The Ultimate Manual to Agile Project Management

Agile project management is a unique project management methodology popular among software development teams, tech startups, and businesses with distributed teams.

It is drastically different from traditional project management which follows the waterfall approach, which is more suited to projects with minimal uncertainty, clear goals, and well-defined processes.

But how does agile project management work, and what are its core components? This article will answer these questions and more in detail.

What is Agile Project Management Anyway?

Agile project management is a highly flexible form of project management based on collaboration, customer feedback, and small project deliverables.

It is mainly used by software development companies, tech startups, and fast-moving businesses that adapt quickly to customer feedback and market demands.

The agile methodology adopts an iterative approach to delivering projects throughout their life cycle. Instead of dividing projects into large phases spread over months, agile project management works through weekly sprints with specific time-capped deliverables.

This allows teams to collaborate more frequently, measure the impact of their work, and make changes while building a product.

The Agile Manifesto – Core Values And Principles

The agile manifesto sums up this methodology and how it’s different from other approaches to project management.

Here are the core values of agile project management:

The agile manifesto also states the 12 principles of agile project management.

The 12 principles of agile project management include welcoming and adapting to changing requirements throughout all phases of a project, continuously delivering working software, working in shorter timelines, collaboration, sustainable development, using working software as a metric of project progress, simplicity, and regularly checking in to reflect on how to be more effective before adjusting the path forward.

The focus of agile is to get things done in line with the customer’s requirements. It encourages teams to focus on shipping more frequently instead of getting caught up in detailed documentation and unnecessary approval cycles.

However, this doesn’t mean there’s no planning involved in agile project management. On the contrary, there’s often more frequent planning in agile than traditional project management. But it’s more flexible, has room for adapting to change, and is ultimately focused on customer satisfaction.

An agile team starts with a broad vision and project plan. But it doesn’t try to lock everything before kicking off a project. Instead, it breaks down the long-term project goals into small milestones and encourages managers to evaluate their approach on every project iteration.

To understand agile project management in more detail, let’s look at the fundamental ways it is different from traditional project management.

The Difference Between Agile and Traditional Project Management

Traditional project management has been around for decades in the engineering, construction, and IT industries. It was designed to simplify large-scale projects by breaking them down into phases and significant milestones.

Traditional project management follows the waterfall approach, which focuses on intensive planning and documentation to ensure that everyone clearly understands their roles and knows what’s required from them.

The goals in traditional PM are very well defined, and there’s rarely a need to change things throughout the project lifecycle. And even if a change is required, it is processed through extensive documentation and approval cycles.

In short, traditional project management aims to minimize uncertainty and advocates a linear approach to work management.

Agile project management is entirely different from this approach. It was developed specifically for software development teams because the traditional project management approach lacked the flexibility to accommodate fast-changing product development cycles.

Agile project management also advocates planning, but unlike the traditional linear approach, it adopts an iterative process for project deliverables.

This is why it is most suitable for small to medium-sized projects where long-term planning is not feasible, and you need to incorporate the customer’s feedback at every stage of product development.

As a result, you can measure your results at the end of every sprint, see if they align with your business goals, and make the necessary changes to move forward without going for comprehensive documentation and approvals.

In short, the fundamental difference between agile and traditional project management is in the development approach. Agile follows an evolutionary delivery model where the product is developed through constant feedback and frequent changes. On the other hand, traditional project management waits till the end of the project life cycle to measure results and learn lessons.

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. But for software teams and startups, agile is the most suitable project management approach.

Benefits Of Agile Project Management

Let’s discuss some of the main benefits of agile project management.

The agile methodology is much more flexible than traditional project management. Its focus is on product delivery in line with the client’s requirements. To achieve this goal, it encourages teams to be flexible about their processes and workflows.

For example, if a team member believes a task can be done more efficiently, agile gives them the room to experiment without making drastic changes to the project plan.

Similarly, project leads can change priorities and shuffle team members around based on their immediate objectives.

Since agile project management is based on short sprints instead of conventional project phases, teams can constantly evaluate their course and make changes whenever needed.

Collaboration & Transparency
Agile project management encourages collaboration between team members, customers, and all the relevant stakeholders. Instead of working on projects in isolation, agile teams constantly interact with the clients for feedback and share their progress at every stage.

This transparency ensures that all relevant stakeholders are always in the loop and aware of the project’s direction.

As a result, the end product is never too different from the client’s requirements. And even if the client requires changes at the time f project delivery, they’re unlikely to change the course of a project drastically.

Ownership & Accountability
In agile project management, the whole team works toward a common goal and shares responsibility for the success of a project. This is done through regular sprints where each team member is assigned different tasks.

This creates a sense of ownership among team members and allows them to shine with their performance. At the same time, it allows greater accountability and enables the project lead to identify the team members affecting a project’s performance.

