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What Is Agile Project Management?

Agile project management is a project management (PM) methodology that is rooted in the principles of agile software development, as laid out in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which was created by a group of IT professionals in 2001.

In simple words, agile project management involves dividing a full project into small iterations or ‘sprints’. During each sprint, products are produced and then reviewed by team members and stakeholders. This iterative system creates a project process in which deliverables are continuously produced, client and stakeholder involvement is increased, and product amendments can be made with relative ease.

Agile management is well-suited to dynamic industries that need to constantly adapt to change, serve an ever-shifting market, and produce deliverables on a regular basis. For example, it caters well to software development which requires consistent adaptation.

Agile project management can be applied to any project with short production and implementation times, as well as projects that produce deliverables which can be amended or expanded upon, such as technological devices or apps. Prominent companies that use agile project management include Microsoft, Samsung, Philips and IBM.

The Four Values in Agile Project Management

The 2001 Manifesto authors begin by explaining that, through evaluating traditional project management processes, they have come to value:

  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.

What Are the Agile Project Management Principles?

The above values inform the principles of the manifesto, which can be summarised as follows:

  1. Customer satisfaction: This is the top priority.
  2. Requirement changes: Should be welcomed, no matter the maturity of the project.
  3. Frequent delivery: Products should be produced often for review.
  4. Collaboration: Stakeholders and business leaders should collaborate with the project team throughout the project.
  5. Trust and efficiency: Motivated individuals should be equipped with the necessary support and resources, after which they should be trusted to get the work done without micromanagement.
  6. Face-to-face conversation: This is the optimal form of communication.
  7. Progress by means of production: This is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Sustainability is key: Agile processes should enable all parties to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Simplicity should be prioritised: Unnecessary work needs to be cut.
  10. Self-organising teams: Produce the best work.
  11. Self-reflection at regular intervals: Teams should be able to analyse their progress internally and then implement the necessary changes to maximise effectiveness.

The combination of these principles produces the core values of agile project management: trust, adaptability, empowerment and collaboration. So long as the project team is fully aligned regarding responsibilities, accountability and processes, these values allow for team members to work well together and produce quality products.

With these values at the heart of the project process, the project team is able to focus on their work, become empowered in their responsibilities, and foster personal and professional development.

Why Agile Project Management?

Agile’s focus on the continuous production of deliverables and frequent review processes offers a number of benefits including:

  1. High product quality
    The iterative structure and prioritisation of continuous product improvement produces well-functioning, comprehensively designed deliverables.
  1. High customer satisfaction
    The clients and stakeholders are likely to be satisfied throughout the project process as they have full knowledge of the project at all stages, are able to request changes at any stage, and can enjoy continuous and fast delivery of products.
  1. Reduced risk
    The iterative system of agile management allows for risks to be confined to individual sprints, to a reasonable extent. Furthermore, agile project management requires that risk analysis be a continuous process throughout the duration of the project, with frequent client feedback and ongoing opportunities to adapt the product to meet the clients’ requests.
  1. Better and faster ROI (return on investment)
    Thanks to frequent review processes, products are often market-ready in a much shorter time frame than with conventionally-managed projects. This serves to keep stakeholders happy and increase the product’s competitive edge.

Agile project plans are perfectly suited to today’s fast-paced business world as they allow you to focus on what the business needs NOW, and address any new needs in the next iteration.

Agile Project Management Characteristics

The following characteristics allow agile project management to work well when things are uncertain, the environment is changing rapidly, there are unclear requirements, and the environment is of low criticality (i.e. instances where it is acceptable for a product to fail as it can be scrapped and the team can move forward). Many startups use agile management because it allows them to get into the market, create engagement and brand awareness, and find out what customers want.

Characteristics of Agile Projects

  1. Sprints of 4-12 weeks.
  2. Face to face communication is favoured over documentation
  3. Co-location or simulation thereof using digital tools
  4. Sponsor committed to an agile process
  5. Requirement changes are anticipated and accommodated

These characteristics are specific to and essential for agile project management – however, there are a number of characteristics from traditional project management approaches that will be beneficial for the management of any project.

Characteristics of a Traditional Approach to Project Management

The characteristics from a traditional PM strategy that work well in agile plans include:

  1. A vision for the project
  2. Following a universally understood project lifecycle
  3. Requirements and acceptance criteria need to be understood
  4. A shared and managed schedule should be used
  5. A dedicated project team needs to be established
  6. Frequent and honest communication with stakeholders

Steps in Agile Project Management

The agile cycle is arranged as follows:

  1. The project is divided into several small cycles or sprints.
  2. At the end of each sprint, a portion of the deliverable or mini-project is completed.
  3. Each sprint involves planning, design, testing and the release of a mini-project, followed by a review session.

