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What is Agile Project Management?

By APMG International
September 6, 2023

Agile project management is a flexible approach to managing projects which involves taking incremental steps referred to as sprints or iterations. Rather than follow a linear and predetermined path, this iterative approach allows projects to evolve as they progress and to adapt to changing requirements and feedback.

A major advantage of this style of project management is that benefits are often realised earlier in the project, rather than exclusively at the end, which is partly why this has become such a widely adopted method.

The History of Agile Project Management

Agile project management emerged in the software development industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Here is a brief overview of its evolution:

Before Agile, Waterfall was the dominant project management approach. The Waterfall model follows a sequential process, where each phase of the project is completed in a linear fashion, with limited room for changes or feedback.

In 1991 the book Rapid Application Development was published and an approach of the same name, RAD, was born. This approach strived to deliver quality software quickly, through emphasizing fast prototyping, iterative feedback, and end-user involvement.

In 1994 the Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM) was created as project managers using RAD strived for increased governance and discipline when using an iterative style of managing projects.  The DSDM Framework is the backbone for several of APMG’s certifications.

In 2001, a group of software development thought leaders came together and devised the Agile Manifesto. Where the DSDM Framework provides a set of principles and practices for delivering projects, the Agile Manifesto provided a set of broader guiding values.

Following the Agile Manifesto, several more Agile methodologies and frameworks were developed, and Agile adoption rapidly gained traction in the software development industry.

Today, Agile practices are no longer confined to software development and have become popular in a wide variety of industries in which organisations need to be flexible and responsive.

The Benefits of Agile Project Management

Agile project management often results in the early release of benefits due to its incremental nature. Flexibility is gained as development teams are empowered to adapt the solution as the project progresses.

Agile projects are iterative and have regular feedback loops. This process contributes to managing risk, improving customer satisfaction and encourages continuous improvement. The emphasis on collaboration, transparency, and a culture of accountability (through the assigning of clear roles and responsibilities) have all contributed to Agile’s popularity.

Core Agile Values

The Agile Manifesto outlines four core values:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
    Teams and people, not the latest tool or a perfect process, deliver successful projects. An agile environment focuses on delivering what the business requires through collaboration.

  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation.
    The Agile Manifesto was created with software in mind, but now that Agile use is widespread, this value is now often referred to as ‘working solutions over comprehensive documentation’. While documentation is important in Agile methods, the primary focus is tangible results.

  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
    Agile approaches involve customers throughout the project. Customers’ feedback guides development, ensuring the end product meets those very customers’ needs.

  4. Responding to change over following a plan.
    Traditional ‘waterfall’ projects create a road map for a project and endeavour to stick to this plan. Agile projects recognise that change is a natural part of the development process. Agile projects adapt to changing requirements, market conditions, and customer feedback – adjusting plans and priorities to deliver the best possible outcomes.

The Key Principles of Agile Project Management

Agile project management principles vary depending on the source; for example, Agile Manifesto also put forward several principles. The DSDM Framework puts forth these eight principles:

  1. Focus on the business need. Every decision taken during a project should consider the project’s goal to deliver what the business needs.

  2. Deliver on time. Delivering a solution on time is often a key factor in measuring success.

  3. Collaborate. Collaboration and teamwork will result in performance that exceeds the sum of the parts.

  4. Never compromise quality. In DSDM, the level of quality to be delivered should be agreed at the start and all work should be aimed at achieving that level of quality.

  5. Build incrementally from firm foundations. Establish firm foundations for the project by understanding the scope of the business problem to be solved and the proposed solution, before committing to significant development.

  6. Develop iteratively. The concept of iteration is at the heart of Agile Project Management. Embracing change as part of this process allows the project team to create an effective business solution.

  7. Communicate continuously and clearly. Poor communication is often cited as the biggest single cause of project failure.

  8. Demonstrate control. It is essential to be in control of a project and the solution being created and be able to demonstrate that this is the case.

These eight principles provide an effective basis for any agile project.

Agile Project Management Methodologies, Methods, and Techniques

DSDM is an Agile Project Management method which we have highlighted the principles of above. It incorporates the full project lifecycle, and its core philosophy is “Any project must be aligned to clearly defined strategic goals and focus upon early delivery of real benefits to the business.”

There are also several other techniques and approaches that can also be used to manage an agile project; three of the most popular are Scrum, Kanban and Lean.

Scrum is a framework that focuses on using effective team collaboration to develop and deliver products. It divides work into short, time-boxed iterations called sprints.

Kanban emphasises workflow optimisation and visualising work (for example with a Kanban board).

Lean is concerned with eliminating work that does not add value, in particular to the customer.

Nigel Mercer, APMG International’s North America and Africa Regional Manager, talks with Guy Eastoe, Director of SnapTech International and has over 20 years’ experience helping organisations adapt to an ever-changing world using Agile methodologies. In this concise video they recap what agile project management is, why it is important, and describe the most popular methodologies, Agile Project Management and Scrum.