This is in stark contrast to traditional project management, where the project manager is solely responsible for the results of a project.

Team Motivation
Agile management works on constant collaboration and frequent feedback through daily standup meetings and weekly or fortnightly sprints. Every sprint has clear deliverables assigned to different team members.

Because of the collaborative model, every team member gets highlighted for their performance in daily scrums and can see the results of their hard work at the end of every sprint.

This ensures your team stays motivated throughout the project life cycle and performs at the top of their potential.

Faster Change Management
Managing change in agile project management is much simpler and easier than in the traditional approach. You don’t need to follow tedious change management processes or wait for approvals. Instead, you can request changes in real-time and can alter your approach without drastically impacting your team’s end goal.

How Agile Project Management Works

To understand agile project management, you need to get familiar with some of its main terminologies.

Sprint – In agile, projects consist of multiple sprints that have clear deliverables and timelines. A sprint is a short development cycle in a large project. Its duration can be anywhere from one week to a month.

Scrum – These are daily status update meetings where team members update each other on their tasks in a specific sprint, get feedback, or request changes if needed. (These are sometimes also called “standups.”)

Scrum master – Every scrum has a scrum master who’s responsible for managing the team’s work during a sprint, setting guidelines, and ensuring that everyone follows the agreed principles.

Stories – In agile, client requirements are documented as stories and prioritized in a Backlog.

Backlog – The pending list of tasks/stories organized in terms of priority.

Kanban – A method for managing work, with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery.

Kanban board – A work and workflow visualization tool summarizing the status, progress, and issues related to the work.

Velocity – A measure of work completed during a single development phase or Sprint.

Ceremonies – Meetings, often a daily planning meeting, that identify what has been done, what needs to be done, and the barriers to success.

Product owner – A product owner defines the goals of each sprint, manages and prioritizes the team backlog, and be the voice of the customer or internal stakeholder.

Stakeholders – These are often the decision-makers in your company who should be kept in the loop during the project. They should be regularly updated on the product and sprint goals.

Now that you understand what different agile terminologies mean, let’s see how you can get started with agile project management.

How to Get Started With Agile Project Management

Agile project management has several methodologies like Kanban, Scrum, Scrumban, etc. Naturally, every methodology differs. However, the following are some of the common steps in all agile approaches.

Step 1: Develop A Project Plan

Like traditional project management, agile also starts with the planning phase. However, agile planning is much more flexible and always has room for change.

Develop an initial project scope and plan document that clearly describes your end goal from a project, what the customer desires, and how your team should achieve it.

Step 2: Create A Product Roadmap

A project roadmap breaks down the end product into various features and deliverables. It charts down a path for your team and provides them with a roadmap for delivering the product.

Based on this roadmap, you’ll also plan your sprints. Usually, each sprint is dedicated to a specific feature or deliverable.

Creating your project Backlog is also a part of a roadmap. In the Backlog, you will list all your project features and deliverables based on their priority level.

Step 3: Develop A Release Plan

Agile project management follows an iterative approach to product development. Unlike traditional project management, agile uses short development cycles called sprints. Your team will release a feature/deliverable at the end of each sprint.

Before starting your first sprint, create a high-level release plan with a tentative schedule for your sprints. This plan serves as a guideline for your team. However, you’ll need to evaluate the deliverables and schedule of each sprint when you arrive at it.

Step 4: Plan Your Sprints

Sprint planning happens before each sprint. The objective of these planning meetings is to determine the goal of a sprint, the role of each person involved in it, a detailed plan of how to achieve the sprint’s goal, and evenly distribute work among team members.

Once a sprint has been planned, its documented strategy is shared with all the team members and stakeholders. However, like always, there’s room for change if needed.

Step 5: Hold Daily Stand Up Meetings

Daily stand-up meetings play a crucial role in keeping your team on track during a sprint. However, they should not exceed 15 minutes. Additionally, they should allow each team member to share their latest tasks, challenges, and upcoming deliverables.

Team members can also request cooperation from other team members and stakeholders or request changes during stand-up meetings.

However, the scrum master should ensure that these meetings do not drag longer than intended and remain focused on the current sprint.

Step 6: Hold Sprint Review And Retrospective

Once a sprint ends, you need to evaluate your performance and take all the key stakeholders in the loop on your results.

You can do that by holding two crucial meetings–sprint review and sprint retrospective.

In a sprint review, you present the sprint’s deliverable to your customer and seek their feedback. Ideally, this should be a face-to-face meeting that involved all your team members and the customer’s representatives. However, you could also host a sprint review on a video call.

In the sprint retrospective meeting, you evaluate the sprint with all the key stakeholders. The objective is to share an analysis of the sprint, discuss any problems that arose during the sprint, and any lessons learned that could be used in the next sprint.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira