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What is Agile Project Management? Process, Principles & Everything You Need to Know

agile project management

It’s no secret that the most effective way to tackle an overwhelmingly huge task is to break it down into smaller tasks. Maybe you’re familiar with that old riddle, “How do you bake a cake? One step at a time!”

Fortunately, no one here advocates eating elephants; we’re talking about agile project management. This article answers the question, “What is agile project management?” and explores agile’s core values and principles. We will also touch on Scrum and Kanban project management and take a quick look at some agile project management tools. We’ll also share how online project management training can help professionals master these skills and tools.

What is Agile Project Management?

Agile project management is an iterative approach to software development projects, breaking tasks into smaller cycles called iterations or sprints. Agile management focuses on frequent value delivery and receiving quick feedback from the market. This fast response allows the team to adapt to emerging changes quickly. Agile management emphasizes:

  1. Working with small batches
  2. Working in collaboration with the customer
  3. Receiving feedback as soon as possible
  4. Creating transparency by visualizing processes

This form of project management lets teams immediately adapt to changing requirements, producing higher-quality services or goods that better satisfy customers’ needs.

Despite the common misconception, agile management isn’t a methodology. Instead, agile is an approach to tackling problem-solving through collaboration.

Let’s turn back the sands of time and look at the history of agile project management.

A Brief History of Agile Project Management

The time is the 1990s. Mobile phones aren’t nearly as prolific. The primary form of computing is the desktop system. Social media isn’t the crazy, out-of-control monster it is today. Most people still use modems and dialups. Hey, who remembers faxes?

During this tumultuous period, software teams discovered that highly structured “heavyweight” traditional project management methodologies like Waterfall weren’t enough to handle work demands.

This approach led to the “application development crisis,” characterized by a significant lag time of several years between the need for an application and its delivery date. Usually, by the time the final product was released, the customer’s needs had changed, or the technology had evolved. This situation resulted in many failed projects and wasted costs.

So, in 2001, 17 software developers got together at the Snowbird ski resort in Utah’s Wasatch mountains between the 11th and 13th of February. The group initially intended to talk about skiing, socialize, and relax. However, lucky for the software development industry, what eventually emerged was the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, a different way of thinking and working that forever changed how we manage projects.

Also Read: 13 Key Project Management Principles and How to Use Them

Agile’s Core Values

The Agile Manifesto encompasses four core values:

  1. Individuals and interactions take precedence over tools or processes
  2. Functioning software means more than comprehensive documentation
  3. Choose customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Respond to changes instead of following a plan

These values lie at the center of all agile management approaches, from standard working methods to the 12 principles of agile project management. Based on what we see from the core values, we can infer that agile approaches are people-driven and collaborative.

And speaking of agile management principles, let’s take a closer look at them.

Agile Project Management Principles

The following are the 12 principles of Agile project management, taken from the Agile Manifesto.

  1. The priority is customer satisfaction via essential software’s early and continuous delivery.
  2. Welcome changing developments, even late in the development stage. Agile processes encourage change for the client’s competitive advantage.
  3. Frequently deliver working software, anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months, although with a preference for a shorter timescale.
  4. Businesspeople and developers should work together on the project every day.
  5. Build your projects around motivated individuals and give them the support and environment they need while trusting them to do the job.
  6. Face-to-face conversations are the most efficient and effective method of relaying information to and among a development team.
  7. Functioning software is the chief measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes encourage sustainable development. In addition, the developers, users, and sponsors should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention paid to technical excellence and good design will enhance agility.
  10. Simplicity is the art of maximizing the work that is not done and is an essential part of the process.
  11. The best architectures, designs, and requirements emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. Teams regularly consider becoming more effective, then fine-tune and adjust their behavior accordingly.

How Does Agile Project Management Work?

Agile project management allows software development project teams to work quickly and collaboratively on projects while adapting to any changing requirements in the development process. Agile also enables development teams to react promptly to feedback to effect necessary changes at every sprint and product cycle.

