Agile Project Management

Agile is a workflow management methodology that uses short development cycles to continuously improve a product, service, or process. Originally developed for software development (with the creation of the Agile Manifesto), Agile helps teams improve quality while reducing cycle times and development costs. Today, Agile project management methods are being used across all disciplines as a way to build structure, accountability, and quality into team workflows. Read to learn the elements of Agile project management and whether this methodology might be right for your organization.

What is Agile Project Management?

In order to understand Agile, it’s helpful to understand why it was created. Before Agile, software development teams often used the waterfall methodology to manage projects. Waterfall is a linear, sequential method of project management, in which teams move sequentially through the various phases in a project, from concept through deployment and maintenance. This method generally supported highly coordinated software launches, which happened periodically (usually a few times a year).  

While in theory, a waterfall approach is logical, in practice, it produces a considerable amount of waste. In order to coordinate efforts across dev teams, organizations would have to undergo extensive planning cycles, relying heavily on estimates. If estimates were inaccurate or projects were delayed due to unforeseen circumstances, dev teams would have to regroup, create new plans, also based on estimates, and race to meet deadlines - often to find that customer requirements and goals had shifted in the process.

Agile emerged as more flexible, iterative approach to development. The Agile method of project management helps companies strike a balance between cutting waste, cutting cost and preserving the quality of the product. Rather than planning work months in advance across multiple teams, Agile organizations could plan in small sprints, in focused cross-functional teams, allowing them to more easily respond to new information, market shifts, delays, and other changes.

Breaking work into smaller chunks and working iteratively to improve products and services allows Agile teams to hone their processes, isolate problems, and achieve specific objectives quickly. This makes Agile teams better suited for achieving any organization’s goal: To satisfy the needs of customers, quickly and effectively.

Elements of Agile Project Management

There are actually several approaches within Agile project management - Scrum is the most popular, but others include Scrumban, Kanban, and XP (Extreme Programming). Each of these Agile project management methods contains some version of the following:

Iterative Development

Iterative development distinguishes Agile project management from other project management methodologies. Iterative development is based on the idea that customer feedback should drive project decisions. Rather than waiting until something is “perfect” before releasing it, Agile teams aim to release bits of value quickly and frequently - and then use customer feedback to make improvements over time. Iterative development allows Agile teams to ensure that their efforts are being used to create products, processes, and services that are truly valuable to customers.

Product Backlogs

In order to deliver quickly, Agile teams use product backlogs to record ideas for future work. This enables Agile teams to stay focused on delivering increments of value as quickly as possible, while methodically organizing ideas so they don’t get lost. When a new idea or request arises, it is placed in the backlog and prioritized against existing work. This helps Agile teams ensure that their efforts are being used to meet the most pressing customer needs first, rather than simply completing work as it arises.

Frequent, Short Meetings

Another key element of Agile project management is the use of frequent, short meetings. Usually called standups, these meetings provide Agile teams with the opportunity to quickly review recently completed work, identify anything blocking progress in ongoing projects, and collaborate to deliver work as quickly and efficiently as possible. Holding these meetings daily (or frequently) helps teams coordinate their efforts, so they can more effectively collaborate to deliver value.

Reviews and Retrospectives

Agile teams move fast - which could make it easy to lose track of valuable learnings and repeat the same mistakes over and over. This is why Agile teams hold regular reviews and retrospectives - to take time to reflect, document, learn, and identify opportunities for improvement.

Focus on Creating Customer Value

Every Agile team shares a similar goal: To deliver customer value faster and more efficiently than ever before. With this goal in mind, teams use Agile project management methods to optimize processes, eliminate waste, and get more done with fewer resources. This not only results in happier customers - using Agile for project management has the potential to drastically improve project ROI, as well.

Learn More

To learn more about using Agile for project management, we recommend the following resources:

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