Project Management: Agile and Waterfall Explained

By Karim Radwan, CAIA, PMP

Since the Agile Manifesto was written in 2001 by a group of software practitioners, Agile approaches have been taking over the project management scene at a steady pace.

Some say Agile is a mindset, not a methodology. Others believe Agile is the silver bullet to solve any project management challenge, while doubters do not want to hear about Agile at all.

Adding to the confusion, there is no shortage of technical papers elaborating on the various methodologies. Throw in the rich taxonomy of terms such as Waterfall, Lean, Agile, Scrum, XP, Sprints, phases, increments, and releases, and it’s easy to get lost in the terminology.

This article aims to provide clarity on the key attributes and applications of Agile and Traditional Project Management methods using simple examples. We’ll use a fictitious but realistic journey of a young couple, but let us first clarify key project management terminology.

What’s the Big Picture?

As stated in The Agile Practice Guide published by the Project Managements Institute (PMI) and Agile Alliance, Agile is a blanket term for many approaches as illustrated below:

Figure 1: Agile is a blanket term encompassing several methodologies: Scrum, ScrumBan, Crystal, Agile Unified Process (AUP), Extreme Programming (XP), Feature-Driven Development (FDD), Dynamic Systems Development Process (DSDM).  Source: The Agile Practice Guide, PMI and Agile Alliance

In this article, we will refer to Agile approach as a generic term, as we are not discussing a specific approach such as Scrum or Extreme Programming (XP).

Now let’s see how our couple manages a life project and valuable lessons we can learn.

Waterfall in Practice

Owen and Ava are a newly married couple who are planning to build their dream house. Many steps must be completed before they can eventually move in. The ground needs to be dug out, foundations laid and levelled, walls built, electric cables pulled throughout the house, windows installed, flooring and tiles fitted, and more. The interior will need to be meticulously designed and furnished to their taste.

To tackle this herculean challenge, the couple hires an architect, Denise who develops a detailed plan containing the specifications for every area of the house. The couple formally accepts the plan, and Denise provides a schedule with dates corresponding to each milestone, from the first day of digging to the last day on which they will receive the keys to their house.

The expected outcome of this work is crystal clear. Denise has built similar houses before, and our couple knows what the house will look like and the functionalities of each room.

Architects generally stick to the plan as far as the law of physics allow. Changes are mostly unwelcome. The couple would certainly not appreciate a missing room, or the power sockets incorrectly installed. Similarly, the architect would not appreciate if major changes are made, midway.

There is also a clear sequence for the different steps that will take place. Foundations must be set before building walls, walls are needed before ceilings, ceilings are needed before you can hang lamps, and so forth.

In summary, the architect’s performance is mainly judged by their ability to deliver exactly according to plan in terms of schedule, scope, and cost. If the couple receives a house that is in line with the architect’s plan, by the agreed upon date and without having to pay additional money, they will be delighted.

What is Traditional (Waterfall) Project Management?

Projects that have a clear outcome using tested and proven technologies and techniques usually follow traditional project management methodologies are mainly labelled as Waterfall (also named predictive or traditional methods).

As indicated by its name, Traditional or Waterfall project management approach divides projects in a waterfall sequence of phases. A phase usually ends before the next one starts, and the sequence is traditionally 5 Phases: Initiation, Planning, Implementation, Controlling, and Closing.

Figure 2: The Traditional (Waterfall) Project Management approach has five phases, as defined by Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

In our example, building the house followed by the Traditional (Waterfall) Project Management approach, and consisted of the below key activities:

Initiation: Our couple (the Sponsor) is giving the architect (Project Manager) the authority to work on the project by signing a project document (the Project Charter) outlining the expectations in terms of scope, budget, schedule, and stakeholders.

Planning: Creating the technical drawings, 3D renderings, detailed budget, and schedule that will enable the project’s realization.

Executing: Carrying out the actual work necessary to build the house.

Controlling: Ensuring that the work being carried out is not deviating from the plan elaborated during the planning phase. For example, measuring that the walls are the correct height and that the paint applied is using the right color pantone.

Closing: Hurray! The house (project) is completed! The couple will sign a document or Certificate of Completion to confirm acceptance of the work. The architect will collect the lessons learned during the project to share with their teams to avoid repeating mistakes in the future.

The sequence of phases is chronological and only happens one time.

The couple only visited the building site a few times during the build and the house was officially handed over on time to their greatest delight. They can now focus on the furnishing and interior design of their home. For this project, they decide to hire Kelly, a seasoned interior decorator.

Agile in Practice

The couple tells Kelly, the interior decorator, they would like something similar to Owen’s colleague’s house. They agree on an overall look and feel and entrust Kelly to do miracles. The work should be done by the time they come back from their honeymoon.

Kelly worked hard and sure enough she delivered on her promise. The entire house interior was modelled to what she believed to match their taste.

When the couple returned, they were horrified! The bar looked humongous in their living room, the style of the furniture was in total discord with the kitchen, the paint seemed to not match the color swatches they chose. The couple was fuming and the only reply they got as, “But this is what you asked!” Which in essence was true.

So why did the interior design end in absolute catastrophe, while the build went according to plan? Was the architect more skilled than the interior designer? Should the couple and the interior designer have spent more time planning?

The main issue is the methodology used was not well-suited for the project type. Unlike the house build, the interior design’s expected project outcome was unclear. The couple themselves were also not skilled in interior design; they did not have the best creative or knowledge of design trends and styles. Doing this interior design work in one bulk, was thus, very risky. An Agile approach would be more appropriate for the interior design.

If you have ever moved to a new place, chances are you took an Agile approach. You likely made decisions incrementally—for example, buying the sofa first, then a dining table. You tried samples of paint on the wall before deciding on the color. You hung paintings last to be able to see where they best fit.

In project management, it is advised to use an incremental approach for such projects. Instead of planning and delivering one very large chunk of work at once, you progress by increments, and just like an artist, you create  your masterpiece, day by day, stroke by stroke.

With an Agile approach, it is best to take decisions at the last possible moment when you benefit from the maximum information. For example, you decide what carpet you will buy when you finish furnishing the living room. Or you purchase a console before choosing the mirror you will place on top of it, instead of purchasing all the living room items at once.

In the case of our couple, they would likely perceive more value in seeing the paint first rather than the silicon joints that will be used. So, paint would be included in the early Sprints before the silicon joints.

What is Agile Project Management?

Contrary to Waterfall methodologies where all tasks are planned, implemented, controlled, and eventually accepted all at once, Agile Project Management is a collection of short iterations of equal duration (usually 2-4 weeks) that are referred to as Sprints. Sprints are smaller chunks of work that are planned, implemented, and controlled many times throughout the project.

Sprints are broken down even further into tasks, also known as User Stories, that are prioritized based on value and risk. Throughout the Sprint, progress on these tasks is monitored through Daily Standup Meetings. They are called Standup Meetings as their length should not exceed 15 minutes and they are often held while standing to ensure they are kept short. During these meetings, each team member shares what has been done the previous day, what will be done today, and what are the eventual roadblocks to the progress.

At the end of the Sprint, the work completed is demonstrated during a Sprint Review in front of the client for feedback and/or acceptance.

An Agile approach allows for frequent feedback, changes to the initial plan, and drastically reduces misunderstandings with the client. Agile approaches are most commonly used to deliver IT projects. Generally, IT projects can be broken down into small functionalities that do not need to follow a specific order.

The priority of tasks is usually determined by the value each task represents for the client. Tasks with high risk are also prioritized. The higher the perceived value by the client, the earlier it is implemented.

Figure 3: An Agile project approach has numerous sprints

In our example, painting the living room could have been a User Story included in Sprint 1.  They could have approved it or requested for some changes such as a less glossy paint during the Sprint Review at the end of the Sprint. This drastically limits rework and the associated costs.

