Choosing Between Agile and Classic Management Methods

As I was skimming the book Agile Project Management—How to Succeed in the Face of Changing Project Requirements by Gary Chin, I came across an interesting method for determining whether to use classic or agile management methods.

According to Chin, the determination is made by evaluating project environments and organizational stakeholders.

Project Types

For “Operational Project” environments, or “projects that are run with a regular frequency, are very similar to each other, and are critical to the day-to-day running of the business,” he tends to favor classic management methods.

For projects focusing on the development of new technology he favors agile methods. To clarify what he means by this type of project, he states:

I am not talking about a new product or application, but rather the development of breakthrough technology, upon which future products will be built… Technology development projects are very unique in nature. There is no template project teams can work from and, in fact, a project management template, or any template for that matter, may greatly restrict the team creativity required to create such a new technology platform.

For product or process development projects, which require more business and less technical expertise, he doesn’t see as clear break toward either, but potentially a blend of the two.

Organizational/Stakeholder Environment

Per Chin, the number and type of organizations and stakeholders involved in the project also influence the classic/agile balance. He indicates that classic project management is better suited for handling the complexities of intergroup coordination and accountability necessary in projects with several external stakeholders, stating “[w]hile it is not impossible to create a successful agile environment across multiple organizations, it will be significantly more challenging.”

He favors agile management most in projects under a single organizational or corporate umbrella, and states that this is the environment “where most technology projects that can benefit from agile PM reside, and thus, it is an area with a strong potential return.”

This array of project types and organizational environments combine to provide a matrix resembling the one below that can aid in deciding on the appropriate method of project management.

Multiple, External Stakeholders

Multiple, Internal Stakeholders

Single Organization

Operational Projects




Product/Process Development Projects




Technology/Platform Development Projects




(Table adapted from figure 2-7 of Agile Project Management—How to Succeed in the Face of Changing Project Requirements by Gary Chin)


Obviously, there are holes to be poked in any simplified method of making complex decisions, and Chin acknowledges that, “[d]eciding to employ agile PM is not a simple, black-and-white question.”

For all its simplicity, I did find the agile/classic matrix to make quite a bit of sense. At the very least, the approach Chin used provides some useful insights that can help in deciding which management method best suits your situation.

If you get the chance, pick up the book. Chin provides much more detail on the topic in his book than I have in this simple summary. He includes several other factors that may influence the classic/agile question, and tackles numerous other agile project management topics.

So, what are your thoughts? Would you agree on the factors used? How would your decision matrix differ from Chin’s? As always, I’ll look forward to your input.


About the Author

Jonathan Babcock is a management and IT consultant with expertise in business analysis, process optimization and solution delivery methodology. Practical Analyst is his outlet for sharing what he's learned, and for interacting with solution delivery professionals across the globe.

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  1. In terms of both Classic and Agile methods of Project Management, what exactly is Chins take on PM Software?
    I would be interested to know how he correlates the efficiency of PM Software to the methods mentioned above.

    There isn’t a drop of PM software to his approach from what you have written, and as far as my personal experience extends, PM’s are very much dependent on PM Software in these modern times, it is the basis of progress for any project. I want to be certain that this is an issue he addresses before someone in my position can invest their interests and principles in a book like this.

    Very much enjoyed the rest of your article though, some good stuff overall.


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