Friday, May 7, 2021

Agile Project Management

The What, the Why and All You Need to Know

Last Updated on April 30, 2021 by Mandy Schmitz

agile project management blog title image
Image by Leon on Unsplash

If you are looking for a new way to manage your projects, then this blog post is for you. In this article, we will cover what agile project management is, the benefits of it and how it compares to traditional project management. The first thing that we need to understand about agile project management is that there are no strict processes or linear steps in order to complete a project.

This means that teams can adapt more quickly when changes occur during the process. It also allows teams to work on multiple projects at once without having too much overhead with each individual one. If you want to learn more about these and other advantages of agile project management – read on!

What is Agile Project Management?

Agile project management is a term that refers to an approach for tackling projects in which you have little or no control over the content and environment. The goal of agile project management is not to produce some specific thing as fast and cheaply as possible, but rather create something valuable that people want. This means it’s a lot more open-ended than traditional project management approaches because there are so many unknowns when starting out on new projects.

The basic idea behind agile project management is to work in small increments and create prototypes for the various parts of your app. When you start, there are a lot of unknowns that we have never encountered before because every project is unique and comes with its own set of risks and dependencies.

The first step in the process is to identify what needs to be done and create a backlog. A backlog is basically just your wish list of everything you would like to do if you had endless resources, time, and money. The next step is breaking down that huge list into smaller pieces by identifying what’s most important for now or has dependencies on other tasks. Once we have those priorities identified, we can start making estimates about how long each task will take (if it takes too much time then this becomes an impediment later).

In agile project management, working software always comes before expensive design because creating something valuable doesn’t need fancy graphics all the time but rather doing things efficiently so everyone wins- including our customers!

A Brief History of Agile

Agile project management or better the agile methodology is around since 2001. It was born out of the need to bring back focus on what really matters for success – delivering valuable software as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The inventors of this concept were Jeff Sutherland and Jim Highsmith, amongst others, who were inspired by the principles of lean manufacturing and wanted to apply this in software development. The fundamental concept of agile is captured in the Agile Manifesto.

They came up with four basic agile principles, which are:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change with agility, rather than planning for it in advance

Lightbulb! Do you know what these really mean? We will cover the meaning of these later on, but briefly, they tell us that we should focus on people first, deliver working software as quickly as possible, collaborate with customers more instead of going into a big upfront design process while always being ready to adapt your project when needed because things can go wrong at any time. So agile project management is essentially a way of dealing with the unknown and managing projects in a highly volatile environment.

Who uses Agile Project Management?

Agile project management is mainly used in software development projects, but it is also used in product development, construction projects, and many other settings.

Agile Adoption Statistics

Faster Product Delivery is a Key Driver for Agile Adoption

Over 68% of organizations state faster product delivery as one of their key drivers for agility (KPMG Global Agile Survey 2019)

Marketers’ Interest in Agile Is On an All-Time High

41% of surveyed marketers report to currently use a form of Agile and non-users, which constitute 42% plan to adopt it within the next year (3rd Annual State of Agile Marketing Report, Agile Sherpas, 2020)

Agile Influences All Levels of the Organization

After transitioning to agile, CEO’s spend four times the amount of time on strategy (10% -> 40%) instead on operations management (60% -> 25%). (Harvard Business Review, 2020)

More Information and Statistics on the State of Agile

If you want to know more, check out the 14th Annual State of Agile Report, which provides a snapshot of the global state of enterprise Agile in 2020. The 15th edition for 2021 is coming soon. (14th Annual State of Agile Report, 2020)

The Benefits of Agile Project Management

Advantages

So, what are the advantages of Agile project management?

The main benefit of agile or adaptive project management is that it helps to manage uncertainty which can arise at any moment during a project’s life cycle meaning we have more control over deliverables and changes.

Other benefits of agile project management are that it helps to maintain customer focus, transparency (so everyone knows what is happening), and feedback throughout the project life cycle.

It also allows for changes in how we work which can lead to better outcomes because of increased collaboration between team members who are more empowered with decision-making power.

Disadvantages

As well as there being advantages, there are some disadvantages too where traditional methods may be preferred such as when you’re working on projects where specific results need to meet deadlines.