Agile teams choose items from the backlog and decide how to complete the work. The agreed-upon work must be finished within a sprint, typically two to four weeks. The Scrum master briefly meets with teams daily to get progress updates, and sprint reviews are conducted after each sprint.

What is Agile Project Management, and What are its Phases

The Agile project delivery process is typically broken down into the following phases:

Envision

Creating a high-level product or service vision for the clients and determining who will work on the project.

Speculate

Building off the “Envision” phase, Agile teams assemble the general initial requirements for the product or service in question and create an iteration strategy based on the vision.

Explore

Working on the project deliverables and focusing on flow while focusing on getting feedback from the customer as quickly as possible.

Adapt

Reviewing the delivered results and adapting them as necessary to current conditions.

Close

Concluding the project and passing along crucial findings.

How Does Scrum Work?

Scrum is an agile management framework that employs fixed-length work iterations, typically called sprints. In addition, Scrum project management features four ceremonies that structure each sprint.

Sprint Planning

The team planning meeting decides what the team will work on in the sprint.

Sprint Demo

A meeting where the team shares what they have shipped in that sprint.

The Daily Standup

This meeting is a quick 15-minute mini-meeting for the software team to be brought up to speed and sync up.

Retrospective

This meeting reviews what went right and wrong in the sprint and discusses what actions the team can take to improve the next sprint.

Scrum teams typically involve a Scrum master who runs the show, a product owner, and the scrum team itself. Scrum includes two backlogs. The first is the product backlog, which is a prioritized list of features the product owner owns. The other is the sprint backlog, which is filled by taking issues from the product backlog’s top until they reach capacity for the next sprint.

Teams use a Scrum board to visualize the work in each sprint, which provides better transparency in agile project management. During sprint planning meetings, the scrum team moves items out of the product backlog into the sprint backlog.

Also Read: Project Management Phases: A Full Breakdown

Kanban Project Management: How Does Kanban Work?

Kanban is another agile project management tool that matches work to the team’s capacity. It emphasizes getting things done as quickly as possible, allowing groups to react to changes even faster than Scrum.

Kanban typically eschews backlogs in favor of a “to-do” column, making it easier for teams to focus on continuous releases. In addition, Kanban uses WIP limits, a predefined work limit in a single column at one time, to match the amount of work with the team’s capacity.

Kanban project management consists of four components.

  • List of work or stories. These lists are tasks or issues that need to be done.
  • Columns or lanes. Columns on the Kanban board distinguish tasks from different users, projects, workstreams, etc.
  • Work in Progress (WIP) Limits. A rule limiting the amount of work to be done based on the team’s capacity.
  • Continuous Releases. The team works on the appropriate number of stories as the WIP limit dictates and can release them anytime.

How Estimating, Reporting, and Planning Fits into Agile

Regardless of the development framework employed, you must have a way to see your team’s progress so you can better plan sprints and future tasks. Here are the three required elements.

Agile Project Estimating

Scrum teams employ project estimates to determine how much work can be done in each sprint. In addition, teams typically use tools like planning poker, story points, or ideal hours to specify numeric values for the task.

Agile Reporting

Teams use project estimations at the beginning and end of each sprint. These estimations help teams figure out what can be done at the start of the sprint and, in the end, show how accurate the initial estimates were. In addition, agile reports such as Burndown charts are used to ascertain how many “story points” were completed during the sprint.

Agile Project Management Software

Here’s a sample of some of the better agile project management tools available today:

  • Asana. A popular project/work management tool that easily tracks workflows.
  • Jira. A software development tool that excels in roadmaps.
  • Nifty. A project management tool best suited for engineering.
  • Proofhub. A project management tool with a heavy emphasis on communication and collaboration.
  • Smartsheet. A cloud-based work management platform.

