Lean or agile approaches would seem to be the most obvious contenders for use in dynamic environments. According to the Agile Manifesto (Fowler & Highsmith, 2001), the agile movement aims to discover better ways of developing software. Highsmith (2005) claims “agility is the ability to both create and respond to change in order to profit in a turbulent business environment”, and that agile planning and requirements analysis can take as much time as in a conventional serial phase approach, but the activities are spread across multiple iterations.
While the founders of the Agile movement were, like practitioners in other industries, frustrated with traditional approaches agile is founded in a variety of problems related to software development, and dynamism is a single dimension that may applies in many industries. Dynamism may cause problems in some industries that don't exist in software development, and Agile may solve problems that don't exist in other industries. Because Agile is not grounded in a single dimension, it is more challenging for practitioners or researchers to work out under what circumstances agile methods should be applied in other industries. Elements of agile are no doubt useful in other industries but it can be difficult to say definitively which ones. A clearly stated single dimension permits ongoing enhancement of a range of testable approaches. Most importantly though, rather than presenting practitioners with an unrealistic black and white choice between waterfall and agile approaches, a focus on individual dimensions allows the practitioner to reflect on the stand-out dimension of their particular project, and manage them accordingly (Cicmil et al., 2006).
For my part I have defined project 'dynamism'. The term dynamic means something characterised by constant change (Oxford Reference Online, Oxford University Press, 2008). The challenges faced by projects conducted in uncertain environments is a key unresolved issue. In the project management context, dynamism refers to a dimension of a project that represents the extent to which a project is necessarily influenced by changes in its environment. All industries are challenged by this problem and some industries are challenged by it almost continuously (Pascale, Millemann, & Gioja, 2002; Callan, Latemore, & Paulsen, 2004). Dynamism is not a simple binary dimension where a project is either dynamic or not, but rather, dynamism applies in varying degrees to all projects. Therefore, a given project is neither ‘dynamic’ nor ‘not dynamic’. Dynamism is argued to be at least a linear dimension and some cases approaching exponential, where a change in one area triggers multiple further changes and so on. Dynamism is clearly not a new dimension but certainly one that is increasingly common.
Dynamism is only one of many dimensions of a project that need to be taken into account when selecting the appropriate project management approach for a project. In any project the practitioner decides the relative strengths of each dimension and adapts their approach accordingly. Because all projects are dynamic to an extent, the needs of other dimensions may outweigh those of dynamism. For the sake of simplicity, however, I provide the following definition of a ‘dynamic project’. A dynamic project is taken to be one with sufficiently high levels of change – owing to the environment in which it is conducted – to warrant special consideration of the management of this dimension. This change rate may mean there are many unknowns at the start of the project, but, more importantly, new unknowns introduced at a rapid rate as the project progresses. In the words of one of my study participants, “we have 40% uncertainty in planning [a mission] because what you have to do depends on what happens in orbit”.
Cicmil, S., Williams, T., Thomas, J., & Hodgson, D. (2006). Rethinking Project Management: Researching the actuality of projects. International Journal of Project Management, 24(8), 675-686.
Fowler, M., & Highsmith, J. (2001). The Agile Manifesto, from http://www.agilemanifesto.org/
Highsmith, J. (2005). Agile for the Enterprise: From Agile Teams to Agile Organisations. Agile Project Management, 6(1), 26.