Agile is a project management methodology that helps teams complete projects in a more flexible and collaborative way. Projects are often uncertain with shifting requirements and goals. Yet the ability to adapt to constant change by completing projects in phases is the foundation of the Agile method.
This resource guide is intended to be useful for project managers, business leaders, developers, project and product teams, consultants, stakeholders and students. We’ll update this primer when new information is available about Agile project management.
What is the Agile project management methodology?
Agile project management is a highly systematic, iterative and incremental approach to managing projects. The method typically includes tasks that are broken into small increments with minimal planning involved in order to allow for increased agility.
SEE: Scrum agile project management: A cheat sheet 2022 (TechRepublic)
This approach embraces change and enables teams to continually improve product or service development. It also enables them to apply a more rapid, flexible and collaborative team-based approach when working with cross-functional groups.
The history of agile project management methodologies
Incremental software development methods similar to Agile were first identified and developed in 1957. However, Agile-type methods go as far back as 1970, when an American computer scientist named Dr. Winston Royce wrote an article titled “Managing the development of large software systems.” In this article, he presented a few project management methodologies, including Agile.
Agile solidified its place in project management in 2001 when a group of software developers, the Agile Alliance, developed the Agile Manifesto. These are the four key values that guide the Agile method to this day:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
The 12 principles of the Agile project management methodology
Each of the key Agile values goes deeper to form the 12 principles of the Agile project management methodology. These principles form the foundation of Agile and should be considered in any initiative. Straight from the Agile Manifesto, the principles are as follows:
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
- Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Agile project management frameworks
The Agile project management methodology is an umbrella for a number of Agile frameworks. Some of the most common include:
Scrum uses short, iterative cycles called sprints to complete tasks within a project. It is by far one of the most popular agile project management frameworks.
Using Kanban, work is placed on a Kanban board so project teams can visualize the breadth of any project at any time.
Extreme programming is commonly used by software development teams due to its strict process. It’s used for projects that require fast and short development cycles.
The impact of Agile project management methodologies
You have many project management methods to choose from. However, Agile stands out when compared to these other methods. This is due to Agile’s ability to improve collaboration, flexibility and rate of project success.
Traditional project management methodologies like Waterfall are more cumbersome than Agile because larger teams are required to meet, collaborate and make decisions in ways that impede progress. Agile not only improves efficiency, but can also increase quality standards and maximize resources.
Traditional project management approaches also make it more difficult to isolate problems or deficiencies quickly without the use of a significant amount of resources. Because stakeholder needs can change throughout a project, Agile provides a mechanism to adjust quickly in relation to those needs.
As these issues arise or needs change, Agile allows small, focused teams to make specific changes more rapidly at various stages of a project. Agile offers a way to improve the attention to quality and decrease the chances of error, rework and stakeholder disappointment.
SEE: Hiring kit: Project manager (TechRepublic Premium)
Agile enables tasks to be broken into smaller increments and shorter time frames (usually one week to four weeks) so that smaller cross-functional teams are able to better focus on all functions, from planning to the testing stage. As testing can be addressed within these smaller increments or sprints, it’s easier and faster to isolate and address concerns, bugs or defects, before moving on to the next phase.
Agile allows these smaller teams to meet face-to-face more frequently to discuss progress, plans and issues. This makes the teams more adaptable and flexible to change, and hopefully less prone to significant conflict.
Other project management methodologies require more time and effort to assemble larger more formal meetings, and to resolve conflicting schedules. As a result, it takes teams a significant amount of time to meet, make decisions, assign responsibilities, address issues or see any progress. Agile project management reduces the time it takes to provide and receive feedback, and improves adoption times. Other more formal methodologies force teams to move from one phase of a project to the next before truly having a chance to test for, isolate and address issues until the end of the project.
Traditional project management methodologies also make it extremely difficult, costly and time-consuming to deal with scope changes, increasing the time it takes to move from concept to market.
Who uses Agile project management?
While Agile is used extensively by software development teams, virtually any team that manages projects can utilize the method. Agile benefits project teams, product developers, project and product managers, testers, engineers, system designers, technical document writers and company executives.
Many companies across the globe utilize Agile project management. According to the State of Agile Report by Digital.ai, 86% of software development teams surveyed currently use the Agile method.
What are the six phases of Agile project management?
The Agile project management process includes six key phases. While organizations may use slightly different terms for each phase, the terminology looks something like this: concept or scope, plan, iteration or design, release, production and retirement.
- Concept or scope: Projects are selected and prioritized, and key requirements are scoped.
- Plan: A project team is assembled and input is gathered from stakeholders to ensure all project requirements are understood and accounted for.
- Iteration or design: The product or service is fully designed and analyzed to ensure it meets all stakeholder requirements.
- Release: Testing of the product or service is completed and any issues are mitigated.
- Production: The product or service is released to full production and the project team will provide additional support for maintenance or upgrades.
- Retirement: The project team will retire a product or service by disabling support and other tasks.
It’s important to note that the iteration or design phase is perhaps the most critical of all. During this phase, multiple iterations may take place. For example, a project team may develop an iteration, receive stakeholder feedback, implement that feedback and then release it. This process is often followed over and over again until all requirements are met.
The future of Agile project management
As technology continues to advance and customer expectations evolve, the speed at which companies develop and release products must increase. The principles of Agile will continue to offer improvement benefits, making it a long-term methodology. Not only does it address the need for speed, but it also ensures teams deliver the high-quality products customers and stakeholders expect and deserve.
How to get started with Agile project management
Implementing Agile within your organization requires knowledge of Agile best practices and the project management process. Numerous online resources exist that offer step-by-step guidance and support, including Agile Alliance and Agile Manifesto. There are also many Agile courses available to help you improve your project management skills.