Agile Transformation for Organizations and Projects


By Thomas Walenta, PMI Fellow

Global Advisor, PM World Journal

Hackenheim, Germany


In 1988, Barry W. Boehm, PhD, introduced a spiral model for software development. In the paper presenting this model, Dr. Boehm quoted some provocative voices in the then-raging debate on software life-cycle process models: “Stop the life cycle—I want to get off!” “Life-cycle concept considered harmful.” “The waterfall model is dead.” “No, it isn’t, but it should be.”

Interestingly, he was not talking about project management but about product-oriented life-cycles. As we knew then and know today, pure waterfall is not a life-cycle approach for all projects. The profession is looking for ways to introduce iterative and incremental planning, execution, and monitoring, as suggested by Dr. Boehm’s spiral model. Agile life cycles have become major contributors to complement or even replace waterfall for certain projects. (http://csse.usc.edu/TECHRPTS/1988/usccse88-500/usccse88-500.pdf)

Today, as surveys show, the use of hybrid project management approaches is escalating. To use them, project managers need a wide range of knowledge and skills. The project management Process Groups as described in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) are iterative themselves and establish progressive elaboration of project artifacts — they support waterfall and agile life cycles alike (see also https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pmis-pmbok-process-flow-iterative-incremental-walenta-pmi-fellow).

The Need for Organizations to Become Agile

Recently, I was working for an organization that has, for more than 140 years, produced and sold devices. The company embraces innovation and extended their markets globally in the past 15 years. As with most organizations, digitization is a phenomenon company leaders must deal with, as new competitors enter the market with digitized offerings, and as customers expect intensified and individualized service. Executives of this company understand that agility is the primary driver of an organization’s success in today’s complex and disruptive global marketplace. Organizational agility can be described as the capability to quickly sense and adapt to external and internal changes to deliver relevant results in a productive and cost-effective manner.

PMI’s 2017 research shows that 75 percent of organizations with high agility report 5 percent or more revenue growth as well as improved project success compared to those with low agility. The drivers behind becoming a more agile organization are mainly people- and process-based, as PMI’s research shows (https://www.pmi.org/learning/thought-leadership/pulse).

On the process side, agile organizations can accommodate fast portfolio changes and continuous reprioritizations. They consistently use customer and market data to sense external stakeholders’ wants and needs, and have a broad range of methods, tools and techniques to apply to projects and ongoing business.

On the people side, agile organizations understand that they should build an open culture and enable their employees to make decisions, select the appropriate methods and lead by example. Organizations with high agility employ project professionals having skills in a variety of approaches in 88 percent of the cases, in contrast to 13 percent for companies with low agility.

Different Approaches to Become a More Agile Organization

In my above example, I helped that organization establish a portfolio review cycle of six months, leading to a shorter and much more stable list of projects to work on (five percent changes to approved portfolio versus 30 percent before). This enabled it to adapt to new project requests in a timelier manner. As a consequence, the employees saw fewer changes in project priorities, task switches/multitasking and emergency calls. They reported higher work satisfaction and increased productivity. Project requesters saw a higher reliability of project delivery and budget conformance. They were also satisfied with the new selection process, which was deemed transparent, fair and adaptable. Establishing a portfolio management process was a step to become more agile as an organization, which sought to be more adaptable to changes, more transparent about what was going on and more secure with what lies ahead.


To read entire article, click here


About the Author

Thomas Walenta, PMP, PgMP

PMI Fellow
Hackenheim, Germany



Thomas Walenta, PMI Fellow, was working as Project and Program Manager for IBM from 1983-2014. Most recently he was responsible for a program encompassing all business of IBM with a global client in the EMEA region, with teams in India, Japan and across Europe. He led the PMI Frankfurt Chapter from 1998 to 2005, increasing membership from 111 to 750 and the annual budget to 100K Euro.

Thomas had a variety of volunteer positions for PMI, among them being final juror of the PMI Project of the Year award, member of the PMI Board nomination committee, auditor for PMI‘s Registered Education Provider Program, writer/reviewer of PMP Exam questions and significant contributor to PMI‘s first standards about Program Management and Portfolio Management. He also is a member of GPM, the German IPMA organisation, since 1995.

Thomas served in leadership positions as President of the PMI Frankfurt Chapter 1998-2005, on the PMI Board 2006-2008, on the PMI Ethics Review Committee 2011-2016 and again on the PMI Board for the term 2017-2019.

Being a speaker on global project management events in Tokyo, Moscow, São Paulo and across Europe, Thomas extended his professional network significantly and is regarded as an experienced and skilful advisor and mentor. Since 2002, he gives lectures at the University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany. Thomas is also a global advisor for the PM World Journal.

Thomas is based in Hackenheim, 80 kms from Frankfurt, Germany and can be contacted at [email protected].