Since the development of the Agile Manifesto in 2001, Agile practices have been gaining traction in many fields. While Agile practices have the biggest apparent impact to software development processes, we have seen Agile practices finding their way into other industries such as education, sales, marketing, financial services, human resources management and even within the C-suites.

Today, Agile practices are believed to be one of the most popular project management techniques due to the positive changes observed around delivering value to the customers.

Using Agile practices can increase the success rate of a project, but if you’re not finding this the case, you may need to take a look at how your team is using it. Pearl Li Ng, Malik Khalfan and Tayyab Maqsood from RMIT University explain how to make Agile work effectively.

What is Agile?

Firstly, it is important to understand the foundations of Agile. The values and principles of Agile include the following (in some way or another):

  • focus on customer value
  • develop and deliver in an iterative and incremental manner
  • encourage experimentation and adaptation
  • promote self-organisation among team members
  • focus on ongoing feedback and continuous improvement
  • emphasise on growth mindset and learning
  • ensure transparency and continuity of work.

What is an Agile sprint?

Typically, an Agile team will use small iterations (called a sprint) to develop a workable product. Most sprints have a fixed timebox of around two to four weeks.

  • Prior to the start of each sprint, the team will gather to define the objectives of the sprint and the key features to be developed during that timebox.
  • During the sprint, the team will gather daily for around 15 minutes to discuss progress and challenges. This activity is commonly known as the daily stand-up.
  • At the end of each sprint, the team will then perform a sprint retrospective or sprint review to discuss lessons learnt and how to make the next sprint better. The team will also perform a showcase to the customers to demonstrate the new features or functionalities developed.

Why Agile works

This new way of working is a powerful way to help team members and customers manage projects better. Based on the 2021 State of Agile Report, these are the top three benefits of adopting Agile.

This is backed by data suggesting that the success rate of a project increases by 28% when Agile practices are applied. Here are the top reasons on why Agile works.

Boosts teamwork collaboration

Having a self-organising team allows team members to play to their strengths, be creative and innovative. Given the team is cross-functional, they can also guide one another and learn new skills. Having the daily stand-ups helps the team manage their workload, collaborate, and coordinate.

Builds better quality products with improved customer satisfaction

Throughout the sprint, testing activities are incorporated in the development process, thus allowing the team to be more proactive in addressing any new issues before it is too late in the development cycle.

Ongoing feedback from the customers also helps with setting the expectations and ensuring the workable product fits their needs, thereby improving their satisfaction. With continuous development and delivery, the business can also increase their speed to market and release new updates frequently. Apple. Inc is a good example of this where we observe a new version of iPhone released every year, each with newly added functionalities.

Increases transparency

The daily stand-up is a key driver for transparency. During each stand-up, each team member needs to share what they have done in the last 24 hours, their plans for the next 24 hours and potential impediments. This helps to keep the team updated and minimised issues such as duplication of work. Not only that, any risks are also tabled during the stand-up so that the right actions can be taken to prevent the risk from materialising.

Why Agile does not work for some projects

As much as Agile can be praised, there are also criticisms on why Agile does not work. There are a few reasons for this.

Lack of awareness and planning

There are many instances where companies decided to adopt Agile without having a clear foundation on how Agile works. This sometimes results in things falling apart and expectations are not met. For instance, there are some misconceptions that a plan is not required for a project since Agile advocates for welcoming changes over following a plan. This is incorrect. The fact is, Agile requires more planning than ever. The Agile ways of working simply means having a plan, but is open to adjusting the plan as the team has new information.

There are many instances where companies decided to adopt Agile without having a clear foundation on how Agile works. This sometimes results in things falling apart and expectations are not met.


Incompatible business model

Some organisations may have strict stage gates and requirements and hence the Agile framework may not be effective. This is particularly relevant to strictly regulated organisations such as health care and defence. For instance, some of the health care systems may be life-critical and have high risks. These systems may require very detailed and well-defined requirements that are signed-off or accepted by key stakeholders. In this scenario, the Waterfall ways would be better suited.

Lack of commitment from leadership and customers

Another common reason why Agile fails to be effective is the lack of commitment from key stakeholders. Agile project management requires everyone in the project team to work in line with the Agile principles, including the end users. Often than not, there will be one or two team members that may not be cooperative, for instance, not attending the daily stand-ups regularly. This will affect the team morale and set a poor precedence. Also, there are times where customers are not available to provide frequent feedback. This will impact the features of the products as the team has no idea on whether they are on the right track, and subsequently may release a product that is not fit-for-purpose. To mitigate these issues, strong leadership influence is required to make sure all parties are committed.

Making Agile effective

Moving forward, to make Agile effective, there are a few things that organisations can do before embarking on an Agile journey.

Awareness is key

Having a full understanding of the business environment we operate in is crucial. For Agile to be effective, everyone needs to be on-board and be ready for a change.

Fill in the gaps through training and coaching

Once the organisation is ready to adopt the Agile ways of working, it is vital for the leadership team to organise training for the team members and customers. This will help to increase and improve the knowledge of Agile within the team, thus reducing miscommunication and misalignment among the team members.

Start small and grow big

When Agile is a stranger to the team or the organisation, it is recommended for the team to start with a small pilot project that has a relatively low risk profile. This allows the team to put their knowledge into practice in a relatively safe environment. When the team is comfortable and have mastered the Agile ways of working, the team may expand its use on larger scale projects and coach other team members.

What’s next?

Agile transformation starts with the people, including C-suites, team members and customers. As the saying goes, practise makes perfect. To make sure Agile works effectively, it is important for team members to have a growth mindset and embrace the learning journey in applying Agile, as it will really be worth it.

If you are thinking about using the Agile approach for your next project, there are  certifications available based on project experience. Here at the Australian Institute of Project Management, you can gain recognition for a completed certification, which includes some Agile credentials, and automatically be granted the AIPM Certified Practising Project Practitioner (CPPP) level of RegPM.