Agile Project Management - what it is and why it’s important
How can you ensure that your digital product development runs smoothly and that everything gets delivered on time and on budget? The answer lies in Agile Project Management. Geared toward continuous improvement, Agile methodology can greatly increase your project’s prospects for success. This is why more and more design and development companies are turning to it in their work.
What is Agile Project Management?
Agile project management is an iterative approach to delivering a project throughout its lifecycle.
Simply put, Agile project management is an iterative approach to delivering a project throughout its lifecycle. Within it, short development cycles or ‘sprints’ are used to focus on the continuous improvement of the product or service. The method was first discussed in depth in the 1970s by William Royce who published a paper on the development of large software systems.
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One of the main aims of the Agile approach is the fact that it releases benefits at various stages within the process, instead of only at the end. At the core, the projects should be centred on mutual trust, flexibility, empowerment and collaboration.
Some of the key principles of Agile methodology:
As mentioned above, Agile is focussed on delivering maximum value against business priorities within the allocated time and budget. Some of the key principles include:
- Breaking the project into smaller pieces which are then prioritized by importance
- The promotion of collaboration, especially with the customer
- All stakeholders and team members remain motivated for the best project outcomes
- Enhanced agility for an ongoing focus on technical excellence
- Planning is integrated with execution, allowing for the creation of a working mindset and fast responses when requirements change
Some common misconceptions about Agile
There are many myths and misconceptions about Agile project management, often relating to the idea that Agile is a simple, or ‘quick and dirty’ methodology. Below, we talk you through some of the most common myths and in doing so, hopefully get down to the bottom of how Agile works.
- Agile is ‘quick and dirty’ - actually, the modern Agile approach balances speed with control and quality. The ‘quick’ element might be truer, as if managed well, it is likely to deliver sooner by focussing on the right things and ensuring the delivery of the right solution.
- Agile is only for small projects - This is not true. Even the most complex projects can be delivered using a well managed agile approach. In fact, it has been proven that the positive impact of Agile vs Waterfall is much more significant in larger projects than in smaller ones.
- Agile does not require a paper trail - The agile manifesto states working solutions over comprehensive documentation, but importantly, this doesn’t mean that there is no documentation. In fact, the document is succinct, as it is there to support the solution. It is mainly the upfront documentation which is replaced with collaboration and conversation between the relevant stakeholders.
- Agile means constant possibilities for change - Agile is focussed around change, but this should be reasonable change. This means that the scope and priorities of a project need to be effectively defined from the outset. Through the evolutionary development of the project, change can occur through agreement between the various stakeholders.
Agile Project Managers
Taking all of the above into account, the role of an Agile Project Manager will differ from a traditional one and they will likely take on one of the following roles:
- A team facilitator, removing any stoppers on the journey to project success. This is usually the most common role of an Agile PM.
- A coach and trainer, encouraging the project team to make use of the latest and most appropriate tools and processes.
- An Agile propagator, motivating the business to embrace Agile and ensuring that it is implemented effectively and that all stakeholders are on board.
Some FAQs about Agile Project Management
Below, I wanted to answer some questions I have been asked about Agile Project Management, the skills and qualities that are needed to be an Agile PM, and the benefits that I see in this methodology.
What do you think are the most important qualities of an Agile Project Manager?
I believe there is a set of qualities which are common for all kinds of Project Managers such as being well organised, having analytical and logical thinking skills, being capable of taking responsibility and making decisions. In terms of soft skills, as a project manager, you should also be able to motivate your team and communicate well with your stakeholders.
When working on Agile projects, it’s not about delivering a set of requirements defined by the client, but about delivering a real business value and creating great products.
When working on Agile projects, it’s not about delivering a set of requirements defined by the client, but about delivering a real business value and creating great products. So when speaking about Agile Project Managers specifically, on top of the qualities mentioned above, they need to be business oriented people, who have great communication skills, are ready to work side-by-side with the client and project stakeholders and can dig deep into the business domain on the project. Check the two things a project team can't survive without.
What made you want to become an Agile PM?
When I was starting my career as Project Manager, I had a chance to work on several projects which had all of their dimensions fixed - scope, budget and timeline. I’m a person who values order and having clear goals, so I have to admit, in the very beginning I thought that’s the way to go - the scope was thoroughly described, all the deadlines were set, we had a detailed timeline defining who will work on what so it will be easy to track progress - sounds like a great plan, right?
Theoretically it was. But then when I started delivering such projects, I realised how much waste is being generated and how much business value is lost by the constraints that were placed on the project. Managing and working on such projects was creating so many overheads, that no one really had time to focus on things which are really important and beneficial for the end product. That’s how I realised that I want to move towards Agile Project Management and provide clients with better value.
Working on a project in an Agile way significantly increases the chance that your project or product will be a success.
If I were to answer with one simple sentence, I would say - working on a project in an Agile way significantly increases the chance that your project or product will be a success. There are many things which contribute to this, but the most important are:
- Delivering and testing quickly: the most important lesson I learned in my start-up experiences is - talk to your users frequently, show them what you are building, gather their feedback and iterate on the product including their insights.
- Focusing on what’s important: when compared to more traditional project approaches, you don’t need to spend the majority of your time on preparing detailed scope delivery estimates, balancing workload when adding change requests or preparing detailed documentation of features which will be built in a year from now. You can focus on what is really important for your business and the product you are building.
- Not sticking to the plan, but adjusting to the environment: there’s nothing more demotivating than following a plan which you don’t believe in anymore. Also creating such detailed project plans is very time-consuming and might ultimately prove fruitless, as you will end up adjusting and updating the plan constantly. Agile methodologies allow you to create detailed plans for small chunks of the project (i.e. a sprint) and keep the overall plan on a high level (i.e. project roadmap) while being open to changes coming from the environment, user feedback etc.
It’s always challenging to properly set the communication and expectations, as Agile brings a lot of excitement but also fears and misconceptions which need to be addressed.
And what are the greatest challenges?
Although the buzzword “Agile” has been in the industry for many years and many companies or teams want to be “Agile”, not many of them have experienced working in real Agile projects. So it’s always challenging to properly set the communication and expectations, as Agile brings a lot of excitement but also fears and misconceptions which need to be addressed. The other challenge is to find the golden balance when it comes to questions such as - How far ahead should we have the backlog refined? How much documentation is the right amount? How can we ensure that the vision and goals are clear for the team while not having too many meetings? All these are issues that we, as Agile Project Managers, need to have in mind during each project and the answer is usually different every time.