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Agile Approaches

Agile project management: guide to agility

by Simon Buehring
Unearth the power of Agile project management and learn how its adaptability and customer-focused approach can revolutionise your projects. Read on as we unveil the secrets of agility to elevate your project management practices.
Agile project management: guide to agility

Agile project management unravelled

In a world where change is the only constant, the realm of project management has evolved dramatically. Traditional waterfall project management methods have given way to more flexible and adaptive strategies. At the heart of this evolution is Agile project management.

Iterative approach

Agile project management is an iterative approach to managing projects that focuses on delivering customer value first. If focuses on team interaction over tasks and adapting to current business reality rather than following a preset plan. Agile project management is rooted in the principles of Agile that advocates for flexibility, customer collaboration, and individual interactions.

Agile methodologies

Agile methodologies emerged from the realm of software development in the early 2000s. A group of industry experts, frustrated with the constraints of traditional project management, sought a more flexible, adaptable method. Their quest resulted in the Agile Manifesto which has been used to guide people involved in Agile software development ever since.

The Agile approach has garnered widespread attention due to its propensity for managing change. Unlike traditional models, Agile doesn’t consider change as an exception but sees it as a norm. It allows teams to adjust their trajectory and scope throughout the project lifecycle, ensuring they deliver what the customer needs when they need it.

Agile project management frameworks

Dynamic Systems Development Methodology (DSDM) was the first truly Agile project management framework, and this later evolved into AgilePM. Many people often think that Scrum provides an Agile project management capability, but it does not (more on this later).

Beyond the software industry

Agile has reshaped the fabric of project management across industries. From IT to marketing, construction to manufacturing, Agile’s influence is far-reaching and profound.

Agile project management’s key to success lies in its iterative development, continuous improvement, and focus on customer feedback over rigid processes. It promises a more proactive, effective, and efficient means of managing projects, transforming the landscape of project management.

As an embodiment of flexibility, customer-centred approach, and adaptability, Agile project management remains a fascinating topic, one that continues to revolutionise businesses across the globe.

Turning the pages from tradition

Comparing traditional and Agile approaches

Before Agile, project management was characterised by what is known as the ‘waterfall approach’. Waterfall approaches consist of sequential phases, each phase going through an ‘approval’ process before proceeding to the next phase. A waterfall project is guided by one overall plan, which details each of its composite phases and timelines.

Project managers on such projects focus on the ‘triple constraints’ of time, cost, and scope. Usually, scope is fixed, so when one of these elements starts running into trouble it is fixed by flexing one of the others. Typically, this is done by spending more money, or delaying the delivery which results in late delivery of outputs to the customer.

In contrast to waterfall project management, Agile project management adopts an iterative approach. Traditional methods see projects as fixed structures with predetermined plans. Adjustments mid-course are often seen as failures in planning. In contrast, Agile views projects as dynamic entities, with change not only anticipated but embraced. The focus shifts from “following the plan” to delivering a working result.

Traditional waterfall project management is often criticised for being too restrictive, making it challenging to respond to customer feedback swiftly. In contrast, Agile promotes frequent customer interaction and prioritises customer collaboration over contract negotiation. This approach results in valuable customer-centric products.

Agile project management flips the triple constraints of time, cost, and scope on their heads by making the timescales fixed and making the scope flexible. The fixed timescales are often referred to as Sprints, and by flexing what is delivered within a Sprint, Agile project management is able to respond flexibly to changing market situations or customer requirements.

Agile: a shift in mindset

Agile project management requires a profound shift in mindset from traditional methods. At its core, Agile is about adaptability, iterative progress, and continuous improvement. It champions transparency in project control and stakeholder communication.

Adaptive planning is a cornerstone of Agile. This philosophy allows a project to evolve and adapt to shifts in customer demands or market circumstances. The emphasis is on delivering value incrementally, ensuring the project remains aligned with customer needs.

Agile fosters a culture of continuous feedback and learning. Meeting structures like daily standups and Sprint Retrospectives offer communication channels to discuss progress and address impediments swiftly. This approach empowers teams to self-organise and manage their tasks, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment to the project’s success.

Introducing Agile is a journey of transformation, not just a shift in project management practices. It involves adopting new Agile tools, changing organisational culture, enhancing team collaboration, and importantly, developing an Agile mindset. Embracing Agile is not just about doing things differently; it’s about thinking differently.