Imagine if the couple in our example decides to change the paint color once the entire house has been painted. It would be better to say early in the project of the change in color. Agile practitioners say it is good to fail fast. Failing fast allows you to rectify the trajectory early in the process, before too much time, effort, and cost have been invested.

Hybrid in Practice

Some projects require a hybrid approach of Traditional (Waterfall) and Agile.

What is Hybrid Project Management?

Hybrid projects typically apply to initiatives where the deliverables themselves are hybrid. A hybrid project approach can be used in virtually all industries.

For example, a new building is to be constructed, along with a new IT system or a large event that requires building structures before coordinating the event activities. In these cases, a Waterfall approach will be used to construct the building, and an Agile approach for the subsequent activities.

In our example, if Denise the architect had been mandated to deliver both the house and the interior design, she would have used a Waterfall approach to build the house, and an Agile approach for the interior design.

When To Use Which Method?

It is key to understand that no approach is better than the other; Waterfall and Agile simply serve different purposes and contexts.

Waterfall is great for projects that have a clear and well-defined outcome using existing technologies and proven techniques. It is very common in construction, infrastructure, and government programs. 

Agile can provide astounding results when dealing with uncertainty, unclear scopes, and untested techniques. Agile is also suited for projects where there are elements of uncertainty in the desired goal of the project. Agile is extremely popular for software development and design projects where a prototype is created, and improved upon in future cycles..

I’m often asked, “How do I know when to use Waterfall and when to use Agile?” I recommend a simple principle: If your team is unsure of the answer to this question, start with Waterfall.

While Agile can reap great rewards, it requires having a seasoned team that is knowledgeable and experienced in Agile projects. Otherwise, the flexible approach of Agile can lead to absolute chaos.

A team that has the sufficient experience to carry out an Agile project will know when an Agile approach should be used. If there are doubts, likely the team needs to gain some Agile experience, and gradually introduce concepts such as the Daily Stand-Up meetings that have been recognized to increase Waterfall projects’ performance.

Hiring an Agile coach to train the team on Agile methodologies, allowing for practice and feedback, can help accelerate your team’s adoption of Agile. Successful Agile adoption is a complex combination of mindset, processes, artifacts, and tools that require sound project management experience.

Feel free to contact us if you or your team wish to expand your understanding of the different approaches.


About the Author

Karim Radwan is a Director at Probity Strategy Consulting and a Trainer with IIL.

Building on his extensive program and project management experience, Karim specializes in productivity and crisis management methods. He is well known for his ability to translate complex issues into simple and actionable concepts. His skillset and enthusiasm have benefited a wide range of clients including governmental entities, fortune 500 companies, and startups.



Overview and Key Themes of IIL’s 2021 Agile & Scrum Online Conference

IIL’s 6th annual Agile and Scrum Online Conference: Co-Create for Greater Value opens on June 3, 2021. Our theme this year is Co-Create for Greater Value. In this article, we’ll preview what you can expect to take away from this unique learning event. View full event and registration details here.

Agile has become one of the hottest topics in the project management world, mainly due to its proven success in software projects and its ability to deliver quick and real value to customers. Today, agile concepts have expanded well into nearly every industry, across products and services. In a post-pandemic world where disruption and change is the norm, an agile mindset and approach are front and center for individuals, teams and organizations alike.

Agile and Scrum concepts are about everyone on a team coming together, and being empowered to work towards an end goal, with a customer-first mindset. Where do teams even begin with agile transformation? How can we create business and customer value? What kind of culture and mindset can drive success? What can we do differently, with our teams?

Our goals will be to understand: Agile transformation at a team and organizational level; creating value in client-centric processes and projects; and the crucial soft skills that enable collaboration and creativity. Let’s take a deeper preview.

Agile Transformation

Enterprises across the globe are evolving to become agile organizations to thrive in today’s unpredictable rapidly changing environment. Agile transformations are long-term journeys that begin with an open mindset and vision from the top. Embedding new ways of working, applying enterprise-design thinking and customer centricity in problem solving are key themes of agile transformation.

