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Abstract

Agile methods and traditional structured approaches are often viewed as competing bi-polar choices. Agile methods such as Scrum and XP are recommended for small, co-located projects that involve changing requirements. The traditional structured plan-driven approaches, such as the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) and the waterfall lifecycle frameworks, are recommended for large projects with stable requirements. If a project is large, strategically important, distributed, and has dynamic user requirements and organizational changes, it presents unique challenges that neither the agile methods nor the traditional structured approaches can effectively deal with alone. Although there is an increasing call for a balanced approach, there is little empirical research that shows when and how the two approaches can complement each other. Based on a case study from the cruise line industry of a large distributed strategic project with unanticipated changes, we conclude that this balance is not only workable, but is essential to ensure that the project demonstrates both control and agility for achieving its challenging and dynamic goals. Agile without structure can cause chaos, particularly in large complex distributed projects where planning, control, and coordination are critical. Structure without agility can lead to rigidity, particularly when a project involves a great deal of learning, discovery, and changes.

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