Agile project management frameworks

DSDM: From the first days of Agile

Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) is one of the early frameworks that shaped the Agile Manifesto. Conceived in the 1990s, DSDM brought a project management perspective to the emerging Agile methods. It was distinct in this aspect, as most Agile methods were heavily oriented towards software development.

DSDM aimed at enhancing traditional approaches by providing a framework that was rigorous yet flexible enough to adapt to changes. It was designed to meet business needs by delivering strategic benefits within a defined time and cost. The DSDM philosophy advocates incremental delivery, ensuring tangible benefits are produced with each iteration.

DSDM places project stakeholders at its heart, promoting a collaborative and cooperative approach between all participants. It’s one of the few Agile frameworks to specify roles and responsibilities clearly, ensuring accountability and shared ownership.

AgilePM: The child of DSDM

Agile Project Management (AgilePM) evolved from DSDM’s principles, adapting its best practices and methodologies for a more extensive project management scope. Whereas frameworks like Scrum focus on Product Increments, AgilePM offers a more comprehensive perspective. It provides a complete project lifecycle framework that combines flexibility with governance and structure.

While Agile methods, like Scrum, cater to product delivery aspects, AgilePM focuses on project management aspects. It blends some more traditional project management aspects such as business justification, with Agile methods, creating a well-rounded, flexible, yet governed Agile project management framework.

Scrum: Not for Agile project management

While Scrum is a popular Agile framework, it’s important to note that it was designed for helping teams develop products more efficiently than they would otherwise achieve by using waterfall approaches. Scrum is not an Agile project management approach. Hence, it lacks the governance aspects associated with project management.

Scrum provides mechanisms for iterative software development, with roles, events, artefacts, and rules that help teams deliver workable products in short Sprints. However, it does not provide guidelines for managing the business justification, risks, dependencies, resource allocation, or other broader aspects of project management such as managing the transition of the finished products into business as usual, or the operational side of things.

Scrum can be applied both within projects and within business-as-usual, for example to improve existing products. Project management approaches are only used within a project context, not within an operational context.

For projects that demand a framework with governance, Scrum needs to be complemented with other methodologies or frameworks like AgilePM that cater to the project management aspects.

Kanban: Enabler for Agile project management

Kanban is another framework popular in the Agile scene. The core of Kanban lies in visualising work, limiting work in progress, and enhancing flow. It uses a Kanban board with cards to visualise the workflow, helping teams see the state of every piece of work at any point in time.

Kanban’s popularity stems from its simplicity and adaptability. It can be implemented on top of any workflow, making it a versatile tool for managing work. The focus on continuous flow helps reduce the time from when a task begins to when it’s completed, enabling a faster and more efficient product delivery.

Kanban helps maintain a steady and sustainable pace of work, reducing the pressure of deadlines in project management, and fostering a healthy, productive work environment.

PRINCE2 Agile: Marrying governance and flexibility

PRINCE2 Agile is an innovative fusion of the structured, governance-focus of the PRINCE2 methodology and the flexibility and responsiveness of Agile. It was born out of a need for a comprehensive project management solution that could effectively cope with the ever-changing project landscape. At the same time, it needed to maintain a high level of control and management that larger, more corporate organisations often look for.

PRINCE2 Agile adheres to the principles and themes of PRINCE2 while incorporating Agile concepts like iterative development and customer feedback. It recognises the necessity for control and structure in a project environment, particularly in larger or more complex projects.

At the same time, PRINCE2 Agile acknowledges the value of agility in responding swiftly and effectively to changing requirements. PRINCE2 Agile offers a solution that retains the governance, control, and robustness of PRINCE2 while enabling the flexibility and adaptability that Agile methods bring.

This combination empowers teams to deliver high-quality products while effectively managing risks, addressing issues, and maintaining alignment with business goals. It’s the best of both worlds, providing a clear path for navigating the complexities of modern project environments.

The Agile approach to project management

Agile project management is not a linear pathway from project initiation to closure. It’s a dynamic journey that adapts and evolves as the project progresses. This approach capitalises on key Agile practices, incorporating iterative development, continuous integration, and frequent customer feedback.

Project initiation and planning

The journey of Agile project management typically begins with project initiation. During initiation, the project vision is defined, aligning with the organisation’s overall strategy and customer needs. It’s here where the Product Owner creates a Product Backlog, a list of features or tasks the end product needs, arranging them based on priority.

