There is a general acceptance that Agile delivery is good for IT projects and many IT departments in various size organisations are considering or have already started adopting Agile frameworks.

At the same time, I’ve heard that some of the IT project managers complained that Agile is not quite applicable to their projects and it would be much more effective to use Waterfall delivery approach instead.

So…”Agile is for IT projects” statement – is it a myth or reality?

Agilist might bring an argument that Agile is applicable not just for IT projects. It is also good for other types of projects like marketing, legal, electronic, construction, etc. They are correct, but…

Whilst the Agile Manifesto was originally developed for software development, if we would just replace the word “Software” with “Product” we can find that many product development projects may definitely benefit from Agile delivery approach.

So, Agile is good for both, IT and product development projects, right? Not quite.

Not all IT projects deliver product development or enhancement

IT departments typically have two types of engagements with a business: 

  • Project driven by IT
  • Business project with IT component.

Examples of IT projects:

  • Software development
  • Software enhancement
  • Software upgrades
  • System replacement
  • Security
  • New equipment/refreshes
  • System backend changes
  • Network infrastructure changes
  • Office moves

Not all of the projects above could be categorised as product development or enhancement.

In my observation, in large non-software development companies, IT is typically responsible for less than 20% of projects but is engaged across 50%-80% of the portfolio.

Not all IT projects are urgent and have unclear requirements

  • Not all IT projects are urgent.
    Some products DO NOT need to go-on-market and release new features for customers as soon as possible.
  • Not all IT projects have changing requirements and environment. A lot of IT projects are delivered without a single change request.

If a business has a clear goal and enough time to accomplish a project, the business should consider an alternative to Agile development methods.

Some of projects have to be predictive

Agile delivery has quite a few benefits and the main one is a rapid delivery of product changes to the customers. This implies many project releases. IT project managers could give many reasons why multiple releases could not be possible, or not effective:

  • Limited implementation windows;
  • Large marketing campaign;
  • Regulatory deadlines;
  • Cost of retesting;
  • Security approvals;
  • Expensive or Risky parallel run (systems replacement);
  • Limited time to implement changes;
  • Hardware upgrade;

The implementation approach could be a critical factor that defines the best project delivery method.

Some companies have implemented Agile delivery methods but are not able to afford a continuous release-based approach. They use sprints to develop new features/enhancements but release changes into production only 2-4 times per year. In this case, the business should consider the multi-release Waterfall method instead.

Points to remember:

  • Agile is good for product delivery, including but not limited by software products
  • Not all IT projects related to product delivery
  • IT departments should implement Agile delivery as a potential alternative to Waterfall, not a replacement
  •  During a project initiation stage, it is critical to understand if the project could be delivered by continuous releases, multiple releases or only with a Big Bang approach
  • Multi-release Waterfall is a great alternative to Agile if frequent delivery is not possible

Alex Lyaschenko

PMO | Portfolio Planning & Delivery | PMP | P3O Practitioner | AgilePM Practitioner | Six Sigma