Agile project management definition
Agile project management is a methodology used primarily in software development that favors flexibility and collaboration, incorporating customer feedback throughout the project life cycle. The methodology takes an iterative approach to development, breaking down work into small, manageable cycles called “sprints” to focus on continuous improvement in the development of a product or service.
In addition to emphasizing iterative development, in which each sprint results in a potentially shippable increment, agile project management incorporates cross-functional teams who work closely with stakeholders in a process that allows for adjustments as requirements evolve and formalizes feedback loops at the end of each sprint.
Agile project management vs. traditional project management
Agile project management differs from traditional project management, often called waterfall, in a number of ways. Whereas waterfall follows a more rigid, linear approach in which requirements are gathered up front, agile project management’s emphasis on iterative development allows for adaptability and flexibility along the way. Agile’s sprint methodology also differs from traditional project management, which typically advances in distinct phases, from requirements gathering to implementation to deployment.
Agile’s approach to customer feedback also affords more continuous collaboration with stakeholders to better align deliverables to end-user needs. Whereas waterfall typically divides team members into siloed roles, agile project management is cross-functional with team members often taking on more than one distinct role. Although agile does value documentation, it is not as heavily emphasized as it is in traditional project management, for which documentation is often very detailed and assembled in advance.
Compared to traditional project management, agile provides project teams, sponsors, project leaders, and customers many project-specific benefits, including:
More rapid deployment of solutions
Reduced waste through minimization of resources
Increased flexibility and adaptability to change
Increased success through more focused efforts
Faster turnaround times
Faster detection of issues and defects
Optimized development processes
A lighter weight framework
Optimal project control
Increased focus on specific customer needs
Increased frequency of collaboration and feedback
When to use agile project management
As with any other methodology, however, agile is not well-suited for every project, and sufficient due diligence is always recommended to identify the best methodology for each unique situation. Agile project management is most effective when a project’s requirements are not fully discernible from the outset or are likely to evolve over the project’s duration. It is also a good fit when regular feedback is necessary or would be beneficial for aligning deliverables to customer needs. Agile project management is also a strong choice when time-to-market is essential or when dealing with projects of high complexity, as agile’s cross-functional, iterative approach enables teams to deliver solutions quicker while addressing issues as they arise.
Agile may not work as intended if a customer is not clear on goals, the project manager or team is inexperienced, or if they do not function well under significant pressure. Throughout the development process, agile favors the developers, project teams and customer goals, but not necessarily the end user’s experience. Due to its less formal and more flexible processes, agile may not always be easily absorbed within larger more traditional organizations where there are significant amounts of rigidity or flexibility within processes, policies, or teams. It may also face problems being used with customers who similarly have rigid processes or operating methods, or on projects subject to strict regulation and documentation, those with fixed contracts and scope, or environments in which stakeholder feedback is unavailable or feedback participation is likely to meet resistance.
The benefits of agile
Agile was originally developed for the software industry to streamline and improve the development process in an effort to rapidly identify and adjust for issues and defects. It provides a way for developers and teams to deliver a better product, in a faster manner, through short, iterative, interactive sessions/sprints. In the era of digital transformation, with many companies migrating to a digital workplace, agile is a perfect fit for organizations looking to transform how they manage projects and operate as a whole. Agile can help ensure company-wide process and methodological alignment. In terms of business benefits, both the digital workplace and agile provide:
Higher quality deliverables
Decreased risk of missed objectives
Increased stakeholder engagement and satisfaction
Agile project management principles
There are 12 key principles that still guide agile project management today:
Customer satisfaction is always the highest priority and is achieved through rapid and continuous delivery.
Changing environments are embraced at any stage of the process to provide the customer with a competitive advantage.
A product or service is delivered with higher frequency.
Stakeholders and developers collaborate closely on a daily basis.
All stakeholders and team members remain motivated for optimal project outcomes, while teams are provided with all the necessary tools and support, and are trusted to accomplish project goals.
Face-to-face meetings are deemed the most efficient and effective format for project success.
A final working product is the ultimate measure of success.
Sustainable development is accomplished through agile processes whereby development teams and stakeholders are able to maintain a constant and ongoing pace.
Agility is enhanced through a continuous focus on technical excellence and proper design.
Simplicity is an essential element.
Self-organizing teams are most likely to develop the best architectures and designs and to meet requirements.
Regular intervals are used by teams to improve efficiency through fine-tuning behaviors.
Organizational hurdles to adopting agile
Organizations looking to adopt agile for project management my encounter any of a number of common hurdles, such as the following:
A company structure or culture that does not adequately support agile: Although project teams may be ready for agile development, the rest of the company may not be on board. Sponsors, executives, and functional leaders must also buy into and support agile for it to be truly effective.
Unclear understanding of the impact to the overall business goals: Simply executing projects using agile methodology isn’t enough to reap the desired benefits. Projects can still be executed in ways that don’t provide the entire business with the results that help achieve sustainable growth. Strategic alignment is still critical.
