• Project management
  • by Krzysztof Sowa
  • 17/10/2019

The Beginners’ Guide to Agile Project Management Methodology

Software teams have been employing different variants of the agile project management methodology for more than a decade. The most successful digital products today are built and developed with the help of agile processes that increase speed, collaboration, and ability to respond to market trends. But what exactly is agile…

Concise Software - The Beginners' Guide to Agile Project Management Methodology

Software teams have been employing different variants of the agile project management methodology for more than a decade. The most successful digital products today are built and developed with the help of agile processes that increase speed, collaboration, and ability to respond to market trends.

But what exactly is agile project management all about? And how does it help development teams deliver amazing results?

Read our beginners’ guide to agile project management to learn everything you know about this methodology.

Where does Agile come from?

While it may seem that Agile is a relatively new approach to building software, it actually dates back to the mid-20th century. Over the years, ideas of continuous development have taken on different forms and shapes – for example, the Rapid Application Development (RAD) that emerged in the 1990s.

Who were the initial advocates of Agile? Software developers who were dissatisfied with the current methods for organizing software development projects.

They published the foundational Agile document called The Agile Manifesto in 2001, but today Agile as a set of management practices is rapidly spreading to all types of organizations. The popularity of Agile is driven by an awareness of today’s rapidly-evolving, customer-driven marketplace. Agile allows companies to master continuous change, helping them to respond to a market that is increasingly complex and uncertain.

Agile Project Management vs. Waterfall

To understand the origins of Agile, let’s take a closer look at the set of practices that Agile aims to improve.

Agile Project Management (APM) was formulated in opposition to the traditional Waterfall methodology of software development. The Waterfall method structures the process of developing software as sequential. Every initiative starts with gathering all the requirements, scoping out resources, and establishing the project timeline and budget. Then the team gets down to work, tests it, and delivers the project as a whole once all the work is completed.

However, the Waterfall model comes with a high amount of risk and uncertainty. Since working software is produced late in the life cycle, teams have no way of knowing whether their work corresponds with customer expectations until very late in the game. Also, it’s difficult and expensive to change elements that weren’t properly thought-out in the concept stage.

Agile emerged in response to these problems. In 2001, 17 software developers published The Agile Manifesto that outlined 12 principles of Agile Software Development. These principles continue to guide Agile Project Management today, materializing in a wide range of frameworks.

Agile Project Management – definition

Agile Project Management (APM) counteracts the problems of the waterfall model by offering teams an iterative approach to planning and directing project processes.

Teams complete Agile projects in small chunks called iterations. In agile software development, an iteration can refer to a single development cycle. Every iteration is reviewed by the project team that includes representatives of the project’s stakeholders. The insights produced during these meetings help the team to determine the next step in the project.

The main value of Agile Project Management lies in its ability to respond to problems as they come to light throughout the project. Applying changes early on helps teams to save resources and deliver products of the highest possible value.

Scrum

The most popular agile framework is Scrum. In Scrum, every iteration is completed within a single session called the Sprint. Sprints tend to be short and run over weeks – they’re typically two to four weeks long. 

The team can release segments completed at the end of every Sprint, demonstrating that these segments are successful throughout the release schedule. If an iteration turns out to be faulty, the team can instantly jump on the project and fix it quickly. 

The idea behind this approach is reducing the change of large-scale failures that are difficult and expensive to fix. Instead, agile teams engage in continuous improvement throughout the project lifecycle.

Benefits of Agile Project Management

Agile Project Management helps teams to deliver better products faster.

  • It supports companies undergoing a digital transformation and looking to transform their ways of managing projects and operating as a whole.
  • It increases team productivity and process transparency.
  • It helps teams to become more flexible and adaptive to changes.
  • It generates higher-quality deliverables and decreases the risk of missed objectives.
  • It provides project stakeholders (teams, sponsors, project leaders, and customers) with benefits like faster deployment of solutions, reduced waste through minimization of used resources, faster detection of issues, and an increased focus on meeting customer needs.
  • It improves the overall collaboration and feedback in teams.

Popular agile methodologies:

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Extreme Programming (XP)
  • Lean (LN)
  • Dynamic System Development Model (DSDM)
  • Agile Unified Process (AUP)
  • Crystal Clear methods
  • Disciplined agile delivery
  • Feature-driven development (FDD)
  • Scrumban
  • RAD (Rapid Application Development)

Managing IT projects with Agile Project Management

The early adopters of Agile were small, self-contained teams working on rather simple projects. However, the methodology has proven so successful that today, large organizations are scaling Agile beyond single teams or projects, looking to reap the benefits of agile in entire programs.

Here are a few things you need to know about managing IT projects by following Agile Project Management.

Lack of critical paths

Traditional project management styles like Waterfall often create the so-called “critical paths.” As a result, the project can’t progress until the team resolves a blocking issue. 

In Agile Project Management, the iterative approach to building software allows the development team to benefit from regular feedback. Thanks to iterations, the team can be diverted to work on another area of the project while a blocking issue is resolved – leading to a productivity boost.

Frequent feedback

When teams follow traditional project management styles, the end-users don’t interact with the product until it’s fully completed. Critical issues in the code or design can easily go undiscovered until release.

Thanks to APM, teams can interact with the product already during development. This gives them an opportunity to build, deliver, and then gather feedback to learn and adjust. Teams can react quickly to new requirements and market changes.

Mechanisms of APM

To organize, run, and structure work in an iterative way, agile teams benefit from the following mechanisms:

  • Roadmap – it outlines the development of a product over time in a series of initiatives. As it develops, teams are prepared that the roadmap will change. The idea here is keeping the roadmap focused on the present market conditions and long-term goals.
  • Requirements – every initiative in the roadmap can be broken down into requirements. But agile requirements are simple descriptions of required functionalities, not long and detailed documents that come in traditionally-managed projects. Note that just like roadmaps, requirements evolve over time and make the most of the team’s shared understanding of the customer and market reality.
  • Backlog – this is where the team sets priorities for their program and includes all the work items like bugs, features, improvements, technical tasks. The team uses the prioritized backlog as the single source of truth for the work to be done
  • Metrics – agile teams need metrics to thrive. Some examples include Work-in-progress (WIP) limits that keep everyone focused on delivering the highest-priority work, Burndown, and Control charts that help teams predict their delivery cadence and Continuous-flow diagrams that identify bottlenecks.

Conclusion

Agile Project Development offers organizations an unparalleled opportunity to address the constantly changing demands of customers in the most cost-efficient manner. Amazing products are always evolving, and Agile helps teams to direct their efforts to areas and tasks that bring the most value.

Would you like to learn more about agile methodologies? Check out other articles on our blog, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to learn more about Agile Project Development and other practices that help companies achieve success today.

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Krzysztof Sowa

Technical Project Manager in Concise Software with a developer background, especially in mobile apps (Google Certified Associate Android Developer) and automotive systems. Scrum lover, certificated PSM I, PSPO I & AgilePM, who loves sharing their knowledge with IT communities (e.g. GDG). Husband, father and passionate photographer @ The Owls Photography.

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