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What you need to know about agile project management

Last updated

11 March 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

Methods and processes matter when it comes to project management, especially in businesses. It’s the flow of productivity, ideas, improvements, and suggestions that impact product effectiveness and business success.

Today’s businesses have to be flexible and collaborative with core offerings to stay competitive and relevant. Product agility to meet customer needs and changing market dynamics is mission-critical.

With speed and adaptability being the name of the game, agile project management may be the most impactful type. As the name implies, this framework for initiating and facilitating project work is rooted in flexibility and collaboration.

Learn more about this popular project management concept in this article, including its applications, benefits, and implementation steps. See if agile could be the most efficient and effective project management method for your projects and teams.

What is agile project management?

Agile project management involves a layered and iterative process for managing various projects. Its focus is the continuous release of new iterations, usually based on customer or user feedback.

It’s an ideal concept for software development, where changes and updates can be incorporated and released quickly.

Agile project management involves a highly collaborative team effort with robust communication and data analysis. The results are decreased product development timelines, expanded teamwork, and faster responses to ever-changing market trends.

Key differences between the agile and waterfall approaches

Both the waterfall and agile approaches focus on organizing flow, release, and overall management. However, waterfall methods tend to be more linear, where you complete step one before moving on to step two. Agile is different in that simultaneous project work and improvements are encouraged throughout each project phase. It also moves faster, avoids process bottlenecks, and provides greater flexibility.

Companies tend to find greater success with agile over waterfall methodologies. 70% of US businesses prefer agile, which is unsurprising given the reported agile success rate was 64% and only 49% for waterfall.

What are the benefits of agile?

There are plenty of reasons why so many project teams and companies are turning to agile methodologies. The advantages of a well-executed agile project are game-changing for results, innovation, and bottom lines. Here’s why:

  • Job satisfaction is improved.

  • Cross-functional collaboration is promoted.

  • Companies are more responsive to customer feedback.

  • Fixes, solutions, and remedies get incorporated faster.

  • Risk management efforts are boosted.

  • There is more employee input.

  • Plenty of room to experiment and adjust.

  • Companies can customize solutions.

Organizational hurdles to adopting agile

You’ll need to consider a few organizational obstacles when adopting agile. Like with any other project management workflow, adjustments will be needed.

Most teams transitioning to an agile methodology can expect to confront other hurdles, including the following:

  • Cultural shift: agile is a change in paradigm, and teams or even leaders may resist the change.

  • Initial time investment: teams transitioning to agile may take longer to deliver on projects as they learn the new processes.

  • Lack of understanding: teams will require proper training to understand agile. They will need to find out how it works and get to grips with their role within the agile team.

  • Scaling agile: the framework and process will need to grow alongside the team.

  • Tooling: agile may require a different set of communication and management tools.

Types of agile methodologies

Scrum

Scrum teams are usually comprised of the following dedicated roles:

  • Scrum master

  • Product owner

  • Scrum team

This model leverages sprints or fixed-length iterations of project work. Within each sprint, there’s an overall structure broken down into four specific ceremonies.

The four ceremonies of scrum

Backlogs are always the starting point in scrum. The methodology outlines two specific backlogs:

  1. Product backlog: usually owned by the product owner and presented as a list of prioritized features

  2. Sprint backlog: filled with issues at the top of the backlog and used to fill the sprint’s capacity

Facilitating the scrum framework involves the following four ceremonies that break down the tasks for teams to tackle:

  1. Sprint planning: involves a team planning meeting where members determine the goals of the upcoming sprint

  2. Sprint demo: a demonstration meeting where members share what has been shipped in a recent sprint

  3. Daily standup: brief “standups,” or micro-meetings, that last only around 15 minutes, allowing the software team to sync up with each other to share daily updates, raise blockers, and discuss other matters

  4. Retrospective: a team review of what worked well and what didn’t, identifying improvements to make for the next sprint

The scrum board

The scrum team will use a scrum board to visualize every task associated with a specific sprint. For example, when the group moves from the product backlog to the sprint backlog, the scrum board outlines the steps visually, like a workflow.

Scrum boards usually list “to-dos” as well as “in progress” and “done” phases of each item in the sprint. These boards are great for collaborative transparency throughout the agile project management process.

Kanban

Agile project management teams can also use the Kanban framework. In this model, the work matches the team’s capacity.

In more of a “get things done quickly” fashion, kanban allows teams to change faster than scrum. There are typically no backlogs in play. Instead, the team focuses on “to-do” tasks and ongoing continuous releases.

All the work is scoped and visible, awaiting execution based on the predefined work in progress (WIP) limits and the teams’ readiness. This prevents work overload.

The four components of kanban

With an “always on the go” approach to project management, there are four components to the kanban framework.