To start us off, join us for the keynote on Agile Leadership & Enterprise Transformation with Marcel Greutmann, VP Cloud Advisory Services at IBM Europe. Marcel will share his enterprise transformation perspective from working with firms across Europe, Asia, and the U.S. His personal insights grounded in real-life stories about what works and what doesn’t will inspire you in your way forward.

Helping us Scale Agile with Simplicity by eliminating complexity in large Agile programs will be Tyler Spindel, Agile Program Lead at Capital One.

Stuck on your Agile Journey? Become a Learning Organization, says Scott Ambler, Vice President and Chief Scientist, Disciplined Agile at Project Management Institute (PMI). His keynote will explore how to apply the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit to improve your continuous improvement strategy.

And when is the ‘right time’ for a team to scale agile? To help us make sense of the choices, timing and elephant traps involved in scaling Agile, join Roy Shilling, Senior Agile Coach and Trainer at IIL in his session The Do’s and Don’ts of Scaling Agile.

Creating Value in Client-Centric Processes

Attendees will learn the practical tools and skillsets needed to drive an agile approach in teams and organizations. We’ll hear from CEOs of leading agile startups, Agile practitioners, coaches and thought leaders who will share key ideas and knowledge that can help you lead with an agile mindset and skillset.

What’s it like to be working in 3 hour sprints at some of the top global automotive and AI companies in the world? Leading automotive companies are developing new digital products, services and interfaces at lightning speed. Don’t miss Agile at Tesla – The Misinformation that you can’t Apply Agile to Hardware, with Joe Justice, CEO of Wikispeed

There is no better place to learn agile than from the nimble start-ups that are leading the charge in the cloud-based computing space. In his session Shifting Left until We Shift Right, Rob Zuber, CTO of CircleCI will help us understand the principles such as DevOps and CI/CD in the context of agile development, and how scenario planning can minimize cost and risk while maximizing value delivery.

Learn and practice new and essential skills of Test-Driven Development: A Stunningly Quick Introduction, one of the foundational practices of high-quality product development in the session with Richard Kasperowski, author, teacher, speaker and coach focused on team-building and high-performance teams.

Understand the difference between pursuing agile and Leveraging Agility for Business Problem-Solving with Leila Rao, President of AgileXtended and creator of the Compass for Agility framework which enables organizations to shape their own compass as they adapt, innovate and thrive in challenging environments.

Learn how to create well-defined Value Stream Mapping, one of the most important Lean tools for an organization wanting to plan, implement and improve a product or service to the point of reaching the customer, with Jorgelina Bross-Puglisi, Trainer & Consultant at IIL

The newest kid on the block for project delivery is DevOps, a merge of development and operations. DevOps takes what is good about agile and builds on it with some key differences. Understand why DevOps is critical for many organizations and the success factors in delivering sustainable value from DevOps investments, in the keynote DevOps Will Fail, Unless … with Paul Wilkinson, Business Development Officer of GamingWorks.

Mindset and Culture

The greatest predictor of success is any project are the courage, the creativity and the conversations that we have with others.

How do you apply agile practices and practices at scale without stifling the creativity, autonomy, and energy of your teams? Aaron Bjork, Principal Group Product Manager at Microsoft shares his perspectives in The Intersection of Agile and Culture.

Learn the actions that everyone can take away to foster better conversations with stakeholders in How Daring to Dialogue Improves Performance and Creates a Culture of Agility, a keynote led by Marsha Acker, CEO of TeamCatapult.

In her keynote The Agile Mindset: Motivating vs Mandating Change, Dawn Nicole McIlwain, Agile Transformation Leader of BrandDisco LLC will offer you the key tips and techniques to overcome challenges in motivating your team towards a continuous Agile mindset.

Acknowledging our project stakeholders, team accomplishment with courage and creativity will be a key theme of The Grateful Agile Leader talk with Susan Parente, Principal Consultant of S3 Technologies.

