Agile Project Management

When Is Agile Not Agile?

When the word Agile is used to describe a scrum environment. Agile project management is often touted then described very eloquently in scrum terms. Not surprising then that people get confused. The first indication that the context is scrum is the role terminology. Product Owner is very much a key responsibility in the scrum world. The use of the phrase Product Backlog to describe the prioritised ordered list of requirements following refinement of user stories is another clue.

Then there is the use of hybrid terms. Scrumban – the hybrid of scrum and Kanban. The approach really being used is scrum and a kanban-style team board. There is nothing wrong with hybrids, provided both approaches are fully understood. Although the Scrumban approach seems to be a more clandestine way of showing progress and team performance.

But it seems that with all the Agile Evangelists out there we have lost our way. Many tout Scrum as the only “true” agile, forgetting the founders of the Scrum Guide designed it is such a way that the approach could be adapted. Scalability of scrum has been a significant issue for large businesses particularly. This issue was partially resolved through SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) which brought organisational structure, or governance, and business processes, providing an umbrella to multiple agile frameworks. There is many a heated debate about SAFe on LinkedIn, those for and those opposed. I see at least the aims of the practice, even if I fail to understand the adoption approach taken.


My preference has always been for DSDM. Dynamic Systems Development Method or scrum’s older sibling as I like to call it. DSDM sort to resolve the “waterfall” issue of software development. Lengthy processes and sign-offs meant that by the time software was developed it was no longer needed by the business. Along came RAD (Rapid Applications Development). The problem of timely delivery of software was overcome, however it created more problems than it solved. Governance and stakeholder engagement was missing. Further collaboration found by including stakeholders as part of the team doing the work, quality was greatly improved, and risk was greatly reduced.

So, where did DSDM go?

Popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, DSDM seems to have disappeared – or has it? Organisations using DSDM have tailored the framework to suit their needs. In fact, you are probably using it without even realising. A name change to AgilePM in 2010 started to get more traction, and today there are 130,000 certified practitioners worldwide.

DSDM was built for large complex projects by design incorporating scalability, scrum was meant for small, single teams, effectively working in silos which did not cater for scale. Few organisations have overcome this dilemma, SAFe is just one example.

Unlike SAFe and Scrum, DSDM is far more transactional. Governance is built in, as is change management, release management, and the business-as-usual functions. There is no need to change the language to something completely foreign. Gateways fit with some of the finer nuances of governance, such as the OGC Gateway Reviews, internal steering committees, board meetings and even SOX compliance. The method copes well with the Finance review that some organisations must go through before funds are committed to projects. There are only 3 layers, portfolio, program and project.

But Agile is about empowerment, right?

A common misconception is if your organisation is agile, and you have self-managing teams, then you don’t need management – which is true to a degree. However, the environment within which we work still needs to be managed. Issues as they arise still need to be resolved. And we as humans have a unique way of finding someone to follow. Transactional leadership is still needed, even in agile ways of working. Having transactional leadership is empowering and promotes true collaboration.

What about Fixed Price – Fixed Specification

Traditional vs DSDM approach


Historically, this is one area that agile ways of working have struggled with. Although DSDM was not made for this style of contract, it certainly caters for it far better than other agile approaches. Embracing change at the detailed level enables the achievement of the fixed price – fixed specification model, working closely with the customer to achieve the balance of the scope, without the restrictions on the requirements. Win-win. DSDM is the only methodology which has the ‘iron triangle’ guaranteed as fixed. Fixed cost – a DSDM project will not go over budget. Fixed time – a DSDM project will always deliver on time, and on-time delivery is predictable. Fixed quality – Quality in sacrosanct in DSDM and embedded from the outset. Scope is flexed through the negotiation of the detail of requirements, with the breadth of the scope fixed early on, while depth allows for innovation.


The big advantage of DSDM over its agile counterparts is the integration of the customer role into the project team as active participants. 

Scrum allows for stakeholder engagement, at the discretion of the Product Owner, who is effectively the “voice of the customer”. In DSDM the customer is part of the team; the key decision maker on the direction of the work on a day-to-day basis. They are also the local change manager or change agent, responsible for communications between the project and the rest of the business and preparing their own area for what is coming.

Fix bugs and reduce the product backlog

Another advantage of DSDM is testing is integrated into development. Not an afterthought when development is completed, but iterative throughout development and again on deployment. This reduces the risk of bugs rendering a build as useless, or worse, causing damage on release to live systems. DSDM has proven to be successful in reducing the product backlog. After all, every product has a finite shelf-life and this prevents the ongoing cost of production of the feature factory, where 80% of the features are not needed and never used.

Want to know more?

Training Bytesize offers fully accredited AgilePM training for Foundation and Practitioner levels. Find out a bit more information here on how you can learn the DSDM approach and become certified in the fastest-growing Project Management qualification. Contact us today for more details.

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