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Agile Project Management—A Comprehensive Guide

Jul 30, 2020

Organizations are constantly facing changes and uncertainties, from changing production costs, to shifts in politics and management, natural disasters, security breaches, new goals and products, and more. The world around us is always shifting, and our companies are constantly being impacted. 

Project management is a key way that organizations can keep everything organized and moving forward even as variables change constantly. Lots of employees on different teams, working side-by-side with different responsibilities can be complex. Emails and meetings take up time and energy, and don’t always help people stay focused on their piece of the puzzle. Project management helps teams and individuals understand their specific responsibilities and role for a project, as well as see how the different players are connected to each other. There are many different project management methodology systems to choose from. If you’re currently studying business management or a similar business field, it’s crucial to understand how project management helps an organization thrive. A business management degree can be a great way to get started in a project management career, and learning about the different software and systems involved is key to success. 

There are many different project management methods and software systems to help project managers keep their teams on track. Agile project management is a popular methodology for organizing and setting goals for projects. At the basic level, Agile project management is a system that lets you break larger projects down into smaller, manageable tasks. These tasks are completed during sprints, or short time periods.  The idea is that Agile project management allows your team to make changes quickly and deliver results faster. Learn more about Agile project management and how it can help your teams thrive. 

Understanding the Agile project management methodology.

Agile project management is used in all kinds of organizations and industries, but is particularly popular with software and technology organizations, marketing teams, and IT teams. Agile project methods allow a team to adjust as the focus changes for a team, as deadlines shift, and as changes happen. 

In order to better understand the Agile method, it’s important to learn about the Agile Manifesto, which includes the core values and principles of the Agile method. The core values of the Agile manifesto include: 

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Humans are a critical role of any project management, no matter how technology evolves. Too much reliance on tools and tech can lead to slow changes and delayed improvements.

2. Working software over comprehensive documentation. Documentation is great and very important, but getting an actual working product is more important. 

3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Involving customers in the process can help ensure that their needs are met, and is important to getting things done accurately and well. 

4. Responding to change over following a plan. This is the most important part of Agile project management, and is very different from other systems. Change is usually seen as something to be avoided, but in Agile project management there is room for continuous change in any project. Every sprint period gives the team a chance to re-evaluate and focus on new goals.

There are also 12 principles of the Agile manifesto that help teams execute Agile methods efficiently. The 12 principles are: 

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Change can be a competitive advantage.
  • Deliver projects often (a couple of weeks to a couple of months) with a preference for the shorter timescale.
  • Team members must work together daily throughout the project to ensure alignment.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information among teams is through face-to-face conversations.
  • The final product is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development, so a constant pace can be maintained.
  • Constant attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

These principles and values of Agile project management show what is important in this methodology, and how teams can effectively use it to enhance their processes.

How does Agile project management work?

There are just a few steps to understanding how Agile projects works. 

Work request. A customer or team submits a work request or user story to the product owner with a short, simple description of what is needed and why. In agile development, the development team is then able to provide a reasonable estimate of the amount of work required to complete that request. This isn't just talking about software developers, but any team that has a hand in making this project happen. In the Agile method, team members may request something from another team, or it may be the customer making a request in this development process.

Sprint. A sprint is usually one to three weeks long, and within that period there are certain tasks that are expected to be completed. There is a sprint planning meeting so everyone is on the same page about what tasks need to be done and when. Sprint planning is key in determining the day-to-day work that needs to be done in the Agile model. Product owners need to regularly be updated about the development process to ensure everything is running smoothly.

Stand-up meetings. Daily stand-up meetings are short, around 10 minutes, and help everyone stay on track and informed. These meetings are meant to be very short and to the point so no time is wasted. The Agile project manager will take charge in these meetings to help team members understand what is expected of them. Stand-up meetings are a crucial part of agile development, as they allow product owners and team members to all understand what is happening.

Agile board. An Agile board helps everyone see visually the status of the project. This can be done physically inside the office, on a digital platform, or in whatever way works best for your team. In the Agile model, the Agile project manager will usually control the board and make updates so everyone understands where the project is. Product owners and team members alike can benefit from seeing where the project stands.

Backlog. As work requests are added to your list, there are some outstanding tasks needing to be done. These items in the backlog are assigned into the sprint during sprint planning to ensure that all tasks eventually get completed. In the Agile method, things typically don't stay in the product backlog for long, as the entire point is to get things moving as quickly as possible.

Benefits of Agile project management.

