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In today's fast-paced business environment, teams must be flexible and responsive to change to be able to deliver high-quality products and services more efficiently. Building a top-notch team to do this requires effort, but ZipRecruiter helps companies of all sizes instantly match up with thousands of job seekers across the country.
But hiring talented individuals is only the start. To be able to adapt and compete in the current business environment, company leaders are also turning to something called agile project management.
What is agile project management methodology, and how can you integrate it into your workflow? Read on to understand the principles of this approach and learn ways to implement it in your organization.
What is agile project management?
Agile project management (APM) is a flexible and responsive approach to managing and delivering projects. It emphasizes collaboration, continuous iteration and adapting to change. Agile methods are often used in software development but can be applied to any type of project.
The Agile approach differs from traditional project management in a number of ways, including:
- Approach to planning: Agile project management emphasizes a flexible, iterative approach to planning, whereas the traditional method often uses a more rigid, linear approach.
- Emphasis on change: While agile project management is designed to be responsive to change, traditional project management assumes that a project's scope and requirements will remain fixed throughout the life of the project.
- Role of the project manager: An agile project manager serves as a facilitator and coach, while a traditional manager often exercises a lot of control over team members.
- Duration of project phases: In agile project management, project phases are shorter and more frequent. In traditional project management, projects tend to have longer, more distinct phases.
- Communication and collaboration: Agile project management emphasizes frequent, ongoing collaboration among team members, whereas traditional project management is more siloed and often relies on more formal channels of communication.
How do agile approaches work?
Agile approaches work by breaking down a project into smaller, iterative phases called sprints. Each sprint typically lasts a few weeks and involves a cross-functional team working to deliver a specific set of features or functionality.
At the end of each sprint, the team reviews its progress and makes the necessary adjustments to its plan. This allows the team to effectively respond to change and continually improve the project as it progresses.
This approach requires that all team members understand agile project management and how to work within it. Communication is an essential part of the process, because team members need to be able to work with each other and with customers. Additionally, they need good judgment to take contextually correct actions at appropriate times and stay on schedule.
What are the advantages of agile project management?
There are many advantages with using agile project management, whether you’re looking to apply it to software development teams (as originally designed) or to other types of work.
Flexibility and adaptability are two benefits we’ve already covered but here are a few of Agile’s other benefits:
- Increased stakeholder involvement: Agile approaches encourage regular communication and collaboration with stakeholders, which can lead to better alignment and buy-in.
- Greater team autonomy: Teams have more control over how they work, which can lead to increased ownership and accountability.
- Faster delivery: Teams deliver smaller increments of work more frequently, resulting in a faster time-to-market.
- Better risk management: Teams can identify and address issues or challenges early on, which can help to mitigate risks.
- Fewer time sinks: Since continuous check-ins and adaptations are built into the structure, you catch time and budget sinks much faster and can correct them relatively easily.
- Improved morale: Agile approaches promote collaboration and a sense of ownership among team members, boosting morale and serving as motivation.
How do you implement agile project management?
To implement Agile principles, ensure your entire organization is aligned with the Agile approach. If one team implements Agile but upper management isn’t on board, the effort will eventually stall.
Determine if agile management is right for your team
There are a few factors to consider when determining if agile project management is right for your team.
To start, examine the nature of your project. Agile approaches are best for projects that are subject to change frequently or have open-ended requirements.
Next, consider your team. Are they able to think on their feet and adapt to evolving needs? Do they have strong collaboration skills and the motivation to come up with solutions instead of waiting for others to tell them what to do? You want a team that is comfortable with a high level of autonomy and accountability. To that end, the company can use job posting sites such as ZipRecruiter to fill out the team with individuals with the right mindset for Agile methods.
Finally, think about your organizational culture. Agile approaches require a workplace culture that is supportive of teamwork, learning and flexibility. Your stakeholders should be open to this type of engagement.
If your team meets these specific needs and characteristics, agile project management may be right for you.
Pick an agile method
A common misconception is that there’s a single agile project management tool or approach that you use across all circumstances. In fact, there are different ways to implement Agile — it’s an adaptable methodology, after all. Choose one that works best for your team.
Kanban is an agile methodology created by an engineer at Toyota as a way to develop a more efficient manufacturing process. It was later applied to other industries and work environments.
Kanban employs an assembly line model to move work through a queue. It has a backlog of project tasks the team needs to complete and instead of working in sprints, the team simply takes the next highest-priority task in the queue.
A Kanban board is key to the process. Think of it as a factory where teams build many different parts on the same shop floor. This board is a visual representation of the process, so the team can see where tasks are. In addition to the Kanban board, this Agile approach features work-in-progress (WIP) limits to control how many tasks can pile up in any one area at a time.