Agile Iterative Development Overview

When working with agile iterations, steps are repeated on a loop until the team achieves an optimal result. This helps the agile teams quickly identify and address risk factors before they worsen. Each iteration must improve upon the previous one; for example, developers might address a bug, update an existing feature, or add a new feature.

Agile iterative development revolves around the project management life cycle, which we will explore.

The Agile Project Management Life Cycle

The agile project management life cycle consists of five parts:

  • Project Initiation. Discuss the project vision and its ROI justification while considering the role of DevOps.
  • Planning. Release planning, prioritization, and backlog creation based on the business value and dependencies.
  • Development. Conduct incremental development through sprints or iterations, usually aided by artificial intelligence and machine learning.
  • Production. Deploy and monitor the product, emphasizing continuous delivery practices.
  • Retirement. Decommission the product, usually due to newer versions being released or lack of support.

Agile Project Management Versus Other Approaches

Let’s list some other project management methodologies.

  • Waterfall. Waterfall is the standard, traditional approach to project management. Tasks and phases are done in a linear, sequential manner. Each stage of the project must be completed before starting the next one. It’s best for projects with clearly defined end goals that will stay the same.
  • Scrum. Scrum is a subset of the agile project management methodology, with work split into short cycles called “sprints” lasting one to two weeks. Work for each sprint iteration is sourced from the backlog. Scrum is best if the team’s primary focus is continuous improvement.
  • Kanban. Kanban is another agile project management subset emphasizing visual representation overviews and work-in-progress (WIP) limits. WIP restricts the number of tasks in play at any time, so the team can have only so many tasks in each Kanban board column. This helps teams to spread themselves evenly. Kanban works best for teams that want a visual representation of their progress and increased focus through WIP limits.
  • Lean. The Lean methodology is all about maximizing value while reducing waste. Waste reduction is a crucial point and is used to foster more efficient workflows. Use Lean when waste is an issue.
  • The Critical Path. The critical path method (critical path analysis) identifies and schedules all the vital tasks that comprise your project and their dependencies. Teams identify each essential task, estimate how long each task will take, and use the information to create a “critical path” the team must follow to complete the project as quickly as possible. This methodology is best suited to large, complex projects with many dependencies.

Backlog Management and Grooming

Product backlogs are prioritized lists of work the development team must do and are generated from the product roadmap and its requirements. In addition, the team pulls work from each sprint’s product backlog. Thus, grooming and maintaining your backlog is vital because it helps groups meet long-term goals by always adding and removing items, depending on the team’s long-term work capacity and changing business objectives.

Traditional Project Management vs. Agile Project Management

Much has been written about the differences between agile and traditional project management. So, let’s summarize the differences with a handy, easy-to-read chart.

CharacteristicTraditional Project ManagementAgile Project Management
Project scaleLarge-scaleSmall-to-medium scale
StructureLinearIterative
Client involvementMinimalHigh
Customer involvementCustomers are involved early in the project but not after execution begins.Customers stay involved throughout the time the work is being done.
User requirementsDefined clearly before implementationGained through interactive input
Development modelLife cycleEvolutionary delivery
Model preferenceAnticipate issuesAdapt to issues
EscalationEscalate to managers when problems developThe entire team addresses the problem as it arises
Views on the processGreater emphasis is placed on the process over the productLess focus on formal processes
Test documentationComprehensive test planningTests planned one sprint at a time
Approval and reviewsLeaders do most reviews and approvalsReviews and approvals are conducted after each iteration

Agile Management vs. the Waterfall Approach

Let’s use another chart to compare agile project management versus the traditional waterfall method.

