Even the best laid project and programme plans can fall victim to the unexpected, leading to costly overruns or even cancellation.

According to Stephen Jones, chair of the Association for Project Management’s (APM) specific interest group on planning, monitoring and control, the agile approach provides that flexible extra dimension to react rapidly and get the plan back on track.

 “Agile is not a replacement for project management,” he explains. “It is a framework and mind-set that enhances how projects and programmes are run.

“From the outset, you expect that things are going to change and that requires different behaviours to move quickly and efficiently by creating an agile team within the project team, a plan within the plan.”

Stephen introduced an agile approach with earned value management during the design phase of an IT implementation programme at Sellafield Ltd, where he is a project manager. Thanks to this process, when the project moved to execution under another project manager, an unforeseen issue that could have had a serious impact on delivery and budget was swiftly identified and resolved.

He is also contributing author to APM’s Planning, Scheduling, Monitoring and Control: The Practical Project Management of Time, Cost and Risk, which includes a section on the role that agile can play. The guide is due for publication this summer.

He’s convinced there is value of the approach beyond IT, such as in complex engineering design and other long-term projects where assumptions made at the front end often change as the plan progresses.

It’s not an excuse not to do things properly, he added. It’s not an open chequebook and it’s not a hiding place for poor performance. You still need a baseline plan, you still need effective risk management.

“But expect that things will change and be prepared for that in a way that allows you to deliver value and benefits, rather than doggedly following the plan.”