An Introduction to Agile Project Management
The future of work is agile! Learn about this agile methodology approach to project management and how it differs from the traditional approach.
Agile, a fairly recent project management technique was developed in the ’80s by two Japanese partners Nanaka and Takeuchi, who were studying supply chain and manufacturing at that time. Their inspiration was the style of a rugby team.
A team of rugby players passes the ball back and forth and try to score a point against the opposing team. Each player has a certain defined role and the whole team works collectively to win the match. Similar to that, in Agile project management methodology the cross-functional team works collectively to ensure that the project gets completed at a rapid pace.
One word that personifies the Agile methodology is ‘versatility’. Since it is a customer-centric approach, the priorities might get varied constantly. Any changes are also immediately known by all members of the agile team, so the chances of miscommunications are significantly reduced.
What is Agile Project Management?
Agile project management is defined as an “incremental and iterative approach to delivering project requirements throughout the life cycle of a project”. Technically, referring to Agile as one of the approaches to project management methodology would be wrong. Any methodology is defined as a set of rules and procedures that must be followed in pre-described cases.
Agile does not do that; instead, it effectively allows project management to be completed in any manner as long as the core principles of Agile are followed. Agile values and principles help a team thinks and interact in a way that can introduce agility in the project.
There are a number of frameworks that teams can follow to implement an agile methodology in their projects. Scrum and Kanban are examples of two such frameworks that help in following the Agile principles using project management software.
Advantages of Agile Project Management
Agile processes offer flexibility and helps the team produce short, working products in shorter sprints. That’s one of the main reasons a lot of companies, irrespective of the industry, adopt Agile.
Following are some of the benefits project managers can expect to achieve by implementing Agile methodology:
1. Improved business alignment
The team has to closely work with the customers to adapt and incorporate their constantly changing needs. This brings an alignment in the project execution.
2. Acute focus on business value
Agile methods ensure that at any given time the project team is focused on delivering working software. The Agile team is in a way, forced to prioritize the backlog items according to the customer’s demands.
3. Shorter delivery cycles
The shorter delivery cycles help the customers get a return on investment as early as possible. The ongoing project work gets reviewed by the clients in real-time. There’s also improved visibility into the product and track project progress which ensures transparency.
4. Reduced project cost
Agile practices help the self-organizing teams to get an insight regarding what features and not required in the product. The statistics point out that 46 percent of the features are not even used in the end products and Agile spares the development teams from wasting time and money which goes into the development of unwanted features.
How is Agile Different from Traditional Project Management Methodologies?
Agile methodology is all about being responsive to changes even if it entirely changes the project scope. In traditional project management, the managers have to step forward if changes are required while that is not the case with Agile project management.
It emphasizes on customer satisfaction and involves them to get prompt feedback to make sure that the project is heading in the right direction. The product is continuously tested and improved to meet with client requirements. It also gives autonomy to the teams; they organize and manage themselves with the project manager acting as an enabler.
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Core principles of Agile Methodology
The concept of Agile hinges on the 4 values and 12 principles provided in the Agile Manifesto.
1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
2. Working product over comprehensive documentation
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
4. Responding to change over following a plan
Frameworks in Agile Project Management Methodology
Companies often modify an agile methodology to use an agile framework that suits their needs. Some of the more familiar agile frameworks which incorporate the Agile principles are:
Scrum method works on the principle of simplifying any complex project into several small parts called ‘sprints’. Based on sprint planning, these sprints can last from 2-4 weeks and each member of the team has a specific task to do.
The scrum master and the team members are kept updated on the progress through daily meetings called standups and several graphical illustrations like the ‘burn down’ chart. A product backlog is maintained where all tasks are recorded in order of their priority which is set either by the customers or their proxy.
The main focus of the Kanban methodology is to ensure continuity. The entire project is visualized on a kanban board where the tasks being performed, the tasks to do, and the completed tasks are listed separately.
Unlike many other methodologies, Kanban works comfortably in an organizational system where the official hierarchy is considered very important.
3. Lean software development:
This method focuses on improving the flow of value throughout the system. It helps to eliminate the wastes of lean management in the system such as incomplete work and task switching. It helps the work from piling up and proposes that more work should only be pulled in when there is the capacity to get it done.
Extreme programming or XP is used by small project teams for small to medium-sized product development especially when product requirements are changing rapidly.
This Agile methodology is focused on giving more autonomy to the development teams and encourages them for continuous improvement of the product and tackle issues on their own. Individuals and their interactions are valued more than processes and tools.
6. Dynamic Systems Development Method
It is used in the projects with a low budget and tight schedule. This methodology focuses on the following aspects of the project such as,
- Feasibility of the project
- Conducting a business study
- Creating a functional model
- Continuous prototype iteration
- Design and build iterations
- Implementation of the final project deliverable
7. Feature-Driven Development
FDD focuses on breaking down the project in small, client-valued functions that can be delivered in short time spans. It also stresses the product development process is a human activity rather than a purely mechanical undertaking and hence individuals and their interactions are given a great deal of value.
Combining Agile with other methodologies
Since Agile is a mindset and a philosophy rather than a framework, it’s easy to combine it with other methodologies to create hybrid frameworks. It’s quite often the case that companies use the Waterfall approach up until the execution phase.
Project planning, in particular, requires a methodical and thorough approach to define and analyze the project requirements. It also requires exhaustive documentation, making Waterfall a more-suited approach. Once the development starts, Agile alliance ensures that the rapid and repetitive changes are addressed involving the clients in the various stages.
This flexible nature to work with other frameworks makes Agile an excellent approach, irrespective of the nature of the product or the industry.
When is Agile not the right fit?
As with all other methodologies, Agile has a set of drawbacks as well. The agile planning process requires clients to be involved and teams to be self-organized. If that’s not the case with your project, you might want to think twice before using Agile for your projects.
Agile is less formal and more flexible, making it unattractive for traditional organizations that favor a certain amount of rigidity in the processes, policies, and teams. While smaller teams may be ready for agile, it may not work for the organization as a whole.
It requires the commitment and investment of the sponsors and the functional managers to ensure the teams adopting Agile are equipped for success. You need to have the right organizational set-up, clear roles and responsibilities, and proper training where teams are given the empowerment and autonomy they need to be successful. Agile isn’t the route to take if your organization’s structure is rigid.
The future of work is Agile
As companies are moving into a remote set up, there’s an increasing need for speed, flexibility, and autonomy. This makes Agile and its hybrid methodologies an ideal candidate for your organization.
If you’re looking to get your team started on Agile, you need to build an Agile team. Here’s an exhaustive guide to building Agile teams from scratch.