There’s a reason Agile project management became the standard of project management practice and in some industries dethroned traditional management approaches used for decades.
Agile teams are innovative, highly adaptable, and can quickly release customer-driven products that the market needs right now.
But practicing Agile project management is not easy. The first step to a successful Agile implementation is learning what Agile project management actually is, how it works, and why.
Here’s everything you should know.
What is Agile Project Management?
Agile project management is an iterative process that emphasizes continuous frequent value delivery, collaboration with customers, and continuous enhancement of productivity through self-awareness and evolution.
Contrary to the traditional waterfall-like project management, agile-driven projects are never pre-planned entirely which allows for frequent updates to product roadmaps depending on the market response, experimentation with workflows, and higher transparency in team communication.
The particular way of executing a project in an agile environment depends on the agile framework that a team follows. For example, in the Scrum framework, every project is broken into smaller parts that are driven to completion through a series of timed work intervals called sprints, whereas the Kanban framework focuses on revealing bottlenecks in your process and establishing continuous working flow.
Agile project management was popularised after a group of developers published an Agile manifesto and established a group of principles to facilitate more efficient software development.
Although the Agile manifesto was originally created with software development teams in mind, the Agile approach to project management became highly popular and has found its applications in many other fields such as marketing, R&D, human resources, and engineering.
Benefits of Agile Project Management
Flexibility. Unlike traditional Waterfall projects that are planned for months, Agile teams operate within shorter time periods and break larger tasks into smaller chunks. Such an approach allows teams to decide what tasks will be included in every sprint, react quickly to changes in the market, and adapt their backlog of tasks in case a change to the product map or development process is required.
Continuous improvement. Continuous improvement (CI) is an integral part of Agile project management and most Agile frameworks offer specific practices and ceremonies to facilitate self-awareness and CI in Agile teams. For example, Scrum retrospectives allow teams to analyze their performance and detect productivity barriers after every sprint while Kanban framework helps teams to optimize every aspect of their flow and reduce time-to-market.
Customer Satisfaction. Agile methodologies urge teams to release finished product increments every sprint which allows teams to get regular feedback from stakeholders and customers. Such short feedback loops allow Agile teams to achieve higher customer satisfaction by providing their customers with exactly what they want.
Increased time-to-market. In traditional waterfall project management, there was typically one big release at the end of the development. Before this release, the product would usually be unavailable to most of its customers. Agile teams, due to short and regular releases of functional product increments, can release new product features every month. Such an approach allows Agile teams to release the MVP version of their product as soon as they can and then continuously upgrade with new features over time.
Drawbacks of Agile Project Management
Hard to master. The Agile project management frameworks include well-defined ceremonies and techniques that are easy to follow, but hard to master. Teams can go too far when adjusting techniques to their environment and that may result in pseudo-agile project management. For example, some teams make daily-standup meetings unnecessarily long while others might completely drop retrospectives, and both practices are detrimental to the long-term Scrum performance.
Agile teams can get sidetracked. Agile projects typically have a vague representation of a finished product as regular changes and adaptation of the roadmap are inherent to any Agile environment. Agile teams that are too focused on completing short-term goals can lose track of their big objectives and risk getting sidetracked without proper management.
Limited documentation. Agile project management is not that inherently focused on creating extensive project documentation simply for the reason that it would constantly change due to the flexible nature of Agile development. However, using tools such as Geekbot lets you automatically log stand-up and retrospective sessions to identify recurring patterns and analyze historical data while project management tools help you keep track of the project history.
Poor resource planning. Given the absence of comprehensive planning in an Agile environment, Agile organizations may struggle with allocating resources for a particular project or initiative. This is why it is best to start by assessing the productivity of each Agile team and plan resources accordingly. Managers in Agile environments typically use a combination of practices such as forecasting, matrix organization, and resource scheduling for optimal resource planning in an Agile environment.
Common Agile Project Management Methodologies
Scrum is the most popular Agile framework that focuses on creating self-sufficient cross-functional relatively small teams that complete well-defined project tasks over a short working period called Sprints while following a set of structured meetings called Ceremonies.
Here are the main features of Scrum projects:
- Sprints typically last from one week to 4 weeks
- A Scrum team usually consists of no more than 12 participants
- Scrum defines roles such as Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Scrum Team Member each with distinct responsibilities
- Larger organizations use Scrum of Scrums to coordinate several Scrum teams
Summary: Scrum is the most common Agile project management framework that requires strict adherence to inner ceremonies and rules for achieving the best results.
Kanban is originally a Japanese approach to lean manufacturing that facilitates a “just-in-time” production of consumer goods through a pulling task system, visual workflow, and limiting work in progress. Modern Kanban implementations usually start with establishing a Kanban board and moving work items through several production phases to completion.
Example of a Kanban board in Jira project management tool.
Here are the main features of Kanban projects:
- Every member of the team has access to the Kanban board to share progress and facilitate workflow transparency
- The number of items in each column is limited for easier identification of production bottlenecks (e.g. you can’t have more than “5” tasks in the “To do” column)
- Kanban teams strive to consistently improve their productivity and flow by minimizing the time it takes for each item on the board to go through every stage.
Summary: Kanban is useful for identifying production bottlenecks and establishing smooth production flow but requires regular and timely maintenance of the Kanban board in order to be effective.
Scrumban is a blend of Scrum and Kanban that utilizes Scrum for structure and Kanban for flexibility and visualization of a workflow.
Here are the main features of Scrumban projects:
- Scrumban teams utilize regular Scrum meetings to improve collaboration, self-awareness, and delivery consistency
- Scrumban teams utilize Kanban boards to improve transparency and production flow
- Scrumban allows teams to save time on Sprint planning meetings because there’s no need to figure out what to do every week — work items simply move through the Kanban board
- Scrumban helps tackle several larger projects at once as every project can have its own Kanban board
Summary: Scrumban helps teams to get the best of both Scrum and Kanban methodologies but requires teams to be proficient with each.
Agile Project Management Tools
Agile project management always required tools and techniques that helped to organize the working processes: whiteboards, product backlogs, timers, spreadsheets, and so on.
But today, when many companies that practice Agile are remote, distributed, and rely on lots of digital services for successful business operation, having the right tools to support Agile project management is crucial.
Below are the most important categories of tools for Agile:
- Project tracking and management tools allow teams to create, assign, organize, and collaborate on tasks via digital boards, a system of notifications, and shared digital space.
Examples: Jira, Asana, Trello
- Communication tools ensure that team members communicate with each other regularly and comprehensively even in remote work scenarios.
Examples: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack
- Agile tools support and help teams run Agile ceremonies in a digital environment and often offer additional functionality.
For example, Geekbot helps teams run asynchronous daily stand-ups and retrospectives directly in team messengers such as Slack and MS Teams. Geekbot is especially valuable to remote teams as it helps conduct Agile meetings without distracting team members from their work, can be completely automated, and offers a full digital history of team responses for analysis.
If your team is Agile and you struggle with lots of unneeded meetings or lack of insight into your team’s performance, check out our free 10-people Geekbot version and join thousands of teams such as Shopify and Github who reinvented their remote productivity.