What Is Agile Project Management? A Quick Guide to Agile and Its Most Important Concepts
In simple words, Agile project management is a faster and more adaptive approach to managing projects. Before we learn more about Agile, let’s discuss why it was developed in the first place. Before Agile, the world followed traditional project management approaches, such as Waterfall.
Waterfall manages projects step-by-step. You would work on one phase, and then move on to the next phase only when the first was complete. However, this approach is challenging to use while managing projects which require frequent changes.
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Hence, applying traditional project management rules did not suit software development projects. The IT and software industry canceled a lot of projects. This is because they were not fast enough to adapt to changing business needs. There was usually a large delay between the time customers would make change requests to the time the final product would implement those requests.
The industry needed a development method that was more open to changes. In the early 2000s, a group of software developers met to discuss better ways of developing software. They published a document called the Agile Manifesto, which is a set of four values and 12 principles of Agile project management. This manifesto provides the basis for Agile.
Agile is an approach to project management that allows you to respond to change while working in a dynamic environment quickly. One of its biggest benefits is that it allows project teams to adapt to situations and make rapid changes to alter the direction of the project.
Instead of waiting until the end of the project, it allows teams to develop working software early in the project’s life and deliver it to the customer. This helps them get feedback early on, which they can use to optimize the product.
Even though Agile started its life in software development, many industries have started using agile. These include financial services, consulting, and healthcare, to name a few.
There are several Agile approaches, for example, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, and Extreme Programming. Out of all of these, Scrum is the most popular approach.
Next, we’re going to discuss the most important features of Agile project management.
What is a Sprint?
Agile is an iterative framework for software project management. It involves breaking down a single project into smaller projects. Teams complete different components of the product over cycles or iterations known as “Sprints.”
Sprints are time boxes (a fixed time period) of one month during which a chunk of the features of the product are developed. Teams work on these Sprints to complete all the features of the product. Therefore, it is common to develop products over multiple Sprints.
Toward the end of the Sprint, the project team reviews their performance and documents the changes the team needs to make on the project. Once the team completes a Sprint, they immediately transition into the next Sprint. The team documents the changes and performance improvements required in the current Sprint, which are then implemented in the next Sprint.
What is a Product Backlog?
The Product Backlog is one of the most important documents used in Agile projects. It is a list of all the features and requirements to make the product. Team members list these requirements in the form of user stories. During the Sprint, team members select a chunk of the items listed in the Product Backlog and work on developing them. The Product Backlog items include product features, bugs, fixes, and changes requested by stakeholders.
The four values of Agile project management
We will now discuss the four values of Agile. Agile projects are expected to encompass and practice these values.
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
It is important to value people and their relationships over processes and tools. Imagine if you are a product manager and your software is giving you an error. If you must go through a lengthy process to convey your complaint, you may experience a lot of back and forth before you finally resolve your issue.
On the other hand, it is much faster if you talk directly to an engineer. You can share your problem in much more detail and the engineer can understand your situation and solve the problem quickly. Agile encourages people to interact with one another. It allows you to make things happen faster by not restricting you by processes, technology, or tools.
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Traditionally, project managers spend a lot of time filling out documents, templates, and forms for the product they are developing. Agile says that there is more value in an actual working product as opposed to filling out bundles of forms and documents.
So, it encourages people to focus more on getting actual work done as opposed to spending their time recording what work they have done.
This is not to say Agile ignores documentation. It just prevents people from getting bogged down in excessive documentation. Instead, Agile encourages you to use documentation intelligently. You should only use documentation where it adds value.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Agile methods encourage customers to work in collaboration with the project team. The customer gets involved during the development process while the team works on the project. This close communication helps the customer convey their feedback and allows the development team to make a product that is closer to the requirements of the customer.
Responding to change over following a plan
In traditional project management, you develop detailed plans and your priorities are usually fixed, for example, managing a construction project. However, imagine a situation where there are constant changes in the marketplace, competitors, or in the customer’s requirements. Agile encourages people to quickly adapt to changes that improve the project rather than sticking to a fixed plan.
Agile works in Sprints. There are phases or Sprints of 30 days in each project in Agile. You can change your priority in every different Sprint. It encourages the team to change its priorities depending on what is more important.
Agile team roles
Agile consists of self-organizing and cross-functional teams. Agile teams can divide the work amongst themselves without supervision or micromanagement. Each member is highly skilled in a particular area while also being capable of managing other parts of the project if the need arises.
The Scrum Master helps ensure that the team follows scrum guidelines and rules on the project. They provide support to the Scrum team by removing problems and facilitating the understanding of scrum.
The Product Owner is responsible for documenting all the product requirements and then listing them down in the Product Backlog. They collect requirements from the customer and prioritize them according to their priority and value to the project. Product owners need to convey requirements to the development team in an easy to understand language.
The Development Team consists of technical team members. They are responsible for the actual development of the product.
What are the different events involved in Agile?
The entire team starts the Sprint with a Sprint Planning meeting. During the meeting, they decide what work to do in the upcoming Sprint. They shortlist items from the Product Backlog and develop a document called the Sprint Backlog.
The Sprint Backlog contains the plan on how to achieve the Sprint goal and a list of the work to do during the upcoming Sprint. This helps lay out a smooth workflow for the rest of the Sprint and provides the team with clarity and accountability on what they need to do.
Daily Scrum or stand up meetings
These are 15-minute short daily meetings. They help the team focus on keeping everyone up to date on product development. Each team member briefly lists what they did beforehand and their tasks for the day.
This helps coordinate all team members and helps them in tracking the progress of the project. Only the development team, who discuss their work with each other, attends this meeting.
The team holds the Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective after the Sprint finishes. The entire team shows the work done during the Sprint to the stakeholders for review.
They show the product features/user stories made during the Sprint and provide a demo of the completed features. The stakeholders provide feedback, recommendations, and change requests on the product.
After the Sprint Review, the team holds a meeting to discuss what went right and what went wrong during the sprint. They reflect on their performance, processes, and how they can make improvements toward future Sprints. Therefore, the Sprint Retrospective helps teams develop a habit of continuous improvement.
When it comes to deciding which project management methodology is the best for your project, is Agile the most suitable approach? The nature and dynamics of your project are the most important thing to consider when deciding how to approach your project. Remember that there is no one size fits all.
For adaptive projects, Agile has become one of the most popular approaches. The benefits of Agile processes are well suited for situations where you must constantly deal with multiple changing variables. In one shape or the other, Agile is here to stay.
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