Do projects matter for IT?

This is a guest post by Aren Cambre. Aren is a manager of web technologies at an educational institution. The way he explains it is, “If the web site looks like crap, they’re yelling at public affairs. If it’s broken, they’re yelling at me.” He has a M.S. Computer Science and is plodding towards a doctorate. His personal blog of random mis-mash is at http://arencambre.com.

Project Management Lifecycle By Ivan Walsh on flickrInformation technology (IT) focus is shifting from classical projects to agile services.

Here’s why.

Reason 1: Much of IT defies project definition

A classical project has a predetermined start, end, and result. When done, the result goes into “maintenance mode”, and you jump to the next project.

But what if something never has a “maintenance mode”?

For example, the web is never done. A university’s web site must be exciting and work quite well; the key audiences are technologically progressive prospective and current students. What university wants technophobic students? Relevant university sites must keep up with rapidly evolving consumer technologies.

A university’s web site is a good example of an agile service: an adaptive mix of agile applications and expertise. These are where a lot of IT’s attention is going.

Agile services don’t end. They are not classical projects.

Reason 2: Small projects don’t matter much

Isn’t a service just a lot of mini-projects? And isn’t the last trend to make projects smaller?

Neither matters much. Small projects are really large tasks or iterations in an agile project.

By themselves, small projects don’t tell the value of IT. Agile services do.

Reason 3: Virtualization and clouding

The largest classical IT projects are implementations. Virtualization and especially clouding make it easier to create new things, sometimes almost erasing implementation projects.

Taking away implementation focus shifts attention to maximizing value of existing investments. Again, emphasizing agile services at the cost of classical projects.

Reason 4: Agile is where it’s at

Classical projects use waterfall, a prescriptive method from the manufacturing and construction industries. It’s from a time when the pace was steady, change was resisted, and top down was how it happened.

Relevant IT is the opposite: fast-paced, adaptive, and responsive. That’s why agile project management is natural for IT: it encourages adaption, continual reassessment, early problem discovery, and faster completion.

I’m not the only one seeing this. A proxy is Atlassian JIRA versus Microsoft Project Server. JIRA is for agile, whereas Project Server is for waterfall. Look at their Google search trends (source):

But this isn’t just about improving how projects are done. Agile does something that waterfall can’t: manage services.

Paraphrasing Men In Black II, “Waterfall projects: old and busted. Agile services: new hotness.”

Do classical projects belong in IT?

To be clear, classical projects still have a place in relevant IT. Really complex projects aren’t entirely going away, and some may need waterfall. Same goes for projects with well-understood paths and vanilla outcomes.

However, “well-understood” and “vanilla” are starting to be outsourced, such as email, web systems, ERP systems, and more. If not outsourced, they may be heartbeat functions, increasingly undifferentiated from plant operations. Or their business value is not intrinsic; the value is in what others—users, innovators, developers—can wring from them.

Agile services are the future of IT. It’s how we work, it’s how we provide business value, and it’s how we communicate what we do.

Image Credit: Project Management Lifecycle By Ivan Walsh on flickr

33 Comments
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9 years ago

Do projects matter for IT? http://eqent.me/mKOEZp

Robert Steele
Robert Steele
9 years ago

Extremely informative article. Aren Cambre definitely knows what he’s talking about. The company I work for uses AtTask, and as it is a work management tool, all types of work, from waterfall methods to agile project management, can be completed on this platform. When Cambre says, “agile services are the future of IT,” I see three different reasons for this. 1) Elimination of geography – people can communicate the world in an instant. 2) Elimination of company hierarchy – “big boss” managers aren’t able to control by means of keeping employees at a distance. 3) Elimination of time stress –… Read more »

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9 years ago

A totally awesome guy wrote this one. RT @EricDBrown: Do projects matter for IT? – guest post by @arencambre – http://t.co/AaVNbCj

ericbrown
9 years ago

Thanks Robert – AtTask is a nice platform…i’ve used it in the past. Great comment…thanks for stopping by.

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9 years ago

Do projects matter for IT? http://restwrx.com/k1F9In via @EricDBrown

jeffpcox
jeffpcox
9 years ago

This was a great article with some good information. I was not familiar with JIRA, so something new I need to check out. Thanks again!

ericbrown
9 years ago

@jeffpcox @arencambre put together a great post. thanks for stopping by!

jeffpcox
jeffpcox
9 years ago

@[email protected] ericdbrown No problem

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9 years ago

Do projects matter for IT? http://bit.ly/m9hvYK #DSIdufutur #v <= Agile services are the futur of IT.

shim_marom
shim_marom
9 years ago

Hi Eric, thanks for publishing Aren’s article. I’ve got a completely different view to the one articulated by Aren. I agree that there seem to be a shift towards Agile in IT projects but not for the reasons mentioned in the article. 1. I don’t believe it is correct to say that much of IT defines project definition. Using a web development example is a gross misrepresentation of what most IT project are like. Serious integration IT projects represent a level of complexity not found in normal web development and they do go into some form of maintenance mode. 2.… Read more »