Are you ready for change for yourself, your teams, and your organization as a whole? Move from Resisting Agile to Yes, Agile! with Louria Lindauer, Agile & Leadership Coach and Founder of Success Agility, LLC.

Learn from real-life experiences of coaches and practitioners who have been there. The New AI: Agility and Inclusion with Sara Murdock, PhD, Global Leader and Culture Leader will help you use Agile as a lens to put concepts of Inclusion, Belonging and Psychological Safety into action. Erin Bolk, Senior Scrum Master at National Guardian Life Insurance Company, will share the essential tools you can use to uncover challenges, strengths and possibilities with yourself, your team and your organization, in Showing Up to Be Your Best Every Day.

Additional Learning

Be sure to attend two on-demand courses (complimentary to attendees) that provide foundational understanding of key Agile concepts. Introduction to Agile for Executives presented by Max Langosco provides an overview of Agile values and principles, the key benefits of an Agile approach, and its differences with the traditional Waterfall method. Agile Release Plans with Jeffrey Nielsen will equip you with the necessary knowledge to bridge the gap between product vision and ‘product backlog’ as defined in the Agile approach. Both are presented by certified Project and Scrum Masters. Don’t miss these essential learning opportunities!

Register for the Agile and Scrum Online Conference today! Learn more about the event and register here. Teams and organizations requesting a group rate or unlimited license, click here.


Agile for Non-IT Projects

By Mohamed Khalifa
Project Management Consultant, Coach & PMI Authorized Instructor

Since seventeen people met in February 2001 at Wasatch mountains of Utah to discuss and draft the Agile Manifesto, software projects have been the main focus of Agile. Since this time, Agile became one of the hottest topics in the project management world, mainly due to its proven success on software projects and its ability to deliver quick and real value to customers, reduce the risks and increase collaboration between different stakeholders.

After years of using agile methodologies, tools and techniques many professionals around the world started looking at the Agile Manifesto through lenses other than software development. They proclaimed to very clearly see that the Agile Manifesto, principles, tools and techniques can make the same level of success on different types of projects in addition to software development.

In the current turbulent and fast changing world, we need to go back to the basics, back to the reason which made agile successful which is “be Agile, be Adaptive”. If we start referring to the main Agile Manifesto and do small changes in the statements, we will find that they will work fine with projects of different types.

Let us have a look at the Agile Manifesto which requires preference of:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,
  • Business value over comprehensive documentation,
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The above can work in any project and can be adopted as an organization’s philosophy to deliver fast, reduce the risks, solve the conflict between different stakeholders and clarify the requirements as we work on projects.

To successfully execute non-software projects using Agile, we can use the Agile principles to set clear expectations with stakeholders, bring sanity to project execution, and mine the benefits of Agile.

While this approach may look similar to the principles followed in an Agile software delivery project, their applications are quite different when it comes to non-software projects.

  • Define “Working Product or Service” can be used to refer to any deliverable that is produced by the project and brings value to the customer.
  • Define “Customer” can help us to define who is the ‘right’ Product Owner.
  • Define ‘Done’: Work with the sponsors and product owner to identify ‘done’ for each story/deliverable.
  • Measure Business Value: Measuring or establishing the business value of the work done is key for any project.

Since most of the deliverables exist as theories or prototypes, it is important to prepare a business case at the start of the initiative that clearly provides the cost benefit for this initiative followed by articulating the benefits achieved at regular intervals, preferably at the ends of iterations.

Expect the Unexpected: Project scope, objective, and goals are liable to change frequently and drastically. Therefore, go for shorter iterations, joint workshops, paired development of deliverables, continuous expert and peer reviews, and proper socialization of theories and ideas. Having senior strategists, architects, or consultants is helpful, especially if they have a deep experience on the subject matter as well as with the overall organization.

Did you try to apply Agile Mindset in your projects? Is it working? What was good? What was bad? Share with us your valuable thoughts.

Explore IIL’s Agile and Scrum Courses here or contact us at or (212) 758-0177. 