An Agile project planning session follows, involving team members, stakeholders, and the customer. Unlike traditional methods, Agile planning is not a one-time activity. It’s continuous, revisited, and revised throughout the entire project life cycle, allowing for adjustments based on changes or new insights.

Iteration planning and execution

The project then moves into iterative cycles of work known as Sprints in Scrum or timeboxes in DSDM/AgilePM. Each iteration typically lasts from one to four weeks. Every iteration starts with a planning meeting, where the team selects tasks from the Product Backlog to work on during the iteration. This selection forms the Sprint Backlog.

The team then works on developing these tasks, with every member fully aware of the Sprint Goal. Daily Standups provide a platform for the team to discuss their progress and any roadblocks encountered. This brief yet consistent communication aids in resolving issues promptly and keeps everyone aligned.

Review and retrospective

At the end of each iteration, a review meeting takes place. The team presents the completed work to the stakeholders and the customer, seeking their feedback. The goal is to ensure that the work aligns with customer expectations and to gather valuable insights for future iterations.

A crucial part of Agile’s continuous improvement ethos is the retrospective meeting. In this meeting, the team reflects on their performance during the iteration, discussing what worked well, what didn’t, and how they can improve in the next cycle.

Release and iteration

Agile encourages frequent releases of workable products or Product Increments to the customer. This approach allows the customer to start benefiting from the project early, even while it’s still ongoing. After each release, the process returns to iteration planning as the project progresses towards completion.

Agile’s strength lies in its ability to navigate uncertainty and handle change. It offers the flexibility to adapt the project approach based on feedback, making it a potent tool for managing modern projects. This approach ensures teams remain customer-focused, delivering value effectively and efficiently throughout the project.

While Agile does not prescribe a strict structure, it does offer a set of principles and practices that guide teams. Whether it’s the iterative nature of Sprints or the continuous feedback loop of review and retrospective meetings, Agile provides a robust yet flexible framework for managing projects. It fosters a culture of collaboration, communication, and adaptability, offering a refreshing deviation from traditional project management norms.

Agile management: The game-changer

In today’s business world, Agile management has emerged as a game-changer. It’s a solution tailored to thrive in uncertainty and designed to swiftly respond to change, delivering value promptly, improving quality, and focusing on customer satisfaction.

Managing change swiftly

Agile management shines in its ability to manage change effectively. Unlike traditional methods that view change as a disruption, Agile sees it as an opportunity. Agile management allows businesses to adapt their strategies quickly and respond to evolving market conditions, customer needs, or technological advancements. This adaptability empowers businesses to stay competitive and relevant.

Delivering value promptly

Agile management is customer centric. By focusing on delivering value incrementally, Agile allows customers to realise benefits much earlier in the project. This approach enhances customer satisfaction. It also allows for early feedback, which the team can use to ensure the final product is precisely what the customer needs.

Improving quality

When it comes to quality, Agile management also excels. Its reliance on frequent testing and continuous feedback ensures that any issues are identified and addressed promptly. Iterative development reduces the risk of problems being overlooked, leading to high-quality outcomes. Agile testing occurs concurrently with development, enabling teams to address bugs or inconsistencies real-time, improving the quality of the resultant product.

Increasing customer satisfaction

With Agile management, projects are driven by customer needs and feedback. Regular interactions with customers enhance understanding and offer avenues for quick adjustments based on their feedback. As a result, the final product aligns more closely with customer expectations, leading to higher customer satisfaction.

Additionally, Agile principles advocate for businesspeople and developers working together daily. This cooperation helps bridge any communication gap between the team and stakeholders, ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding project expectations and progress.

Agile management mindset

Agile encompasses more than just a set of practices; it’s a mindset encouraging flexibility, collaboration, and customer focus. Agile management shifts the narrative from rigid plans and processes towards people and interactions. Agile management ushers in an era of project management that embraces change, continuous improvement, and customer collaboration.

With Agile, continuous delivery and feedback become the norm, taking the lead over phased delivery and estimation errors. The Agile approach proves that the path to project success is not necessarily through stringent control but through flexibility, adaptability, and a relentless focus on delivering value. It’s a game-changer, setting a new standard for how projects can be managed in our ever-evolving world.

Certification and training: Becoming Agile-ready

Agile project management certification

In recent years, Agile project management certifications have gained considerable recognition. They demonstrate a professional’s proficiency in Agile principles and practices, enhancing their credibility amongst employers.