Tarwn
Tarwn
9 years ago

I’m having difficulty agreeing with the article as well. First, I think a lot of the groups or projects shifting to Agile generally are coming from ill-defined adhoc methodologies more-so than a defined, waterfall methodology. I’ve seen far more adhoc methods claiming to be waterfall than I have true waterfall executions. It’s not enough to use a Gantt chart and have tasks planned out in detail from start to finish. I think there are three main reasons that Agile methodologies are doing well in IT environments. Agile methodologies drive a certain set of things that our end users and stakeholders… Read more »

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9 years ago

#pmot Commented on "Do projects matter for IT? | Eric D. Brown" ( http://bit.ly/lvUhC8 )

jfbauer
jfbauer
9 years ago

Eric, Thanks for sharing Aren’s article but I think I am going to have to agree with Shim. I fear looking with the narrow lens of web projects grossly misrepresents the total IT project portfolio mix. I currently work for a large US financial institution and the web centric projects make up a relatively small portion of the total project budget. With matrixed IT teams and matrixed project resources with on-shore and off-shore resources it would be a significant challenge to Agile-ify the whole IT organization. Another challenge not mentioned yet to Agile being mainstream is the traditional waterfall-esk IT… Read more »

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9 years ago

Do projects matter for IT? http://goo.gl/mZ7Nf #pmot

ArenCambre
ArenCambre
9 years ago

@shim_marom Shim–I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. #1 will depend on what your IT department does. Sorry if I made it sound like waterfall has no place; I meant to state the opposite with “classical projects still have a place in relevant IT”. As technologies emerge and get both simpler and more powerful, expectations increase, hence the number of really complex projects may remain steady for some IT departments. We in IT should hope for constantly increasing expectations. Our #1 job is to fill the gap between user expectations and what users are able to do for… Read more »

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9 years ago

RT @ericdbrown: Some excellent comments / convo here -> Do projects matter for IT? http://t.co/AaVNbCj

trackback
9 years ago

RT @ericdbrown: Some excellent comments / convo here -> Do projects matter for IT? http://t.co/AaVNbCj

trackback
9 years ago

Some excellent comments / convo here -> Do projects matter for IT? http://t.co/AaVNbCj

ericbrown
9 years ago

@jfbauer @shim_marom @Tarwn and @ArenCambre Thanks for the comments (and @ArenCambre thanks for the post..love it).. Do Projects matter in IT? The answer for me is – yes.. Will all IT projects move to agile – no. Should they? No. Waterfall has its place – as does agile. For my thoughts on what seems like an age-old argument, go read https://ericbrown.com/agile-or-waterfalldoes-it-matter.htm. In that, I wrote: It’s not necessarily the methodology used that causes failure or success in projects, it’s the way in which the organization is aligned that creates project success or failure. I truly believe that an organization can… Read more »

ArenCambre
ArenCambre
9 years ago

@Tarwn I like this: “I think a lot of the groups or projects shifting to Agile generally are coming from ill-defined adhoc methodologies more-so than a defined, waterfall methodology. . I’ve seen far more adhoc methods claiming to be waterfall than I have true waterfall executions.” I’ve seen a lot of agile proponents say the same about agile’s critics. 🙂 Basically, the allegation is that people mis-translate “agile” as “relax all process”. Their inevitable failure gets falsely pinned on Agile. I hadn’t thought of the opposite yet. As for your cloud/ERP example, what about this: if you export ERP to… Read more »

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9 years ago

Some excellent comments / convo here -> Do projects matter for IT? http://t.co/AaVNbCj

ArenCambre
ArenCambre
9 years ago

@ericbrown : What does your crystal ball show on agile vs. waterfall over the next decade?

ericbrown
9 years ago

@ArenCambre I wish i had a crystal ball…i’d be rich 🙂

I think we see more of the same. Waterfall works well for some projects / companies and agile works well for others.

ArenCambre
ArenCambre
9 years ago

@ericbrown I’m closer to Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance” for agile. 🙂

shim_marom
shim_marom
9 years ago

@[email protected]_marom

I’m happy we’re still friends mate. There’s nothing better than a good healthy argument.

Cheers, Shim..

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9 years ago

@shim_marom #pmot Commented on "Do projects matter for IT? | Eric D. Brown" http://bit.ly/lvUhC8 <JB:commented and agree with Shim

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9 years ago

@shim_marom #pmot Commented on "Do projects matter for IT? | Eric D. Brown" http://bit.ly/lvUhC8 <JB:commented and agree with Shim

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9 years ago

Do projects matter for IT? http://goo.gl/mZ7Nf #pmot

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9 years ago

Do projects matter for IT? http://t.co/IGSzy16

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[…] Visit https://ericbrown.com/do-projects-matter-for-it.htm for a recent article I wrote on projects in IT. […]

unleash
unleash
9 years ago

Good information you are providing about projects. Keep going on..

Unleashpm.com

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[…] Educause’s recent Outsource the Transactional, Keep the Transformative complements my recent article questioning the value of projects. […]

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[…] posted on Eric Brown’s Technology, Strategy, People & Projects blog on June 7, 2011, with some […]

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