Reflection and Takeaways on Agility from the SMC-IT 2018 Space Mission Design conference

By Tom Friend – Agile Consultant / LtCol USAF (Ret)

The 6th International Conference on Space Mission Challenges for Information Technology, held in Alcala de Henares, Spain, brought together scientists, engineers, and researchers from NASA, the European Space Agency, universities and industry.

Case studies on how agile methodologies have been applied to mission planning and how scrum has been used in spacecraft construction were discussed, as well as topics such as developing and delivering software, reliability and reuse of software, onboard processing, and communication.

Representing Scrum, Inc. as a keynote speaker, I opened the conference with “Scrum to the Stars” which looked back into aviation history and to the future of innovation in aerospace, and how Scrum methodologies have been, and will continue to be effective tools.

Iterative discovery has been at the core of aviation exploration since the dawn of flight. Whether it was the first aeronauts in balloons, or the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, explorers of flight used processes that built on incremental failures and successes. Aerospace design processes were modified as improvements to flight technology were discovered, and the knowledge base expanded. Empiricism and Incremental improvement evolved as a standard path to improvement.  This standard path emerges as patterns.  For example Interfaces in small satellites are deliberately over-designed to reduce need for disruptive renegotiation.  The pattern of S\simple pre-negotiated physical bus structure for data and power increase design versatility, and loose production coupling.  One of the most significant scructural patterns is that of standard adapters allows objects with incompatible interfaces to work together by wrapping its own interface around that of an already existing interface.  These are just some of the patterns that when combined defines the evolving path to improvement.

In essence, Scrum was there at the start of aerospace exploration. Over the years, as systems have increased in size and complexity, common sense has been lost, and projects hit overruns in both time and money spent. By utilizing an Agile framework, you can break down these complex systems into smaller pieces that can then be integrated into the whole design. The step-by-step, incremental approach can be an effective time and cost management tool.

Today the trend in space exploration is making small satellites. Frequently, these small satellites are part of a larger mission.  In doing this, risk is reduced by breaking a complex mission into parts and delivering it in smaller submission components. Think of it as component architecture with your software systems, same pattern. The end deliverable: small satellites that are tailored to a particular mission.

This approach complements Agile planning where focus is on delivering small increments of value and dedicated Scrum teams to build and deliver the satellites.   The success and low cost of small satellites with focused space missions is now mainstream with a standard type of microsatellite called, “CubeSat” that follows set size and weight requirements. This standard is a simple 6-page document keeping with the Agile tradition of minimum viable documentation.

CubeSats by necessity have evolved to leverage many Scrum in Hardware Patterns to speed development and reduce costs. This conformance to patterns has created a whole cottage industry of commercial off the shelf (COTS) suppliers.  They provide hardware and software systems and components that can be used together like LEGOs because they have standard power, size, bussing, and know stable interfaces that allow them to be configured quickly and with low expense.

One of my favorite ways to demonstrate how effective Scrum can be in a hardware setting is a class I give using the CubeSat format. This class is generally offered in a 6-hour format, and is very hands on. In this course, we build a 3D paper CubeSat with a specific mission. All the steps from mission design, roadmap, and components are broken down into a backlog and worked by a scrum team to deliver a fully functional model.  We then walk through the launch and operation of the CubeSat, discussing what each component is doing as it circles the table in the middle of the room that represents Earth.

This simple class exercise using scrum to build components and the visualization of talking through a mission shows how prototyping lets you see problems with design early and builds shared understanding on the team.  These are lessons that you can take back to your own teams to make them even better.

About the Author

Tom Friend is an accomplished Agile consultant, trainer, and coach with 23 years’ experience leading software development teams in various industries to include federal, banking, cable, telecommunications, and energy. He has 12 years of hands on Agile / XP / Scrum software development experience.  He is a distinguished graduate from Air War College and has a BS in Aeronautics.

