What Is Agile Project Management? | An Ultimate Guide

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Agile project management is an iterative and collaborative method that divides larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks and shorter time segments. These smaller phases are called sprints or iterations.

Agile project management has grown in popularity in recent years as teams strive to tackle project management challenges in a more flexible and dynamic manner. Read on to learn more about the benefits, history, and implementation of Agile project management. 

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What is Agile Project Management?

Agile project management is a methodology that focuses on breaking the larger project lifecycle into more approachable portions of time and smaller tasks. Rather than delivering project deliverables and products at the conclusion of a project, Agile project management prioritizes the delivery of a working product throughout the process, allowing the project team and stakeholders to work closely together during the course of the project execution while providing feedback—not just during the project post-mortem. 

Compared to other more traditional methods of project management, Agile project management is less rigid, which gives teams the ability to pivot in new directions as needed and adapt to changing circumstances or project needs.

Key Agile Principles 

According to the Agile Alliance, there are 12 foundational principles of Agile project management:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software (or products) frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software (and products) are the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Read more: Agile Software Development Methodology & Principles


Comparing Agile to Traditional Project Management

Agile vs Waterfall: Fast Facts

Agile and Waterfall are two of the most well-recognized project management methodologies today. The two methods are often referenced as opposites, but the relationship between Waterfall and Agile is more complex than that. 

Here are a few fast facts about Agile and Waterfall:

  • The Agile methodology was created as a response to some of the limitations that fast-moving project teams faced when navigating projects using more traditional methods, namely, Waterfall.
  • Teams are not exclusively limited to the use of one methodology over another. While one project may require the rigid structure of Waterfall, another may require the flexibility of Agile.
  • Moreover, hybrid approaches are possible in project management. In select circumstances, project teams may find great success in combining specific guidelines from Waterfall and Agile.

Overall, there are 6 main factors to consider when comparing Agile and Waterfall.

agile vs waterfall.
Comparing Agile vs Waterfall in 6 key areas

Read more: Agile vs Waterfall: What’s the Difference?


Popular Agile Frameworks

Defining Frameworks in Project Management

Project management frameworks represent a smaller subset of project management methodologies that provide more room for application. Whereas project management methodologies represent rigid rules and practices for completing a project, frameworks operate as a subset of methodologies, offering more flexible adaptations of how those rules can be applied in project management.

Kanban

The Kanban framework is based on the Japanese word kanban, meaning visual card. Fittingly, the Kanban framework uses a card-like layout to represent each task within a project, dividing the project as a whole into three categories: to-do, in progress, and completed. As tasks hit milestones, they are moved under the category that reflects their current status, which makes it easy for project teams to visualize where individual tasks are in the larger project lifecycle. 

Scrum

Whereas Kanban largely focuses on project visualization and task management strategies for applying Agile, Scrum breaks down projects into smaller “sprints” of time that are isolated from the rest of the project. Once these periods of time are divided, a unique form of project manager, called a Scrum Master, helps guide the team through each Sprint. The Scrum framework also outlines other unique meeting types, roles, and more. 

eXtreme Programming (XP)

XP is an Agile framework geared toward software development teams that aims to help teams overcome common challenges in creating software. XP has 12 supporting processes that help outline the framework: 

  1. Planning game 
  2. Small releases 
  3. Customer acceptance tests 
  4. Simple design 
  5. Pair programming 
  6. Test-driven development 
  7. Refactoring 
  8. Continuous integration 
  9. Collective code ownership 
  10. Coding standards 
  11. Metaphor 
  12. Sustainable pace

Pros and Cons of Agile

ProsCons
Flexibility: Agile teams are able to shift the project focus and team practices quickly, making them a more adaptable choice for fast-moving teams. 

Collaborative: Team collaboration is a cornerstone of Agile project management, which can improve communication and facilitate better project outcomes. 

Product outcomes faster: The Agile methodology favors working products over perfection, which means working products are delivered faster. 
Scope creep: Agile projects have less rigid expectations for project outcomes, which can make Agile teams more susceptible to scope creep. 

Less predictability: Predictability is substantially lower in Agile projects due to increased flexibility. This can lead to numerous project-threatening issues if teams are not prepared to manage ambiguity.

Longer timeline: Less rigid planning requirements often lead to longer project timelines for Agile projects. 

History of Agile Project Management

Agile project management came about as a response to the 1990s technology boom when developers of new technologies realized the limitations of methodologies, like Waterfall, that were not designed to produce a tangible product quickly. 

In response, a group of 17 developers met in Snowbird, Utah, to discuss ideas together as “organizational anarchists” seeking to find a better way. After three days of discussion, they settled on the foundational ideas of modern Agile project management. 


Read more: What is Project Management?


FAQs

While Agile may not be the best choice for every team or every project, there are a variety of situations where Agile practices can be a great fit:

  • When project parameters are uncertain or rapidly changing
  • Ongoing projects without a predetermined timeline
  • For projects or teams that need a high degree of flexibility
  • Software development teams and product developers who need a working product ASAP
  • For teams who are facilitating collaboration between multiple teams (such as developers and marketing personnel)

Agile is a powerful methodology, but it isn’t the best choice in every situation. Here are some examples of situations where Agile should not be used:

  • Projects or teams that need a very predictable project timeline
  • Projects or teams that need clear project outcomes and a high level of documentation
  • Projects with strict budgets
  • Teams that struggle to self-organize or struggle with unpredictable staffing

 In short, yes. Hybrid approaches to projects often happen when a team wants to include certain parameters of a project management methodology, but not others.

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