Is your project team struggling to deliver on complex tasks or meet ever-changing customer demands?
This issue plagues every project manager at some point or another. Either their team is too large to handle, their goals are too ambitious and distant, or their team is stuck making the same mistakes over and over.
If you’re even mildly involved in project management or know those involved in project management, it’s very likely you’ve heard the term “Agile” thrown around at least once or twice.
In some ways, this term has become an all-encompassing buzzword used by managers of all professions to describe their desire for efficient project execution, but what does “Agile” mean?
Overview: What is Agile project management?
Simply put, Agile has the ability to create value in a fast-paced and constantly changing environment, which makes it an effective methodology for project management.
It’s a form fitting style that easily fits within the basic project management steps and only requires a moderate reshaping to certain functions you’re probably already doing.
Project managers are always looking for faster and more efficient ways to plan, execute, and measure the success of their goals outside of the project management basics, and Agile is one of the most popular ways to do just that.
How does Agile project management work?
Agile is based on the 12 principles laid out in the Agile Manifesto, the magnum opus of the Agile movement built upon years of trial, error, and discovery.
Rather than go through the entire history of Agile, I found this short summary video that explains where and how Agile came about.
I’ve listed the 12 principles here and explained each one in detail.
While reading, remember that these principles were created with software development in mind, but this doesn’t mean that the concepts aren’t transferable to other forms of project management. In my experience, I’ve seen these principles used in many other types of projects and team management applications, even content marketing.
Principle 1: “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”
The first principle of the Agile process is the bedrock of the entire formula and rests on the idea that the delivery process of any project ought to be broken up into smaller pieces that you can deliver in shorter time spans.
This improves the feedback loop, allowing your team to find out exactly what a client or shareholder truly wants.
This system eventually produces a complete product that will take shape over the course of regular presentation intervals, ensuring complete satisfaction.
Principle 2: “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes change for the customer’s competitive advantage.”
If project management were a boat race, then Agile would be the swift speed boat that easily changes course at the turn of the wheel. Agile is all about making adjustments on a dime, even late in the game, making it an extremely dynamic project management style.
Luckily, if you’re adhering to all twelve of the Agile principles, late-stage changes won’t be necessary.
Giving ample face time and feedback opportunities to your stakeholders, along with early and small iterations, guarantees smooth sailing in the beginning stages of product delivery.
When it comes to Agile methodology, everything is about rolling with the punches, but if you’re paying attention to the needs of your customers, those punches will be rare.
Principle 3: “Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.”
This principle continues the theme of frequent delivery periods and working on shorter timeframes, which ensures that your deliverables will remain on time and on track.
Some other project management methodologies are slow, sluggish, and rely on long delivery times that focus mostly on the bigger picture rather than taking on a project one small piece at a time.
Principle 4: “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”
The business people are the middlemen between the stakeholder and the production team.
In order to ensure a quality delivery that satisfies all requirements, constant contact is required between the business end of the project and those responsible for producing the deliverables.
Principle 5: “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
Agile is a carefully constructed, yet relatively hands-off approach to project management.
It encourages giving your team the tools to succeed and allowing them to choose the best way to execute their commitments to the deliverable. If some of your team require quiet spaces away from others to get the job done, then make it so. If others require special tools or social spaces to make it happen, provide those too.
With the freedom for your team to execute as they wish comes a considerable amount of responsibility and trust.
If you believe in your team, give them that responsibility and trust to deliver what is required of them, thereby motivating them to give their best efforts. Whatever you do, don’t micromanage.
Principle 6: “The most efficient method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”
Earlier I mentioned the importance of facetime when it comes to Agile methodology.
The only way to make this work is through regular face-to-face status meetings that allow you and your team to assess the progress everyone has made and ensure that key information is conveyed to those who need it.
Principle 7: “Working software is the primary measure of progress.”
Customer satisfaction is crucial for success, as is the case with any business model, unless you’re PG&E in California.
This sounds obvious, but many project presentations include explanations and Q&A sessions on the part of the delivery team as to why something is a success when the customer can’t see that success themselves.
This is why regular delivery intervals are so important.
Once you’ve reached the final milestone, there shouldn’t be any questions about success and satisfaction. Listen to your stakeholders throughout the process, and you’ll find the success you’re looking for.
Principle 8: “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”
Burnout is a consistent roadblock to successful project delivery, and the Agile methodology, when applied correctly, is the perfect antidote.
This methodology is built on the idea of producing consistent and sustainable results through realistic goals, a defined scope of work, and a healthy delivery schedule that meets the needs of your clients and your delivery team.
