DSDM Consortium: The Right Tools for the Job

By Steve Messenger | 2 April 2015

Steve Messenger, Chairman of DSDM Consortium, reflects on the importance of gearing Agile up to interact with other methodologies, so that the project manager is equipped to deliver outstanding performance.

Consider a master craftsman such as a master carpenter.  They will have many different tools in their toolbox to ensure the final product is of a sufficiently high quality and meets the requirements of the commissioner.  Tools can range from pencil and paper for initial designs, saws and chisels for cutting, planes for getting that smooth finish, drills and screwdrivers for assembling and securing and brushes and varnish to give a professional finish.  Whilst it is theoretically possible to use a screwdriver to gouge grooves, the result is sub-optimal and the tool is probably ruined in the process.  Using chisels for driving screws can even be dangerous!  Best results are achieved when the right tools for the job are used.  However, the best tools in the world will not compensate for the inexperience or lack of skill of the craftsman.

So what, you rightly ask, has this to do with Agile Project and Programme Management? 

The first point to make is that good project and programme managers do not automatically become so because they have had training in tools.

There will be an innate skill in the person that can be nurtured through training and experience.  The art of Project and Programme Management is as much about understanding and dealing with people, politics and situations and being able to react before real issues emerge as it is about planning and control.  However, just as the carpenter will need to learn when and how to use each tool to its best advantage, the PM will benefit from having tools in his arsenal combined with an understanding of how to use them.  They will also be very aware that tools help with the job but do not define or drive the job itself.

The DSDM Consortium has always believed this to be true and has designed Professional Development in DSDM as a mixture of training, accreditation, personal certification (some, such as AgilePM in partnership with APMG), coaching and experience-based learning.

The second point is that training in Agile does not make you Agile.

Underlying Agile is a set of principles, and these provide guidance on how people need to think and act.  It is very important that the principles are accepted as the new way of working, otherwise Agile will not succeed.  Agile also represents a new tool, or set of tools and it is important to understand how these can be used to best effect.  Equally important is understanding when not to use them – just like the screwdriver, things could go very badly if the wrong tool is chosen. Like the carpenter however, real expertise comes with experience and with listening and learning from others who have already done this successfully.

Implementing Agile tools into any organisation must result in something that will work for that specific organisation, consequently there should be few hard and fast rules.  The DSDM process and its products are designed as frameworks that will work out of the box but equally can be tailored for each organisation to meet their needs around Agile whilst maintaining appropriate governance and control.

The third point is that tools need to be designed from the perspective of their intended purpose.

Using our screwdriver example, a chisel could be created by gradually sharpening the screwdriver.  However, in the process, the screwdriver becomes sub-optimal for its original job and is still not the best tool for chiselling.  The same is true for Agile Project and Programme Management.  A far better tool emerges when it is designed with the goal of being and supporting Agile from the start. 

DSDM has the Agile principles at its heart, but, almost uniquely, considers Agile across the whole project lifecycle - from initial idea to project completion. The same is true for the new Agile Programme Management product, which takes Agile thinking to the complex world of programmes, and gives real answers to the topical subject of scaling.

The fourth point is that tools need to interact with each other whilst remaining specialised for their purpose.

From an Agile Project and Programme Management point of view, the tools used by the PM and the team should be flexible enough to allow the right tools to be used at the right time.  DSDM has always been built with this in mind.  For instance, it will interact perfectly well when used in conjunction with SCRUM as the delivery engine or with the KANBAN technique.

It is often necessary to work with other Project Management methods used within an organisation for instance PRINCE2® and DSDM has recently worked with SOCITM to produce guidance on how this can be done.   As the only Agile approach designed around the concept of a project, DSDM has always been positioned to work in conjunction with the corporate-standard Project Management methods. This is why the take-up of DSDM and of Agile Project Management (based on DSDM) has been so successful.

In summary

When considering your transition to Agile from a Project Management point of view, use the analogy of the master craftsman: ensure that your PMs have the right tools and are helped to develop the right Agile mindset so that they progress smoothly from apprentices to master craftsmen.


Steve Messenger

Published by PM Today January/February 2014