For example, imagine you have three teams working together on one project: the research and development team, the sales team and the marketing team. One team is working much faster than the other two, so those two become backlogged while the fast team runs out of things to do. Because of WIP, a “stop” kicks in and everyone re-evaluates what they need to do to remove the product backlog. In this case, you may need to hire additional team members to balance out the teams or you may need to change training or processes to improve the speed of the slower teams. This allows for the continuous progress that’s so integral to the Agile methodology.
Scrum is a popular framework for software development, but it can be applied to other fields, too. It allows project sponsors and employees to collaborate and ensure that customers receive precisely the product or service they want. Three key roles comprise a Scrum team:
- Product owner: This person speaks for the customers, sponsors or stakeholders. They're available throughout the development process to review finished work, prioritize project requirements and answer questions. They return to the end users with questions the team has. Having a product owner ensures that the project stays on track for what the customers want.
- Scrum master: The Scrum master heads the development team, coaches others on the Scrum methodology, keeps the team focused on its work and leads the Scrum meetings. They're the person steering the project so it reaches the intended destination.
- Development team: This team typically consists of a few people who do the work that the product owner lays out and prioritizes.
The development team uses a prioritized project backlog made up of user stories formatted in the following way: "As a [who], I want to [what] so that [why]," and they describe how the proposed work will benefit the end user.
An example of this would be: “As a credit card user, I want to view my annual percentage rate so that I know how much interest I'm paying every month.”
The who, what, why format ensures the team is working on tasks that are necessary and serve a useful purpose. It also helps team members see why they’re doing what they’re doing, which increases motivation and morale.
The product owner, Scrum master and development team collaborate on user stories in blocks of time called sprints. A sprint is a time-limited stretch of one to four weeks, during which the development team focuses on one goal, which is usually a product feature or incremental development, e.g., an updated version of your product.
Before getting to work, there is a planning session. During sprint planning, the team picks a user story and maps out the work necessary to complete it. Additionally, the team has daily scrum meetings, during which each team member answers these three questions:
- What did you work on yesterday?
- What will you work on today?
- Is there anything blocking you from finishing your work?
At the end of each sprint, the team holds two meetings. The first is the sprint review, during which the development team shows the product owner the work they completed during the sprint. The second is the sprint retrospective, during which the team answers what went well, what didn't go well and what should be changed for the next sprint.
Extreme Programming (XP)
Extreme Programming (XP) is an Agile methodology whose goal is to produce a high-quality product via a sustainable development process that doesn’t burn out the team. XP’s values are communication, simplicity, feedback, courage and respect. It aims to provide team members with continuous, early feedback so they can quickly course correct.
Like Scrum, XP employs user stories. From these user stories, the team creates a release schedule and describes the work necessary to meet that schedule.
XP is built on the following principles and expectations:
- Open workspace for the team
- Sustainable pace
- Daily meetings
- Measuring project velocity (the amount of work the team can complete in a set period)
- Identifying bottlenecks and reassigning work as needed to relieve them
- Being open to changing the rules if XP is working ideally for the team
- Keeping the project design as simple as possible
- Testing frequently
Set your ideal end goal
Agile is an extremely practical project management methodology. It is, however, nearly impossible to use without knowing what your end goal is, so start with that in mind. User stories can be useful for this purpose. For example, you can create a broad user story for the overall product and a user story for each individual feature, each carrying its own end goal.
Set up a planning meeting with project teams
Agile requires that every team and individual involved be on the same page. If one team keeps using traditional project management while another uses Agile, the process can quickly fall apart. Set up a planning meeting to make sure that everyone is on board and following the same process.
Create a release plan set at regular intervals
Common among Kanban, Scrum and XP is the importance of creating a release plan set at regular intervals. Remember, a core goal of Agile is to not spend months or years working on something without feedback. By creating regular, small releases, you get continuous feedback that’s vital for a project using Agile.
Begin crafting a sprint plan
Create your first sprint plan by choosing how long it will last, which product or feature you’ll be releasing at the end of the sprint and what work is necessary to get there.
Ensure your agile team keeps up with the plan
Have daily meetings to ensure the team is keeping up with the plan. To prevent these meetings from becoming busywork or something people dread, keep them short, focused and practical. Have each team member answer three specific questions that give efficient insight into how everyone’s work is proceeding and what they need from you.
Review consistently with the project manager
Whether you have a Scrum master or a product owner, schedule regular meetings with them to review your progress and receive feedback from the stakeholders or customers who are driving the project’s requirements.
Focus on your next project
Agile can seem overwhelming at first, but teams who use it correctly see considerable increases in productivity, customer satisfaction and team motivation. Once you’ve successfully used Agile on one project, pivot quickly to your next project to keep the momentum going.
Implement the right agile methodology for your project
Agile project management is a flexible and responsive approach to managing and delivering projects. It emphasizes collaboration, continuous iteration, adapting to change and requires team members to have strong collaboration skills. To properly take advantage of an Agile approach, be sure to choose the proper implementation method such as Kanban, Scrum or Extreme Programming. If the right method is chosen, the project will flow smoothly and efficiently.