Principle 9: “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
Anything worth doing is worth doing in a neat and tidy manner. When producing results and deliverables for clients, it’s important to prioritize the creation of solutions that balance elegant solutions with tried and true solutions. If your elegant solution won’t stand the test of time of use and abuse, then it isn’t a worthwhile solution to a client’s problem.
Principle 10: “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.”
When developing project plans for your team, it’s important to eliminate as much unnecessary or unimportant work as possible. This creates a clear path to success for your team and removes potential roadblocks.
Principle 11: “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”
Agile puts a lot of stock in the idea of self-organization. The experts in each field of your team will know the best possible way to organize and execute their aspect of a deliverable and in order to ensure success, you should trust each of them to do so.
Principle 12: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
This is where the real importance of regular meetings and retrospectives come into play.
Agility is all about changing direction whenever necessary. These changes are all in the interest of improving efficiency, improving customer satisfaction, and increasing revenue streams.
Agile methodology vs scrum methodology: What’s the difference?
I don’t think “Agile vs Scrum” is the right way to frame this since Agile and Scrum methodology aren’t opposed to each other. Scrum is but one type of methodology under the large tent of Agile.
Scrum is best used in projects where requirements and circumstances are prone to rapid changes. This methodology uses its own unique framework and project management plan to complete tasks and leans on a learning-based approach.
The personnel in this framework are known as the product owner (or project manager), the scrum master (the expert who oversees the project and offers advice based on experience), and the team.
This is a basic overview of the scrum process:
- The product owner creates a project backlog complete with all tasks that must be completed, listed in order of priority, similar to a traditional work breakdown structure. Each task will have a description of the impact, value, and risk that it will provide to the completion of the project.
- Using this project backlog, the team will begin planning out the schedule of execution for each task, breaking them up into regular intervals called “sprints.” These sprints will include realistic, short-duration objectives. After each sprint, the team will get together for a retrospective to discuss the successes and shortfalls of the sprint for the purposes of learning and adjusting for the upcoming sprint.
- The scrum master oversees these sprints and offers advice throughout the execution process. Just to clarify, these scrum masters are not project managers. Their goal is to help define success when executing each sprint.
- After each sprint, the deliverables are presented to the customer or stakeholder and the team reflects on the feedback given. This feedback is then taken into account during the retrospective and put into practice during the next sprint.
- Repeat this process.
Scrum is an iterative process that is meant to provide learning experiences for the managers and team alike. It’s the perfect introductory iterative method as it hits on many of the key core principles of the Agile Manifesto.
Should you use a project management software for Agile?
Yes. In most cases, certain project management software options are perfect for executing Agile methodologies. Some project management tools bill themselves as Agile-friendly and fit well within iterative projects.
However, project management software isn’t always the answer, even if you’re looking to adopt Agile principles.
When software makes sense
Project management software is perfect for enhancing Agile methodologies, especially when you’re dealing with complicated deliverables and large teams. Here are three instances when project management tools make sense:
- Improving project communication: Agile emphasizes independence but absolutely requires a healthy dose of communication to ensure smooth execution. If your team is comfortable with speaking up about task needs, completion times, and pitfalls, but you lack a centralized system to do so, project management software can help you organize and incentivize your team’s communication.
- Bringing multiple teams together: Agile methodology is great for bringing together different teams, and project management software is the perfect tool to make that happen. Why make cross-team communication strategies harder than they have to be?
- If you require specific project data: Each iteration of your project should include a reflection meeting. Project management software will help you quantify the progress you’ve made.
When to go it alone
Of course, there are times when project management software isn’t right for you, even if you’re looking to implement Agile methodologies. Here are two potential circumstances when you should forego project management software:
- You’re a one-man team: Sure, project management software helps track your personal projects, but that’s what personal to-do lists are for. If you’re working on simple, one-man projects, you can often get away with using mobile to-do lists, calendars, and reminder applications.
- You’re on a tight budget: There’s no sense in bankrupting your team if you can’t afford an expensive, Agile-minded project management tool. You should pass on a paid project management software if you’re on a tight budget.
Choose the right tool for your Agile project team
Now that you understand the basics of the Agile methodology and Scrum, as well as the circumstances in which software will best suit your project team, it’s time to choose the right project management tool.
There are many project management tools that are built to work within an Agile framework, and I’ve even reviewed some of these tools in my top ten list.
The most prominent Agile-friendly project management tools that I would recommend are:
Each of these tools are either built with Agile in mind or offer Agile workflow templates for you to implement. Give them a try!
Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Atlassian, Microsoft, and Smartsheet and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $85 calls on Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.