What is Agile Project Management?

Since its inception, the Agile methodology has come a long way to become a popular approach among a wide variety of organizations. For those unfamiliar with the term, Agile is a method of project management where projects are organized into epics then broken down into small manageable sections via chapters and sprints. While this method is most often associated with software development and DevOps, it has a wide range of applications throughout the business. It’s a set of principles aligned with business goals that adequately handles the lack of predictability when it comes to project management. Agile methodologies include Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), and Adaptive Project Framework (APF). 

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The Principles of Project Management

Organizations want projects to be successful – and not have to examine what when wrong during extensive post-mortems or a series of excuses and reasons why the project failed from all perspectives. Projects that fail are a catastrophic waste of money and even their assessment and recovery are a financially taxing business challenge.

It’s for this reason why project management methodologies exist. These methodologies demand a disciplined, standardized approach to projects reducing the risks of failure. Project management seeks to change the dialogue surrounding projects moving it away from traditional fears about what’s likely to go wrong, towards preparing for success instead.

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The Origin of IT Agile Project Management

Historically, large IT projects achieved a reputation for “going off the rails.”

Going back as far as the 1970s, numerous post-failure analyses highlighted that there were two consistent fault areas:

  • Projects utilizing little, if any, formal overarching management methodology
  • Projects applying a methodology, but not necessarily one best suited to software development

The origins of Agile stem from this second category. Many organizations implemented a form of project management in an attempt to improve the success rate of IT projects. However, due to the rigidity of the methodologies, they often failed, causing “paralysis by analysis”. The procedural approaches placed emphasis on demarcation lines, sequential step-based progressions, and the uniqueness of role and responsibilities based upon hierarchies and fixed responsibility sets which limited the capacity of the team and the overall productivity of the project. To put it in perspective, it’s like an ER surgeon having to ask permission of the patient, chief surgeon, and the hospital board of directors before they start a life-saving surgery.

Step-by-step methodologies may apply in industries such as construction, but they are less suited to the world of software development. This became increasingly clear as the 1990s introduced new more dynamic and flexible software development tools. The need for a new system to conduct development in a controlled but highly flexible fashion became paramount.

These pressures led to the development of Agile. Delivering a managed approach to software development without conventional procedural emphasis and compartmentalization, Agile focuses on iterating through product requirements, encouraging continuous improvement, and responding quickly to changing requirements from the aspect of a team mentality rather than on an individual level.

Agile vs. Waterfall

Agile Project Management has its roots in iterative project management. It is a highly flexible and interactive model where requirements and the overall project plan are regularly updated to meet changing requirements from stakeholders, suppliers, and customers. 

The traditional practice of project management, often referred to as “waterfall” project management suffers from various drawbacks. For example, waterfall project management is unable to meet the needs of complex projects—requirements cannot be stated fully until either a prototype is developed until there are multiple facets of the product being produced. In addition, when planning happens much in advance, there are chances that requirements may change during the process of working on the project—rendering the product ineffective or only partially effective. 

Compare this to an Agile project where one module is developed in short period of time—called a sprint. During each sprint (which typically lasts two or three weeks) is implemented, feedback from users is collected, and any shortcomings are identified. That feedback is used to build requirements into the development’s next sprint.

The difference between Agile and traditional project management can also be described by comparing Agile: a relay race where each member passes on the baton to someone else to do the next part versus traditional, or waterfall project management, which is more like a basketball team where the entire team assumes responsibility and tries to go the distance as a unit, passing the ball back and forth.

Agile Project Management is the result of collaboration between APMG-International and the DSDM Consortium. DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development Method) is the longest-established Agile method, launched in 1995, and is the only Agile method to focus on the management of Agile projects.

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How Scrum Works With Agile Project Management

Scrum, a subset of the Agile approach, is a set of governing principles, along with the tools, that enables fast and responsive decision-making. It derives its name from a player positioning move within the game of Rugby and is sometimes referred to as “lightweight Agile.”

Scrum focuses on generating and managing fast conclusions to short-term activities, typically called “sprints.” An important concept is the daily meeting of the key players associated with a successful outcome to the Sprint. This is typical of a short 15-minute duration and is the “Scrum” itself. This process is facilitated by the “Scrum Master.” It’s important to note that this is a functional role and not a hierarchical post. The Scrum Master’s job is not to exclusively lead but rather to encourage and particularly to act as a clearer of roadblocks (e.g., procedural or other obstacles) that are getting between the Scrum and their overall objectives.

Agile Iterative Development Overview

With Agile project management, the traditional project phases are maintained but during each phase (see below), the amount of work done in each activity rises or falls.

Agile Scrum Overview

  1. Defines Project Management Framework
  2. Encourages High User/Customer Involvement
  3. Promotes Continuous Improvement
  4. Delivers Iteratively and Incrementally via sprints
  5. Ideally Suited for Projects with High Uncertainty

There is a wide range of software that has been designed explicitly for an Agile environment or is commonly used within it. Selections usually depend on the opinions of the granularity of the control mechanisms required.

The five most popular choices include:

  1. Atlassian Jira
  2. Agilean
  3. SprintGround
  4. VersionOne
  5. SpiraTeam

How Agile Project Management Works?

