What is Agile Project Management?
Imagine for a moment that you’re cooking the stew for the first time. As you’re cooking, you’re following a recipe that you found online. If you follow the instructions to a tee, it’s going to taste fantastic – just like the reviews say. When it’s done, you pour yourself a bowl and take a sip – and cringe. Disgusting.
Well, you kinda deserved that.
Have you ever seen a chef send a dish out without tasting it several times at every stage of the process?
That is precisely what agile project management is – taste-testing the stew at various points to ensure that it’s tasting the way it should.
Agile Project Management Defined
Agile project management is an iterative or incremental approach to completing projects. Agile is flexible and adaptive, relying on constant feedback from stakeholders and teams in order to steer a project towards the desired goal.
Agile is most popular in the software industry, but it has found homes in information technology, engineering, product development, and marketing industries to name a few.
How effective is Agile?
What are the benefits of Agile?
The agile approach has many benefits. The one that stands out the most is increased team efficiency based on several factors. These factors are expressed by this list via Segue Technologies – 8 key benefits of agile project management:
- Stakeholder Engagement & Collaboration
- Transparency & High Visibility
- Early and predictable delivery
- Predictable costs and schedule
- Flexible and allows for change
- Focuses on Users
- Focuses on business value
- Improves quality
The common problems that agile seeks to solve are many. However, the approach must be used by the right teams on the right kinds of projects to have a clear impact. In the next section, we’ll explore how to take the next steps and put agile into action.
How to be Agile
Everyone is talking about agile, but are they implementing agile strategies on a daily basis?
Let’s take a look at how you can apply agile methodologies at your workplace for better results.
- Satisfying customers with timely and accurate delivery of software
- Recognizing that project discoveries cannot be eliminated with extensive planning
- Having the customer and project team collaborate and work together toward the goal
- Keeping the team motivated by providing a good work environment and a sustainable workload
- Removing waste and misunderstandings in communications by interacting face-to-face
- Being more effective through team self-organization
- Pursuing continuous improvement and reflecting frequently on how to be more effective
- Deliver code that is extensible
- Using numerous metrics but mainly focusing on how much software is working or complete
The Good Outcomes of Agile
Steve Denning discussed the 12 stages of agile transformation and shared some insights from how massive the impact can be. Below are some examples of companies who have done well with agile:
“For example, Microsoft, which began with one team in 2008, several teams in 2009, some 25 teams in 2010 in the Visual Studio group, then several hundred teams in the Developer Division in 2011, and then a commitment to take Agile across the whole organization around 2014. The journey is still underway today.”
“For instance, in 2006, Salesforce.com went all-out with change across the whole organization from the start and successfully completed a transformation from traditional management to Agile management in just three months. But even here, Salesforce already had a team in the organization that had already successfully run a high-visibility project using iterative methods. This experience served as an example for other teams.”
The Negative Outcomes
When you introduce a new way to work, it won’t resonate with everyone. You may find that certain members of your team are not up to scratch, or are resisting the change. Agile exposes people to how much work they output and how quickly which can be uncomfortable. At that point, it’s important to give them the chance to show that they can keep up or cut your losses and let them go. This doesn’t always mean at the team level either. If your entire organization is undergoing agile transformation, this can also include the executive team.
“Some of the people just loved what I was saying,” says Carlson, “and some of them didn’t. They thought aspiring to be the best in the world was impossible but I didn’t see any alternative. I eventually replaced eight vice presidents. I didn’t fire anybody. They were all solid professionals, but they just didn’t want to work this way.” – Curt Carlson – CEO, SRI International.
10 Steps to Successful Agile Transformation for Teams
If you’ve read this far, you’re ready to transform your team into an agile Ferrari.
1. Understand your Needs
Agile is not suitable for every type of project, but once you determine what business problem you’re trying to solve with agile, you’ll know if it can be solved.
Examples of reasons why teams move to agile include:
- To decrease project duration, in order to get products to market faster
- The project deliverables and direction needs to be adjusted as new information becomes available
- having issues with task status transparency
- To deliver a higher quality end-product
- Too much time wasted and a general lack of efficiency
These are all good reasons to pilot the agile project management methodology.
2. Understand your capabilities
Now that you’ve determined your needs and the business problems you want to solve, it’s time to take a look at how you can make your team more agile without impacting productivity. According to the Project Management Institute, agile processes initially slow a team down because of the learning curve. For example, it took Microsoft an entire year to get it right.
“Initially there was a lot of pain,” says Microsoft’s Aaron Bjork. ”It took a long time before we could actually ship at the end of a three-week sprint. In reality, we were running three-week milestones. That’s all they were. We would get to the end of a sprint and a team would claim that a feature was done and be celebrating and then I would try to use it and it wouldn’t work. The team would say, ‘Oh, we didn’t do the set-up and upgrade for it.’ And I would ask, ‘I thought you said it was done?” And they would reply, ‘Well, yes, it’s done. We just didn’t do the setup and upgrade.’ It took a long time for everyone to grasp that we needed to get fully done in every sprint. It took about a year to learn how to do it.” Aaron Bjork, Microsoft
We suggest taking smaller steps when rolling out agile practices to increase productivity. The size of your team will also determine how agile you can be.
