Dancing elephants and Agile Project Management

 Young elephant in a orange dress, dancing on two hind legs.
If an elephant can be taught to dance, surely organisations can use Agile Project Management?

Some organisations are like dancing elephants – they want to be agile, graceful and elegant but their size and structure makes them look inflexible, crude and ugly. An Agile Project Management approach gives them the agility to succeed and keep the good concepts of project delivery while reducing risks.

I’ve managed projects where tough challenges have been faced head-on. Budget cuts, increased scope and changes in priorities have a dramatic impact on projects. My success in managing this has been to break the project into small stages (often called time-boxes) with the current stage planned in great detail and more flexibility planned for the subsequent stages. In other words, go Agile.

In summary, when managing a project in Agile, I focus on where the real business value is. This means:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working website/development over comprehensive documentation
Customer teamwork and working together over contract negotiation
Responding to change in requirements over following a plan

In doing this, you will face problems. But you need to start somewhere – some parts of the organisation will want to move much slower that another. This causes friction and heated conversations. The keys to successful use of Agile Project Management are:

Small teams

Break your tasks into small activities that can be done by a handful of people working closely and face-to-face with stakeholders.

Customer focused

Whether internal or external customers, an Agile team will keep them involved at all times during the development. When it comes to the UAT or demo (often called End-of-Sprint Review), continuous feedback is collected and changes made quickly to deliver what the customer actually wants.


In Agile terms, this means that people and activities are ideally in the same location. Although technically not an absolute requirement, being in the one place makes the Agile process, especially Scrum, work well. If you are not in the one location then you can still succeed as long as you make the extra effort to communicate well.

Motivated and skilled people

You need people who are self-starters and can work with little supervision. Agile succeeds where team members are empowered to make quick decisions based on their areas of expertise.


Agile teams do best when they are self-disciplined so that they can be left alone to do their work. They require little external governance or processes.

If I was a elephant, I’m sure you’d say that I dance like I had four left feet – luckily I’m a much better Agile Project Manager!

This page was last updated on Wednesday, 11th April 2012.