What Are The 4 Core Values of Agile?

The four core agile principles are:

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

2. Working software over comprehensive documentation

3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

4. Responding to change over following a plan

‘Individuals and interactions over processes and tools’. This principle is all about valuing the people you work with rather than focusing too much on process – so meetings should only happen if they’re needed. It also means that we want our teams to have a say in how things get done; for example, decisions could be made by consensus instead of being handed down from above.

This idea extends into ‘Working software over comprehensive documentation’. Agile development value deliverables like code (i.e. what gets delivered) more than documents (i.e. plans). They want to see working software in front of them, not plans.

The third principle ‘Customer collaboration over contract negotiation’ is all about getting feedback from customers early on, so they know what they want out of a product before it gets too far down the line. This means frequent face-to-face communication with your stakeholders, so you can get their input on your work (i.e. a product increment) as soon as possible.

The fourth and last agile principle ‘Responding to change over following a plan’, is all about being able to change the plan when it becomes necessary. For example, if a stakeholder changes their mind on what they want your product to do, and you don’t have anything documented down, yet then you can just go ahead with this new request straight away without having to document everything or consult any documentation first.

The concept of ‘Iterative development’ is key in agile project management as well – it’s basically small steps that lead towards the final goal. This means starting something (i.e. developing) in an iterative fashion by breaking up large tasks into smaller ones that are less daunting, so you can get them done more easily (and quicker). It also helps identify problems sooner rather than later because each step will be reviewed within a short time span.

The 12 Principles Behind The Agile Manifesto

The Agile Manifesto contains 12 principles that underpin the agile philosophy. These are:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Key Components of Agile Project Management

Sprints

agile scrum framework
Image by Scrum.org

In agile project management or agile methodology, Sprints are a timeboxed unit of work. These are periods where you focus on a single piece of work and get it done in the allocated period of time (usually two or four weeks). Sprints can be used for both creating new features, fixing bugs, or doing other tasks related to your project/product.

The following guidelines apply when sprints are being performed:

The sprint should be planned and fully estimated upfront. The estimate is the amount of work you anticipate to complete in a period of time (usually two or four weeks).

A sprint backlog is created with all tasks that need to be completed during the given sprint, based on their requirements and estimates. Tasks are ordered by priority-high, medium, low-and added to the backlog list as they’re being defined.

Sprints can also provide insight into what your project needs: if something doesn’t get finished within a particular sprint, for example, it might mean that there are not enough people working on it or an area isn’t well-defined yet so more planning would probably help.

Backlog

The Backlog is a list of all the tasks which you’ve created or are thinking about. This might include new features, bug fixes, etc. The Backlog is ordered by priority from highest to lowest, and it reflects what needs to be done next in order for your business/project to move forward.

Product Increment

Now let’s talk about the product increment, which is the part of your product that you release at the end of each sprint. The Product Increment refers to the final set of features/fixes that have been completed in a given Sprint and are ready for demonstration or customer feedback to be used later on in production.

Agile Project Management vs. Traditional Project Management

Zoho Projects Interface
zoho.com – traditional project management using a Gantt chart view

The difference between the two is that traditional project management will use a plan to reach a specific goal. Agile on the other hand allows for flexibility and adaptability, as it uses short-term goals which are constantly refined based upon feedback.

Traditional projects typically start with an estimation of how long certain tasks should take (cost) and then they create detailed plans in order to achieve their final goal within this time frame.

The problem with these estimates is that there might be unforeseen situations during production or development stages which means changes have to be made – meaning your original timeline has been impacted too much or scrapped altogether.

This is where agile project management comes into play: planning without fixed dates for completion! As you work through product increments, new information may arise that you can take into account, without having to throw everything out.

It uses short-term goals with the ultimate goal being achieved incrementally.

This means that it is very easy for a team to make adjustments as they go along and still achieve their targets – which in turn makes agile projects more successful than traditional ones!

Another major difference between these two types of project management is how scope changes are handled: if there’s an issue in the production or development stage, you can easily switch gears and work on something else until your original task becomes viable again.