It’s commonly known that smaller teams are naturally more agile than larger ones – which may have been Microsoft’s issue. A best practice is to start with one small team and then scale up once that team is successful.
The ideal run-time for an agile pilot is 8-12 weeks for small teams but can persist for much longer with larger teams.
3. Choose the right team
Once management has decided to move forward with agile, it’s time to choose the team that will spearhead the initiative. This team is often made up of leaders across the organization who are interested in championing agile project management. The transformation itself is something that should evolve organically.
Some Agile methodologies even distribute project management responsibilities across a number of people in the organization, to prevent a project manager from becoming a bottleneck.
Understand that not everyone will be willing to work this way. If your organization works in a different way and has done so for ages (and it seems to be working) you may even find that certain individuals may be resilient to the change, even if you’re focused on one small team. Changes, big or small, take time to implement, and more importantly to be accepted and adopted. Make sure the team you choose is excited about using agile methodologies.
4. Choose an Agile Methodology
There are three main agile methodologies to consider: Scrum, Kanban or Extreme Programming.
Scrum is used by software development teams. The product owner must collaborate with their team to identify what features, bug fixes or other requirements need attention. The values of Scrum include courage, focus, commitment, respect, and openness.
Then they put all of this into a product backlog, prioritize and deliver small increments of functional software during sprints that usually last 30 days. Once a commitment has been made by the team to what the sprint will include, no changes can be made until it’s over, unless the team decides that they must.
Kanban is a very simple and visual way to organize agile project management. It can be used across a variety of industries and departments because the set-up and execution-style is open-ended. To begin using agile, you set up stages.
An example of your stages could look something like this:
To-Do/Open → In-Progress → In Review → Done
The way you set up your workflow is dependent on the types of projects that your team works on. This helps keep things moving and also Initially you can test sprints with certain stages defined but adjust as you go by adding or taking away stages. There is no limit to how many stages you can have but make sure that they work well with your process. If you work with directly with your customers, it might not be a bad idea to share your process so they know what to expect.
Extreme Programming (XP)
As the name implies, this methodology is popular among programmers and software teams. It’s the toughest and most intense way to manage projects because of the short sprints (1-4 weeks) and the high level of customer engagement and feedback. The feedback loops are tight and the main project stakeholder is heavily involved in the granular details.
Image by Visual Paradigm
5. Plan your Sprints
The Agile work process occurs in sprints which can range anywhere from 1-4 weeks. During this time, your team has a list of tasks they must complete. These tasks often have dependencies waiting for them in the sprint.
Once you have an idea on what the project brief and the expected outcome, it’s time to have a sprint planning meeting with everyone involved. Planning sessions will happen at the beginning of each sprint. For example, if your sprint is a wee
The beauty of Agile is that items go in review and if tasks are not approved, they simply get moved back into in-progress and the sprint adjusted. This allows for flexibility and on-the-fly changes that traditional project management does not allow for. It also allows for consistent customer feedback, ensuring satisfaction.
6. Track & Measure
Keep your team on track with daily stand-ups (a fancy term for a quick 15-minute meeting). The purpose of the meeting is to answer three simple questions.
- What did you accomplish yesterday?
- What’s your plan for today?
- Is there anything holding you back from proceeding?
This could feel like micromanagement from your team’s perspective, but it’s a great way to keep things moving along. Communication is integral to the agile process and project success.
7. Sprint Review
Once a sprint has come to an end, it’s time for a review. The review is time for the team to go over what they’ve created and for stakeholders to approve or reject the functionality (for software). It’s important to go back to the initial plan and ensure that all requirements were met. The review should answer the following four questions:
- What was done?
- What was not done?
- What was added?
- What was removed from the sprint?
The sprint review is a chance to focus on the work or product that was completed during the sprint.
8. Sprint Retrospective
During a retrospective (which happens on the same day as the sprint review – the last day of the sprint), the focus is on the process of the sprint itself. It’s a time to reflect and comment on how things could be better. For example, maybe there wasn’t enough communication at a particular point or maybe there is a bottleneck that needs to be addressed. A retrospective helps improve the working culture of agile teams.
After the retrospective, you go back to Step 5 and repeat.
Agile Project Management is Easy
The steps that we went through are the basics of Agile and they are easy to implement. There is nothing technical or complicated about them.
In the past decade, major organizations have made the shift to operating with an agile mindset and the results have been game-changing.
Companies like General Electric, Accenture and Adobe to name a few. Agile is currently the fastest, most efficient way for human beings to complete complex work together with reduced errors, lowering the chance of failure. It might even contribute to how fast we are advancing as a species when it comes to technology and innovation.
If you’re ready to start your agile journey, start with these eight simple steps. We’re here to guide you along the way.