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Blog post 31 Jan 2022

Agile Project Management

Today’s global business environment requires businesses to be agile. If the organisation doesn't make the decision to embrace Agile approaches itself, its competitors will make it for them. Being prepared to plan and execute projects fast and with high quality, all the while keeping the process flexible and reactions quick, customers satisfied and involved is what Agile Project Management is all about. This article will explain Agile processes and Agile methods, helping you to choose the best option for your requirements.

Agile project management Illustration

What is Agile Project Management?

Agile is an iterative approach to project management and software development that helps project teams deliver value to their customers faster and easier. An agile team delivers work in smaller amounts rather than in big bulks. Requirements, plans, and results are evaluated repeatedly so teams have a natural mechanism for responding to change quickly.

Agile methods focus on the promotion of disciplined project management processes with their regular inspection and adaptation. The philosophy of the Agile approach is based on the values of accountability, self-organisation and teamwork. The ultimate goal of Agile project management is to deliver value faster, in higher quality and predictability, with the greater aptitude to respond to changes.

The Agile project management stem from the Agile Movement, which outlined four Agile values, twelve Basic Principles and five rules of Agile Project Management.

Origin of agile methodology

The word agility is derived from the Latin word "agere", which means “to drive, act”. There are also other definitions that are implying the ability to drive something forward. That is why Agile is associated with quick and easy changes that are necessary for today's business environment.

The Agile movement came to life in 2001, yet the methodologies based on Agile philosophy are at least a decade older. In the 1990s, methodologies with emphasis on minimalist approach and raping pace of development appeared. There are three methods of the 1990s that can be considered agile: Dynamic Systems Development Method (1994), Scrum (1995) and Extreme Programming – XP (1999). They may not have called themselves “agile”, yet they share the iterative features of the Agile methodologies.

What is the Agile Manifesto?

Agile Manifesto Infographic

In 2001, 17 world’s leading experts and developers in software engineering met in Utah to formulate what has become known as the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The manifesto is the basis for the principles and values on which all modern Agile methodologies build. Its text goes as follows:

"We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
Working software over comprehensive documentation.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation."

The Agile Manifesto consists of four values and twelve principles.

The 4 core values of agile project management

Four Core values of agile project management
  1. Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools
  2. Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation
  3. Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation
  4. Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

Each Agile methodology applies the four core values in different ways, but all Agile project management approaches rely on these values to guide the development and delivery of high-quality software projects.

1. Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

The first value focuses on the importance of communication with the clients. Team members' responsibility is to ensure all of the clients' needs have been dealt with. This is why more value is given to the people than to the tools and processes because they are the ones driving development forward and responding to business needs. Even the best tools would be useless without the right people using them.

2. Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation

Previously, a lot of time was spent on documenting every project aspect. Technical specifications, technical requirements, technical prospectus, interface design documents, test plans, documentation plans, and approvals were required for each one. This was causing a lot of delays in development. But Agile implemented the idea that the first and most important thing should be the completion of deliverables to the clients and then dealing with documentation. So, Agile project management does not eliminate documentation but rather streamlines it.

3. Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation

This Agile Manifesto value requires customers to be involved in all phases of the project in contrast to traditional project management methodologies where customers were only allowed to negotiate before and after the project. By keeping the customers in the loop during the development process, the agile development team can ensure that the final product meets all their requirements and does not waste time and resources as the previous method did.

4. Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

Traditional software development saw change as expensive and something to avoid at all costs. Usually, once a plan was developed, it was followed through no matter what. But now, software development methodologies accept that circumstances change and so does project scope, depending on customers requests. In cases when change is necessary, project managers and their small teams must adapt quickly in order to deliver a quality product and ensure complete customer satisfaction. Agile models view change as something that improves a project and adds additional value to it.

The 12 agile project management principles

Twelve principles of agile project management
  1. Customer satisfaction through early and continuous software delivery.
    It is believed that customers are more satisfied when receiving software regularly without having to wait for long periods of time.
  2. Accommodate changing requirements throughout the development process.
    This principle aims at avoiding delays after feature changes were requested.
  3. Frequent delivery of working software.
    This is possible thanks to the software sprints and iterations in which the team operates. This approach ensures that working software is delivered regularly.
  4. Collaboration between the business stakeholders and developers throughout the project.
    This principle points to the fact that better decisions can be made when there is a collaboration between the business and technical team.
  5. Support, trust and motivate the people involved – motivation is the key to delivering quality work.
    Teams trusted and motivated work better than teams where trust, motivation, and overall support are missing.
  6. Emphasis on personal interaction.
    Face-to-face communication is the key to successful team development.
  7. A functioning product is considered to be the main measure of progress.
    Progress is ultimately measured by the ability to deliver working software to the customer.
  8. Agile processes to support a sustainable development pace.
    This principle is about the team’s ability to establish a speed at which the working software can be delivered while maintaining that speed and repeating it.
  9. Attention to technical excellence and design agility.
    The team ensures the pace, skills, sustainable change and good design to improve the product regularly.
  10. Simplicity
    This principle is the key to just enough to have the software ready for the customer.
  11. Self-organizing teams encourage great architectures, requirements and designs.
    A good team is skilled, motivated, communicative, with the power to make a decision and take ownership.
  12. The team regularly works on its effectiveness.
    This is done through a constant process of reflection with the aim of self-improvement and the improvement of skills and techniques.