Agile is a mindset rather than a rule-book of procedures. Exactly how an Agile software development project might work in a given context is, therefore, open to considerable flexibility.

Essentially, Agile does the following:

  • De-emphasizes activities that are not directly related to the production of software. This might include things such as fine detail written contractual agreements, specifications, and change control negotiations.
  • Pulls all required expertise together into one location and under one team.
  • Encourages joint integrated development with people communicating side-by-side rather than in a hierarchical manner. Ideally, this involves the developer and final customer sharing responsibility for joint development and eventual success.
  • Recognizes that change is endemic in a team or a business and software development must accommodate change as part of a development project rather than to try and squeeze it out through processes and procedures.
  • Delivers smaller, verifiable components to a business rather than an overall, large scale solution.
  • Rather than following the traditional way of sequential methods, Agile works on a new and improved iterative method that allows the clients to be involved at every stage of project management.
  • Empowers individual software developers to make decisions within a structured change management environment.
  • Attempts to move away from the idea of a vast project plan that becomes set in stone and which subsequently precludes the realization of opportunities and individual innovation.

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Agile Project Management Versus Other Approaches

Agile principles are relatively revolutionary when examined against other forms of IT software development. For example, some other methodologies emphasize the need for rigid change control procedures to be applied to software development and have clear boundary lines defined for things such as specifications and frozen target design sign-off. For that reason, Agile has occasionally been portrayed as being “anti-methodology.” However, that is a common misconception. Agile seeks to achieve a more sensible balance between risk management, individual initiative, and flexibility, as opposed to other approaches that may be more constraining and rule-based.

Organizations following Agile methodologies develop products quickly while ensuring customer satisfaction at the same time. This is largely driven by the realization that the nature of business today cannot be encapsulated in the current market and when it comes to software development Agile project teams offer flat organizational structures.

Why Agile Project Management is the Right Choice for You?

Increasing numbers of organizations are looking for more flexible, iterative, and interactive software development paradigms. Agile delivers on that requirement. And here’s why:

  • Faster lead times
  • A reduction in administrative procedure and its associated overheads
  • Improved relationships between the various people and their organizational entities working alongside each other in a single framework to achieve success
  • Regular incremental delivery of product components means improvements in stakeholder expectation management and confidence levels
  • A greater degree of shared participatory risk between contributing entities in the organization, with an associated reduction in the “not invented here” and “more than my job’s worth” syndromes
  • A reduction in the risk of project failure
  • Project progress is easier to measure in terms of deliverables that might be possible via the interpretation of overly complex project plan progress reports

The growing popularity of Agile increased the demand from employers for Agile Certified Project Managers and Scrum Masters. An Agile Project Manager in the U.S. can expect to make an average of $91,000 with more experienced professionals earning upwards of $125,000. Certified Scrum Masters are commanding an average salary of around $103,000 with earnings up to $165,000 plus package benefits.

If you are currently operating as a Software Developer, Team Leader, or Non-Agile Project Manager and are seeking career diversification with advancement, obtaining your Agile and Scrum Master certification might be an important step on the road to transforming your future prospects.

Agile Project Management Certifications Considerations

The training and certification program you follow will depend upon your existing experience and future career development plan interests. For example, experienced Project Leaders/Managers might benefit from one training program, whereas a senior software developer with a relatively limited background in leadership may follow another.

Here are a few key study programs that may be beneficial to you:

  • Agile and Scrum Foundation Certification Training
    • Here you’ll quickly be re-enforced in your expert-level understanding of these two important methodologies. Although there are no formal prerequisites, this is primarily aimed at people who already have experience in Agile leadership or Scrum Master roles.
    • This is based upon 5-hours of quality training, provided over a 180-day access period. Self-paced learning and instructor-led options are available.
  • Agile Scrum Master Certification
    • This course will provide an in-depth foundation in Agile and, specifically, Scrum. It again has no formal prerequisites but is often useful to management and leadership.
    • The training consists of 20-hours of instructor-led training and 16-hours of quality material teaching. Self-paced learning is provided and is available over a 180-day period.
  • Introduction to Project Management Certification Training
    • This course offers a fundamental grounding in Project Management. Although not specifically restricted to Agile, it does deal with the basic principles of it plus other methodologies such as PMP.
    • It would be highly advantageous to complete such a course before necessarily training on advanced Project Management techniques. There are no prerequisites, and this overview training offers 6-hours of high-quality e-learning materials.

It should be noted that the Agile and Scrum advanced courses above will result in the student being positioned ready for the formal certification exam presented and managed by EXIN.

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Moving Up

There you go, above mentioned is everything that you need to know about Agile project management. If this article has started resonating with your career goals, then why wait? Find an Agile certification that caters to your needs, and opt for a good Agile training course that will boost up your career prospects as a project manager and get ready for an exciting career ahead.

About the Author

Ishan GabaIshan Gaba

Ishan Gaba is a Research Analyst at Simplilearn. He is proficient in Java Programming, Data Structures, and Project Management. Graduated in Information Technology, Ishan is also passionate about writing and traveling.

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