We all know what project management is, right? It’s the planning, organization, and execution of a specific initiative or group of related tasks throughout their lifecycles. Project management is absolutely vital for large organizations because it helps with:
- Ensuring that all employees involved in the project are aware of their responsibilities
- Improving productivity levels among employees
- Allowing for greater quality control by giving team members ownership of different parts of the project
- Increasing customer satisfaction through the implementation of continuous improvement over the course of the project
But what is agile project management?
Agile is a project management framework that divides your project plan into more manageable sections called sprints. It’s an iterative approach that focuses on fewer deliverables in shorter time frames, allowing for stakeholder feedback between sprint planning sessions. It also encourages sprint retrospectives that help teams learn from their successes and failures.
The agile project management methodology first became popular in agile software development. The agile development process became an industry standard because it helps coding and devops teams to adapt with an “agile approach,” delivering working software in small increments. Later, the agile methodology became popular far beyond its original scope of extreme programming and application development.
Organizations that embrace agile project management methodologies increase their execution speed, collaborate more efficiently, and are better able to adapt to changing conditions.
The Basics and Benefits of Agile
There are some basic things to know about agile methodologies that are common across all industries. The Agile Manifesto was created to ensure that everyone using this style of project management is on the same page. Some of the basic principles included in the manifesto include things such as examining each sprint at the end and making changes going forward, if necessary. These 12 key concepts separate agile from other project management methodologies.
1. Customer Satisfaction
Agile project management allows for more quality control, which means that companies can deliver a better product to their stakeholders. Satisfied customers generally return to purchase more of what a business has to offer, resulting in higher profits.
2. Leaving Room for Change
Agile project management not only leaves more room for change than traditional project management, but it also welcomes change at any stage of development. If the customer is dissatisfied with any aspect of the project at any time, the development team can immediately adjust what they are doing in order to give end users what they want.
3. Continuous Delivery
Agile practices allow for more frequent updates, and enable teams to deliver their products more frequently.
4. Customer Collaboration
Customers and other stakeholders work with those involved in the project throughout its lifecycle when employees use agile methods. This gives customers a sense of ownership in the project, which in turn can lead to greater customer satisfaction.
5. Employee Trust
As the product owner, a member of an agile team is given a great amount of trust to get the job done, given that management provides them with the necessary support.
6. Face-to-Face Conversations
While email and virtual meetings can be convenient, agile principles state that face-to-face meetings are the best way to ensure that everyone is on the same page and accomplish the common goal.
7. Acknowledging the Final Product
Agile teams consider the final product as the best representation of how well the team worked together. If the final product is not up to par, employees must prioritize change before beginning the next project cycle.
8. Sustainable Development
While agile development teams know the importance of a quick turnaround, they are also aware that employees work best when they keep a good pace and do not start to burn out. Employees on agile teams generally have a steady workflow and avoid large product backlogs.
Project teams should be able to implement changes rapidly and in real-time. Workers should constantly ask themselves if they could be doing anything differently to improve their workflow or the end product.
When teams keep a process simple, they increase their efficiency and become leaner. Lean development minimizes the amount of unnecessary work that employees perform and increases the amount of time they have to perform tasks such as quality control and process improvement.
11. Self-Organizing Teams
Self-organization occurs when people know their own and each other’s strengths and weaknesses and adjust their workflow accordingly. Members of teams that self-organize are more in tune with each other and, in general, produce a higher quality product at the end.
One of the main reasons to implement agile methods is to regularly evaluate how the project is going, which requires self-reflection among team members. Self-reflection refers to the ability of someone to consider and understand their actions.
It is possible that not every agile project will incorporate all 12 of these agile values. However, team members should always keep these principles in mind and use them wherever possible.
Common Agile Methodologies
Although agile team members adhere to certain accepted basic principles, there are several different ways to implement agile project management. Which type of project management methodology team members choose depends on many factors, including the type of project they are working on, customer needs, and their industry.
The agile scrum management system enables employees to work in sprints, or short iterations of a project that allow for constant improvement and a quick turnaround time of new functionality. People working in software development may be familiar with the term “daily scrum,” which refers to a short stand-up meeting where developers go over what they’re working on and any areas they see for improvement. Some reasons that someone might use scrum methodology include:
- If they have a complicated project where breaking tasks down into smaller steps would be beneficial to employees
- If they work for a company that values getting things done as quickly as possible while still maintaining high quality
- If they work with customers who may want to make changes during the development of their product, since scrum offers greater flexibility than some other methodologies.
