What is Agile Project Management?

Is Agile another word for chaos, or is it another word for not planning?

The short answer is No.

Let’s take a step back and look at traditional ‘Waterfall’ project management.

In traditional project management for a project to actually start, the scope has to be agreed upon and signed off by the sponsor or the customer.

The customer knows exactly what is being delivered to the smallest details and if any of those specifications change it would be because this specific change was raised through a heavyweight change control process, otherwise it would be considered either scope creep or gold plating.

Planning in traditional project management is a step-by-step heavy-weight planning process.

The project goes through sequenced phases and does not go back to the previous phase except between execution and monitoring and control in case of any defects that surface in the quality control process, then it goes forward to project closure.

In Agile project management, on the other hand, projects start with a fixed budget and fixed timeline but the scope remains somehow flexible. That being said no customer will dedicate a budget to an open-ended scope and then wait for the delivery date committed, and this is why Agile requires constant customer and stakeholder engagement. The question is, how do we know what will be delivered then?

Well the short answer is ‘We don’t know the exact specifications but we know the value that needs to be delivered’

The long answer is in Agile project management, we are always ready for the next change that comes through the door and that requires highly cohesive and well-performing teams and this is why ‘ ways of working ‘ is a commonly used phrase in any agile environment.

This does not mean that Agile project management is constantly running in quicksand and that is the thin line between successful Agile implementations and failed agile implementations.

How come the scope is flexible in Agile project management?

The scope is flexible due to the rapidly changing market which requires quick adaptation so any comprehensive specifications can no longer be fit for purpose by the time they are implemented, which would lead to ‘rework’ and that would be considered a waste.

Agile project management is mainly about shorter feedback loops and running time-boxed iterations that help the team to periodically stop and look at what they have delivered so far.

Deliverables are then tested at the end of every iteration and either accepted or rejected by the relevant stakeholders, the project sponsor, or the customer.

If the deliverables are accepted then the scope has been met and the value has been realized, if the deliverables are rejected then the value has not been delivered however within a certain limit .

It is within a certain limit because it is the whole team’s responsibility to find where things went wrong, was it in the requirements or in the success criteria provided, or the implementation itself! This is why continuous improvement is a major part of any agile way of working.

Agile implementations are usually governed by product roadmaps which represent the long-term vision and provide the common anchor that pulls the implementation and the team together towards a common strategic solution or product.

In Agile project management, just enough planning is done accordingly for that given point in time, planning is iterative and adaptive, the reason for this is to enable the team to progress with the work while making room for the final details to be finalized at the correct time, to avoid rework and complications.

In Agile project management, planning is continuously progressing throughout the iterations in parallel to the implementation. Agile planning is not scrum planning as this is a common misperception. Agile project management is not for software development only which is another misperception.

Sometimes the team needs to stop and elaborate more on the scope and the requirements before continuing with the implementation and that can be a discovery exercise, hypothesis proofing, proof of concept, or a spike to test certain aspects before proceeding with the actual implementation.

Each iteration is proceeded by a planning session where the team agrees on what will be delivered in the short term which is usually in the next two to four weeks. During the iteration, the team gathers regularly usually on daily basis to speak about what they have done so far, what they will be doing and if any impediments are likely to hold them back, this ensures transparency and team agility.

Agile project management in comparison to traditional waterfall project management, can be expressed in terms of five phases are as follows:

Phase one: Envision.

This phase is designed to help create a vision for the project itself for example a product roadmap.

Phase two: Speculate.

Speculation might involve a lot of risk-taking and that can be for example a proof of concept.

Phase three: Explore.

Which can be further discovery and planning activities.

Phase four: Adapt.

This entails the whole team to continuously inspect, adapt and progress the project.

Phase five: Close.

That is usually governed by the time and cost of the project and the acceptance of the emergent scope resulting from the effort exerted.

Agile project management stands on four pillars as follows :
1- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
2- Working software over comprehensive documentation.
3- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
4- Responding to change over following a plan.

Twelve principles distinguish agile project management:
1- Satisfy customers through early & continuous delivery
2- Welcome changing requirements even late in the project
3- Deliver value frequently
4- Break the silos of your project
5- Build projects around motivated Individuals
6- The most effective way of communication is Face-to-face(however this has been questioned lately)
7- Working software is the primary measure of progress
8- Maintain a suitable cadence or working pace.
9- Continuous improvement enhances agility
10- Simplicity is essential
11- Self-organizing teams generate the most value
12- Regularly reflect and adjust your way of work to boost effectiveness

Finally, we can sum this up as follows, Agile project management is an iterative approach to delivering a project throughout its life cycle. Iterative or agile life cycles are composed of several iterations or incremental steps towards the completion of a project.

Hope you have enjoyed this read and that it has set in perspective the difference between traditional project management and agile project management. Project Management Docs makes planning and managing your project easier by providing a large selection of project management templates. Visit our Agile Project Management Templates to download our free Agile templates.