Embracing Agile project management strategies and methodologies can help your business flourish.
If you’re new to the world of Agile or want to learn more, this article will guide you through the steps to successfully running an Agile business.
The foundation of Agile
In 2001, a group of developers recognized the need for a more flexible project management method than the existing ‘waterfall’ method. As a result, the Agile manifesto was created. In its early days, Agile project management was used solely for software development projects. Now, you will find Agile principles in many industries and fields, not just software development.
Agile projects have 4 key values and 12 supporting principles.
4 Key values
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Along with these 4 key values, Agile also contains 12 supporting principles. These principles of Agile help present the values of Agile in an actionable format.
12 principles of Agile development
- Customer satisfaction through early and continuous software delivery
- Accommodate changing requirements throughout the development process
- Frequent delivery of working software
- Collaboration between the business stakeholders and developers throughout the project
- Support, trust, and motivate the people involved
- Enable face-to-face interactions
- Working software is the primary measure of progress
- Agile processes to support a consistent development pace
- Attention to technical detail and design enhances agility
- Self-organizing teams encourage great architectures, requirements, and designs
- Regular reflections on how to become more effective
Recent research by the Standish Group shows that Agile projects are statistically 3X more likely to succeed than projects using the waterfall method (top-down).
Traditionally, a project is deemed successful when it meets the planned schedule, cost and scope. Recently, the Standish Group further modified the “scope” constraint to also include customer satisfaction, value delivered and alignment to strategic goals.
Knowing this, we can explore why projects succeed with Agile and how Agile project management can impact business operations.
1) Improved product quality
One benefit of using Agile methodology is improved product quality. Agile project management uses iterations. In Agile, an iteration refers to a single development cycle, or timebox, within the project. Iteration length is usually between 1 and 6 weeks, but may vary between projects.
By breaking the project into smaller iterations, the project team can focus on high-quality development, testing, and collaboration. This allows the team to conduct regular tests during development and address issues while they’re still fresh.
2) Higher customer engagement and satisfaction
Unlike waterfall, an important aspect of Agile project management is frequent communication between the Agile team and the product owner.
In Agile projects, the customer, otherwise known as the product owner or key stakeholder, is frequently involved throughout the project progress. This allows the customer to review project progression at the end of every iteration. In turn, this increased customer engagement and collaboration results in higher customer satisfaction.
3) Predictable costs and schedule
Because Agile projects used time boxed and iterative delivery cycles, it is easier to determine the project costs and schedule.
When working in incremental stages, Agile projects use feedback loops to help improve team productivity. Feedback loops occur at the end of each increment. These loops help the team identify areas for improvement that can be turned into actionable work
Thus, the Agile team will be able to make better-informed decisions, reduce spend, and ensure the project remains on schedule.
4) History of success
The Agile approach focuses on collaboration, fast releases and frequent feedback. Therefore, Agile project management can help various businesses streamline their processes, respond to change and reach their project objectives.
Research states approximately 80 percent of businesses use Agile practices throughout key areas of their business.
Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, is often viewed as a pioneer for Agile software development. In the automobile industry, Ford and his team set out to create a flow-based production line where they used a continuous improvement process to remove constraints. This Agile method of production led Ford to be able to achieve outstanding results in automotive production.
Putting together an Agile team
An Agile team is a cross-functional group of people. The Agile team is self-contained to the point that the people in the group can deliver the product without needing to seek external support from others outside the group.
Key features of Agile teams
- Agile teams are “whole teams” – This means that the members within the team have sufficient skills to get the job done without external support.
- Agile teams are made up of generalizing specialists – A generalizing specialist has one or more technical skills so they can contribute something of direct value to the team. They will also have general knowledge of the industry and company, along with willingness to learn new skills.
- Agile teams are stable – Changing team structures can be detrimental to the success of the project. Because of this Agile teams strive to be as stable as possible.
Creating your workflow
The key steps of the Agile process are:
- Strategy – Before starting the project, your team should understand the project goal, value to the organization or client, and how it will be achieved.
