Agile project management is a project management methodology quickly growing in popularity that is used to complete work in the complex, ever-changing world that we live in. Agile thrives in adaptive cultures where team members are quick to change if the outcome is a more productive work experience.
What is Agile project management?
Agile project management is a modern, flexible approach to project management. It allows you to break large projects down into more manageable tasks, which are tackled in short iterations or sprints. This enables your team to adapt to change quickly and deliver work fast.
As the name suggests, the Agile methodology allows teams to be better equipped to quickly change direction and focus. Software companies and marketing agencies are especially aware of the tendency for changes to happen from week-to-week. Agile allows teams to re-evaluate the work they are doing and adjust in given increments to make sure that as the work and customer landscape changes, the focus also changes for the team.
If you’re new to the Agile project management, it might look at first like a complex and difficult-to-manage system. But, whether you realize it or not, you’re already doing many of the things Agile requires. With a few tweaks, you’ll be on your way to shorter development cycles and smaller, more frequent product releases.
Who uses Agile project management?
Originally created for software development, the Agile methodology is quickly being adapted by more than just IT teams. Marketers, universities, the military, and even the automotive industry are also looking at the Agile methodology and other Agile frameworks to deliver innovative products in uncertain environments. Many organizations can benefit from agile project management, and it’s simple to set up and utilize.
In the software world, when a decision to build or further develop an existing technology is made, the end product may be hard to define. Agile allows for that ambiguity because of its flexibility to change direction on a project as work moves into the future.
While you can take advantage of software, books, or Agile coaches, each Agile team is unique, and understanding the basics can help you put together an Agile methodology that works for you and your team.
The Agile Manifesto outlines 4 Core Values and 12 Guiding Principles which serve as a North Star for any team adopting an Agile methodology.
The 4 Core Values of Agile are:
1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
As sophisticated as technology gets, the human element will always serve as an important role in any kind of project management. Relying too heavily on processes and tools results in an inability to adapt to changing circumstances.
2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
As important as documentation is, working software is more. This value is all about giving the developers exactly what they need to get the job done, without overloading them.
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Your customers are one of your most powerful assets. Whether internal or external customers, involving them throughout the process can help to ensure that the end product meets their needs more effectively.
4. Responding to change over following a plan
This value is one of the biggest departures from traditional project management. Historically, change was seen as an expense, and one to be avoided. Agile allows for continuous change throughout the life of any given project. Each sprint provides an opportunity for review and course correction.
What are the 12 principles of Agile?
Agile project management methodologies can be as diverse and unique as each individual team, but the 12 Principles of Agile should always guide your decisions and product development.
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software (or whatever else you deliver).
Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
Deliver projects frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
Coordinating team members must work together daily throughout the project.
Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.
Face-to-face conversation is the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within different teams.
The final product is the primary measure of progress.
Agile processes promote sustainable development. All stakeholders should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Each Agile methodology has its own unique list of team members and roles, and while the titles may change, there are a few universal role characteristics that most Agile team structures should have:
T-shaped: A valuable Agile team member has a wide breadth of basic knowledge about their subject but also deep knowledge, experience, and ability in one (or more) specific areas.
Cross-functional: Cross-functional Agile team members have skills outside their traditional areas. They might know some basic graphic design principles and data analysis or even some HTML/CSS.
Adaptable: If they have a diverse skill set, they know how to use it. No matter the environment, their output remains consistent.
Curious: Part of optimizing and becoming more efficient is asking the right questions and challenging the way things have always been when it’s appropriate.
Entrepreneurial: An Agile team member is one that doesn’t wait to be told what to do. They’re ready to fill in and develop campaigns where they see a need.
Team-oriented: Team players prioritize the success of the team over their own personal glory. If everyone is delivering on time and syncing well together, they see that as a win.
Committed to excellence: One of the key benefits of Agile projects is delivering quality work, faster. Team members who are committed to excellence don’t settle for average. They’re not hung up on perfection, but they’re dedicated to always producing their best work.
The goal of Agile is to produce shorter development cycles and more frequent product releases than traditional waterfall project management. This shorter time frame enables project teams to react to changes in the client’s needs more effectively.
As we said before, you can use a few different Agile project management frameworks—Scrum and Kanban are two of the most common. But each Agile methodology will follow the same basic process, which includes:
1. Project planning
Like with any project, before beginning your team should understand the end goal, the value to the organization or client, and how it will be achieved.
You can develop a project scope here, but remember that the purpose of using Agile project management is to be able to address changes and additions to the project easily, so the project scope shouldn’t be seen as unchangeable.
2. Product roadmap creation
A roadmap is a breakdown of the features that will make up the final product. This is a crucial component of the planning stage of Agile, because your team will build these individual features during each sprint.
At this point, you will also develop a product backlog, which is a list of all the features and deliverables that will make up the final product. When you plan sprints later on, your team will pull tasks from this backlog.
3. Release planning
In traditional waterfall project management, there is one implementation date that comes after an entire project has been developed. When using an Agile project management, however, your project uses shorter development cycles (called sprints) with features released at the end of each cycle.
Before kicking off the project, you’ll make a high-level plan for feature releases and at the beginning of each sprint, you’ll revisit and reassess the release plan for that feature.
4. Sprint planning
Before each sprint begins, the stakeholders need to plan what will be accomplished by each person during that sprint, how it will be achieved, and assess the task load. It’s important to share the load evenly among team members so they can accomplish their assigned tasks during the sprint.
To help your team accomplish their tasks during each sprint and assess whether any changes need to be made, hold short daily meetings. During these meetings, each team member will briefly talk about what they accomplished the day before and what they will be working on that day.
These daily meetings should be only 15 minutes long. They aren’t meant to be extended problem-solving sessions or a chance to talk about general news items. Some teams will even hold these meetings standing up to keep it brief.
6. Sprint review and retrospective
After the end of each sprint, your team will hold two meetings: first, you will hold a sprint review with the project stakeholders to show them the finished product. This is an important part of keeping open communication with stakeholders. An in-person or video conference meeting allows both groups to build a relationship and discuss product issues that arise.
Second, you will have a sprint retrospective meeting with your stakeholders to discuss what went well during the sprint, what could have been better, whether the task load was too heavy or too light for each member, and what was accomplished during the sprint.
If your team is new to Agile project management, don’t skip this essential meeting. It helps you gauge how much your team can tackle during each sprint and the most efficient sprint length for future projects.
Once you feel comfortable moving forward with Agile, you’ll want to start by educating your Agile teams on how they will transition into their new roles, when they will begin having daily stand-ups, and how they will transition their current work into the Agile methodology.
After you establish transition steps and make sure everyone is comfortable with the new style of work, you’ll want to monitor and track their progress and success.
If they are struggling to run at the same velocity as before, what may be causing those issues? If the team isn’t updating stories with their current status, have those statuses been clearly defined?
Tracking a new Agile team’s progress or success will be very beneficial to giving it confidence in the changes. In addition, having these Agile metrics will help justify the benefits of transitioning a team to Agile when in higher-level meetings.
Finally, it’s important to provide your team and new Scrum masters with a form that outlines helpful questions to ask during daily stand-ups and the iteration retrospectives. This provides some excellent documentation for future reviews of processes. It will also allow for the team to identify areas that need improvement and help it answer questions it may not think to talk about if it is new to Agile.
Get started with Agile
These are the most basic and important parts of Agile project management. As you transition your team to an Agile methodology, these processes, roles, and principles will help you change your mindset and begin working together to be more flexible and adapt to changes as they come. Agile project management isn’t for everyone, but teams who use it correctly will experience enormous benefits, including streamlined work processes and rapid innovation.