The Waterfall MethodThe Agile Project Management Method
The development process is divided into stages.The development process is split up into sprints.
It’s a sequential design process.It’s an incremental design process.
Development is treated as one large project.Development is typically split into a set of different projects.
It has a rigid structure.It has a flexible structure.
There’s no easy, flexible way to change requirements once project development is underway.The flexible approach allows for changing development requirements even if the initial project planning is completed and approved.
It focuses entirely on finishing the project.It focuses on providing clients with a deliverable that meets their needs, even if they change during the lifecycle.
The testing plans are rarely discussed during the testing phase.The testing plans are reviewed after every sprint.
The testing phase follows the build phase.The testing phase happens concurrently with the development phase.
It best suits projects with consistent, unchanging requirements and no anticipated changes.It’s best suited for projects that present many variables and potential changes.
The project manager plays a critical role during every SDLC stage since each project is straightforward with no changes or surprises.Agile team members manage the project; member roles are flexible and interchangeable.

Also Read: How To Develop a Great Project Management Plan in 2024?

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Agile Management

Agile has its ups and downs. Here’s the good and the not-so-good breakdown.

Benefits of Agile

  • There is greater flexibility and adaptability to changing needs.
  • There is more freedom. Agile project management allows team members to work on models that match their strengths.
  • There is increased collaboration with the users, which results in products that better meet the user’s needs.
  • There is a greater degree of efficient resource use, which allows rapid deployment.
  • When development begins, there is no immediate need for clearly defined processes and goals.
  • Problems are spotted faster, which allows for quick fixes.

Drawbacks of Agile

  • Projects are more likely to fail because they lack a predetermined course of action at their inception.
  • Projects that become sidetracked often produce less predictable results.
  • Agile management revolves around fast decision-making, so organizations with a simple and quick decision-making process will suffer.
  • If communication and collaboration between teams and end users fail, this could impact the quality of the final product.

Why is Agile Project Management the Right Choice?

Considering the above pros and cons, agile project management is typically the right choice because it offers greater flexibility. It allows teams to react quickly to sudden changes in the project. Additionally, team members have the autonomy to make tiny changes without consulting the chain of command, saving time.

Agile project management also produces less documentation, which saves time.

Overall, agile project management builds accountability, empowers team members, encourages idea diversity, promotes continuous improvement, and allows benefits to be released early.

Agile Project Management Certifications

Here are the six most essential project management certifications.

  • PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
  • ICAgile Certified Professional (ICP)
  • AgilePM Foundation – APMG
  • Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)
  • Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I)
  • SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager (SAFe POPM)

Do You Want to Become a Better Project Manager?

Today’s business world needs good project managers, and the best way to become a valuable, highly skilled project manager is to enroll in a good project management bootcamp. Delivered by Simplilearn in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts, this six-month project management course is aligned with PMI-PMP and IASSC-Lean Six Sigma. It allows students to earn 146 PDUs so that they may maintain their CCR for PMI-related certifications.

Additionally, when you finish the course, you gain certification and membership in the prestigious UMass Amherst Alumni Association. Indeed.com reports that project managers in the United States make a yearly average of $87,640. The low range is $56,256, while the maximum range hits $136,532.

So, get that project management career off to a great start, or, if you’re already a project manager, upskill yourself into a better place in your career. Sign up today!

FAQ

Q: What is Agile project management in simple terms?
A: Agile project management is an iterative approach used by teams to manage software development projects that emphasizes continuous releases and factoring in customer feedback in every iteration.

Q: What are the principles of Agile?
A: The 12 principles of Agile are:

  • Autonomy and motivation
  • Better communication
  • Cooperation
  • Early and continuous delivery of valuable software
  • Embrace change
  • Frequent delivery
  • Quality assurance
  • Reflection and adjustment
  • Stable work environments
  • Simplicity
  • Self-organizing teams
  • Working software.

Q: What is scrum in Agile?
A: Agile scrum methodology is a project management system relying on incremental development. Development teams structure and manage their work via principles, values, and practices. Each iteration comprises two- to four-week sprints, and each sprint’s goal is to create the most important features first and release a potentially deliverable product.

Q: What are the pillars of agile?
A: The four pillars are:

  • Individuals and interactions
  • Responding to change
  • Working software
  • Customer collaboration

You might also like to read:

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