Companies that use the scrum method typically break their teams down into three roles:
- The scrum master, or the person who oversees product development, maintains a good working environment and facilitates any changes that employees need to make
- The product owner, or the person who acts as the liaison between the product and the customers
- The scrum team, or those who work together with the assistance of the scrum master and product owner to develop the final product
Besides software development, some industries that prefer using scrum include data analytics, financial services, and any others that would benefit from the advantages listed above.
Kanban is a system of management that uses visuals, through the use of a Kanban board, to enable team members to understand each stage of a project, from the point where someone develops an idea to when an employee delivers the final product to the customer. In fact, Kanban gets its name from a variation of the Chinese word for “sign,” which is a nod to its more visual approach. Kanban differs from the scrum development method in that it does not focus on breaking projects down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Some benefits of this system include:
- Flexibility throughout the lifecycle of a project, thanks to its use of the just-in-time practice
- The reduction of waste and overhead cost, due to the ability of Kanban to display the quantity and location of resources, which includes not only merchandise but employees as well
- Constant improvement and quality control
Manufacturing is one industry that benefits greatly from using the Kanban system. This is because the visuals that this project management methodology uses help employees identify bottlenecks during the production of goods. However, any industry that requires continuous production, rather than sprints, can benefit from using Kanban. This method may also be attractive to employees who are visual learners.
The main factor that differentiates lean methodology from scrum and Kanban is its focus on reducing waste wherever possible. Those who use lean methodology do this by examining all of the tasks that team members perform and eliminating those that do not provide anything of value to the project. People who use this method benefit from:
- A reduction in costs, due to the elimination of unneeded materials, employee hours or a combination of both
- More time during their workday to perform higher-level tasks, rather than repetitive or unneeded tasks
- Increased efficiency
Projects that can benefit from lean methodology include those where resources are a concern. For example, managers of a company might want to build a new product but are unsure how much profit they might make from that product. In that case, the managers would be wise to implement a leaner practice until they are sure that they have the resources needed to implement scrum or Kanban, if needed.
Advantages and Benefits of Agile Project Management
It is easy for businesses to become complacent in their ways and stick to the project management systems that they have been using for decades. These more standard methods are sometimes referred to as waterfall project management. However, there are many reasons why a company might want to reconsider its current practices and switch to using agile project management, such as one of the development methodologies listed above.
Improved Flexibility and Adaptability
Because many agile projects are broken down into smaller pieces, employees have more chances to adjust their processes along the way. Agile processes often even incorporate steps where team members take some time to ask stakeholders if there is anything that they could do differently. This is sometimes referred to as a sprint review.
Greater Collaboration Among Team Members
Sometimes, teamwork and working with other people is the most challenging part of a job. Agile project management can help team members overcome the obstacle of working with others because it has methods of communication and collaboration built into its processes.
Stakeholders often want to know how far along a project is in its lifecycle. When a company uses agile project management, stakeholders can better see where their product stands and if there are any issues that employees need to resolve before delivering the product. Due to its visual nature, Kanban methodology is especially helpful for providing transparency and visibility into projects.
Increased Focus on the Customer
Some companies make goods or provide services and never know how well the customer liked the product until after delivery. An agile project management approach, however, incorporates the customer into the entire process of building the good or service. This means that customers have a say on how the company develops their product, causing the product to have a greater value to the customer.
Agile Project Management Risks
Despite agile’s many benefits, agile projects are not always successful. It’s important to be aware of the things that can can derail an agile project.
It takes time to plan for an agile project, and depending on the amount of work that an employee already has, they may not take as much time as they need in the planning stage. This can lead to a less-than-satisfactory experience for all team members. One way to overcome this challenge is to have a dedicated team plan on how to execute each project beforehand and provide comprehensive documentation and a roadmap for each employee.
Lack of Support
For agile project management to work, all team members need to be on board and do their parts during development cycles. An obstacle that can occur when implementing the agile framework is employees who are resistant to change and who refuse to use new project management software and strategies. Managers can help overcome this obstacle by conveying the many benefits of agile project management and providing support to their employees when changing to the new system.
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