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As an entrepreneur, you probably spend your day trying to hit many different moving targets. Your client wants one thing on Monday and something else on Wednesday. New emerging technologies or competitors force you to make adjustments. Hitting a moving target would be much easier if you could adjust your shot after you pull the trigger.
Enter Agile project management. Agile project management is a popular methodology for tracking various roles, responsibilities, deadlines and other factors of a project. When used properly, Agile can save organizations a great deal of time, frustration and money. Here’s how it works.
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What Is Agile?
Agile is an iterative, introspective and adaptive project management methodology. In an Agile practice, a project is broken up into sub-projects. These are typically referred to as sprints. At the end of each sprint, stakeholders and the team review their work, make adjustments for the next sprint, and repeat until complete. The point of Agile is the constant, incremental delivery of value throughout the project, instead of all at once at the end.
Agile project management has its roots in software development. Development cycles are much shorter now than they used to be. Software developers could take years to bring a product to market. In some cases, the software was obsolete before it could get into consumers’ hands.
Traditional project management structures were in part to blame. They are very rigid and linear. It is difficult to adapt to problems that arise and nothing is released until all the work is complete.
The framework addresses many business problems by embracing the chaos. It is designed to account for the fact that you will run into unexpected problems. It knows that, inevitably, you’re going to have to make a change to get to your desired outcome.
Agile allows your team to take aim at a general direction, build something then reassess the situation. Many teams both in and out of the software industry find this approach helpful in accomplishing difficult, complex tasks.
Agile Project Management: An Example
Let’s say you’re building an app. A product owner takes input from stakeholders. These can be executives, customers or both. They’ll say something such as, “We want an app where users can create and sell widgets to each other.” From these interactions, the product owners create a backlog. The backlog is a list of all tasks that need to be completed to achieve the overarching goal.
Next, the team holds a pre-sprint meeting. They review the backlog and determine how much work they can take on. Once they commit to the work and divvy it up, the sprint begins. A sprint typically takes a few weeks, but no longer than a month. At the beginning of each day, the team will meet for a stand-up meeting. These are brief, everyone stands up (to ensure the meeting is brief), and you review the previous day’s work and make adjustments if needed.
At the end of the sprint, the team and stakeholders review progress, commit their work, make adjustments for the next sprint and reiterate. This continues until the overarching goal is reached.
In basic terms, Agile is all about breaking up complex tasks into simple sprints. When used correctly, they can make a huge difference in your team’s productivity and morale.
The Agile Manifesto
Like most great theories, Agile is presented in a manifesto. Here, the forgers of Manifesto for Agile Software Development (commonly known as the Agile Manifesto) define the four core values and 12 principles of Agile project management.
Agile project management requires highly collaborative, flexible teams that can deliver constant value through each iteration. This makes sense, considering that Agile is inherently introspective, and focused on constant fine-tuning to optimize results.
Four Core Values of Agile Project Management
The four core values to Agile include:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
12 Principles of Agile Project Management
The 12 principles of the methodology build upon these values, according to the Agile Manifesto:
- The highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
- Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Different Kinds of Agile Project Management Methodologies
The Agile family tree of project management methodologies has many branches. All the Agile project management theories adhere to the main tenets of Agile, but they do so in subtly different ways. We won’t go over the entire family here. But we will discuss two of the most popular flavors of Agile.
The founders of Scrum define it as “a lightweight framework that helps people, teams and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.” Scrum is built on the ideas that we learn by doing, waste should be minimized, and we should focus on what’s most important. Scrum should be leveraged against a team of multi-tool players who collectively create increments of value through each iteration.
In a Scrum practice, the Scrum team is made up of a product owner, a Scrum Master, and the development team. The product owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the end goal, while the Scrum Master is responsible for maintaining Scrum and getting the most out of the development team. The development team does the work.
Scrum is the most popular Agile method. In survey results presented in the 14th Annual State of Agile Report, 75% of respondents said they practice Scrum or a Scrum-hybrid.
Kanban relies on visualizations and controls to track and manage the workload. A basic Kanban board is made up of three columns: “Request”, “In Progress” and “Done”. But many companies will create columns for each step in their workflow.
Each project is visualized as cards on the Kanban board, and progresses through each column until the work is complete. A “work in progress” (WIP) limitation is created and applied to each column to prevent the team from stretching themselves too thin by committing too much work. From there, it’s a matter of maintaining a steady, sustainable pace, and adjusting as needed to optimize processes.
According to the 14th State of Technology, 63% of respondents said that they used Kanban in their organizations.
Leverage Agile in Your Environment
Agile project management isn’t a one-size-fits-all methodology. The efficacy of Agile depends on the goals you are trying to achieve. If you’re shooting at a stationary target and cannot deviate from a predefined path, then Agile might not be your best bet. But if you are trying to hit a moving target and you need to get the most out of the time and resources at your disposal, then Agile might be the answer to your problems.
The people on your team are also something you should consider before implementing Agile. Culture and buy-in is a big deal, and the wrong culture and a lack of buy-in are leading causes for Agile to fail, according to the State of Agile Report. But more importantly, people are a central component of Agile. You need a team of multi-tool players that can work together, adapt to changes, and stay focused on the goal.
If you decide Agile isn’t right for your team, consider implementing one of the other project management methodologies.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are agile project management certificates worth it?
While you don’t need to get certified to implement agile into your own business, getting agile project management certifications can help you improve your skills and advance your career.
Is Agile for software development only?
No. Others have found success with Agile—or at least using certain components of Agile—outside of software development. Folks in the automotive, R&D, and other industries have found success in Agile. Stand-up meetings are common in a variety of work environments, from restaurants to boardrooms. Kanban boards are popping up everywhere, like on whiteboards at law offices and on windows in property management offices.
Are there certifications for Agile Project Management?
Yes. You can earn Agile project management certificates from a variety of accredited colleges and universities, as well as through professional and trade organizations.
Do I need to buy a project management tool to implement Agile project management into my business?
You don’t need to purchase specialized Agile project management solutions to deploy or be successful with Agile. However, there are a wealth of project management solutions that can enhance, augment, and improve your Agile practice.