The Difference Between Agile Project Management and Waterfall Project Management

Both approaches are valuable, and which method to use can be largely determined by the project itself and the organisation involved.

In Waterfall projects, development is linear; for example, the design is completed before the development starts. Agile project management is iterative and in practice often have two-to-four week ‘sprint’ work cycles, followed by a review of progress before the next phase of development.

Another major difference is Waterfall approaches define and fix the scope and requirements early in the project. As scope and quality are fixed early in the project, time and cost are usually flexed in order to deliver the requirements.

However popular Agile approaches, like many of those taught in APMG Agile Certifications, define and fix the time and cost available for the project. Scope is usually what changes in order to deliver within the time and cost constraints.

Common Agile Project Management Myths

While Agile project management has become hugely popular in recent years, there are still some common misconceptions associated with it. Below we look at two persistent myths.

Myth: Agile projects are only suitable for software and IT development.

It is understandable how this misconception came about; Agile was created in the IT and software development world. However most Agile project frameworks, like DSDM (which several APMG certifications are based on) are designed to be industry agnostic. Agile project management approaches provide guidelines on how to launch or refresh products and services, not technical instructions on how to develop software. All types of projects can benefit from the flexibility and structure provided by Agile frameworks, which brings us onto another persistent myth.

Myth: Agile projects are chaos, with no planning.

There is clear structure and governance in agile projects. Flexibility is after all not the same as chaos. Agile project management requires planning and documentation – as with Waterfall projects, objectives and a clear purpose should be set. However, Agile methods often involve less documentation at the start of a project than their traditional counterparts – as like many elements of Agile, the documentation is incremental and continuously refined. The flexibility Agile projects are known for is partly born from the encouragement of quick decision-making.

How To Start Using Agile Project Management

APMG’s Agile certifications can assist you in learning the principles and values which are the foundation for Agile projects, as well as providing you practical step-by-step guidance on how to run Agile projects.

APMG training courses can help equip you with:

  • An understanding of Agile philosophy and principles, the lifecycle of an Agile project and the roles and responsibilities within these projects.
  • How to apply a variety of Agile practices to a project – for example workshops, the MoSCoW technique to define project priorities, iterative development, and modelling.
  • How to facilitate and encourage collaboration.
  • How to assess the success of an Agile project.

These are just some of the key skills that can be developed and honed on our Agile courses. Each certification focuses on different skills, and what is appropriate for each individual will depend on their role within the project, the project itself and the organisation.

This 30-minute webinar recording explains how Agile planning techniques can be applied to any piece of work to create an initiative that delivers early and frequent benefits. Melanie Franklin, Agile Expert and Trainer, explains the key planning tool, a roadmap and a planning technique, decomposition. This video is relevant to those Project/Programme/Change Managers responsible for creating plans.

In this episode of APMG’s Q&A show Level Up, panelists answer questions about how to manage an Agile project. The first question addressed is what an Agile project is, and the episode walks through the challenges the panelists had when managing projects, how the responsibilities are divided in Agile projects and how to navigate changing priorities.

Agile Glossary – Common Terms Used in Agile Projects

To help you understand some of the terms you will hear in Agile projects, we have put together a brief list of some of the common terminologies and their definitions.

Agile Project Management | an approach to managing projects using iterative and incremental steps

Daily Scrum | a daily team meeting, usually for the development team. In the meeting the team plans the next 24 hours of work

DevOps | an approach that emphasises collaboration, communication, and integration between development (Dev) and operations (Ops) teams

Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM) | an Agile method that focuses on the full project lifecycle

Kanban | Emphasises workflow optimisation and visualising work, for example with a Kanban board

Lean | is concerned with eliminating work that does not add value, in particular to the customer

Lifecycle | All the phases of a project which turn an idea into a solution

Rapid Application Development (RAD) | an Agile development method that strives to deliver quality solutions quickly, through emphasising fast prototyping, iterative feedback, and end-user involvement

Requirements | a list of desired outcomes, features, and functionalities that the solution the project is creating should deliver, to meet the needs of customers and stakeholders

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) | the smallest feasible delivery that provides value to users or customers. It represents an early version of the final product, containing essential features. By focusing on delivering an MVP, development teams can gather feedback, validate assumptions, and iterate towards a successful solution

MoSCoW | a system used to prioritise by classifying requirements as either ‘must have’, ‘should have’, ‘could have’ and ‘would like to have’

Scrum | a framework that focuses on using effective team collaboration to develop and deliver products. It divides work into short, time-boxed iterations called sprints

Scrum Master | the person responsible for promoting a project and supporting Scrum

Sprint(s) | a time-boxed (of one month or less) development phase within a project

Waterfall | Often referred to as ‘traditional’ project management, it is used to describe linear development approaches

Check out IIL’s AgilePM Foundation Course here!  IIL is an APMG Accredited Training Organization (ATO).

AgilePM® is a registered trademark of Agile Business Consortium Limited. All rights reserved. The APMG International AgilePM and Swirl Device logo is a trademark of The APM Group Limited, used under permission of The APM Group Limited. All rights reserved. Original article published here.

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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