Five Rules of Agile Methodology

Five rules of agile methodology

Finally, there are also the five rules of Agile project management. The following five rules apply to any Agile Methodology, summing up the Four Core Values and Twelve Basic Principles of the Agile Manifesto:

  1. Development is focused on the customer
  2. The team is self-organized
  3. The pace of development is sustainable
  4. The development stems from basic functionalities and products
  5. Changes during development are acceptable and accepted

What are the examples of agile project management?

Examples of agile project management

There are a few agile project management methods but all of them share core values that Agile is based upon. As the intention of Agile is to align development with business needs, pretty much all agile software development methodologies are focused on customer collaboration via their continuous feedback while having a continuous delivery of high-quality products made by the development teams. That resulted in Agile project management becoming an overarching view of software development as well as in other industries.

Kanban

The translation of this Japanese word is "visual board". This concept was introduced as a lean manufacturing system and slowly drove its way to agile software development teams. It uses visual methods for developing and managing projects. The projects that use this method are overseen via Kanban Board. The board helps teams see the progress through every stage of development and helps them prepare for upcoming tasks as it is divided into columns that represent the process flow, ensuring the project is delivered in time. This method requires interaction and full transparency for the development team to be able to have a cohesive workflow at all times. The work from all project teams is located in a kanban board - be it physical or virtual, depending on the team's preference. It usually consists of three steps: To Do, In Progress and Done, but can be customised to the agile project management team's needs.

Scrum

Scrum is maybe the most popular subset of agile project management. It consists of multiple development cycles broken down into phases or stages called "sprints" which are managed one at a time. Since the focus is on continuous deliverables, this method, just like other agile methodologies, allows adjustment of priorities to ensure that any incomplete or overdue "sprints" get more attention. The scrum process involves daily communication during which activities get harmonised and sprint planning happens. Each member has roles in a scrum team, product owner, scrum master and the development team members. Scrum is structured but it's not rigid; it can be tailored to the organisation's needs. As with any other agile model, the focus of any scrum process is on clear communication, transparency, and a dedication to continuous improvement.

Extreme Programming (XP)

Extreme Programming (XP) is an part of agile project management that emphasizes teamwork, communication, and feedback. The focus is on constant development and customer satisfaction with the end product. Similarly to Scrum, it also uses sprints or short iterative development cycles in order to create a productive and efficient environment. This method also allows for variations in customers' demands, no matter in which phase of product development. The reason for this is continuous feedback and project testing in each stage, all the way from the initial one. By getting feedback from each phase, there is room for software developers to easily implement any customer requirements to a software project.

Crystal

This Agile project management framework is for software development. Crystal is a group of smaller agile development methods consisting of Crystal Yellow, Crystal Clear, Crystal Red, and Crystal Orange. The division is based on the number of people in the team as Crystal places focus on people over processes, encouraging teams to find their own solutions for each project rather than being constricted with rigid methodologies. The team reflects the project plan, mostly the size and priority of the project. What kind of crystal agile project management is chosen can also depend on the nature of the project or system criticality such as Comfort (C), Essential Money (E), Discretionary Money (D), and Life (L).

Characteristics of Crystal are fast and continuous delivery, less administration and higher involvement of customers in the process leading to higher customer satisfaction. This is why it has customer's competitive advantage.

Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)

The Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) was developed to address the need for a standard industry charter for the fast and easy delivery of software. This method focuses on the full project life cycle and consists of eight principles. It gives a comprehensive structure defined and modified for creating a project plan and executing, managing and scaling the procedure to develop software. The DSDM embraces modifications to the project as they are something to always be expected. The quality with timely delivery must never be negotiated.

Which is right for me?

Deciding on which Agile project management methodology is the best for you depends on the reasons you want to adopt it in the first place. What follows is statistics taken from the 15th Annual State of Agile report.

The report explored the use of agile practices and the most used agile methodologies.

which project management methodology is right for me

What are the benefits of agile project management?

An Agile project management framework is a powerful tool that helps project and product managers, development team members, and clients.

Agile leads to more productive ways of working

Instead of creating tasks and schedules, work is divided into various smaller phases with a running list of deliverables that team members are following. And at the end of each phase, all the work is reviewed so that there is constant feedback that is faster and more frequent than with previous (non-Agile) methods. Stakeholders are involved via daily progress reports.

Increased team morale results in better flexibility

Having frequent feedback also encourages knowledge sharing. During each "sprint", team members can learn something new and share information as they make progress; it is a collaborative process with close contact with colleagues that helps team members professional growth and boost team morale. By sharing experiences, the team improves together, as well as guaranteed process improvement with each "sprint" being better than the last and reducing last's mistakes. This is possible because the workflow is in short intervals and the team size is limited, hence the team structure remains flexible allowing changes to be implemented on short notice (unlike other project management methodologies where changes are usually time-consuming and expensive). This unmatched flexibility is one of the top reasons why dynamic organizations prefer to use Agile in their project.

More customer-focused approach

This ultimately leads to a better quality of products. Customer satisfaction is greater because now client remains involved in the development process and can request changes, instead of just negotiating at the beginning or end, like it used to be done.

Reduced risks of failure

Also due to the transparency of the whole process, project managers are able to have better control. One other effect is improved project predictability. Due to increased transparency, it is easier to predict risks and come up with effective plans for their resolution. This way there is a greater chance the project will run smoothly. Reduced risks mean fewer cost problems and so, adopting Agile can lead to higher revenue. Thanks to the constant feedback, knowledge sharing between team members, and time-boxed sprints, the company has greater chances of accumulating higher revenue from product sales.

How to be Agile

As mentioned above, there are numerous benefits of Agile project management - from improving the quality of the product and customer satisfaction to improving the development of the team members and process itself.

According to another Annual State of Agile report, the 12th edition from 2018., by adopting Agile organisations are realising the goals they set out to achieve. Four of the top five reported reasons for adopting agile are also reported in the top five areas most impacted as the result of adopting agile project management.

Annual State of Agile report

The survey's results show there are three most important factors for successful adaptation of Agile:

Get the right people on board

Organisational culture is a crucial factor in the successful adoption of agile processes. Two out of the three most significant challenges to agile adoption and scaling are related to organisational culture. The biggest reported challenges are Inconsistent processes and practices across teams (46%), Organisational culture at odds with agile values (43%) and General organisational resistance to change (42%).

Survey chart one

As for measuring the success of adopted Agile project management, there are three most noticeable factors - but two of them share the first place. Both customer satisfaction, as well as business value delivered, rank as the top measure of successful Agile adoption (49%). This reflects the growing emphasis on customer satisfaction in digital transformation initiatives.

Agile methodology survey chart report

Get a certification

The demand for agile project management triggers the need for agile certifications globally. Getting a certification in Agile project management brings a lot of benefits to one's career, such as better exposure, better salary, better credibility, better knowledge of current market trends, etc. It makes you better than your competition.

Whether you want to become a certified Scrum master or are more so interested in flexible project management methodologies, adopting the agile approach not only makes you a more suitable candidate for employers or future clients, but most importantly, it helps you survive in today’s market. When you have an understanding of how to implement the agile methods it helps you effectively respond to the ever-changing corporate environment.   

Attending a course provides guidance on how to take steps towards adopting an agile project management approach. If you decide you want to adopt Agile principles and values to your managerial style, look at the Institute's Certified Agile Project Management course. This course is focused on explaining different Agile modules that way broadening your knowledge of Agile project management, which upon completion of the course, is testified by IPMA Agile certification. The Institute also offers The Brave New Agile World eBook guide that gives you insights into the challenges professionals face in a projected and increasingly agile society. Download your free guide and keep it close to hand as you consider the implications of Agile.

Use the right project management tools

Expansion of Agile is growing within organisations as applications of agile techniques to higher-level planning were increasing as well. In the report from 2018. 25% of the respondents say that all or almost all of their teams are agile, whereas only 8% reported that in 2016. And agile teams need proper agile project management tools. According to the State of Agile survey, tool support has been a key component determining the success of agile. In the 15th annual survey from 2021. two tools, Atlassian Jira (81%) and Digital.ai Agility (70%) were rated the highest for most used and recommended tools. A varied collection of tools is employed, ranging from generic planning and management tools such as Microsoft Office to specialized commercial offerings. Finding valuable software tools right for your needs is crucial for successful agile transformation.

Reference Literature

MAYER, Bertrand, Agile!: The Good, the Hype and the Ugly, Springer Science & Business Media, 2014, ISBN 978-331-90-5155-5

BROOKS, Frederick, Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995, ISBN 978-02-018-3595-3

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