When it comes to project management, there are many different ways to get the job done. It can be a hair-pulling tornado of frustration sometimes, but the core of the job stays the same. Deadlines need to be met, meetings need to be held, and team members need to be guided. Agile project management is one of the most popular methodologies. Let’s take a closer look at how Agile works.
What is Agile Project Management?
Agile is a value-driven methodology used to increase performance and improvement. This style of project management uses a development cycle referred to as “iterations.” The goal of Agile is to cut out the costly and error-filled habits that many project managers get stuck in. By doing this, you’ll produce better results. Sounds great, right?
As the name might suggest, Agile is all about being flexible and interactive. Even when project goals change and deadlines are moved, Agile is about adapting and changing with it. It’s about thinking about the customer first, so that you get the highest quality product you can produce. With Agile project management, you do all this while staying up to date with real-time information to better manage cost and time.
In order to understand why Agile project management is a great alternative to the other methodologies, let’s compare them.
The Flaws of the Classic Standard Method
The classic standard methods have many faults, some of which are:
- Huge time and effort spent on the planning phase
This is mainly due to the fact that you’re planning the entire project up front. You have to find resources, evaluate costs, and assign tasks for the entirety of the project.
- When plans do change, it’s harder to adapt
This isn’t very cost effective. If you are caught in a bind during the middle of the project, you may need to acquire entirely new resources, which can create chaos and put you over budget.
- Treating your team as if they’re a factor of production
Often times, projects are underestimated. This usually results in massive changes of the schedule and resources. Doing it this way, you end up treating your team as a resource, and blaming the team if the requirements are not met. This dynamic can create animosity among your team members, which makes it harder to complete the project.
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The Characteristics of Agile
There’s quite a difference between the standard method and Agile. Agile project management is often more efficient than any standard method. There are a few characteristics that set it apart.
- It’s driven in development cycles.
Each iteration lasts about 1-4 weeks. As a result, each cycle can be evaluated regularly. These iterations help you to focus on improving the development of your specific project.
- It’s based on periods of time.
The duration of each iteration is fixed and cannot be modified. This way, there is always a productive result at the end of each iteration.
- It’s open towards the client.
At the end of each iteration, there is a result that can be presented to the client. It gives your team a milestone, while also giving the client a look into what’s going on.
The 12 Principles of Agile
The principles behind the Agile project management methodology are known as the 12 principles of Agile. The principles are used as a guiding light just in case you find yourself in the dark. The best thing about these principles is that they’re simple and easy to remember:
- Priority lies in delivering early and continuous software to a satisfied customer.
- Welcome change, even in late development. Agile harnesses any change and uses it for everyone’s advantage.
- Deliver product frequently, but stick to your iterations. This is especially important because even if you have a working product in the first week, it allows for testing and rework if needed.
- Stakeholders and team members must work together daily. Bridge the communication gap and stay on top of exactly what the customer wants.
- Your team should consist of motivated individuals. Give them the resources and space they need and watch them fly.
- Face-to-face conversations are always the most effective and efficient. It’s always better to get the information directly from the source than through multiple different channels. That way, you know that the information you have is the most accurate, and if you have any questions, you can get a direct response.
- Working product is the primary measure of progress.
- A constant pace of progress should be the standard. Don’t lose that momentum. Set milestones and deadlines and always meet them.
- Attention to excellent functionality and design enhances agility.
- Simplicity. We’ve all heard the term, “Don’t work harder than you have to.” This applies wholeheartedly to Agile project management. Don’t waste time.
- A self-organized team is the best team. A team that knows how to organize itself will be more efficient and productive than a team that needs constant supervision.
- A team should regularly pause and think about how they can improve. There’s always room for improvement. Have regularly scheduled meetings focused on discussing how everyone could be doing better.
There’s a lot of information there, but if you read it, it’s almost common sense. Always have something like this list available. Use a cheat sheet, don’t be ashamed! There’s plenty of time for practice. What you don’t implement well in one iteration, try again in the next. Sometimes the most obvious things are the ones that we forget most.
How Is It Done?
Agile project management is focused on dividing the workload into increments. By doing this, you’ve set milestones and divided the workload into more manageable pieces. Now, there are smaller windows to look at when you need to test development or look back at a specific aspect.