There are many benefits of utilizing Agile project management in a team, and it’s important to understand how it can help before deciding if it’s the right methodology for your organization. These benefits include:

  • Flexibility. Agile methodology is all about increasing flexibility in your organization. By focusing on shorter deadlines and timeframes, changes that come are more likely to be able to be worked in. Teams can be flexible because they have backlog options to place projects in a lower priority if needed, with the understanding that the new sprint will bring up more time and availability. 

  • Greater organizational control. Organizations that have good project management have better control over how everything is running. They are able to see with the Agile board where every project is, refine and re-evaluate, and work directly with the people in-charge of certain tasks. 

  • Better ROI. Agile project management can directly impact the ROI of an organization. Focusing on shorter time frames can allow better customer interactions, and updates or changes can be met immediately. If a project is losing money, a course correction can be made right away. 

  • Employees have better adaptability and self-management skills. Employees know exactly what they are supposed to be working on and what is expected, helping increase their productivity. They are able to manage themselves and adapt to changes when needed, because it is all part of their process. 

Agile project management example.

A team that uses Agile project management may see this kind of scenario in the office:

The marketing team has a large campaign coming up where they are creating new advertisements, new landing pages, social media posts, and commercials. This request comes from the VP of marketing and the team meets for sprint planning. They determine that in their first two-week sprint they can get all of the new imagery done, as well as film the TV commercial. They spend the next two weeks working on these tasks, and every day there is a meeting to go over progress, questions, and concerns. Halfway through the sprint, there is a major crisis with the current campaign, so some of the imagery is moved into the backlog. At the next sprint planning meeting, the team moves the imagery out of the backlog, and determines that they can finish the imagery and the copy for the ads and webpages in the next sprint. They spend the next two weeks focusing on these tasks of the project, and by the end of that sprint they are done with the project. They are able to provide the finished work to the VP of marketing and get it ready to launch.

Agile project management can help the team pivot when emergencies arise, work together on different aspects, make sure everyone including the requestor is up-to-date, and more. 

How to transition to Agile project management.

If you’re a business leader or project manager and are considering moving to Agile project management, it’s important that you understand all of the elements of this methodology and how to incorporate it successfully.

You’ll need a comprehensive Agile project plan in order to properly train staff, communicate, collaborate, and understand the tools and resources you’ll need to be successful. Moving to an Agile method likely won’t be successful unless you have all the right pieces in place to make it work. 

How to build an Agile team.

It may be that you’ll need to hire some people as you create an Agile team. It’s important to know what you’re looking for when hiring new people, and training new or current employees for Agile methods. Teams that are large, diverse, highly educated, and virtual tend to have great success. It’s important to not let teams get too large, to ensure that relationships are important so employees feel cared for, and to aim for diversity. These elements are critical in finding a team that can brainstorm and work well together. 

Agile management tools.

The right tools are key to successful Agile methodology. It’s extremely important to weigh the services and software that you can use in your organization to enhance your project management. Some important software your team may need includes:

  • Task management software. Task management software helps individuals have their own to-do list, understanding what they need to be working on next in the day.

  • Collaboration software. Ways to chat or work together virtually on a project are extremely important when it comes to Agile methods. It’s vital your team has a quick way to ask questions, connect, and collaborate.

  • Project management software. Keep entire projects and their tasks straight with the right project management software. This is basically a look at all the projects your team is working on, how they are connected with others, and what tasks are involved. This is usually where requesters' can go and ask for a certain task or project to be done, adding it to your workflow.

Best practices for Agile project management.

A degree in business management is a great way to get started in understanding project management in an organization. But there are other best practices you should also take into consideration when pursuing the Agile methodology including: 

  • Practice iterative development. This involves breaking down big tasks into smaller tasks. This is key in Agile methodology and it’s important you start adjusting to this practice as soon as possible.

  • Limit the amount of work your organization has in progress. Not everything is a fire that has to be put out immediately. Prioritization is key for Agile success.

  • Set communication guidelines. Foster collaboration and adaptability by setting up good communication inside your organization and across teams. 

  • Provide continuous (and constructive) feedback to all employees. Nobody knows that they’re doing something wrong unless you tell them. Encourage employees, and give them feedback where necessary to help them be as successful and productive as possible.

  • Keep all stakeholders informed about organizational changes and plans going forward. Part of Agile project management is making sure everyone is up-to-date on plans and changes, and that is particularly important for leaders and stakeholders. Agile methodology helps you keep track of changes and share them when needed.

If you’re studying business management, it’s extremely valuable to learn more about project management and different systems and processes your organization may have. If a career in project management sounds exciting to you, a business management degree is the ideal place to start.

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