Step by Step Guide to Agile Project Management

Agile project management is a project planning and business process management approach that involves iteration. It is heavily concentrated on improving continuously and increasing the value of the project.

In agile project management, the main target or goal is to improve the project, which is the developmental process of a product or a service. This involves a collection of ideas which is followed by tests, trials, and errors. An agile approach can be better understood by drawing a comparison between agile and traditional methods.

Agile method vs. Traditional method

The main difference between the ‘traditional’ or ‘waterfall’ method and agile method lies in the developmental phase and how it is completed. In a traditional method of software development, the project is foreseen, which means the entire process or methods which will be applied to the project are outlined, and the plan is executed accordingly. In other words, the project is visualized and well planned before it starts. Each stage of development is laid in sequence and executed one after the other.

In the case of an agile method, the process is flexible. Unlike the traditional approach, where the project workflow is defined and visualized before starting the project, it is adaptable and flexible in an agile approach. Since it is continuously engaged in making an improvement, changes can be made easily even in the middle of the project if it is agreed upon by the team. It can be quite expensive to make development changes in a traditional method since the project is pre-defined. However, in an agile approach, changes are easily made since it is flexible.

What is Agile Project Management?

The process of managing the projects by breaking it into smaller parts or sections known as iterations or sprints is called agile project management. This technique is best known for its flexibility or its ability to adapt to changing business needs. Here, the workflow is not bound to a set of rules or principles.

The options are available, and if you are required to pay more attention to the current needs of the business, you can do that. Also, if there is a need to accommodate a change, you can do that too. If you are familiar with the software development process, or a part of it, you already know how they change.

In an agile methodology, the team can execute the workflow process without any constraints. The product benefits or product value can be delivered earlier as the teams are allowed to release their product on completion. This is followed by a demonstration to prove the success of that particular segment of the project.

The team will then discuss to come up with the best solution if there is a need to improve or fix small errors and flaws. This is the most beneficial aspect of the agile method of project management. By dividing the projects into several parts, and evaluating each segment individually, the chance of a failure on a large-scale is significantly reduced.

How does an Agile Project Management work?

An agile team is based on continuous feedback, adaptation, and quality assurance. Continuous deployment, along with the practice of Continuous integration, is heavily encouraged. The use of automated workflow software adds efficiency and helps to speed up the production process. It also helps the team to manage a complicated development process with ease.

In agile project management, the teams are required to keep an eye on the budget and time as they work their way through the business process improvement. The use of burn-up charts and velocity assists the team to track their progress efficiently. The role of the project manager is distributed in an agile method of project management.

Each team member is given a certain amount of power that a project manager possesses. Therefore, the presence of the project manager is not necessary, nor is his participation needed.

What are the driving principles of Agile?

The driving principles of agile project management are being flexible to change and having customers at the heart of the business. It aims to align business needs with development. Having said that, there are twelve principles of agile.

1. Customer satisfaction through early and uninterrupted delivery.

It is no secret that clients get fidgety when they have to wait long for a product to get delivered. It is much better to retain a good customer than to search for a new one.

Products that are delivered on time in an uninterrupted manner are always guaranteed to make customers happy and satisfied. This can be done by segregating the amount of time spent on each phase of the project.

2. Be flexible and open to changes even midway through the development stage.

Agile methodology is open to changes and modifications throughout the entire development and workflow process. This is the most significant advantage of agile project management over others. The only thing to keep in mind is to reduce the time between the birth of an idea of change and its implementation.

3. Delivering working software more frequently

Making sure that the software is delivered on a regular basis is a must. It can be monthly or even weekly. Agile allows users to accomplish this by reducing the emphasis on planning and documentation and instead focusing on development.

4. Stakeholders and business developers interact and collaborate regularly.

The developers, including technicians and engineers, work in a closed loop with the stakeholders. This enables improved decision making and success of the overall business. Employing task management software can be particularly advantageous.

5. Support team members and create a conducive environment for success.

This starts by hiring the right persons for the job. It is crucial to motivate and empower the team as they continue to arrive at the desired goals. This is particularly true because micromanagement is non-existent in agile.

6. The best communication is face-to-face interaction.

Sitting down together across the table is way more effective than using other means to communicate. This may be to share an idea or finding some answers to a problem.

7. The primary measure of progress is working software.

A working software or a prototype is a critical requirement in agile project management. Regardless of the time invested in development, a customer only cares if the product is working.

8. The development process should be consistent and sustainable.

Agile methodology resolves the problem of being stuck in one monotonous project for a long time. This is done by establishing an achievable pace and a formula that is effective and can be repeated organically.

