The 12 principles of agile can be applied to disciplines other than software development. One of the most popular emerging applications of these principles in recent years has been for managing projects. Agile project management rethinks how projects are managed throughout their lifecycle to improve the chances of success and provide improved control over the outcomes.
The historic approach vs the agile project management process approach
The agile project management process provides an iterative approach to managing projects, focussing on the continual release of products that consider customer feedback after every iteration. In contrast, before using the agile process, historical project management released all products at the end of the project. Often, this product no longer was what the customer really needed. The project required the creation of a comprehensive, detailed project plan, with the initial stages completing design activities, followed by development stages, testing stages, and deployment stages. In contrast, an agile project plan contains all of these activities in a single iteration. The aim of agile project management is to deliver one or more minimum viable products as soon as possible, then enhance them in subsequent iterations.
Using short iterations to deliver a project in incremental stages using an agile process has several advantages over using a traditional waterfall project management process. Here are some of them:
- Customer feedback on the minimum viable product can better help them decide what they really want.
- Working products can be delivered much earlier, realizing the value before the end of the full project.
- If the delivery of one product is blocked by an issue outside the control of the project management team, the agile project management process allows the team to work on another product in the meantime.
- If the customer decides that they no longer need it after seeing an early iteration of the product. If external factors make the product obsolete before it is fully delivered, then the agile project management process facilitates an early termination of the project.
Managing projects using scrum
Several different project management methodologies apply the 12 principles of agile. One of the most popular is agile with scrum. Traditional project management methodologies fix the requirements to control time and cost. In contrast, agile project management with scrum fixes time and cost to control requirements, using time boxes for each iteration.
Agile project management with scrum also applies the 12 principles by using frequent collaboration between the project and delivery teams and the customer, a prioritized product backlog, and frequent feedback cycles. Hence this variant of the process provides an iterative and incremental product delivery that uses frequent feedback and collaborative decision making under an overarching agile project plan.
There are only three roles with scrum: the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the Team.
- The Scrum Master is the keeper of the process, the advocate for the team, and the protector of the team. They remove obstacles, facilitate team communication, mediate discussions within the team, and negotiate with those external to the team. Above all, they exist in service to the team. The Scrum Master is not in charge of the team but is an important part of it.
- The Product Owner represents the voice of the customer and has the authority to make decisions about the product. This person owns the product backlog and is responsible for communicating the vision to the team and defining and prioritizing backlog items. The Product Owner works with the team on a daily basis to answer questions and provide product guidance. They are not in charge of the team.
- The Team consists of two to ten people who are jointly responsible for the delivery of the product. They own the estimates, make task commitments, and report daily status to each other in the daily scrum. They are self-organizing, meaning that structure appears without explicit intervention from the outside. In other words, the team owns how it chooses to build product features—the team owns the “how,” while the Product Owner owns the “what.”
Software for agile project management
Agile for software development can be used to support the agile project management process. Desirable features that you should expect to see in suitable agile project management software tools include:
- The ability to define and maintain an overarching project plan.
- Customization of the role for your application of agile project management.
- Workflows that support your project management process.
- Integration with agile software development tools.
Buying an agile project management software tool alone is no guarantee for success with any agile project management process. Investment must also be made in your people to ensure that they understand the 12 principles and can apply the thinking to managing projects.
Processes for managing projects have substantively changed in recent years. Methods have moved from using sequential stages with gateways between each stage to the use of repeated short iterations, with each iteration making small changes to the products. Early concerns about the viability of such a radical approach have proved to be unfounded. The use of the agile process has transformed how projects are delivered today and has inspired thousands of project managers to focus on delivering products that will excite and delight the customers. If you haven’t made the change already, then now is a good time to embrace agile project management processes because it is almost guaranteed that your competitors are, giving them an edge in making rapid, flexible, and beneficial changes to their products.