Combining Agile Project Management with Other Methodologies

In real life, I have experienced a combination of agile with other methodologies like traditional project management, i.e. waterfall, or Kanban. This is hybrid project management, and it’s a great way to get some benefits from both.

In this model, agile is used as an initial planning process with more detail and specificity than typical for an agile project. But once you have that plan in place, then all aspects are managed using Kanban or other methods appropriate for your product lifecycle stage.

It’s not uncommon to combine these two approaches when starting out on new projects because they’re complimentary: one focuses on fast-moving tactical decisions about what needs doing right now (agile), while the other has a broader perspective and looks at things like what features need to be developed next or how many resources are available over time (traditional). However, if you want maximum flexibility later on, then you should use agile throughout the whole project lifecycle.

The Benefits of a Hybrid Approach To Project management

The benefit of using a hybrid approach is that it allows you to take advantage of the best practices from both worlds and tailor them for your specific situation. This means that you can start off with an initial plan, get feedback on how things are going and then make revisions as needed without having to go back through extensive documentation or redo work from scratch in order to change direction. Here’s what this looks like:

Traditional Project Management Process:

  • Create detailed plans (months before)
  • Execute against those plans
  • Retrospectively refine if necessary once results are known (via postmortem)

Agile Project Management Process:

  • Create high-level planning
  • Execute iteratively based upon feedback
  • Adjust as necessary to deliver the expected outcomes

Agile project management is a great way to make more agile decisions and get things done faster without sacrificing quality. It has been shown that organizations who use this approach are able to accelerate their time-to-market, reduce cost and develop products much quicker than competitors while having greater customer satisfaction rates! The best part? Agile projects also lead to better team performance because they increase engagement in addition to boosting job satisfaction levels.

This means you can start off with an initial plan, get feedback on how things are going and then make revisions as needed without having t go back through extensive documentation or redo work from scratch in order to change direction.

However, this will not work in every situation as there are some disadvantages associated with both types: for example, waterfall projects have long lead times due to their focus on documentation before they start; while agile project management requires trust between team members which may be hard to gain when working within different departments or companies.

agile sticky notes
Image by David Travis on Unsplash

FAQ

How are agile projects managed?

The management of agile projects is very different from traditional project management. Traditional projects are usually managed by following a strict timeline and set of procedures, while agile projects tend to be more flexible in order to take advantage of changing circumstances or new information as they arise.

Who handles conventional project manager duties in agile development?

In short, there is not just one person in charge of the ongoing management of an agile project. This is one area where a traditional approach to project management and an agile approach differ significantly.

Where does the Scrum Master fit in agile project manager roles and responsibilities?

The scrum master leads the development team but also monitors and coaches them. They are responsible for ensuring that any impediments to progress are quickly removed in order to keep the project moving forward at an optimal pace.

There are per se no ‘agile project manager roles’ just roles known to the scrum methodology i.e. scrum master, product owner, development team.

How do you ensure quality in agile projects?

Quality is ensured by measuring it throughout the process of developing a product or service. Quality assurance plays a major role in this regard because their job is to monitor how well developers perform against requirements set out during planning phases based on customer feedback and other factors which affect what should be done next. It can also measure whether there were any failed tasks – if they occur more often than anticipated then something needs to change with your process.

Conclusion

To sum up, agile project management is a flexible and adaptive approach to project management that is designed to meet the needs of today’s businesses. It has been proven successful for many companies across various industries, which shows it can be used in any scenario as long as you tailor your agile process accordingly.

In a nutshell, agile is here to stay, so you should consider benefiting from it too. If you need support with running your agile project, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Mandy Schmitzhttps://mandyschmitz.com
Mandy Schmitz is a freelance consultant and project management expert with 10+ years of experience working internationally for big brands in fintech, consumer goods and more. Join me here on Changeaholic.com to learn how to optimize your business operations and find the latest software reviews.
Mandy Schmitz is a freelance consultant and project management expert with 10+ years of experience working internationally for big brands in fintech, consumer goods and more. Join me here on Changeaholic.com to learn how to optimize your business operations and find the latest software reviews.

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