Balancing the Speed of Agility with Technical Quality


By Johnny D. Morgan, PhD

General Dynamics Information Technology

Virginia, USA



The goal of project management is the timely delivery of capabilities that provides value-add to the customer. This paper identifies a series of warning signs of Information Technology (IT) projects under stress and their potential effects on technical quality. It describes how agile software development practices can reduce the causes of these stresses. It then examines the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and how its implementation in six key areas could also result in a reduction in technical quality and provides recommendations for Project Managers to follow to maintain technical quality while executing agile software development practices.

Key Words: Manifesto for Agile Software Development, Technical Debt, Tailoring, Customer Definition, Architecture Communications, Documentation, Self Organizing Teams

This paper is based on empirical observations, current literature, limited trails, and engineering and project management experiences.


The goal of project management is the timely delivery of capabilities that provides value-add to the customer. In 1994, the Standish Group published their first report that measured the delivery of successful projects. In their initial report, they surveyed 365 companies and represented 8380 IT applications. “The Standish Group research shows a staggering 30.1% of projects will be cancelled before they are completed….On the success side, the average is only 16.2% for software projects that are completed on-time and on budget.” They further assessed that 52.7% of IT projects will be completed but will be challenged by being over-budget, over the time estimate and will offer fewer functions than originally specified. The study also concluded that the probability of project success goes down as the size and complexity of the project increases.     (The CHAOS report.1994)

As reported by Alan Zucker in 2016,

“Over the past two decades, there has been very little change in the (Standish) headline results. On average:

  • 29% of projects “succeed” in delivering the desired functionality, on time and on budget
  • 48% of projects are “challenged” and do not meet scope, time or budget expectations
  • 23% of projects “fail” and are cancelled

While there is some year-to-year variability in these scores, the trend line is essentially flat. In other words, we are no better at delivering a project today than we were 20 years ago. However, when you dive into the data, there are some bright spots and markers for improvement:

  • Smaller is better
  • People are the primary drivers of project success or failure
  • Agile projects are far more likely to succeed.” (Zucker, 2016)

Empirical observations by the author of approximately 150 projects over a period of 20 years indicate that troubled projects proceed through a progressive set of warning signs until the project either delivers a capability or is cancelled.


To read entire paper, click here

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.
This paper was originally presented at the 4th Annual University of Maryland PM Symposium in May 2017. It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.

About the Author

Johnny D. Morgan, PhD

Virginia, USA


Dr. Johnny Morgan
has 37 years of systems engineering and program management experience. While serving in the United States Navy and then employed with IBM, Lockheed Martin and currently General Dynamics, he has assisted numerous Department of Defense and Intelligence Community customers in the management and execution for their information technology portfolios.   Supplementing his experience, he has received a Bachelor’s degree in Computer and Information Sciences from the University of Florida, a Master’s degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California, and a Doctorate degree in System Engineering from the George Washington University.   Dr. Morgan has also earned numerous industry certifications including the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional and the International Council on Systems Engineering Expert System Engineering Professional certifications. Dr. Morgan can be contacted at [email protected]