- Product Roadmap Planning – Once you have made your initial plan, you will need to develop a product roadmap. This is a crucial part of the planning stage that shows a breakdown of the features that will make up your final product. At this stage you will also create a product backlog – a list detailing all the features and deliverables of the final product.
- Release Scheduling – Agile projects are made up of several sprints featuring releases at the end of each cycle. Therefore, it is important to create a plan of all the feature releases required. Then, at the start of each sprint, you can review the release plan for that feature.
- Spring Planning – Before each sprint begins, it’s important to plan what needs to be achieved during that sprint and which team members need to be involved. Whilst doing this, assess the task load and ensure the work is evenly distributed between team members to minimize the risk of bottlenecks.
- Daily Meetings – Holding daily meetings is essential for keeping the project on track. In these meetings you will briefly evaluate the previous day’s work, along with the upcoming work for the current day.
- Post Mortems – At the end of each sprint, the Team Lead (or Scrum Master) will hold two meetings: first, they’ll hold a sprint review with the stakeholders. This allows the team lead to collect feedback and change requests. Second, the Team Lead will hold a sprint retrospective meeting with all stakeholders and team members to discuss what went well, what could have gone better and what was accomplished. The Retrospective meeting is essential for improving the efficiency and success of future sprints.
Different stages of an Agile project
When running a project on the Agile methodology, you will also likely find the following key processes. These serve as checks to ensure projects are progressing as needed, and there are no blockers for the team.
- Standups – This is a short daily meeting where the team discusses the ongoing project. Here, you should discuss what was accomplished the day before, what you plan to do today, and any blockers. It also gives team members the chance to ask questions. Generally, standups shouldn’t last longer than 15 minutes.
- Sprints – The project will be broken into smaller sprints. These are short timeboxed periods containing different sections of the project that need to be completed. Sprints usually run from 1 to 6 weeks.
- Check-ins – Building frequent check-ins into the project roadmap keeps the project heading in the right direction. Check-ins give the product owner a chance to review the ongoing work so they can provide team members with any necessary feedback or change requests.
- Handoff – Once the team has completed the work involved in the current sprint or iteration, it is then handed off to the next team in the workflow. The team lead will usually own this transition to ensure the handoffs abide to the project workflow.
- Review and Retrospective – Review and retrospective meetings ensure all stakeholders and team members have the opportunity to review the deliverables and improve the success of future sprints or projects.
Tips for Agile implementation
Set up a project board
Agile projects work best with visual reference points. When implementing an Agile project, we recommend setting up a project board.
The project board can be used to display the key documents, such as the product roadmap and backlogs. It can also be used to display the various project features and the current sprint progression.
Reminder: A sprint is a time-boxed iteration within Agile projects.
Your project board should show each of your sprints within the project. The relevant tasks should then feature underneath the associated sprint.
Use Kanban workflows for sprints
A popular way of managing Agile workflows is to use Kanban. The term kanban comes from the Japanese translation for billboard. Kanban is a lean workflow management method designed to help you visualize your work, maximize efficiency and be Agile.
A useful tool to do this is Trello, where you use a kanban-style board and move individual cards (tasks) across columns like “To-do,” “In progress,” “For review,” “Done,” and more as you customize to your needs.
For example, any tasks that are currently being worked on will be placed under the ‘doing’ column. Once a task has been completed, it will then move to the ‘done’ column.
If you don’t want to use software to manage your workflows, Post-it notes are often used for wall or whiteboard-based project boards. These will still allow the team to easily move tasks through the Kanban workflow.
Have your project board open when doing daily standups
The project board can be useful during daily standups. By holding your daily standup in front of your project board, you can easily refer to different points within the project. You can then also make relevant changes to the project board as the meeting goes on.
Create detailed tasks
By including a description and uploading any useful attachments to each task, the assigned team members should be able to complete the task without needing any additional information.
Stakeholders can also be added as followers of tasks that are important to them so they can easily keep track of task progression.
Adopting an Agile mindset, along with Agile methodologies, can help you to successfully deliver high-value projects within your organization.