Rushed testing cycles: Sprints can create a risk of rushed testing cycles. In the process of trying to get through sprints as quickly as possible, teams can become more focused on the timeline and miss simple aspects of the testing cycle, which can have potential significant repercussions. Defects can go undetected or are detected too late.
Limited agile skill: Although agile is rapidly taking root, top agile talent can be hard to find and attract. Limited agile talent means limited benefits for companies wanting to execute projects using this methodology.
For a deeper look at how to make the shift, see “Agile project management: 16 tips for a smooth switch to agile.”
Popular agile methodologies
Dynamic System Development Model, (DSDM)
Extreme Programming (XP)
Adaptive software development (ASD)
Agile Unified Process (AUP)
Crystal Clear methods
Disciplined agile delivery
Feature-driven development (FDD)
RAD(Rapid Application Development)
To find out which methodology is right for your project or organization, see “Comparing agile project management frameworks.”
Combining agile with other methodologies
The opportunity exists to combine agile with other methodologies such as waterfall to create a hybrid solution. Companies sometimes use waterfall to handle one or more phases — such as planning — where these do not require rapid or repetitive steps. Planning in particular requires a more comprehensive, methodical, often slower approach to defining, analyzing, and documenting aspects of a project. This makes waterfall a better approach. Once a project enters the development phase, rapid and repetitive changes require a different approach and this is where agile kicks in to deliver the best results in the shortest amount of time.
This hybrid approach aids in making agile even more adaptable within various industries or to suit the more unique nature of a project, product, or service. Again, due diligence is required to determine the suitability and capacity of the different methods and processes available.
Agile project management and Scrum
Scrum is a powerful framework for implementing agile processes in software development and other projects. This highly adopted framework utilizes short iterations of work, called sprints, and daily meetings, called scrums, to tackle discrete portions of a project in succession until the project as a whole is complete. There are three key roles within Scrum: the Scrum master, product owner, and Scrum team members:
The product owner creates and prioritizes a product backlog (work to be done).
Teams select items from the backlog and determine how to complete the work.
Work must be completed within a sprint (usually two to four weeks).
The Scrum master meets with teams briefly each day to get progress updates.
Sprint reviews are conducted at the end of each sprint.
The process starts again until all work or backlog is complete.
Agile project management tools, templates and resources
There are also many templates available from companies like Microsoft that project managers can use rather than re-creating the wheel. Here are just a few among several others available from Microsoft:
Agile project management software vendors also typically have built-in agile templates in their software.
Agile project management software
Companies using agile are likely to leverage software geared to agile development in order to get the full benefits of this methodology. Here are just some of the agile solutions available:
Atlassian Jira + Agile: This is an agile project management tool that supports Scrum, Kanban, and mixed methodologies. This project management software comes with a comprehensive set of tools that help Scrum teams perform events with ease.
Agilean: Agilean automates workflow management for small and midsize IT companies fitting different verticals. It is customizable and has 50 built-in templates.
SprintGround: This is a project management tool created for developers to organize work and help them track progress.
For a deeper look at agile project management software options, see “Top 11 agile tools for project management.”
Key agile skills
There are six key agile project management skills or attributes that all project managers should have:
An ability to cut through unnecessary work and focus only on essential work
Sound judgment under pressure and the ability to remain calm under stress
Strong motivation and coaching skill to guide and support teams throughout a project
Exceptional organizational abilities to keep everything straight and prioritize
The ability to think and make decisions quickly as circumstances change rapidly
A high level of adaptability in order to accept change and reduce unnecessary confusion and risk
Agile project management certification and training
As agile methodology picks up speed, so does the demand for professionals with agile knowledge and experience. Here are the most popular agile-focused certs for benchmarking your knowledge.
Agile Programme Management (AgilePgM)
Agile Project Management (AgilePM)
Professional Scrum Master (PSM)
Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO)
Certified Agile Project Manager
SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager
SAFe Scrum Master
Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)
Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)
ICAgile Agile Fundamentals (ICP)
ICAgile Agile Product Ownership (ICP-APO)
ICAgile Agile Team Facilitation (ICP-ATF)
ICAgile Business Agility Foundations (ICP-BAF)
ICAgile Agile Project and Delivery Management (ICP-APM)
PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
For a more in-depth look at these certs, see “Top 16 agile certifications available today.”
The future of agile
As competition is continually increasing and time to market is also shrinking, agile offers numerous benefits and limited drawbacks. As more companies make the shift to a digital workplace that is highly dependent on speed, flexibility and increased productivity, agile or hybrid methodologies will become increasingly necessary. Its application in multiple industries and alignment with the benefits offered by a digital workplace model, indicate that agile adoption rates will continue to increase across industries around the world.
Agile Development, Developer, IT Governance Frameworks, Project Management Tools, Technology Industry