What is Agile Project Management?

Ruth Ng

Ruth Ng

8 min read
2022-07-30

Agile is a project management methodology that takes an iterative approach to managing software development projects. Iterative means that the entire process is built upon and improved over time, which ultimately makes for a more flexible and responsive development cycle.

Teams working in software development know it’s important to constantly revisit their work. However, some methodologies previously left little room for change after a project timeline was finalised. This could be even more so the case in companies with a project backlog.

Agile teams, however, embrace the imperfection of the development process. They know that there is room for continuous improvement, and they lean into this mindset as they complete their final product.

While it’s designed for software developers in mind, you can learn a lot from the agile framework and apply it to any project.

What is agile development?

The agile methodology flows through numerous phases of development. Each one is dedicated toward identifying strengths, assessing risks, and moving toward an even better end result. The constant collaboration on agile teams leads to greater support and progress.

The typical agile software development cycle is broken down into a series of smaller, and more manageable steps, that are repeated until the final product.

  • Plan
  • Design
  • Develop
  • Test
  • Deploy
  • Review

By following this process through several iterations, a team is able to quickly refine their work with minimal risk. In fact, releasing a minimum viable product (MVP) is a key part of the agile framework.

Imagine that you’re leading a team of software developers and engineers. Your goal is to create a new banking app. Rather than focus on perfecting each part of the app in a series of stages, you focus on producing the most basic form of the app first.

Reviewing this minimally viable version of the app gives the team an opportunity to review. What features stand out? Which ones are clearly missing? How could we refine this to be better?

Rather than discarding this version, the team builds from their work to continually refine it. This means less wasted time and resources as well as greater productivity and communication.

Background

Agile was founded in 2000 by 17 software developers. They came together out of a shared passion for development and a desire to deliver products faster. Delays were highly common during this time, because software developers often ran into unexpected challenges during the development cycle.

The developers recognised a need for greater agility in the development process. Hence the name of their now-famous methodology.

The initial meeting of the 17 developers didn’t lead to the complete methodology we use today. It has been refined and improved overtime, largely through the same iterative approach it’s built upon.

The 5 Principles of Agile

There are five principles in the agile manifesto that capture the heart of this methodology.

The agile manifesto reads:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work, we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation,
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Looking more closely at each of these principles, we can see that agile emphasises people and connection over documentation and impersonal planning.

Individuals and interactions are placed before any formal development processes or tools. Agile embraces the humanness of its team. It embraces the imperfections, encourages curiosity, and welcomes change with enthusiasm over scepticism.

Because of this mindset, agile teams tend to work closely with one another. Leading an agile project is as much about fostering connection among team members as creating a final product.

Agile vs. Waterfall

Waterfall is another extremely popular project management methodology. It’s frequently used in development as well, but you don’t have to apply it solely in engineering. In fact, knowing both Agile and Waterfall is great for any project manager’s portfolio.

The truth is that projects are all unique, even when they fall under the same industry, niche, or even team. Knowing different methodologies can help you achieve your goals faster and minimise setbacks.

Agile * Team creates multiple versions of a product before reaching the end of the cycle. * Change is more easily made through frequent meetings and an interactive design strategy. * Product design is more flexible and adapts readily to new technologies * Progress occurs through fast "sprints".

Waterfall * Only the final product is considered and reviewed. * Changes have to be systematic and planned ahead to prevent delays or losses. * Project parameters are fixed, and there is little to no room for modification during the development cycle. * Progress happens in fixed, sequential steps.

The agile methodology is great for complex projects that may have a lot of variables at play. For smaller projects, waterfall can be most effective. It all depends on the scope of the project, design of the team, and ultimate end goal.

What about Scrum?

Scrum is a child philosophy born from the agile framework. Agile outlines the values and principles of agile development; scrum is a development process that runs on a more fixed methodology.

Under Scrum, teams work in shorter sprints with smaller deliverables. Although agile has many versions of its project, the only deliverable comes at the end of the cycle.

Agile can also embody multi-faceted teams with shared roles. Scrum specifies team roles and is run by a scrum master and product owner.

If you plan on working in software development or technology project management, it may be helpful to be familiar with both agile and scrum. Agile is the overarching philosophy that makes scrum possible. So, by learning one, you can naturally appreciate the other.

Benefits of Agile in Project Management

Agile is a fantastic framework for someone developing a large project with a lot of moving parts. It also encourages teamwork, collaboration, and connection. When you’re working with a team of people from multiple backgrounds, you can’t communicate enough.

But what happens when communication leads to confusion over clarity?

Agile guides conversations toward common ground. Ultimately, everyone is there to improve the product and make it as great as it can be. This means that each meeting is rooted in continuous improvement, not criticism.

Agile encourages change and exploration. For teams that have the flexibility in their timetable, it’s a great approach to any project that creates synergy across the team.

In addition to promoting a greater final project, agile also fosters plenty of opportunity for reflection and growth. It asks each person to focus on their strengths, learn from their own work, and continually improve as they support one another in their shared goal.

Is Project Management the Career For You?

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