An overview of Agile project management

 

If you are looking to build a career in project management or are already doing so, chances are Agile is likely to be a concept you have at least heard of, particularly if you work in software, technology or product development.

The first thing to understand is that Agile is not a project management methodology in itself, rather an approach to managing projects that provides a flexible and iterative solution. Agile is all about empowered, self-organising teams of professionals regularly delivering value to the customer.

 

"Agile is an umbrella term used for many iterative methodologies and techniques. Amongst these, Lean and Six Sigma are appropriate for manufacturing and product development. Whereas Scrum, Kanban, DSSM, and Extreme Programming are more suitable for IT projects.”

Dr. Fatima Afzal, Associate Lecturer at the School of Project Management at the University of Sydney

 


Topics covered in this article

What is the history of Agile in project management?
What are the values and principles of Agile project management?
Who manages the delivery of Agile projects?
What are the different Agile frameworks and project delivery methods?

Which Agile framework or method should I choose?
Is Agile good for any project?




What is the history of Agile in project management?

Agile’s core values and principles were formulated in 2001, by 17 technology leaders on retreat in Snowbird in the mountains of Utah. While some would argue the Agile style of managing projects started long before the word ‘agile’ was defined by these 17 technology leaders, it’s important if you’re going to adopt this approach to have an understanding of the values and principles of the Agile manifesto.
 

“If you want to understand Agile, start with the Agile Manifesto. It’s the definition and it holds up well. Then figure out how you can uphold those principles in your organisation. That’s Agile. You can learn a tremendous amount from others who have gone before you but your answer to what Agile is in your context will be different.”

Melinda Harrington, Enterprise Agile Coach at Woolworths Group


What are the values and principles of Agile project management? 

 

The 4 Agile values

 
  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation.

  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

  4. ​Responding to change over following a plan.
     

 

Four-Agile-Values.png



The 12 Agile principles

 

12-Agile-Principles.png 

 


Who manages the delivery of Agile projects?

In Agile frameworks like Scrum, Project Manager competencies are shared by the members of the team. However, a project manager may be needed to organise the many interactions and to provide direction in the event of changes that occur outside the project. The project management style for Agile needs to be supportive, empowering, facilitating, communicative, holistic, and cooperative.
 


What are the different Agile frameworks and project delivery methods?

More and more organisations are adopting an Agile mindset to develop and deliver solutions. Whilst the term ‘Agile’ was first defined in the field of software delivery, it has proved to be equally effective in other areas. So if you’re looking for a flexible and iterative solution to managing your projects, then one of the frameworks or methods below that fall under the Agile umbrella could be just the answer:

  • Scrum: The concept of Scrum originated from a paper published in the Harvard Business Review titled The New New Product Development Game. Scrum is known to be suitable for IT projects and uses the metaphor of the rugby scrum and applies it to software development. Scrum is highly collaborative, involving both the team and the customer and involves responding quickly to change with frequent feedback cycles.

  • Lean: Developed by manufacturer Toyota as a way to improve business processes, Lean is an approach typically used for manufacturing and product development. It has a focus on value, eliminating waste and continuous improvement. It’s important to note that its definition is open to interpretation with the Project Management Institute (PMI) stating “Lean is a business philosophy, not just a tool set or method for improvement.”

  • Six Sigma: Another project management approach that is best suited to manufacturing and product development is Six Sigma. Similarly, to Lean it has a focus on improving processes, and removing waste, whilst understanding the customers’ requirements. As explained by Aziz Moujib in this PMI Conference Paper, one could consider “Lean and Six Sigma principles as a common methodology to reach excellence in projects”.

  • Kanban: An extremely popular method for software and IT teams, Kanban is a Lean method which originated on the Toyota factory floors and is also known to fall under the Agile umbrella. The method involves project teams mapping out work to be completed on a Kanban board, so that work is transparent and easy to visualise. Once a task (or item) is completed, the product owner will pull the next priority to be actioned from the product backlog.  ​
Agile-projects-(3).jpg


 

Which Agile framework or method should I choose?

A quick internet search will reveal that by no means are these four Agile approaches the only ones that have Agile at their core. Finding the right one for you and your project team is worth some further research and consideration, as every organisation, project, and team are different.

Know your project goals and determine the variables, dependencies and activities that are crucial for your project. Identify the metrics and success factors that are most critical and review each framework or method for the best match. Engage your team in the decision-making process and assess their familiarity and experience with the different Agile frameworks and methods. Consider your organisational culture and how it might gel with the required team dynamics of each approach. Finally, whatever choice you make, stick to it! Changing horse mid-race rarely ends well.
 


Is Agile good for any project?

While Agile has many benefits, it’s important to note that it may not work for every organisation or project and a more traditional project management methodology or approach may be needed if you are required to follow a strict process for managing the lifecycle of a project. However, there are numerous examples of non-tech organisations using Agile to improve productivity, deliver products and improve operational efficiency. Its application is widespread in industries as diverse as marketing, education, and auto manufacturing.

The beauty of Agile is that as a mindset it's designed to allow for flexibility and adaption.

If you are looking to adopt Agile as an approach to your non-tech projects there are a few key tenets to keep in mind alongside Agile’s values and principles:

  1. Organise work into shorter periods of less than one month and focus on the most important tasks that will have the most impact in achieving the end goal.

  2. Let the project team decide how the work is to be carried out and encourage self-determination and adaption. Construct teams that have the required expertise but have a breadth of knowledge, so that all can participate in completing tasks and solving problems.

  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Openness and honest feedback is fundamental to continuous, iterative project management. Working closely with the key stakeholders, customers or end users throughout the project ensures the project deliverables are always aligned with expected outcomes, even if they change.


project manager self assessment quiz