Agile MSP Programmes with Rigid Projects. Ouch!

Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) is about programmes but it does have something to say about how to run the subordinate projects. And projects in MSP are not meant to be agile in any way. Although agility is encouraged for MSP programmes agility in the projects is viewed as a “disaster”. Given the people who use MSP are most likely to be using PRINCE2 this belief is perhaps not surprising. But it is not a belief I hold to.

The Lean-Agile movement promotes a flexible scope but MSP is clear that projects need a fixed scope:

This adaptable approach does not apply to its [the programme’s] projects, where a flexible, dynamic scope usually spells disaster. (p. 17)

Hmmm, I’m not convinced about that. A couple of years ago I might have agreed when discussing deliverables that are more concrete than software, e.g. buildings and infrastructure. However, since then I’ve successfully managed to deliver Infrastructure in an Agile fashion. I’ve also seen the scope for a major new BCC building go from being a specialist News home to having to accommodate News, Vision and Audio+Music. This all happened after the building was complete but before it was occupied. Coping with that change in scope showed considerable Agility.

An Agile Programme Manager is going to have to ignore that aspect of MSP. Obviously giving the subordinate projects more scope does add risk but it also adds opportunity. The opportunity to discover something new about the product and hence the opportunity to deliver additional benefit. For me that opportunity outweighs the risk. Of course you need to stay close to the projects to assess whether they are on track of chasing a red herring.

Then there is the people aspect. MSP says, in the context of engaging stakeholders, that:

Programme management needs to be much more actively people-oriented than might be the case in a project. (p. 18)

Now that is a bit of a shocker for Agilists who value “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” (Agile Manifesto). I can’t see why a project should be any less people-oriented than a programme. It, software development, is all about people.


Agile Manifesto

Best Management Practice. (2011). Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) [4th Ed.]. London: TSO.