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P2 Consulting was started by a group of award winning consultants who recognised the opportunity to build a global consultancy firm that had clients’ needs at its heart. We understand the challenges clients face – the pace of globalisation, technology change and increasing regulation – and the pressure they are under to respond to these changes rapidly and efficiently.

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Practical Change Delivery: Combining The Best Of Agile & Waterfall

Alastair Vetch, Head of Government and Public Sector, P2 Consulting

17.04.18

As programme management professionals, we are asked a lot – and I mean a lot – about the balance between waterfall and agile methodologies. Or more precisely, we’re asked, “how can I be agile and rapidly build capability with the predictability I have come to enjoy from approaches such as PRINCE2 and PMI?”

Before I answer that question, let me describe a scenario and an organisation that deals with this every day in undoubtedly the most exacting of environments and has, possibly unwittingly, honed its “programme management” approach to a fine art.

Transformation: A Practical Example

Imagine the following scenario – a complex change programme has been initiated involving project teams drawn from multiple countries. A clear Vision for the programme has been established as have a set of Strategic Themes and contributing Epics that describe the outcomes to be achieved at specific points in time. There are clear Governance procedures in place, especially to address dependencies and potential conflicts and a regular drumbeat of planning cycles has been introduced.

The programme manager has worked out a careful plan to show how each of her four teams sequence their outputs to deliver the overall outcome. She also looks at the risks involved and builds contingency plans to account for any threats or opportunities that might arise. Each of her teams have clear short-term objectives and they are empowered to deliver. However the teams are highly dependent on each other and have no real idea how their plan will unfold despite being trained to adapt to changing circumstances in order to achieve a better outcome.

To cut a long story short, the outcomes are all achieved, not quite in the way it was envisaged initially, but generally in line with the plan developed at the outset. The terms used are deliberately a mix of “Agile” and “Waterfall” as this represents the operating reality.

And the example was of course…

The British Army. This is how the British Army conducts operations on a daily basis the world over, whether operating on their own, or far more often, in collaboration with other nations.  Simplified? Yes, but nonetheless sufficiently accurate to illustrate some key points.

What makes this approach work time and again?

The British Army has centuries of experience running “programmes” of this sort. A Brigade Headquarters, for example, is broadly organised into a plans component (think of the PRINCE2 / structure bit) and an operations component (think the fast-paced, Agile bit). The theory of Mission Command is the unifying approach at all levels, which means the outcome is paramount, less so the achievement of specific or prescriptive tasks (though this is done at lower levels in the organisation).

The scale of complexity and the sheer volume of tasks across the whole organisation means it is impractical to try to build and manage every detailed activity at the Brigade HQ. There are numerous reports in use to provide status updates, request ammunition or give orders to subordinates – often these reports are standardised across a multi-national community for improved collaboration and ways of working. But the essence of what makes this system work is the people – their experience, commitment and relative freedom to make their own decisions and discern the best way to achieve a required outcome.

So when I’m asked about whether to adopt waterfall or agile, my polite answer is that you’re asking the wrong question. Both can clearly live in splendid harmony and indeed, you are more likely to be successful, if you can adopt the best of both. This does not require the design of some Frankenstein methodology, nor is it a case of parallel working, lots of coordination and a vast team to pull both sides together.

In our experience the key ingredients include:

  • Take a portfolio approach to demand prioritisation and resource management – back the right ideas
  • Have a clear roadmap and overarching plan that galvanises effort and support
  • Inject regular “Proof Points” to steer the programme through a series of fine-tune adjustments rather than seismic and often costly changes
  • Create accurate performance intelligence founded on experience and analytics to better predict outcome delivery

All of these ingredients need to be wrapped into a culture and way of working that promotes curiosity and autonomy.

This is the essence of P2’s Adaptive Business Approach. In future posts I’ll be unpicking some of these ingredients, but in the meantime do please get in touch if you want to know more by emailing Alastair Vetch or calling +44 (0) 20 7099 0803 today.