Benefits of Agile Development

There are many advantages of Agile methodology for project management. Agile methods can help teams manage work more efficiently and do the work more effectively while delivering the highest quality product within the constraints of the budget. While Agile teams work well as a unit and are able to react better to the inevitable changes that come with most projects, there is one facet of project management that Agile teams often overlook: visual management.

With visual management, Agile teams can enhance their ability to work effectively by presenting the data in a visual way (rather than in list-form on a spreadsheet or in a wiki). This way, it is easier to comprehend project details and easier to manage change.

Major benefits of visual project management for Agile include:

  • Visibility of project details
  • Increased team efficiency
  • Ability to adapt to changes
  • Ability to scale

Let’s take a closer look at some key characteristics of an Agile team and explore how visual management can help.

Agile Characteristics

Agile is a method for getting the work done that really matters. For example, instead of spending hours or days building out a detailed project plan that may, or may not be how the project actually plays out, an Agile team would begin with a small portion of work, see how that goes, then continue down the path once enough feedback has been gathered to indicate they are on the right path.

Principles of how to work as an Agile team are laid out in the Agile Manifesto, a set of guidelines that were developed by software developers to establish expectations around how to operate. These principles place people before processes and tools, working software over documentation, collaboration over negotiation and change management over project planning.

One of the primary areas of focus for Agile teams is the ability to work iteratively. Iterative work is completed in short cycles where a small portion of the overall project is done at one time. The main benefit of iterative work is that less work gets wasted. That is, when something changes about the project, the amount of re-work that must be done is minimized. In other words, teams don’t have to go too far down one path, only to find out they must back-track and start all over again.

The theme of iterative work extends beyond the project level and can be applied by breaking down any amount of work into manageable tidbits that can be clearly represented visually. One rule of thumb when practicing visual management with iterative work is that all work should be broken own as much as possible so that a team can see the work, prioritize the most important items, divide and conquer.

It is not uncommon for software development projects to take months or even years to complete. During a project’s timeline, changes can occur either in technology or with the business requirements. Changes to the business requirements of a project usually mean the project will take more time, and more time means more cost. Because change is the only constant when it comes to project management, incremental work methods like Agile are necessary to help control a project’s final cost. And in the software world, costs can skyrocket quickly and are the primary driver of a company’s decision to either go forward with a project or not.

Team Efficiency

Agile teams are known to be highly efficient at getting work done. Because Agile teams share a collaborative culture, efficiencies tend to have a ripple effect. When everyone agrees on what the most important work is, and when each person is able to focus on the most important work, the entire team moves forward in unison, falling into steady cycles of work production and product releases which contribute to the predictability of Agile projects. As you can see by the relationships between efficiency, collaboration and predictability, the characteristics of an Agile team are interconnected so that one characteristic feeds into the next, forming a holistic set of habits that can be described as Agile.

The relationships between efficiency, collaboration and predictability are interconnected so that one characteristic feeds into the next, forming a holistic set of habits that can be described as Agile.

Adaptability of a Software Development Team

Project managers cannot see into the future, but they can impact how easily a team is able to adapt to changes when they occur. The ability to adapt to change is a cornerstone of Agile project management and is one of the key advantages of Agile methodology. When teams put their time to good use, they are able to deliver what the customer wants without overspending. This not only makes customers happy, it also makes project teams happy in knowing they have used their skills to deliver a quality product.

Scalability of Agile Projects

Time and cost are the main factors in determining whether a company will go forward with a project. How long will the project take? What will it cost? Will it be worth the initial investment to get this project done? What else could be done with the same resources and team members that may hold more value? The last question is the most important one to this discussion because it touches on a key point: The larger the company, the greater the need for an Agile project management system.

How best to utilize people and resources is a question that comes up constantly, especially for companies that cannot predict the frequency of projects yet to come. As companies continue to struggle with having too much work and not enough people to do it, new ways of scaling projects have emerged. Productivity analyses can help teams understand how the same amount of people can work smarter and produce more without upscaling. Conversely, companies want to be careful not to commit too many resources to a project only to find the value does not justify the costs associated with getting it done.

Instead of evaluating whether their team members are focusing on the work that holds the most value, some companies skirt the issue by requiring team members to work longer hours. While this may be a short-term solution for a sudden, one-time increase in workload, overworking team members can quickly take a toll, resulting in lowered team morale and decreased productivity.

A key advantage of Agile methodology is that it is a scalable project management tool. Not only can the principles of Agile be applied across multiple functions within a project team, it can also be applied to multiple project teams and leveraged by project management offices (PMOs) to analyze productivity and identify areas of improvement. Using Agile project management helps companies pool resources and assign the right people to the right projects (according to need or priority).

Predictability for Agile Project Managers

Companies measure the value of a project in terms of cost and returns. If the returns from a project outweigh the cost, then a company may decide to go forward with that project. But if the cost of a project is unknown, as it is with many projects these days, predicting the outcome of that project in terms of success becomes almost impossible. For this reason, predictability in projects is important. One advantage of Agile methodology is that when companies take the time on the front end to plan a project using Agile techniques, they are able to estimate the cost of a project to determine whether or not they should continue.

There is no single characteristic of Agile that makes it work so well as a way to manage projects. Instead, it is the holistic practice of Agile that makes development teams successful. When project teams choose to practice Agile, they are practicing a concept that is still evolving, making this one of the best ways to work in a culture of continuous improvement.

Learn more about Agile development and find tools for Agile software development teams. »

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