The Agile methodology was originally created for software development. Since its formal establishment in 2001, the Agile method of project management has expanded beyond software development. Now Agile can be applied to most projects regardless of industry. While Agile project management can be highly effective, it must be implemented correctly. To best use the Agile methodology, you must first understand the core tenets of Agile management.
Agile vs Traditional Project Management
Agile project management is radically different than traditional management models such as linear and waterfall project management systems. Linear project management includes internal phases that are executed sequentially and in chronological order; this method is commonly used in industries where little change is required at each project stage. The waterfall method places a strong emphasis on planning and development, which normally accounts for 40% of the total project time. In waterfall management, the next phase cannot begin until the previous one has been completed in its entirety, and typically it is very difficult to make adjustments to the initial plan. The waterfall method of project management is normally slow, expensive, and inflexible.
Agile management rejects traditional linear and waterfall structures with the Manifesto for Agile Software Development stating:
“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan”http://agilemanifesto.org/
The Agile manifesto applies to more than software development and the model is widely used for general project management. Agile project management consists of small cycles called sprints where each sprint acts like a mini-project. Each sprint involves design, implementation, testing, and deployment stages with each sprint contributing to the overall project. At the end of each sprint, a deliverable of some sort is produced. This is one of the hallmarks of Agile project management – delivering a working product as quickly as possible and iterating to make the product better.
To quickly achieve working products, Agile management places a high premium on flexibility. The scope and requirements of an agile project can change at any moment. This potential for rapid change requires a support structure to ensure team members are not left behind and that the work is completed on time.
Preparing For Deadlines
Traditional project management relies on planning and road maps to guide the project; features are identified, the plan is laid out, and assigned work follows this map. In Agile project management, “just enough” planning is preferred. Agile methodology wants enough planning to determine features and a direction, but not a detailed path. An Agile plan should have enough information to move the project to the next step, but not a comprehensive breakdown and timeline before the project has begun. This lack of planning can be a hard style to adapt to and it is largely up to Agile leadership to champion this way of thinking.
Stop, Drop, and Deliver
Agile projects progress through iteration to boost urgency and enable the delivery of the most valuable functionality. An Agile team should be able to change directions and work to deliver a new working product as quickly as possible. Agile management is less concerned with “nailing” a product on the first try and instead focuses on producing several working attempts and refining those prototypes until the final product is reached.
This mentality is based on the core principle that the delivered product must meet the customer’s needs above all else. There are three main ways an Agile team ensures the product will meet the customer’s needs:
- Clearly define who the customer is and what the customer wants.
- Develop a relationship with the customer and integrate them into the project team allowing for collaboration.
- Always advocate for the customer and envision the project from the customer’s perspective. Rather than creating a product that makes the project team happy, the product needs to make the customer happy.
The Value of Teamwork
Agile project management prioritizes teamwork over solo work. Daily meetings are part of the Agile structure and these meetings are ideally conducted face-to-face. Speed is of the utmost importance in the Agile methodology and there is no faster communication method than talking in person. We can speak at a rate of between 150 to 200 words per minute, which is 2-4 times faster than we can type. By meeting in person, Agile teams are able to communicate faster which is a necessity given how quickly projects can shift.
It is important that team members work closely together as the project changes and an Agile project manager is a key role in creating a successful Agile team. An Agile manager is less of a director and more of a shepherd. A commercial for the company BASF summarized the role of an Agile manager well: “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.” An Agile manager will generally not create content, write code, or test a product. Instead, an Agile manager will help teams track project status, encourage automation of basic tasks, help break up the project into smaller portions for teams, and work with the customer to ensure deliverables are what the customer needs. An Agile team cannot succeed without an Agile manager leading the way.
An Agile team has a different mentality compared to traditional teams. An Agile team member should be ready for any challenge and embrace uncertainty. It may seem that Agile teams are overly self-confident, but this mentality is required to survive in an Agile environment. Agile team members need to trust themselves, their peers, and their leaders.
Agile teams function around honesty and transparency. Agile deadlines should be honest and reflect the amount of work that needs to be done, not padded or cut down to appease management. Project status should be discussed in matter-of-fact terms so the entire team understands where the project stands.
Agile teams also celebrate diversity. Agile teams want to avoid “groupthink”, which is when a team gets along so well that no one wants to voice their opinions or disagree with an idea. The Challenger shuttle disaster is a classic example of groupthink. One engineer was worried about the colder weather and warned there could be an issue with the shuttle launch. NASA urged the engineer to reconsider his warning and the engineering company acquiesced. The team would rather not upset NASA and maintain group harmony, so they brushed off the warning. This failure to listen resulted in the death of the entire Challenger crew proving that groupthink can be catastrophic.
Agile project management is radically different from traditional management styles. Adjusting to the Agile style can be difficult, but with the proper mindset and support, Agile teams can quickly produce results. Understanding the differences between traditional and Agile management systems is key to successfully implementing an Agile system.
How SkillSource Learning Partners Can Help
Project management, especially adapting to a new style like Agile, can be tricky to navigate and sometimes outside help is necessary to ensure a team adjusts to changes; that is where SkillSource Learning comes in. Whether you need a change management (CM) professional or a project manager (PM), SkillSource Learning will work with you to ensure your key initiatives remain poised to reap your envisioned rewards. Through analysis, creation, and implementation, SkillSource Learning will help your team achieve your goals.
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