9. The pursuit of technical excellence and design to achieve agility.

Attention to excellent designs and expertise play a crucial role in the success of a project. Agile aids in this endeavor, which makes the succeeding attempts more successful with time.

10. The art of simplicity.

Chewing off a considerable chunk compromises the quality of work in most scenarios. The idea is to keep the workflow management system simple and the workload doable. Not only does this make the work more effective, but it also gets completed within a given timeframe.

11. Teams that self-organize produce the best architecture, designs, and requirements.

Self-organizing teams are more confident in coming up with new ideas and innovations. This confidence allows them to make better decisions and ultimately produce high-quality products.

12. Reflecting regularly to enhance efficiency.

This is necessary to identify weaknesses so that the team members understand how and what needs improvement. This also keeps project managers abreast of the ever-changing trends without becoming obsolete.

Six Steps to Using Agile Project Management

Understanding and planning the project

As with any other project, the first step is to have a clear understanding of why agile is needed. The key steps are the end goal, how it will benefit the client as well as the organization, and how to achieve it. Project managers may be required to interview customers, conduct strategy meetings, and perform market researches. 

A flexible project scope that can aid in the workflow process and success of the project may also be considered at this stage. Keep in mind that this feature must not be rigid. The very purpose of using agile project management is to embrace changes and integrate them. 

Building the right team and product roadmap

Having a formidable and versatile team is a huge step in the success of agile. They are the ones responsible for designing, execution, and delivery. It may require training of the existing members, soliciting help from other departments or even consultants from outside the organization.

Now, its time to work on the product roadmap. It is essentially a breakdown of the features that will constitute the final product. This step can include but is not limited to, goal, metrics, and features.  This is a crucial step as it will make up the backlog from where the team will pull sprints later on in the project. 

Release plan

This involves making a high-level plan along with the product owner, the entire team members led by the project manager. The development cycles in agile methodology are relatively short and effective. These are called sprints. To deliver one working software, it has to undergo multiple sprints before reaching the customer’s hands. 

During the release planning, the features of the first product to be released are prioritized. Typically, release plans for subsequent products are reviewed on the day of the first product launch.  

Planning of sprints

The next crucial step in the planning of sprints. These are short development cycles that typically last up to four weeks. This duration must be kept constant throughout the cycle. It is also important that every member of the team share equal responsibility during the sprints. A successful sprint planning is determined by the participation and contribution of opinions and ideas from managers, owners, and team members. 

The primary aim is to quickly figure out a product that works, not necessarily the top of the class product. It is because the product will be further developed in the following sprints. 

Daily meeting through stand-ups

Stand-ups are essentially brief meetings that are not more than fifteen minutes. It is a way to assess the progress of the sprints; work is done by each team member the previous day, the target for the day, identifying problems and what changes are to be made if any. 

The daily stand-ups are an effective way to keep everyone on board. It also empowers the team to be open and has effective communication. 

Reviewing the sprint along with retrospection

At the end of each sprint, a meeting with the team and stakeholders wraps up the cycle. Here, the product is displayed to the stakeholders. 

Team members discuss the workload, the roadblocks, parts, or what made the task management easy and so on. During this retrospective mode, the key features that can be modified or added in the next sprint are also discussed. 

The reviewing and retrospection continue until the final product is released. Then the entire cycle from step 1 repeats. 

Agile vs. Kanban vs. Scrum vs. APF vs. XPM

Agile – Definition

Agile is a project planning and management approach that involves iteration. It is heavily concentrated on improving continuously and increasing the value of the project. Scrum and Kanban are both a part of this methodology. 

Characteristics

  • Customer satisfaction through early delivery.
  • Flexible and open to change.
  • The primary measure of progress is working software.
  • Person to person communication.
  • Consistent and sustainable development.
  • The pursuit of technical excellence and design.
  • Support and motivate team members.

What makes it different?

Adaptability, as well as incremental workflows, are the defining features of agile which set it apart from other methodologies such as a waterfall.

Kanban – Definition

Kanban is a production management technique that is focused on achieving continuous product delivery while reducing the stress on the production unit or development team. 

Characteristics

  • No segregation of roles. 
  • Improving the morale of the team members using Kanban and building confidence in them.
  • Focus on the finished product rather than the start.
  • Increase in the satisfaction of the customer experience. 
  • Reduction in wastes, defects, and stress.
  • Effective and increased productivity and quality of the products.

What makes it different?

The visual work board plays a central role in Kanban. Regular meetings are kept with the theme of continuous improvement. There is always a cap on the work in progress in Kanban.

Scrum – Definition

Scrum is an agile methodology. Within its framework, teams can address complex issues. It is focused on daily communication as well as being flexible. It involves the execution of projects in short phases while delivering high-quality products. 

