Manage Change Like a Pro with Agile Project Management

Busy teams looking for a way to control scope and improve project execution timelines turn to Agile project management.

The Agile method helps companies strike a healthy balance between cutting waste, cutting cost and preserving the quality of the product.

Along with delivering value to the customer in a quick and cost-effective way, Agile project management supports project complexities in a way that a traditional waterfall approach cannot.

With Agile, teams can:

  • Deliver products more quickly
  • Adapt to changes more easily
  • Spend less time chasing information
  • Improve execution timelines
  • Facilitate teamwork and collaboration
  • Save overhead cost of working on a project

Agile is an adaptive methodology that emphasizes iterative work, or change-driven work that is done within project cycles that entails team collaboration and ongoing involvement of stakeholders. Collaboration and stakeholder feedback are critical in an Agile environment, especially when the end result is unknown to some degree. In a typical Agile environment, iterations of work are presented during each phase. This allows teams to reevaluate the project based on stakeholder feedback and redistribute work accordingly. Working in increments, rather than completing the pieces of a project in larger chunks, provides a way for project teams to stay on track and for customers to get exactly what they want without overspending.

Agile contains several flavors, or methodologies, which make it possible for Agile project management teams to tailor their approach to fit specific business needs. Subsets of Agile include:

  • Scrum
  • DSDM
  • Kanban
  • Scrumban
  • Extreme Programming (XP)

All companies are slightly different in their inner workings. Unique hierarchal structures, reporting mechanisms, the choice to outsource certain functions and unique business needs that are reactive to an overarching business climate are just some of the factors that drive the decisions companies make. The decision of which project management method to use is no different.

Depending on the way in which a company does business according to the current business climate, a company may focus more on saving costs or more on producing the best possible product. However; most of the time, companies want to save as much on costs as possible while preserving the quality of their product. The Agile method of project management helps companies strike a balance between cutting waste, cutting cost and preserving the quality of the product. Furthermore, Agile teams are able to get products to market faster, which helps them collect feedback on those products for future improvements. This contributes to a culture of continuous improvement and makes Agile teams very good at keeping up with the most up-to-date needs of customers.

How are Agile Projects Managed?

Agile projects are typically managed by the team doing the work. Along with the project lead and an inner circle of stakeholders and/or product owners, projects are kept on track via brief daily stand-up meetings (usually centered around a project or stand-up board) and frequent interactions between team members. A stakeholder is a person who has mandated the project or funded the project (from a departmental budget). A product owner sets goals for the project, negotiates the scope of work and helps to prioritize the pieces of work once the scope has been decided.

Many Agile teams assign a project leader to officiate status meetings. The role of a project lead on an Agile team is also to ensure the team is focusing on the efforts that were agreed upon during project planning and to engage the product owner when questions arise. The project leader should be well-versed in Agile and should be able to coach individuals on how to work in an Agile environment while driving the project forward.

How Can Teams Benefit from Agile Project Management?

Teams can benefit from the Agile approach to project management in many ways. Here, we will explore two ideas that form the foundation of why so many teams have adopted Agile as a best practice.

  1. Because customers usually cannot finalize business requirements until they have seen a prototype, Agile is suitable for open-ended projects.
  2. Changing priorities within the business may impact any number of details related to a project, including scope and even the project’s overall objective.

Let’s examine these two thoughts in more detail.

In an ideal world, business requirements for projects would be finalized before the project begins, and they would remain the same throughout the entire project. But we don’t live in an ideal world. In the real world, business owners communicate business requirements using the information they have available at the time. However; when priorities change, so do business requirements. Due to the speed with which technology becomes obsolete, software development projects are especially prone to this type of change. It is difficult to accurately ask for something before you really know what you want, so project owners find themselves in the tough position of having to anticipate the true needs of their customers before the customers themselves even know exactly what that need is. Because this challenge is not likely to go away anytime soon, it has led to the wide adoption of iterative development methods including Agile and all its subsets.

In an ideal world, business requirements for projects would be finalized before the project begins, and they would remain the same throughout the entire project. But we don’t live in an ideal world.

Working iteratively enables teams to move projects forward without having to understand what the project fully entails. Iterative teams deliver small portions of the work during the project and provide the opportunity for customers to review the work and correct course based on changes in business requirements or priorities. This communication between the customer and the team allows for continued focus on high-value deliverables and helps control project cost by limiting wasted effort.

The Value of Agile Project Management

Any team that is not currently using Agile work methods or practicing Agile for project management should examine the benefits. Long-term savings in project overhead costs and gains in return on investment (ROI) are usually enough for teams to justify switching to Agile.

But what does it take to “switch” to Agile? If a team has had little to no exposure to these concepts, they should begin by allowing the principles of Agile to guide them in their day-to-day operations. Practice working iteratively and collaborating more. Start using a kanban board and hold brief daily standup meetings. Once a team becomes familiar with these new philosophies, they can take the next step to adopting a formal Agile method for project management.

Whether or not your focus is on continuous improvement, the Agile methodology can be extremely valuable to companies that want to reduce the cost of running projects. The value associated with using Agile for project management can be broken down into several key areas, including:

  • Predictability
  • Adaptability
  • Scalability

Is Agile Project Management Right for You?

The Agile method for project management is an effective set of principles teams can follow to produce more using less while improving their existing processes. As you learn more about Agile and its methodologies, you may discover a method that works best for you, or you may find Agile in its truest form to be the best approach. Regardless of your level of knowledge or years of practice, Agile project management has the potential to transform the way you work.

Learn more about Agile and find tools to help you manage your own Agile projects. »

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