Agile project management is a productivity method used by companies large and small. The trend of agile software development isn’t new, but it’s growing steadily. Recently, many companies have taken the agile approach to management application. If you are curious about how to use agile project management, you’re in the right place.
Agile project management is essentially a more effective and user-friendly way of managing tasks and time. The whole goal of agile project management is to help an organization prioritize and manage tasks.
What is agile project management?
Agile project management is an iterative approach to software development projects and ensures feedback can be acted on quickly and that responsive changes can be made at each stage of a sprint or product cycle.
This allows project teams to adopt agile project management methodologies to work quickly and collaboratively within the timeframe and budget of a project.
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.
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.
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.
In traditional waterfall project management, there is one implementation date that comes after an entire project has been developed. When using Agile, 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.
Before each sprint begins, the stakeholders need to hold a sprint planning meeting to determine 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.
You’ll also need to visually document your workflow for team transparency, shared understanding within the team, and identifying and removing bottlenecks.
To help your team accomplish their tasks during each sprint and assess whether any changes need to be made, hold short daily stand-up 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.
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.
The 4 core values of agile
As mentioned above, the earliest agile project management methods focused on software, and the Agile Manifesto was created by software developers. So you’ll see that word, and other related terms like “developers” and “customers”, throughout.
But don’t feel limited by that.
Whether you’re creating software or something totally different (like a marketing campaign), there are lots of takeaways you can apply, no matter what industry you’re working in.
The original Agile Manifesto declares that agile has 4 core values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
- Responding to change over following a plan.
These core values are at the heart of all agile project management approaches, informing everything from standard ways of working to the 12 agile project management principles.
What becomes clear from the core values is that agile approaches are, above all, collaborative and people-driven.
That applies not only to the working processes (progress is made through “individuals and interactions” and “customer collaboration”, putting the human element front and center), but also to the finished products. That is, the goal is to create something functional that delivers the most value to the end-user.
The 12 agile project management principles
According to the Agile Manifesto, there are 12 key principles of agile project management. In the manifesto’s own words, they are:
- The number one priority is customer satisfaction through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing developments, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
- Business people and developers 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.
- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users 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.
When it comes down to it, whether you’re talking about actual software or using it as a metaphor for whatever you’re creating (let’s call it “The Thing”), agile methods encourage you to deliver iterations of “The Thing” quickly and often — because it’s better for “The Thing” to exist in flawed reality than in perfect theory.
Another recurring theme in these principles? Get aligned, stay aligned, and work together. That goes for everyone involved: your own team, the “business people”, other departments, and stakeholders. Agile project management methods rely on a highly collaborative process and strong interpersonal foundations. So as Bill and/or Ted once said: be excellent to each other.
How to become agile
Higher-quality outputs, more satisfied customers and users, and improved team morale — it can sound too good to be true.
But here’s the thing: agile project management isn’t a magical cure-all that’s going to solve all of your project management ailments. And it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
For agile methods to have this sort of transformative impact, you need support, buy-in, and some truly exceptional people on the team.
So if you’re wondering how to become agile, here’s what you need to bear in mind.
Get the right people on board
Agile project management methodologies rely on hiring great people and empowering them to do their best work. It’s even outlined in the agile core values: people over processes.
That means that you need to focus on recruiting and hiring the right people first and foremost. Find the right people and free their talent to solve problems, not mindlessly follow orders, and you’ll already be halfway there.
Agile project management is a method for managing projects in a flexible and fast-paced way. Companies around the world rely on agile project management to increase productivity, be more effective at implementing new ideas, and simplify their operations.