When working on a project, you can take a variety of approaches to complete it. It is always best to set a course of action from the start. Project managers often turn to specific models when sketching out their plans for completion. Traditional project management models focus on five steps: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and completion.
Agile project management is another approach. With the agile project management model, there are often far more than five steps, but this doesn't necessarily mean the project will take longer. In fact, your team could complete the project sooner. That's part of the reason why agile project management is becoming common in many industries.
What is agile project management (APM)?
Agile project management is an iterative approach to project management. In the agile method, you complete small steps, known as "iterations," to finish a project. A product of some sort typically follows an iteration, with clients immediately able to give their feedback on these products. As such, in the agile process, you move away from working on large projects for long periods without outside involvement. The goal is to focus on a series of smaller tasks that more deftly meet your long-term goals as well as your clients'.
What is the difference between project management and agile project management?
Whereas the traditional project management and product development process follows a linear path, agile methodology is nonlinear and thus allows for deviance from an ordered set of steps.
APM comprises short tasks that facilitate quicker routes to product development and more frequent, thorough feedback from clients. In turn, teamwork and collaboration become easier, since more feedback on more products is available. [Read related article: Pros and Cons of 7 Project Management Styles]
Who uses agile management?
Agile management is most common in software development and IT. That's because the iterations of an agile software development project result in client feedback along the way, so software developers can adjust small lines of code as a project develops instead of conducting a massive overhaul upon completion. As any developer knows, changes to one line of code can set off a ripple effect of additional changes – a sort of chaos sequence that agile project management helps to avoid.
Of course, agile management isn't solely a software strategy. It's becoming common in several industries prone to uncertainty, such as marketing, automotive manufacturing and even the military. All these industries stand to benefit from a key advantage of the iterative approach: building a solution in real time instead of working toward an inflexible, predefined outcome.
What are the four core values of agile project management?
When implementing APM practices into your company's operations, start by transforming its four core values into the basis of all your workflows. These are the core values, as outlined in the Agile Manifesto:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Although the second core value mentions software, you can theoretically apply the logic of working parts over thorough documentation to any long-term project. Learning another key component of the Agile Manifesto – its 12 principles – may help you see how.
What are the 12 principles of agile?
These are the 12 principles of agile project management from the Agile Manifesto. (Keep in mind that you can replace the word "software" with whatever product your company sells.)
- "Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software." Some clients may become uneasy when they don't see any finished products or other clear updates after extended periods of work. The early and continuous delivery described in the Agile Manifesto circumvents this issue.
- "Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage." This way, you work not toward a rigid idea of a solution, but an ever-adapting product that addresses the pain point identified long before the solution was fully clear.
- "Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale." With each deliverable you provide to a client, you lessen the chances that you'll need to make massive changes to one part of a project that will have a ripple effect on other parts. You also increase your transparency and ability to collaborate, thus keeping your clients happier.
- "Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project." This principle reminds project teams that those who prioritize business may have different views and needs from those who focus on product research and development. As such, it can be easy to drift away from shared goals without daily collaboration.
- "Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done." Creating a space in which team members have the tools and supervisor support to move through iterations is key to efficiently guiding a project from loose idea to firm final product.
- "The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation." No, you shouldn't entirely forgo email, phone, and digital communication, but real-time conversations may be best for identifying challenges and brainstorming feasible solutions. They're also best for explaining progress and next steps to clients.
- "Working software is the primary measure of progress." Showing results and products is the easiest way to demonstrate that you're addressing the needs you've identified, even if your way of doing so looks different than initially expected.
- "Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely." Establishing consistent workflows in which team members know how much work they should expect to put into a project is part and parcel of agile project management. With these workflows in place, team members won't become overwhelmed and will be able to properly move a project forward.
- "Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility." Agile project management is iterative, not long-term. As such, team members may find it easier to consistently focus on quality, not quantity. This means fewer mistakes to fix later and thus higher agility in completing projects.
- "Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential." Agile project management seeks to maximize efficiency and limit the number of massive changes that need to be made after a project is supposed to be finished.
- "The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams." Your team should decide for itself how to best divide work and meet the client's needs.
- "At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly." The iterative process, while partially intended to avoid massive last-moment changes, can never be perfect. That's why teams should regularly review their processes and figure out how to improve on them moving forward.
What is the agile project management process?
There are two primary models for the agile project management process: Scrum and Kanban. While there are differences between the two, their approaches comprise roughly the same six primary steps:
1. Project plans
Just as in traditional project management, you should at least set some basic frameworks – problems to be solved, possible solutions – before getting started. If you're using Scrum methodology, the Scrum master will lead the team in mapping this path.
2. Project maps
The map planned in the previous step should comprise each deliverable to be worked toward during an iteration. In both the Scrum and Kanban methods, these steps should be defined, but only in Scrum should a firm timeline be set. In Kanban, you can instead use a Kanban board to manage your team's workload. Other project management tools will likely come in handy for mapping as well.
3. Deliverable dates
In this step, you can turn to your Scrum board to establish firm timelines for completing each iteration, or you can use your Kanban board to get a rough sense of how long each task might take. A Gantt chart, which provides a visual representation of a project schedule, may also prove helpful.
4. Division of labor
With your path and deadlines in place, assign work to each member of your team. Simplicity is essential, so you should evenly distribute the workload among your entire team. Visual workflow representations may help you achieve this goal.
5. Regular updates
To achieve the final of the 12 agile principles, commit to daily meetings in which team members state what they've achieved and what's next for them. Keep these meetings brief in accordance with the simplicity principle, but not so short that team members have no valuable information.
6. Client interaction
In the final stage of agile project management, the client joins. You unveil your iteration's deliverable to the client and determine how to implement any requested changes. You will also discuss workflow improvements and achievements to determine how you can improve your process on the next go-round.
Benefits of agile project management
These are some of the benefits of transitioning your company to agile project management:
- Less uncertainty. Agile project management originated in the software industry because developers often identify a need and then gradually figure out how the solution will look. The iterations and regular feedback of APM allow development teams to efficiently reshape their products to better suit the identified need. This results in a final product that requires fewer changes than it might have with traditional project management approaches.
- Higher-quality products. With improvements and client feedback at every step of the way (instead of it all coming at the end), your products will be better suited to address the problems you initially identified.
- Stronger collaboration. The six steps outlined in the agile management process make for improved, more frequent collaboration between not just your team members, but your company and its clients too.
- Fewer wasted resources. The simplicity principle of agile project management manifests as fewer employee hours spent working on a project, and your employees' time is among your most important resources. So is money – and with more consistent client feedback, you'll encounter fewer instances of spending more money to fix mistakes you could have avoided in the first place.
At the end of the day, agile project management benefits everyone involved, both in and outside your company.