3 Critical Similarities Between Project Management and Agile

By Harold Kerzner, Ph.D.     |     Senior Executive Director for Project Management, IIL

The intent of this blog is not to enter into the debate of whether or not Agile and Scrum are outgrowths of project management, but to show some of the similarities that between them that have increased their rate of success. There are three similarities that I will discuss.

Executive Understanding

Years ago, executives viewed techniques like project management as something that was nice to have rather than a necessity. As such, project management was seen as a fad that could disappear quickly. This resulted in limited support for any and all techniques like project management, except in a few project-driven industries where project management was a necessity.

The growth of project management, as well as Agile and Scrum, is largely due to a better understand of these techniques in the top floor of the building and the accompanying support. Consider the following words used by executives in describing project management:[1]

  • An international, multicultural and global approach
  • Allows us to capture best practices
  • A technique for continuous improvement
  • Selling customers on our project delivery process is just as important as selling them the deliverables
  • The processes increase our credibility as a trusted partner
  • Allows us to have repeatable success and accelerate the time to value for our customers
  • The processes provide us with a competitive advantage
  • The processes shorten our time-to-market
  • The processes allow us to create a more integrated and agile organization
  • The new processes allow us to eliminate unnecessary steps that we used before
  • We can now provide our customers with end-to-end multiservice solutions
  • We are now making decisions based upon facts and evidence rather than just guesses

These comments could very well reflect how executives see Agile and Scrum today rather than just project management. For many of the companies that speak these words, managing traditional, Agile or Scrum projects is more than just a typical career path. In these companies, once every few years, there is an assessment as to which four or five career paths are a necessity for the company’s growth over the next decade. In these companies, project management, Agile, and Scrum mastery are now seen as some of the four or five strategic competencies necessary for the firm to grow. The support for these processes now exists at the senior-most levels of management.



Within the last decade, significantly more companies have begun trusting project leaders to make both project and business-related decisions. For decades, many of the business-related decisions were made by the executives, project sponsors or business owners. Simply stated, there was an inherent fear that project leaders would begin making decisions that were reserved for the executive levels of management. Decision-making controls were put in place.

Today, we believe that we are managing our business by projects. Everything we do in the company can be regarded as some sort of project. As such, project leaders, whether in traditional project management, Agile or Scrum, are seen now as managing part of a business rather than merely projects, and are expected to make both project and business decisions, within certain limits of course.



When mistrust prevails, executives maintain control by developing rigid methodologies for managing projects. The methodologies are based upon rigid policies and procedures, and every project manager on every project must follow the same policies and procedures described within the methodology. While project leaders may be allowed to make “some” decisions, all critical decisions are made by the project sponsors or the executive levels of management.

Today, rigid methodologies are broken down into four components; forms, guidelines, templates and checklists. As a project leader, picture yourself walking through a cafeteria. On the shelves are all the forms, guidelines, templates and checklists that make up the methodology. Because of the trust placed in you, you have the right to select only those forms, guidelines, templates and checklists that you need for your project. This is a freedom that did not exist years ago.

Agile and Scrum activities, as well as many forms of traditional project management, use the term “framework” rather than methodology. Frameworks are flexible and allow the project leader and the team to select which of several tools will be used on a given project. There may be as many as 50 tools from which selections can be made.

In my opinion, the biggest reason why Agile and Scrum have been successful is because of the trust that senior management has placed in the hands of the project leaders, or Scrum Masters as they are called in Scrum. Accompanying this trust is the freedom to use only those portions of the framework that are appropriate to satisfy a particular client’s needs.

These three similarities are greatly enhancing our success rate on traditional, Agile and Scrum projects. Are there other similarities? Most certainly there are. But in the author’s opinion, these appear to be the most critical today.

[1] Adapted from Harold Kerzner, Project Management Best Practices: Achieving Global Excellence, IIL, and Wiley Co-publishers, 3rd edition, 2013; Pages 13-15


Harold Kerzner, Ph.D. is IIL’s Senior Executive Director for Project Management. He is a globally recognized expert on project management and strategic planning, and the author of many best-selling textbooks, most recently Project Management 2.0.