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Agile methodologies have proven themselves to be faster and more efficient than “old school methods” for software development. Instead of spending tons of time detailing and working on a long-term development project that may not pan out in the end, the Agile concept, works in short, rapid bursts allowing teams to turn on a dime.
If you spend a year working on a product only to discover the product doesn’t serve the customer’s needs, much of that work is wasted—and so is the time that has been lost.
Agile project management methods work in short time frames and allow users to review what has been produced so far. If the product is not working or if there is a change in the requirements, Agile teams can respond quickly. In this way, they always have their finger on the pulse of what the stakeholders need, and they know they are producing a product that is on target.
In this guide, we’ll look at the best practices of Agile project management, from the core principles to implementing these techniques in your organization.
Understanding the Agile Manifesto and Its Principles
The concept of Agile has been around since the 1990s, but in 2001, a group of software developers came together to solidify the ideas into a more cohesive vision. Hence, the Agile Manifesto was born.
It was not meant to nail down a concrete method, rather it was deliberately non-specific allowing for the mindset to lead the way, not a list of rules or guidelines.
The manifesto is a brief document that outlines four values and 12 principles for Agile software development.
The Four Values
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. While having the right tools are important, this value relates to making sure you have the right people on the team. When you get this right, you will get the proper collaboration that is so critical to the Agile method.
- Working solutions over comprehensive documentation. This value places a priority on getting product into the hands of customer in order to get feedback valuable to the improvement of future releases.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. The idea behind this value is to focus on continuous development rather than blindly following a contract drawn up at the beginning of a project. Instead, regularly conferring with the customer and getting their feedback will help ensure the final product is what they need and want.
- Responding to change over following a plan. This value speaks to the ability of the team to be flexible in the face of a changing marketplace.
The 12 Principles of the Agile Manifesto
In addition to the four values, the Agile Manifesto contains 12 principles that guide Agile teams in delivering high-quality products.
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. The goal is to get a product in the hands of a customer as soon as possible so that the team can receive feedback to use in later iterations.
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. Rather than remaining locked into a product development plan, Agile is meant to respond to changing markets, customer needs and competitive threats at whatever point they are identified. This is part of what helps make Agile agile.
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. By releasing segments of the product more often, it can actually speed up the overall time for development.
- Businesspeople and developers must work together daily throughout the project. Regular communication between the business side and the development side helps to ensure the goal remains aligned between the two.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done. A key part of Agile is trusting the team to get across the finish line without handholding. If you’ve put the right people together and clearly communicated their roles and goals, there should be no micromanaging.
- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. The main idea behind this principle is to have real time conversations as opposed to email or Slack interactions. This was once satisfied with the Scrum meeting (or daily stand-up), but since the pandemic some teams may no longer be working in the same place. In that case, a Zoom meeting is preferable to no daily meeting.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress. Working software takes precedence over documentation. The idea is to not to create bottlenecks by chasing perfection. Instead, build software and get it out for feedback. Do not let “perfect be the enemy of the good.”
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. A relentless release schedule can lead to burn out on your team. Keep morale high by setting clear and realistic expectations.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility. While there is an emphasis on frequency and speed in Agile, it is also important to keep an eye on keeping things tidy on the technical front. This refers to items like allocating resources to refactoring efforts.
- Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential. This is about prioritizing and making difficult choices. In practice, this looks like refining the backlog to exclude work that isn’t important or streamlining meetings into something shorter and more productive.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. The concept behind this principle is to empower teams to work together in a way that is productive for them. It is a flat management style as opposed to a pyramid style with one manager at the top making all the major decisions.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly. The goal of Agile is not to use one process for every project forever. It’s about learning from each sprint and adjusting processes and teams accordingly.
Getting Started With Agile Project Management
Okay, you’ve studied the values and principles of Agile management, it’s time to get started. Use the following list to help guide you through the process.
- First, choose the right Agile framework. Each framework has its pros and cons. Some of the most popular frameworks include Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), and Lean. Consider the culture and needs of your organization, as well as the project requirements when making a decision.
- Assemble a Cross-Functional Team. When putting together an Agile team, make sure its members possess all the necessary skills and expertise to complete the project without having to access outside resources. This cross-functional element is what gives a team the ability to keep innovating and progressing without having to wait on external factors. Reducing dependencies is an essential factor for success in Agile management.
- Establish Clear Roles and Responsibilities. When specific roles and responsibilities are assigned, it clears up much of the confusion that can happen when a team starts a project. It’s clear to all who is accountable for what and it helps streamline the decision-making process.
- Embrace Iterative and Incremental Development. One of the main concepts behind Agile project management is frequently releasing small, functional increments of the product to gather feedback. You’ll use that information to improve, then “rinse and repeat” until the goal is reached. When you break a project into smaller pieces like this, you can adapt to changes more quickly and complete the project sooner.
- Plan and Prioritize Using User Stories and Product Backlogs. User stories are an integral part of Agile project management. They give the team a definition of the product as told from the user’s perspective, which is central to delivering customer satisfaction. The stories are prioritized in the product backlog, which should be updated regularly.
- Leverage Templates for Efficiency and Consistency. Templates help streamline the project management process, improving consistency, saving time, and reducing errors. Templates can be used for variety of things such as user story creation, sprint planning, tracking tasks, and retrospectives.
Our website, projectmanagementdocs.com, offers a variety of free Agile project management templates designed to help you manage your projects more effectively. These templates cover a wide range of Agile project management components, ensuring that you have the tools you need for each stage of the process.
You’ll find a comprehensive collection of templates tailored for different Agile frameworks, such as Scrum, Kanban, and more. They are all are designed to be customizable, allowing you to adapt them to your team’s specific needs and preferences.
- Implement Timeboxing and Regular Iterations. Timeboxing is the practice of establishing fixed time frames for completing a specific set of tasks. It is referred to an Agile as an iteration or sprint. Timeboxing helps teams focus their attention and helps to drive innovation as new information gained during each iteration can be used constructively for the next.
- Use Agile Metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Metrics help teams identify problem areas and improve their processes with data-driven decisions. Common Agile metrics include things like velocity, sprint burndown, cumulative flow, and lead time.
- Foster a Culture of Collaboration and Communication. Create an atmosphere conducive to the sharing of information and working together. Holding regular meetings like daily stand-ups, sprint planning sessions, and sprint reviews, are essential for keeping everyone on the same page. Team members should feel comfortable discussing problems and proposing solutions.
- Emphasize Continuous Improvement and Adaptability. In Agile project management, there is always an eye toward adaptation and improvement. You never want to rest on your laurels. One way to do that is to utilize the retrospective meeting. It’s a review that allows you to identify areas for improvement. The goal of Agile is to always be optimizing your performance.
- Focus on Delivering Customer Value. The primary goal of Agile is to deliver value to the customer. The practice of constantly gathering and incorporating customer feedback helps to ensure your product will meet their needs by project’s end.
- Encourage Technical Excellence and Sustainable Development. Technical excellence means maintaining clean and efficient code and ensuring that it is scalable. Additionally, it is also important to manage workloads in such a way as to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
The Benefits of Agile Project Management
Agile project management helps organizations deliver high-quality products faster and more efficiently. By taking a little time to familiarize yourself with its best practices, you’ll be better able to implement it to your advantage.
Using an Agile-based framework will help to optimize your team’s performance and get better outcomes for your customers and organization.