Discover the Mysteries and Benefits of Agile Project Management!

By Nathan Cavet
Published: 14/04/2021
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What are the benefits of agile project management?

This project management method is increasingly used by companies for software development, and sometimes for other types of projects.

If the words Scrum, Lean, sprint, Kanban method, or product owner are as vague as Chinese characters, don't worry: by the end of this article, you will know what an agile method is and how it works.

In this article, we will discuss what are the benefits of agile project management and we will dive deeper into the most popular one which is the Scrum methodology.

Ready to explore the jungle of project management and become agile?

What is agile project management?

Agile project management is an approach that divides a project into different independent sub-projects, called iterations, which will be repeated until the desired result is reached.

How it works

The best way to understand the needs of the users and the customer is to allow them to test the product along the development process, in real-life situations.

This avoids the tunnel effect and reduces the time between the formulation of a need and its realization. The product is enriched throughout the project lifecycle and its conformity is checked regularly.

Changes should be seen as opportunities rather than obstacles. Indeed, new ideas can emerge and bring unplanned functionality to the product, thus creating value.

Clear and regular communication remains the key element. There is a real need to create cohesion by bringing all stakeholders together, without intermediaries. Interaction is crucial on a daily basis to reach a clear product-oriented goal.

The idea is not to develop a perfectly detailed project plan before it is even launched but to test efficient practices and techniques for a single project. Through iterations, the team regularly questions its way of working and relies on an empirical approach to optimize its efficiency.

It is thus possible to keep the "winning" methods or to reject the less efficient ones, always with a view to improving the overall realization process. Experience comes with practice, and the project can be launched earlier as less time is spent planning it.

Agile project management vs. traditional project management

Changing requirements are sometimes necessary for a manager or team members to work more efficiently.

Agile is opposed to traditional waterfall project management methodologies such as the V-cycle. Linear and predictive, they leave little room for unexpected events and changes.

At one time, they caused a particularly high failure rate in IT projects, due to the tunnel effect. With the product delivered at the end, it was sometimes realized too late that the product did not (or no longer) fully met expectations due to the lack of visibility and flexibility, which could lead to late delivery or budget overruns.

Agile project management addresses this problem, as it allows not only to take into account the needs expressed initially, but also the changes or new needs arising during the development process. This ensures that the product always meets expectations.

The Agile Manifesto

In 2001, 17 software development professionals met to share and formalize their best practices. They wrote the Agile Manifesto.

The objective of this bible of agility? To encourage the improvement of software development based on four values:

We favour... 

rather than… 

individuals and their interactions processes and tools
operational software complete documentation
collaboration with clients contractual negotiation
adaptation to change rigidly following a plan

It shows 12 principles that agile teams should adopt in their work methods, which are:

  1. customer satisfaction, the top priority,
  2. openness to requests and changes, which give value to the project,
  3. frequent deliveries based on short cycles,
  4. close cooperation, even co-construction, with users,
  5. a motivating work environment that favours the autonomy of stakeholders,
  6. face-to-face communication is preferred, as it is richer and more efficient,
  7. deliveries of operational elements only,
  8. a sustainable and constant rhythm adapted to the project actors,
  9. technical quality of the team to adapt permanently,
  10. simplicity, by going to the essential and minimizing all unnecessary work,
  11. an autonomous team, which organizes itself for better performance,
  12. regular adaptation of methods, processes, and tools to increase efficiency.

A concrete example of the application of the agile method

Let's take the example of a project that must meet a specific need: to move.

Using a classic project management method, we build each element of a car one after the other: the wheels, then the body, the engine, the headlights, the steering wheel, etc. Alone, these elements do not fulfil the initial need to move, and it will be necessary to wait until they are all built and assembled.

With agile project management, the idea is to quickly propose a very minimalist first version (minimum viable product or MVP) that meets the main need and to improve it over the course of the iterations. As shown in the diagram below, the first version does not look like a car, but rather a skateboard.

The idea then is to take advantage of quick customer feedback on this first version and improve the product with each iteration to arrive at the final result of the car.

traditional vs agile© Henrik Kniberg

Benefits of agile project management

There are several benefits of agile project management. Agile management:

  • allows for great flexibility: unforeseen events are better managed and taken into account, and you are more responsive,
  • builds trust and collaboration between the team and the client, thanks to the frequency and regularity of exchanges,
  • provides real-time visibility into the project's progress through constant quality control. The client can request adjustments throughout the project, and you are able to respond,
  • provides better cost control. After each step, the team takes stock of the consumed budget to arbitrate: continue, suspend or cancel certain tasks, or even the project.

Scrum, the celebrity in agile methodology

Scrum is the most widely used agile method. It proposes a framework that still allows great adaptability, even for complex projects.

In particular, it defines:

  • roles and responsibilities, such as that of the Scrum Master or Product Owner,
  • rules on the duration of development cycles (called sprints),
  • regular and short meetings called the scrum ceremonies,
  • a backlog that contains all the features to be developed,
  • various agile tools and practices such as the planning poker, the Kanban board, or the scrum board.

Here are the other agile methods among the most used:

  • Kanban, allows to clearly and visually follow the project thanks to a system of board and post-it.
  • Extreme Programming (XP), which owes its success to the fact that it pushes the values of agile to the extreme, which allows great flexibility.
  • PRINCE2, this structured method is adapted to all types of projects and focuses on anticipating probable changes in the environment.
  • Lean, whose objective is to maximize quality by avoiding waste of human, financial, and time resources.
  • Crystal Clear, which is characterized by a very light framework, but a strong vision and recommendations.
  • Feature-Driven Development (FDD), which gives time to the design phase, in order to limit the risks of having an idea that is far from the final result.
  • Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM), which requires an upstream feasibility study, which will validate or not the project launch.

On the road to agility

The main challenge, at the heart of agility, is to deliver value as soon as possible to satisfy the customer in an environment that tends to become more complex (stronger competition, increased uncertainty and frequency of market changes, etc.).

Finally, agile allows to create and deliver a quality product with high added value, while adapting to the changes of its environment.

To do this, principles and values must guide any agile project management. Project management software that facilitates collaborative work can be a major asset.

You already know this, but you will have to make sure that the employees concerned are well-trained (or recruit the people with relevant skills), and carry out changes in management so that agility becomes an integral part of the company or business culture. Innovation should help your company to grow better!

And you, have you adopted the agile culture in your organization and, if so, what are your feedbacks? If not, what are your obstacles?

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