Projects are Late, Over Budget and Outside Scope. Can Agile / SCRUM Help?

July 6, 2017

Agile in general and SCRUM in particular have helped many a software development team to become the heroes of the company by reliably delivering development projects.

But can these methodologies be applied to general IT and Business Technology projects as well?


One of our IT Leader Mastermind groups recently tackled this question. Here is a summarised version of the outcomes.

With the realisation by companies, that technology is becoming key to staying in the game or leapfrogging the competition, the general knee-jerk of many business team leaders is to just start running uncoordinated projects and initiatives left, right and centre and to call in IT at the tail end to implement whatever.

Add to that the upkeep and modernisation of the basic IT infrastructure coupled with user support and you have a situation where the IT resources in the business are stretched to and beyond their limit.

The result of this is extreme bad multitasking on the part of the IT resources.

This in turn leads to technology projects that are late, over budget, outside scope or even worse to ones that never fully complete or fail outright.

There is temptation to try and apply SCRUM to manage these projects. One can find business case studies that show it is working in companies. But is it likely to succeed? 

The Mastermind Answer

The problem of project overload is very common for IT teams and questions like the above are often asked in different guises.

Without fail stepping back and looking at the bigger picture does reveal that we usually are primarily dealing with a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) issue rather than the selection of any specific project methodology.

Agile project management is extremely effective as a tool when you have a clearly defined project and dedicated resources.

What we are looking at in the typical mid-sized organisation, however, is a situation where many projects are cross team and resources are in different reporting lines.

Additionally, many resources are used across (many) different projects with additional day-to-day responsibilities in the mix. Many projects depend on resources becoming available elsewhere.

As such the first step will be to de-emphasise any specific Project Management tool or methodology and first implement some Project Portfolio Management (PPM) practices.

Agile Project Management / SCRUM in turn are ideal later, once the situation is stabilised, for increasing speed and running an agile company to embrace digital transformation.

Some More Insights

  • There is a best-practice sequence for improving project flow and in many cases the specific project management methodology (for delivering a single project) should only receive attention after many other changes to better coordinate projects were introduced. Xuviate have published a blog series on this topic and this is a good starting reference.
  • When business technology projects are well-coordinated, it is time to look at the bigger question of increasing innovation and overall agility of the business. But do take it step by step. The following blog maps out The 5 Stages of Digital Transformation Maturity in Mid-Sized Businesses.

Pro Tip

  • The most successful and forward-thinking businesses are adopting a so-called dual operating model. This has been very well described in John Kotter's book called "Xlr8" (Accelerate). What does this mean for the IT organisation within the business? Gartner is talking about Bimodal IT and other consulting houses like McKinsey are talking about Two-Speed IT.

Other Links

  • For background reading on Digital Transformation, the concept that underpins the need to increase business agility, see the section of the Xuviate blog with the same name.

About the author

Business Agility Coach | Abundance Thinker | Helping Mid-Market Companies Evolve by Using the Kanban Methodology
- As trained Industrial Engineer with close on 25 years' experience as IT Professional and Business Executive in the mid-market IT industry, Mathias Tölken loves to share his experiences and expertise with others.

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