Characteristics

  • The responsibilities are predetermined for each player in the team.
  • It has a separate team, scrum master and a product owner.
  • The team members self-organize.
  • The sprint cadence is typically two weeks in a scrum.
  • A shared goal to deliver the best product.
  • Communication and collaboration is a vital aspect.

What makes it different?

Sprints or work iterations which have a fixed duration is unique to scrum. It consists of:

  • Sprint planning – Work and functionalities to be completed.
  • Demonstration – Sharing of completed responsibilities through a meeting. 
  • Stand-ups – A daily meeting of fifteen minutes to gather feedback.
  • Retrospection – Reviewing the positives and negatives encountered in the sprint and how to improve it in the next sprint.

APF – Definition

APF or Adaptive Project Framework is a systematic and structured process that gives room to the users for improvement in business practice as well as decision making. It prepares the team to find solutions proactively by learning and gauging the results of the decisions made in the early stages of the project.

Characteristics

  • The client is at the heart of APF, who even possesses the power to make changes in the middle of the project. 
  • Discovery and identification of problems in the prior projects and learning from them.
  • Change is the main driving force on which adaptive project framework functions.
  • Boosting the business value of the organization is the ultimate goal of APF.

What makes it different?

It allows project managers to effectively organize the projects. Inclusion of quantitative analysis allows testing of hypothesis as well as analyzing the model and the possible risks involved. The exact performance of the project can be easily measured, as well.

XPM – Definition

Extreme Project Management or XPM is a methodology that is used to manage projects that are highly volatile and complex. Its primary focus is managing personnel aspects of the project.

Characteristics

  • Its principal focus is the human side of the project, such as stakeholders. 
  • Owners of the business decide which functionality to prioritize.
  • The scope of the project plays a vital role in determining the outcome of the projects

What makes it different?

It is most ideal for implementation for processes which require control in change and during the execution of the project. It is not recommended for use in structuring the overall strategy of the entire project in any way. 

Pros and cons of using agile

There is no methodology or framework that is perfect in every way. A model that suits the needs of a particular organization or business establishments may not work for another and vice versa. The same applies to agile. 

Pros

Adaptability to change

It is the most advantageous feature of agile in business process management. Prioritizing the effects of change at the most convenient time gives value to developers, timely and valuable solutions to customers and progressive organization to the stakeholders.

Open to uncertainty

It is open to the fact that a set rule of dynamics does not rule the lifespan of a project. Agile accepts the fact that as the project progresses, new discoveries will be made, better ways to solve an issue, and so on. 

Enhanced communication

The daily meetings and regular collaboration and consultations with the customer results in better and more effective communication in agile. 

Prioritizing problem handling

Agile puts a priority on problems so that they are handled at the earliest and in the most efficient way. Task improvement is essential to achieving the goal.

Quicker time reviews and product delivery

The review cycles in agile are quicker due to the incorporation of tools such as Kanban and Scrum. The time it takes for delivering a functional product is also shorter. 

Cons of agile 

Unpredictability

This stems from the fact that nothing is certain during the course of a project business process. It can significantly affect resources, budgeting as well as marketing. It is not uncommon for a project implementing agile to go off the rails. Lack of documentation in agile to direct a path can also be a deterrent.

Lack of versatility

Agile is essentially an overhaul of existing business practices, and not many organizations are ready to adapt to it. It is not necessarily a problem with agile. It is more that organizations are not prepared to adapt to agile with success or ease.

Scaling challenges is not easy

The practices of agile were initially meant for use by small teams. There are growing efforts to use agile with larger teams. However, scaling the challenges and implementing it effectively for larger teams is difficult. 

Flexibility can limit team members

The very nature of flexibility can be a double-edged sword if the people using agile are not careful. It can lead to so-called ‘bad behavior’ in the business practices and infiltrate throughout the entire organization. 

Conclusion

Irrespective of the few hiccups in the methodology, agile project management is gradually taking over the standard operating procedure in many a company. It is not the methodology that deserves all the blame or the credit. Organizations need to understand their culture and their values before the methodology is applied. 

Successful businesses are characterized by their adaptability to change. The world is defined by change. And only if the business process and the people in the business are open to change, can it run in the competition. Agile is an excellent way to achieve it. 

It embraces change, fosters communication, empowers teams, and is flexible to accommodate what cannot be ascertained. With proper implementation and training of the teams, it is a methodology that is quickly taking over traditional workflow models+ and transforming businesses. 

What did you think of this post? Do you feel ready to embrace agile project management methodologies for developing and implementing your projects now? Let us know what you think in the comments section below. Help us improve this post by suggesting changes from your personal experience with agile.

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