Agile: The Sixth Sense

By Bill Donnelly posted Oct 25,2017 11:34 AM


I was flipping the remote and stumbled upon one of my favorite movies; The Sixth Sense. The key point in the movie which I assume requires no spoiler alert; is when the child Cole, explains to Bruce Willis’ character that “I see dead people” and goes on to explain that “they only see what they want to see and hear what they want hear.” I have always loved this section of the movie; especially as it is a clue that Willis’ character is in fact a spirit suffering from the exact issue he is attempting to resolve. Furthermore, we as the audience get to see all the clues that went unnoticed; actions and interactions, Willis wasn’t interested in addressing throughout the movie; sharing the moment that your perception and understanding of the way the plot has gone is completely disconnected from the outcome.

Does this story line remind you of what can happen with Agile projects?

I have experienced and heard anecdotes from many senior leaders that ‘only hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see’; the desired and easily executable benefits of Agile Project Management. Specifically, these executives become agile advocates because they hear Agile associated with ‘faster and more efficient execution of complex projects’ and ‘reducing costs, labor and timelines’.  Well, that’s one Perspective. What aren’t they seeing?  Clearly they aren’t intentionally ignoring the cultural changes required to build an Agile Shop, are they?  They aren’t worried about a less ‘hands on’ management approach, are they?  Surely, the existing project teams and stakeholders will be able to follow a Scrum and sprint structure, won’t they? OK, you get the point.

Blind spots need to be recognized and exposed within any organization interested in adopting more of an Agile PM culture. Teams will resort to utilizing their own rules to drive the activities to their desired state in the absence of a clear organizational strategy. The business and process challenges may, in fact, be greater in the government. When IT, Contracting & Procurement teams all have ‘seen the dead people’ on prior projects; history then, just repeats itself.  Old habits die hard, and so on.  To increase the success of an Agile migration, the first steps include some house cleaning. This process includes:

  • Revising outdated policy, establishing new reporting tools and investing in the skill development of key personnel.
  • Clearly explain and document the organizational and cultural changes necessary to effectively implement an Agile Strategy
  • Develop metrics aligned to the strategic goals of the organization
  • Invest in on-going professional development focused on Agile with a partner with expertise in the Government IT segment
  • Repeat the steps above in an iterative manner. Document Lessons Learned and best practices.

Most government IT environments contain mature PMO’s and a high level of staff expertise in executing and delivering projects.  However, it is a mistake to assume the practice of sound traditional project management practices transfers easily into an Agile environment without significant oversight.   Just as the clues throughout The Sixth Sense are obvious to Willis’ Malcolm at the climax of the movie; you certainly don’t want to wait until project closeout to discover your Agile project is not real but only Agile in spirit.