After each development cycle, the team and the project stakeholders gather and critique what they can. Once that’s done, the next steps in the project can be determined. The main benefit of doing it this way is to address issues as they come up and correct them before it’s too late.
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Agile Project Management Roles
Any team, regardless of what methodology they use, should run like clockwork. Everyone should have a clear understanding of their role in the project from the beginning. There are clear, outlined roles when it comes to Agile project management.
- Product owner. This is the person in charge of communication between the customer, stakeholders, and development team. The product owner should be an expert on the product as well as the customer’s needs. The product owner should work daily with the development team to make sure that everyone stays on track.
- Development team members. These are the people responsible for creating the product. They are the designers, programmers, testers, writers, engineers, and anyone else who is hands-on with the product.
- Scrum Master. Sometimes called a “project facilitator”, a scrum master is responsible for supporting the development team. They will clear organizational roadblocks and keep the Agile process alive. A scrum master could best be described as a servant leader.
- Stakeholders. Stakeholders are people who are not necessarily responsible for the product, but ultimately provide input on the outcome of the product.
- Agile mentor. An Agile mentor is someone who has experience with implementing Agile. They provide helpful tips and critique where needed. Although they’re not really there to help with any sort of development, they should apply principles in such a way that it indirectly affects the outcome in a positive way.
How to Implement Agile Project Management
Before you implement Agile into your workflow, you should explain clearly why this change is needed. Furthermore, you should introduce Agile into your entire business, not just into one department. That way, everyone is on the same page.
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If you don’t have much experience with Agile project management, seek consulting advice. Most importantly, listen to your team members. Get feedback and have genuine conversations about how Agile is affecting them. Last, but not least, celebrate success. It will be beneficial for the changes that may follow.
Agile is not for everyone and it’s certainly not for every project. There are two drawbacks to using such a methodology.
- Projects can go off track if you’re not careful.
By breaking a project down and adapting at every milestone, you can easily lose sight of the original purpose of the project. For this reason alone, it is very important to have stakeholders and clients present when discussing the next steps of the project.
- Agile relies on the ability to make quick decisions that greatly affect the future of the project.
If you like to dwell on questions, this might be something to consider when thinking about implementing Agile. Big decisions need to be made at the end of every cycle in order for everyone to move on.
Scrum and Agile
Scrum is one of the many subsets of Agile software development. A different flavor of Agile, if you will. In the Scrum methodology, a sprint (iteration) is the basic unit of measure for development time. Before the work begins in each sprint, the team holds a planning meeting. In these meetings, tasks are identified and assigned and goals are set for that specific sprint. At the end of the sprint, the team reviews the project. This usually ends with critiques and changes to the timeline and project as a whole. Then, the team identifies the next project to sprint on.
There is a common misconception that Agile is Scrum. This is not the case. Scrum is a framework of Agile. There are many ways they are the same, but there are many ways they differ. For example, at the end of each Scrum sprint, a finished portion of the project is completed. On the other hand, in the Agile development method, you’ll go through a full cycle of programming, coding, design, and testing before the end of the sprint.
This is just one of the many examples of Agile frameworks that have been developed over the years. Other examples include Extreme Programming (XP), Crystal, Feature Driven Development, DSDM Atern, and many more. They all have their roots in Agile, but have different methods of executing each sprint/phase/iteration.
In order to be able to implement this methodology, you have to change your mindset. Here are some of the values you and your team need to adopt if you want to succeed in Agile project management:
- The priority is to satisfy the clients’ needs by producing the highest quality product in a timely manner.
- Changes to the master plan are always welcomed, even if it’s late in development.
- The shorter the iterations, the better. But, always be ready to show results.
These statements basically summarize Agile project management. Like any other methodology, it isn’t written in stone. Just like the method itself states, you should be able to adapt and to change at any given moment. If a certain aspect of this methodology isn’t quite working right, tweak it until you get the desired result: a high-quality product in a cost-efficient and timely manner and a happy customer.
Put Agile in Action
Agile is for anyone looking to maximize efficiency without sacrificing quality. It takes quite a lot of practice to get those two things right, but the end result is totally worth it. Agile is about accepting that everything and everyone can improve. It’s about embracing change and using it to make the product even better.
That being said, always refer to the core principles of Agile. While they aren’t difficult to understand, sometimes they can get lost in the jungle of project management. It’s not for every project, but it can be a great option if you’re willing to commit to the principles.