Agility: How SMEs can benefit from agile methods

By Wolfram Müller, VISTEM GmbH & Co. KG
Agile methods are often unsuitable for the structures involved in SMEs. A mixture of classic and agile project management can be the solution here.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are currently exposed to a lot of pressure to conform. Competitiveness is growing, rival firms are snapping at their heels – everything needs to be quicker and cheaper. To be able to survive and even grow under these circumstances, organisations need to stay one step ahead of the competition, and new innovations and products need to be ready for the market more quickly. When the demands of the marketplace change, the key is to be flexible and react quickly. Many SMEs are therefore jumping on the agility bandwagon – and often ending up crushed under its wheels.

Particularly in Europe, SMEs are now concentrating particularly on agile methods. Originating from software engineering, agile management has come to prominence remarkably quickly. Agile management restricts the work in process to the level of teams. This restriction increases team output – quick results are observed. This positive experience means that the SMEs turn again and again to agile management. But agility, as we now know, also brings with it potential problems for the majority of organisations.

Keyword: Agile project management

Agile project management covers different methods which prioritise flexibility and adaptability. Instead of planning extensively and comprehensively at the beginning of a project, these methods support adaptive planning and quick decision-making at team level. Agile project management came to the fore in the context of software development.

Where agile methods don’t work

Classical agile methods are well suited for the field of software development, where work is completed in small teams. However, if an organisation works with suppliers in different locations, or develops on a platform basis, agility in its original form will not work.

Additionally, agile methods cannot guarantee agreement on dates – which is absolutely key for project work. Another well-known hurdle is the scaling of agile management – when applied to one team in one location, it works with no problems. When you try and use it on two or more teams, however, it fails. Equally, agile methods are at best partially suitable for multi-project management. The typical features of SMEs, therefore, are not well-served by agile methods.

The problem with agility in multiple teams

Let’s assume an SME uses agile methods despite the potential objections, initially in a single team. Everything is going to plan, and senior management is delighted by the rapid success. As a result, they decide, in the interest of gains in performance, to roll out the agile methods to all teams. The problem? When the agile methods were introduced to the pilot team, all the attention went to the integration phase. When the method was rolled out to the second team, concentration was already slipping. By the time it got to the third and subsequent teams, the plan could no longer be scaled up, and the success was not repeated. SMEs who jump on the agility bandwagon are at a high risk of breaking down, sooner or later.

Using Critical Change Management as a framework

If SMEs orient themselves towards specially-adapted standards and processes, they don’t need to ignore agile management. If they use established principles from Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), they can act and react quickly and flexibly.

Using CCPM and specially-adapted agile methods brings lasting results to medium-sized enterprises whilst excluding the disadvantages of classical agile management. It is only sensible to put agile methods into practice with a concept that goes above and beyond classical agile methods. It isn’t increased complexity or abstract theory that will help SMEs, but specially-adapted mechanisms towards increased growth and dynamism in the global market.

Mixing classical and agile project management

The most important consideration in adapting agile methods into the project structures of SMEs is the mixture of agile and classical project management. Elements of classical project management offer stability and build established, important structures. Agile methods, however, can only be used in a few suitable areas. Agility can be achieved here through short iterations, quick releases and feedback.

A hybrid solution composed of agile and classical project management gives medium-sized enterprises the desired agility without the risk of being crushed by the agility bandwagon.

Success factors for introducing agility

  • Using Critical Chain Management as a framework
  • Selecting agile methods carefully, and using them only where the bottleneck isn’t under too much pressure.
  • Using a combination of Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) and agile project management

About the author

Wolfram Müller is the Director of Customer Success (Sales) at Vistem GmbH & Co. KG.He is the founder and director of the “Speed4Projects” business area, and is also responsible for the integration of agile project management methods in the framework of Critical Chain on the systematic- as well as software areas.


Contact details Wolfram Müller


Von-Siemens-Straße 1

64646 Heppenheim

Tel. +49 6252 7953070





The German version of this article is published on

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