There are several Agile project management certifications available catering to different levels of expertise and roles.

The Agile Project Management (AgilePM) certification is a strong choice for those looking at a broader project management perspective. For more comprehensive training, PRINCE2 Agile certification combines the governance of PRINCE2 with the flexibility and responsiveness of Agile.

These certifications are valuable not just for project managers, but also for team members, Product Owners, or anyone involved in Agile project environments.

Agile project management certification cost

The cost of gaining Agile project management certification depends upon the certification gained, the certification level (Foundation and/or Practitioner) and the method of study (classroom or online self-paced).

For the latest Agile project management cost, check the relevant Agile PM course page, or PRINCE2 Agile course page.

Agile training opportunities

Training is an essential part of transitioning to Agile. Multiple avenues, both formal and informal, are available for training.

Agile training includes classroom training or online courses from authorised training organisations. These often end in a certification and are suitable for those seeking a structured learning experience.

On the other hand, informal training opportunities like webinars, workshops, and seminars can provide rich, engaging experiences. Many Agile thought leaders and communities organise these events, offering deep insights into Agile practices.

Self-study is another efficient way to familiarise oneself with Agile. Many resources like the Agile Manifesto, online tutorials, and books such as ‘Agile Project Management for Dummies’ provide substantial fundamental knowledge.

Team-based exercises and simulations are also effective methodologies for learning Agile. These activities promote a hands-on learning experience, enabling teams to understand Agile concepts through practical application.

Agile is not just about knowledge; it’s about mindset and culture. Therefore, training and certifications are not the ultimate goal but stepping stones towards creating an Agile environment. They provide the tools and understanding, paving the way for successful Agile adoption.

Implementing agility: Practical considerations

Embracing Agile project management offers numerous benefits, from enhancing productivity to boosting customer satisfaction. However, transitioning from traditional methods to Agile is not without its challenges. Here are some key considerations when implementing Agile methodologies.

Cultural shift

Transitioning to Agile involves a significant cultural shift. Traditional hierarchies give way to self-organising, cross-functional teams. Companies must promote an open, collaborative environment where ideas can be shared freely, and mistakes viewed as opportunities for learning. This cultural shift is crucial yet challenging, demanding commitment from every level of the organisation.

Training and skill development

The success of Agile project management hinges on people – they need to understand and embrace Agile principles and practices. Adequate training and skill development are crucial. Agile project management training, certifications, workshops, and coaching are ways to equip the team with necessary Agile skills and competencies.

Choosing the right Agile framework

Not all Agile frameworks work the same way, and not all are suited for every project. Choosing the right framework, whether it’s AgilePM or DSDM, Scrum, or Kanban, should be based on the project’s needs, team size, and complexity. Sometimes, a hybrid approach might be more suitable.

Maintaining customer engagement

Active customer engagement is a cornerstone of Agile project management. However, maintaining continuous customer engagement can be a challenge, particularly for large projects or those with multiple stakeholders. Tools for efficient stakeholder communication, regular updates, and demonstrations can help maintain active engagement.

Dealing with uncertainty

Agile thrives on flexibility and adaptability, making it an excellent fit for projects where requirements are likely to change. However, this also means dealing with a degree of uncertainty. Agile requires a mindset shift to embrace this uncertainty, viewing it as an opportunity to deliver the most value.

Measuring success

Traditionally, project success was judged by adherence to planned cost, time, and scope. In Agile, the focus shifts to delivering value and customer satisfaction. This change necessitates different Agile metrics and Agile reporting metrics. Velocity tracking, and customer satisfaction scores are among the many Agile metrics used. Burn charts – burndown and burnup – are often used alongside Kanban boards to report progress.

In summary

Implementing Agile project management is a journey of transformation. It requires a shift in mindset, organisational culture, and processes. The journey may be challenging, but the rewards – increased flexibility, customer satisfaction, and team morale – are well worth the effort.

With careful planning, continuous learning, and a resilient mindset, organisations can successfully navigate this transformative journey and reap the benefits of agility.

Learn from agile leaders

agileKRC has helped shape agile thinking by leading the teams that developed AgilePM® and PRINCE2 Agile®. We take a practical, success-oriented approach. We begin by taking the time to listen and understand your needs, before offering our real-world experience and expert guidance.

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