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A Beginner’s Guide To Agile Project Management

Agile project management is the way of the future

21Jun

This methodology has become a vital tool within modern project management despite it being only 16 years old, Agile is still growing and the benefits are more than worth the investment. While Agile was designed to be specific to engineering and IT based projects, it has become highly relevant to many other industries and today is one of the most commonly studied project management methodologies in America and around the world.

The initial purpose of Agile project management is exactly what you might expect it to be – it aims to keep project management as Agile as possible. Most modern industries are developing and changing so rapidly that project managers today don’t really have the luxury of putting together a plan and staying loyal to it. In which case, Agile aims to help teams work faster and become less dependent on strict plans and strategies.

The main values of Agile

There exists something called the ‘Agile Manifesto’, which is a proclamation put together by ‘The Agile Alliance’ in 2001 and is still followed today in some respects. What they outlined in this manifesto is 4 values and 12 principles that have helped to guide Agile projects and project managers to success. In order to start understanding Agile, you need to first understand Agile’s core values, which are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiations
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Overall, the values of Agile aim to lead teams and project managers away from simply satisfying a plan and helps them instead to focus on success in terms of the final product and its reception. The original manifesto, and Agile as a whole, has tried to change a long-standing definition of success that existed in project management at the time, whereby teams were given goals and ultimately they worked to complete these goals rather than investigating whether or not these goals were still relevant to organizationtion or held long-term value. This then moves onto the principles of Agile, which covers how teams might go about satisfying these values and achieving success.

The main principles of Agile

Rather than laying out a set of rules and guidelines for project managers to strictly follow, Agile works a bit differently. There are 12 main principles of project management that are outlined in the Agile manifesto that are still highly relevant today and play a key role in Agile project management. Paraphrased, these are:

  • The highest priority is to satisfy customers by continuously delivering top quality work.
  • Welcome and harness change, even late in the project, to achieve a competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, aiming for shorter timescales.
  • The team must regularly meet with the business owners and stakeholders throughout the project.
  • Put together a motivated team and give them the right environment and support they need.
  • Meeting face-to-face is the best way to share information.
  • Progress is measured by work that’s completed successfully.
  • Everyone involved needs to work at a consistent pace.
  • Striving for excellence can make a team more agile.
  • Avoid doing unnecessary work or overcomplicating tasks.
  • A self-organizing team is the way to go.
  • Have the team regularly reflect on the effectiveness of their work and make adjustments.

The aim of these principles is to lead project managers in the right direction without outwardly giving instructions to them, making Agile more easily applicable to projects other than those working with software. It’s only with Agile training that you learn how to apply these principles and how to translate ideas into actions. For example, the first principle instructs project managers to put customers first and the way that they decide to ensure this can differ depending on the type of project environment you are working in and whether or not you are working for customers or clients. Some project managers might utilize market research and update it regularly throughout the project while a different type of project manager might release betas or ‘sneak previews’ of their product during the project in order to get feedback.

When you look at these principles together, you get a clearer idea of what it is that Agile aims to do and it is quite noble. Rather than a team putting together a piece of software because they have been asked to and see it as an obligation, Agile forces the team to think about the reasons why they have been given the project at hand. When they do, they are more capable of making changes to improve its quality and its appeal with customers and if things within the organisation were to change or market trends cropped up that they wanted to capitalise on, they can adapt to these changes quite easily.

Of course, as Agile has branched out from the IT sector these principles and values are applied quite differently, but the general intention of the methodology has remained the same. Project managers need to roll with the punches and keep up with their competitors if they intend to receive any kind of positive results from their projects, and that is exactly what Agile tries to do. 

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