The Basics of Agile Project Management

The Basics of Agile Project Management

For those that operate in the project management space, you’ve likely heard a lot about Agile Methodologies. And while you may have a vague idea of what Agile means, it’s hard to picture the real-world benefits of Agile without a comprehensive understanding to this project development approach.

Agile project management is a popular approach that more than 71% of companies report using in some form. Learn more about the basics of Agile project management and it could improve your processes.

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What is Agile?

Agile refers to a methodology based on the ability to rapidly respond to change. This groundbreaking approach to project management is growing popularity. First emerging as a method of development in the software development space, Agile Methodologies are now converted to fit operations in a variety of other industries.

The 4 Values of Agile

Agile Methodology is built on four basic values, which are outlined in the Agile Manifesto, first published in 2001. These values act as overarching principles, to which each Agile team should adhere.

  • “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 four values demonstrate the importance of functionality over structure. Ultimately, each team member, each project, and each client will operate differently. Thus, Agile harnesses strengths for improved results, instead of relying on preset processes to complete work. 

The 12 Principles of Agile

In addition to four values of Agile, there are also 12 principles every Agile team member – especially the project manager – should keep in mind. These are also outlined in the Agile Manifesto.

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.

  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

What is Agile Project Management?

Now that we’ve established Agile as rapid adaptation to change, let’s look at how Agile is applied to project management. Agile project management relies on operations built on flexibility. Agile Methodologies approach project delivery though incremental progress. Instead of completing a deliverable all at once, teams deliver aspects of the project as they’re completed, each one building on the next.

The structure of Agile project management was created to facilitate and easily adapt to change. Think back to a past project in which you were a manager or team member. It’s likely that project, like most, encountered unexpected impediments. A client changed their mind, a team member resigned, or a timeline was no longer viable. Whatever the challenge you faced, it probably required your team to reconfigure the entire project plan, causing a loss in both time and effort.  

In an effort to plan without a structure so rigid changes can’t be made, Agile projects operate on a “sprint” or “iteration” schedule. Sprints are generally two to four-week periods during which Agile teams break down projects into small increments, with team members committing to complete goals before the sprint begins. Those iterations are then put through design, testing, and quality assurance, all during the confines of the sprint. As small pieces of a project are completed, they are delivered to the client or, in the case of software development, launched. And a next portion is released in the next sprint, and so on.

One of the greatest benefits of Agile project management is the continuous release of deliverables to the clients. Each completed portion of the project can be easily tested, and if issues arise, they’re quickly addressed. Because you’re continuously testing and building upon the foundation of the project, your team is able to avoid large-scale problems that are common with projects launched all at once.

Continuous release of project components also facilitates better communication between teams and their clients. With each portion of the project being approved by the client as it’s launched, feedback can be provided incrementally, too. Clients are likely to be pleased with the final project since they’ve provided input every step of the way.

Additionally, Agile project management has a built-in component for process improvement, too. Each sprint ends with a retrospective meeting, in which team members outline what they believe they did well and what they believe could be improved in the next sprint. This means, in an ideal world, each sprint improves the team and their processes until every project is completed efficiently and successfully.

What is Agile Software Development?

Agile software development is the application of Agile Methodologies to the creation, management, and launch of software solutions. Agile was designed specifically for the software development space, so this application is where it has true impact. Essentially, Agile project managers in the software development space take all the processes outlined above and apply them to their development teams.

Because Agile project management allows teams to respond quickly to market developments and the needs of their clients, it’s ideally suited for software development. And since Agile projects are developed in iterations that build on one another, software developers benefit from regular testing of each deliverable both prior to and after launch. When applied to software development, Agile promotes short feedback loops and constant evolution of a product.

If you want to truly master Agile project management, you should consider earning the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® certification. This demonstrates to employers and teams alike that you have a robust understanding of Agile Methodologies and how to effectively apply those principles to project management.

Passing the exam is a big achievement, so to ensure you’re adequately prepared before you being the process, it’s wise to choose a PMI R.E.P. training partner. The right training partner will provide courses to help you learn how to apply Agile principles to your daily project management tasks. With this knowledge, you’ll not only be able to earn your certification, but you’ll be prepared to run Agile projects with ease.

To learn more, explore this comprehensive guide on Agile Methodologies.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO