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What is Agile Project Management? A Complete Guide

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 eat an elephant? One spoonful at a time!”

Fortunately, no one here advocates eating elephants; instead, we’re talking about agile project management. This article answers the question, “What is agile project management?” including exploring agile’s core values and principles. We will also touch on Scrum project management and Kanban project management. And lastly, we’ll take a quick look at some agile project management tools.

What is Agile Project Management?

Agile project management is defined as 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 to satisfy customers’ needs better.

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 the Waterfall method 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 actual 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.

Agile’s Core Values

The Agile Manifesto encompasses four core values:

1) Individuals and interactions take precedence over tools or processes

2) Functioning software is 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) Customer satisfaction via the early and continuous delivery of essential software is the first priority

2) Welcome changing developments, even late in the development stage. Agile processes encourages 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’s processes encourage sustainable development. In addition, the developers, users, and sponsors should be able to indefinitely maintain a constant pace

9) Continuous attention paid to technical excellence and good design will enhance agility

10) Simplicity is the art of maximizing the amount of 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 how to become more effective, then fine-tune and adjust their behavior accordingly

Agile Project Management 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 be working 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 focused 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 defined as an agile management framework that employs fixed-length work iterations, typically called sprints. In addition, scrum project management features four ceremonies which give structure to 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 backlog is the product backlog. This product backlog is a prioritized list of features and is owned by the product owner. The other is the sprint backlog, filled by taking issues from the product backlog’s top until they reach the 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.

Kanban Project Management: How Does Kanban Work?

Kanban is another agile project management tool that matches the work to the team’s capacity. In addition, Kanban 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.

1) List of work or stories. These lists are tasks or issues that need to get done.

2) Columns or lanes. Columns are found on the Kanban board and distinguish tasks from different users, projects, workstreams, etc.

3) Work in Progress (WIP) Limits. A rule limiting the amount of work to be done based on the team’s capacity.

4) 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 at hand.

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” got completed during the sprint.

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 management and traditional project management. So let’s summarize the differences with a handy, easy-to-read chart.

Characteristic Traditional Project Management Agile Project Management
Project scale Large-scale Small-to-medium scale
Structure Linear Iterative
Client involvement Minimal High
Customer involvement Customers are involved early in the project but not after execution begins. Customers stay involved throughout the time the work is being done.
User requirements Defined clearly before implementation Gained through interactive input
Development model Life cycle Evolutionary delivery
Model preference Anticipate issues Adapt to issues
Escalation Escalate to managers when problems develop The entire team addresses the problem as it arises
Views on the process Greater emphasis is placed on the process over the product Less focus on formal processes
Test documentation Comprehensive test planning Tests planned one sprint at a time
Approval and reviews Leaders do most reviews and approvals Reviews 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 Method The Agile 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 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 those needs 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’s best suited for 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, as member roles are flexible and interchangeable.

 

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

1) There is greater flexibility and adaptability to changing needs

2) There is more freedom. Agile project management allows team members to work on models that match their strengths

3) There is increased collaboration with the users, which results in products that better meet user needs

4) There is a greater degree of efficient resource use, which allows rapid deployment

5) When development begins, there is no immediate need for clearly defined processes and goals

6) Problems are spotted faster, which allows for quick fixes

Drawbacks of Agile

1) Projects have a greater risk of going sideways because they lack a predetermined course of action at the project’s inception

2) Projects that become sidetracked thanks to this process often incur less predictable results

3) Agile management revolves around fast decision-making, so organizations with a cumbersome and slow decision-making process will suffer

4) If communication and collaboration between teams and end users fail, this could impact the quality of the final product

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 certification program. UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management presents a 6-month certification course. This excellent project management course is aligned with PMI-PMP and IASSC-Lean Six Sigma and allows students to earn 146 PDUs so that they may maintain their CCR for PMI-related certifications.

Additionally, when you successfully finish the course, you gain your 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 $83,470. The low range resides at $53,506, while the maximum range hits $130,213.

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!

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