More specifically, the project process will progress as follows:

  1. Project planning
    The project team will assess project feasibility, develop the full scope of the project, break the process into sprints, and estimate the time to be taken for each sprint.

  2. Roadmap creation
    A plan of action is created for how the project should proceed and evolve over time. Required features of the final project will also be listed, as well the steps for creating these features.

  3. Release planning
    The team plans the features and/or products to be released at the end of each sprint.

  4. Sprint planning
    A sprint planning session takes place before each sprint to nail down what needs to be achieved, ensure even workload distribution and plan the steps needed to successfully complete the upcoming sprint.

  5. Daily meetings
    It is important that the project team check in frequently to share issues or frustrations, and find out what has been accomplished and what is still needed.

  6. Sprint review & retrospective
    There will be two meetings after each sprint. The sprint review involves sharing the finished mini-product with the client and discussing any issues. The sprint retrospective is an opportunity to sit with the stakeholders and discuss what went right and what went wrong.

Through this setup, agile project managers can achieve their goals of increasing the probability of product success, working with shorter project life cycles, and increasing the frequency of product releases.

Agile Project Management vs Traditional Project Management

There are a number of major and minor differences between the agile approach and traditional project management approaches, including:

Agile managers let their team problem-solve to resolve issues which arise. This requires trust in their capabilities and makes the process more efficient. Traditional projects require managerial intervention when issues arise, which may take some pressure off of the project team, but can delay progress and put extra stress on managers.
Agile places the focus on serving the customer, even if that can throw a wrench in the process. Traditional PM favours the plan above all else.
Agile empowers all team members and encourages collaboration and proactivity. Traditional project management works with a top-to-bottom hierarchy.
Agile measures success according to the value which the final product offers the customer. Traditional approaches measure success according to a number of predetermined metrics.

Agile Project Management Frameworks

There are a number of agile frameworks in which a team can work, including:

Scrum project management
Scrum is arguably the framework most commonly used for agile PM. Scrum is the technical name for the sprint-based framework, and involves segmenting the project into sprints i.e. short timeframes in which a small part of the project is worked on and subsequently reviewed. This methodology ensures that momentum is maintained throughout the project and allows for frequent client feedback.

Kanban project management
Kanban project management is rooted in the principle of “just-in-time” manufacturing which seeks to eliminate unnecessary tasks and increase efficiency. Kanban project management makes use of a kanban board, made up of cards and columns, to visualise processes and workflow.

Lean project management
Lean project management is rooted in the prioritisation of the customer’s experience of the brand. The aim of this framework is to reduce the waste of time and resources. Lean project management works best for ongoing processes and an overall shift in business operations.

Hybrid project management
This framework combines agile and non-agile methodologies to create an optimised management approach. Generally, planning is done with a waterfall approach, while execution and delivery uses an agile approach.

Agile Project Management Software

There is a wide selection of great agile software out there, but here are a few of the most popular options:

  1. Asana
    Asana is a widely-used project management software that offers a number of perks such as:
    1. Easy-to-use interface.
    2. Capabilities for creating projects and tasks and assigning them to different members, inviting new team members, hosting discussions, editing task descriptions, tagging team members, and adding tags, due dates, due times, priority status, links and images.
    3. Choose list view or kanban mode (for a kanban board).
    4. Compatible with Slack, Dropbox, Microsoft Teams, Google Drive, One Drive and other programmes
    5. Track project progress and set project status
    6. Free for teams of up to 15 people
  1. Jira
    Jira is one of the most loved PM softwares out there, thanks to the following features:
    1. Easy-to-use interface with scrum and kanban modes.
    2. Strong reporting tools and a massive number of available integrations.
    3. Roadmap planning and issue-tracking capabilities.
    4. Choose between self-hosted or cloud-based premium options to best suit your team.
  1. Trello
    Trello is a popular and easy-to-use option that allows you to:
    1. Create boards, lists and cards for effective management.
    2. Collaborate with team members by adding comments to tasks, uploading attachments and assigning cards.
    3. The free package offers all basic features, while the premium packages allow for app integrations, enhanced security and privacy options, priority email support, and user management tools.

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