Agile Project Management or APM is now considered by many as an essential process in project development. Requiring constant monitoring of processes and changes as the project progresses, APM uses an iterative approach that streamlines these while creating an atmosphere of enhanced learning within a limited timeframe.
APM is an outgrowth of the Agile process in software development and follows the same route — any project addressed in this way is sectioned into well-defined but not necessarily sequential stages or parts to create better traction on work by teams and their individual members as well as traction on speedy delivery, data management, the use of resources, technical output, quality and implementation.
A phase in an Agile project typically reflects one development cycle. Agile enables project teams to push this cycle forward in the most efficient way. Review and critique are incorporated at the end of each cycle so that all stakeholders can contribute actionable insights that will guide the team on any following step or cycle of a project.
It cannot be argued that an iterative method is the best in guiding a project through a complex set of factors and unknown variables. It provides flexibility and efficiency in accomplishing necessary adjustments or changes that can randomly come up in the course of the project. For these reasons, Agile Project Management has now become a byword in rapid feedback, constant and achievable adaptation, and best practice for QA. Some of the most used APM systems include Scrum and Kanban.
The Agile process is related to many principles in the Lean process. The difference is that Agile is all about development, expansion and delivery rather than turning out a huge amount of products in a single production run. Both Lean and Agile are not mutually exclusive — meaning there can be many Lean elements within the Agile perspective and vice versa, and it often works best this way.
Even though Agile has only gained popularity in the past decade or so, the concept of rapid and continuous development however goes back some more decades to the middle of the twentieth century, with such gurus as James Martin, the creator of RIPP (Rapid Iterative Production Prototyping) approach that influenced the writing and publishing of the book Rapid Application Development (RAD).
The most-known aspect of Agile Project Management is that it breaks down the project process into smaller, easily-handled cycles called iterations or sprints. A sprint within the Agile process usually lasts several days and weeks.
What are APM’s Major Advantages?
These are some of the major advantages of APM:
- It enables teams to respond to critical issues as soon as they come up at any stage of a project.
- Changes demanded by such issues can be done fast and at the right moment.
- Timely adjustments enable stakeholders to save on time and resources.
- Successful project deliveries are typically delivered on time or with a comfortable margin and exactly within budget.
- Increased collaboration among stakeholders, team members and users help to create the best products possible.
How do teams work using APM?
Typically, project goals in APM are set and given by a product owner. Teams will then divide the work schedule for individual members. Agile methods will layer the management of a project in a way that compartmentalizes but interrelates tasks.
Project managers are often absent in APM teams, because the role and its concomitant responsibilities are spread throughout the work schedule and tasks for specific specialists within teams. The product owner will often oversee and be responsible for the overall running and completion of a project.
APM teams and their members are often trained in working within the Agile framework and ideally integrated into the attached culture. Since this is a new way of accomplishing projects, those using APM must themselves be adaptive and willing to collaborate and share any necessary item with other team members and users.
Communication is key to all stages, from development to implementation and overall tracking. Initiative needs to come to the fore, and many specialists who are used to the older trickle down or waterfall hierarchy of accomplishing projects need to learn to use initiative in keeping pace with all phases of a project, especially the most important delivery schedules.
Transitioning from the traditional waterfall methodologies to Agile often takes time and requires editing or adjustments within a company work culture.
Agile vs. Waterfall
Agile Project Management was actually developed to provide a better way of accomplishing things when compared to the older Waterfall method of software development. The Waterfall method follows a strict timeline and sequences of tasks. Tasks are initiated only after all the requirements, resources and teams have been gathered together or completed.
There are many problems inherent in the Waterfall approach, but what stands out with regards to Agile is its inflexible character. With 2001’s Agile Manifesto, seventeen software developers outlined twelve principles of Agile Software Development that presented the world at large with a way to learn while working, change when things are already set and have a more open perspective when it comes to welcoming change.
What are the Various Elements of APM?
When you decide to adopt APM, you have to learn its critical structures, roles, methodologies, values and more, as related to Agile. We will outline these for you very briefly here.
- Agile Methodology:
- Planning a project — where teams understand project objectives, scope, value and how it should be achieved.
- Creating a product roadmap — presents product features which are addressed in individual sprints. Creating the roadmap also provides a backlog of useful resources.
- Release planning — sprints are short development cycles that have a built-in plan for releasing features after each cycle.
- Planning sprints — these meetings are held to create schedules, workloads and roles that team members play.
- Daily stand-ups — are conducted so that team members input their user stories to see where and how changes can be made.
- Review and retrospective meetings — these are post sprint meetings that 1.) review the finished product for stakeholders and 2.) provide a retrospective for stakeholders to identify pros and cons, and assess work done.
- Agile Principles:
- Customer satisfaction through continuous delivery is the highest priority.
- Change is welcome because it often leads to discovering a competitive edge.
- Shorter periods deliver on project milestones continuously and frequently.
- Coordinators must always work daily.
- Projects are best run with individuals working in an atmosphere of motivation and trust.
- Personal conversations are instrumental in providing information.
- Final products always reflect progress.
- Agile means sustainable development, with stakeholders still benefiting in the long run.
- Do the necessary work and junk all the non-essentials.
- Initiative can produce the best designs, architectures and requirements.
- Teams that know how to recognize mistakes and adjust accordingly to become more effective work best.
- Agile’s Four Core Values:
- The human element and its interactions take precedence over tools, processes and systems.
- Software that works still tops overly-detailed records and documentation.
- Customers are seen as project assets and collaborators do away with contract negotiations.
- Responsiveness to changes rather than blindly following an established plan.
- Agile Project Management Components:
- User stories — high level work requests using concise descriptions focused on client goals.
- Sprints — using a quick process for completing product features or development cycles.
- Agile board — may be a physical board or software for efficiently tracking project progress.
- Backlog — the intake and creation of stories that are logged for use in later sprints.
- Stand-up or Scrum Meetings — ideally under 10 minutes, participants remain standing to encourage discussions that are short and straight to the point.
- General Roles in an Agile Team
- Scrum master — resolves issues, keeps sprints on track and acts as the team advocate.
- Team members — three to seven members who are tasked to accomplish tasks during sprints.
- Stakeholders — provides feedback, reviews and approves work.
- Product owner — defines sprint goals, team backlog and represents the customer in the Agile process.
- Vital Characteristics of Agile Team Structures
- T-Shaped (cross-skilled) people
- Has initiative
- Committed to excellence
What are the Disadvantages of APM?
Agile is actually not applicable across all fields or businesses. Its potential risks include:
- Going off track
- Unexpected outcomes
- Incomplete documentation
Those organizations that need or prefer to analyze in a deeper way and need longer periods to get information and even longer periods for taking the initiative and acting on decisions do not fit well with the Agile system of making quick decisions. Also, organizations that have working committees making consensus and deliberate decisions, legislative bodies for instance, will find Agile a problematic system.
How Do I Get Started with Agile Project Management?
Knowing the most basic elements of APM is needed. There should be a commitment to transition into Agile methodology, core values and working principles with the relevant software, roles and tools at the ready. To ensure this, there should be an adjustment period starting the transition, where the results of work need to be studied and critiqued to understand and resolve issues. The creation of teams that fit roles for project management in Agile is also a prerequisite. These may seem a lot but these are not really hard to fulfill, as proven by hundreds of established organizations and businesses who have already successfully implemented APM.