Challenges of Agile Project Management

Teams making the transition to Agile for project management need a way to get more done using the same amount of people and resources. Transitioning teams from non-Agile to Agile can be tricky, especially if the team isn’t used to working in such a way. Although project managers need ways to improve the quality of their deliverables, breaking old habits can prove more difficult than you think.

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Whether it’s a piece of software, a marketing campaign or an internal project that affects the organization, becoming an effective Agile project team requires project managers to become champions of change to help their teams avoid common pitfalls. The most common challenges faced by Agile teams include:

  • Honoring the new processes / procedures.
  • Communicating effectively with stakeholders and business owners.
  • Adapting to changes in business requirements while minimizing wasted effort
Challenge Solution
Processes / procedures are getting in the way of productivity Cooperate to overcome the immediate challenge, then work together to form new processes that meet the needs of everyone.
Communicating effectively with stakeholders and business owners Including stakeholders in each phase of a project
Adapting to changes in business requirements while minimizing wasted effort Working iteratively

There is No ‘I’ in Team

Going Agile for a team usually entails at least some level of process adaptation. Taking a process from inside someone’s mind and building a visual project plan takes work, but once it is done, teams can begin catching on by seeing how the current process actually works and taking steps to adapt that process. Teams that regularly collaborate on how to improve the way they work are able to overcome the challenges of working within the confines of a process because they end up deciding how (and if) that process is working for their particular business need.

Although processes help streamline complex tasks, they can sometimes get in the way of common sense. Processes are meant to help move things along smoothly, but if a process becomes a sticking point, the team must be willing to side step that process until a new one can be created. In the meantime, simple communication and a willingness to put yourself in the other person’s shoes can be an effective way of working together to accomplish a shared goal.

“Do What I Meant to Say, Not What I Said” – And Other Issues in Communication

To build an effective team, Agile project managers must constantly practice and reinforce effective communication. Getting feedback early and often is a cornerstone of Agile project management, so being an effective communicator is important for management and individuals to ensure the customer is getting exactly what is needed – nothing more and nothing less. Getting a deliverable in front of a customer early helps teams learn more about purpose behind what they are developing so they can do it better.

It is easy to assume that others know what you know or that others will communicate it for you. It is even easier to assume that your communication was effective. Similarly, it is easy for others to assume you know what they meant to say, even though they never actually said it.

Teams that can communicate well with one another are usually more effective at getting things done. Stakeholders and/or business owners may initiate projects but may not actually do any of the work. Despite this, it is good to keep stakeholders and business owners in the loop when it comes to the status of a project. Most Agile project management teams know that the customer is the most valuable member of the team. The business requirements may contain lots of great information, but having the business owner / stakeholder available for status meetings and questions goes a long way in helping teams understand everything they need to about the project. To bridge the knowledge gap, successful Agile teams continually work to improve their communication, both internally (to fellow developers / programmers) as well as externally (to customers, stakeholders and/or business owners).

Adaptive Change: Coming to Terms with Iterative Work

Although they may not realize it, working iteratively is a technique that many people have already used in their day-to-day management of tasks. Have you ever been up against a deadline and knew you didn’t have time to perfect your work? In that situation, you are forced to deliver what you have so far. Depending on the job, you can go back later and make improvements. If you have effectively prioritized the most important elements of your deliverable, releasing a first iteration with a plan in place to circle back and make it better buys you more time. This also lets you gather feedback from your stakeholder (boss, client, dependent team member) so that your next iteration can be spot on.

A great example of how iterative work helps teams deliver early and often can be seen in the software development world. Before iterative work became well known, software development teams were often asked to complete an entire project before handing it off to a customer. If the deliverable was incorrect, it was back to the drawing board. Today, Agile project management teams complete smaller portions of work before getting feedback from stakeholders and/or customers, allowing everyone to see a working demo and provide feedback before the team continues any further.

Learn more about Agile Project Management and Agile Tools

Image from Mountain Goat Software and Mike Cohn

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