re agile. We don’t have an approach, we don’t have these disciplines. We’re snappy, we’re agile.” He kind of said, “Brew the coffee, sit down, make yourselves comfortable. This is going to take a while.” 

You still have to do all the stuff you do, but that lovely little clever phrase ‘do just enough,’ means you don’t do more than you need to. In point of fact, throughout my career when I look at great project professionals, great project professionals are agile to their very boots, whether they know it or not, because no manager does more management than they need to, pure and simple. But you still have to do all of the stuff that project managers do. 

Kerry:  That’s three.

Adrian:  That’s three. The fourth and fifth are related. First of all, the C-suite, the board level people, don’t get agile. It is a fact, and I’ve chatted with many people, clients at C-level, and this is not just an issue around agility, it’s an issue around project management. Most of the C-suite level come from an operational business-as-usual background, whether they’re finance people, legal, marketing, engineering, or whatever. They’re used to keeping the show on the road as opposed to change, which is basically what projects are for.

If you don’t have that background, that culture, the behaviors and the understanding, both head and heart, then you’re not going to get agility when it comes to projects. That means that you’ll misunderstand, and therefore you might easily like the idea that agile means leaving stuff out, which is a big expensive mistake. That’s the next one. You have to make sure that the C-suite take the trouble to go out and understand agility, and that whoever is helping them on that journey makes sure that they do properly understand what agility looks like in whatever sphere, whether it’s project management, software development, engineering, or any other adaptation of agility. 

The final one, which is related to that, is senior management are insufficiently engaged. This is not purely down to projects. It’s very often you’ll get a project sponsor who is a senior operational manager, and they just may not have the time, pure and simple. They’re 110% busy on their day job and then someone says, “You’re responsible for this massive change project.” How are they supposed to have the time? That’s bad enough in the ordinary project world. With agility, leadership and engagement is absolutely critical, it’s a part of the culture of agility.

There we go. 

Kerry:  How much is too much, though? You don’t want anybody bottlenecking your projects. If you need sign-off at a certain point, you need it. But how much involvement is too much for the leadership team to have?

Adrian:  How much is too much is stepping outside of their role. Of course, you do get very senior people who are control freaks. In fact, you get project managers who are. I used to be a control freak. 

Kerry:  Wow. True confessions with Adrian Pyne. 

Adrian:  I hold my hand up and say I used to be a control freak. 

Kerry:  Did you take something for that, or? 

Adrian:  I just learned to relax a little bit more when the blood pressure started going up. Again, it’s a part of the culture of agility that you kind of have to trust people, you have to make sure that you can form a great professional team, that you give them very clear instruction about what they have to do, what they have to deliver, and give them the shape and policy of how they’re going to do that. 

Then you trust them, if you have the right people, and they know what they’re doing, they go away and do it. That doesn’t mean you sort of leave them to wobble off into the distance without any kind of assurance, but it means you keep just enough in touch with them to be able to intervene if you either need to or are asked to.

Kerry:  You made me laugh so hard, I cried. Thank you for joining us on The Best Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire. If you would like more episodes, you can find them at In the meantime, go and pick up Adrian’s book, it’s a good one.

Last updated: 2022-11-22

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