  1. List of work: the full list of work defined by tasks and goals

  2. Columns or lanes: the task differentiators used to separate users, workflows, and projects

  3. Work-in-progress limits: limits that put parameters on the amount of work that can be done based on the team’s capacity

  4. Continuous releases: stories that can be released at any time, within the boundaries of WIPs, to continuously improve output

The kanban board

Use the kanban board to help your teams visualize current and future work. This essential resource also enables a big-picture perspective of project timelines.

Kanban boards can improve team efficiency by keeping members focused and stopping teams from becoming overburdened. Using stories that are structured into lanes and columns, the kanban board provides the visual direction project teams need to allocate tasks, meet deadlines, and resolve issues.

If you have ever used sticky notes to sort your to-do tasks, moving them to a “done” pile when complete, you have already practiced using a basic kanban board.

Agile project managers' responsibilities

When implementing and executing an agile framework, you’ll need a dedicated project manager.

The role of any agile project manager is layered and complex, as this individual will support, direct, and oversee the project and processes. From estimating and reporting to stakeholder communications, the ideal agile project manager has varied tasks.

Agile project estimation

One of the key responsibilities within an agile project management model is project estimation.

Scrum teams will estimate projects based on how much work can be accomplished during each sprint. They will usually make estimations at the beginning of each sprint and review them at the end.

The team members responsible for estimating will often create unique systems to help them. These are great points of reference during the retrospective at the end of a sprint to compare estimated versus actual effort, enabling the team to better estimate similar efforts in the future.

Agile project estimation provides other benefits, including the following:

  • Better allocation of required resources

  • Realistic deadlines and goals

  • Improved role responsibility assignment and management

Agile estimation is more about accuracy than precision, as it allows for margins within those estimates. This allows teams to move forward with less rigid parameters, using results metrics to improve each subsequent iteration.

Agile reporting

At the end of a sprint, you’ll need to measure accuracy, comparing what you actually accomplished against what you originally estimated. This involves agile reporting.

There are countless agile reporting templates to consider for your project, each allowing you to delve into the metrics to gauge the efficiency of the last sprint and improve estimates for the next.

Here are some other agile reporting methods:

  • Project manager reporting: involves reporting project progress to management

  • Line manager reporting: involves team reporting and people management

  • Resource manager reporting: involves designating the right team members for each agile-outlined task

Backlog management and grooming

Backlog management and grooming are other areas of responsibility that come with the agile methodology.

With backlog management, prioritized work lists inform the development team about the roadmap ahead and the requirements. Meanwhile, grooming the backlog enables teams to aim for and achieve long-term goals.

Continuous improvement means adding and removing various items as needs and business objectives change. Think of backlog management as the process for moving the project along, while backlog grooming is your quality control.

Effective stakeholder communication

Lastly, separate from the project oversight and facilitation, project managers need to report details, results, and challenges to stakeholders. Here are some of the most common stakeholder communication methods:

  • Demonstrations

  • Product reviews

  • Retrospectives

  • Traditional reports

Examples of agile

Scrum, adaptive software development (ASD), extreme programming (XP), crystal, and lean software development (LSD) are all examples of agile. Plenty of globally renowned companies use the agile project management method. Here are some of them:

  • Google

  • Yahoo

  • Lego

  • CISCO

  • Siemens

If you’re new to agile concepts, a restaurant would be a more helpful real-life example.

Food is prepared before dining guests arrive in anticipation of dinner orders. This is similar to sprint planning in agile. However, once guests come in, the team continues to customize and deliver meals based on real-time orders. In this case, the meal delivery is like an ad-hoc story.

FAQs

What projects are suitable for agile project management?

Agile is more often used in product design environments because of the complexities involved in their execution. However, agile can also be well suited for any high-level projects that deal with changing requirements or uncertainty.

How do you know if a project is agile?

A project is probably agile if it is continuously released and routinely adapted based on feedback from customers or users. Having the ability to shift during iterations, promoting velocity and greater flexibility, is what makes a project agile.

Is agile suitable for small projects?

Agile is great for small projects, especially those in which the purpose or aims of the product will undergo regular changes. Agile allows for rapid adjustments, no matter the project size.

Is agile suitable for large projects?

Agile can also benefit large projects by streamlining them and promoting collaboration and project flexibility.

What are the differences between agile and project management?

Traditional project management methods, typically reserved for large-scale projects, are often more rigid in structure. Agile, on the other hand, can streamline projects of any size with more robust communication, collaboration, and continuous improvement.

Who runs sprints in agile?

Scrum masters usually run sprints, managing the meetings, sprint goals, and both product and sprint backlogs.

How long is a sprint in agile?

Agile sprints can be as brief as a week or as long as a month depending on the product owner and backlogs. A new sprint usually begins as another ends.

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