Agile Project Management is an iterative approach to planning and guiding project processes that breaks them down into smaller cycles called sprints, or iterations.
Just as in Agile software development, an Agile project is completed in small sections. In Agile software development, for instance, an iteration refers to a single development cycle. Each section or iteration is reviewed and critiqued by the project team, which should include representatives of the project’s various stakeholders. Insights gained from the critique of an iteration are used to determine what the next step should be in the project.
The main benefit of getting started with Agile Project Management is its ability to respond to issues that arise throughout the course of the project. Making a necessary change to a project at the right time can save resources and help to deliver a successful project on time and within budget.
The Agile project methodology breaks projects into small pieces. These project pieces are completed in work sessions that are often called sprints. Sprints generally run anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. These sessions run from the initial design phase to testing and quality assurance (QA).
The Agile methodology enables teams to release segments as they are completed. This continuous release schedule enables teams to demonstrate that these segments are successful and, if not, to fix flaws quickly. The belief is that this helps reduce the chance of large-scale failures, because there is continuous improvement throughout the project lifecycle.
Agile teams build rapid feedback, continuous adaptation and QA best practices into their iterations. They adopt practices such as continuous deployment and continuous integration using technology that automates steps to speed up the release and use of products.
Additionally, Agile Project Management calls for teams to continuously evaluate time and cost as they move through their work. They use velocity, burndown and burnup charts to measure their work, instead of Gantt charts and project milestones to track progress.
Agile Project Management does not require the presence or participation of a project manager. Although a project manager is essential for success under the traditional project delivery methodologies, such as the waterfall model — where the position manages the budget, personnel, project scope and other key elements — the project manager’s role under APM is distributed among team members.
For instance, the product owner sets project goals, while team members divvy up scheduling, progress reporting and quality tasks. Certain Agile approaches add other layers of management. The Scrum approach, for example, calls for a Scrum Master who helps set priorities and guides the project through to completion.
But project managers can still be used in Agile Project Management. Many organizations still use them for Agile projects — particularly larger, more complex ones. These organizations generally place project managers in more of a coordinator role, with the product owner taking responsibility for the project’s overall completion.
Given the shift in work from project managers to Agile teams, Agile Project Management demands that team members know how to work within the framework. They must be able to collaborate with each other and with users. They must be able to communicate well to keep projects on track. And they should feel comfortable taking appropriate actions at the right times to keep pace with delivery schedules.
There are five main phases involved in the APM process.
The 21st century saw a rapid rise in the use of the Agile Project Management methodology, particularly for software development projects and other IT initiatives.
However, the concept of continuous development dates back to the mid-20th century and has taken various forms, championed by different leaders over the decades. For example, there was James Martin’s Rapid Iterative Production Prototyping, an approach that served as the premise for the 1991 book Rapid Application Development and the approach of the same name, RAD.
A specific Agile Project Management framework that has evolved in more recent years is Scrum. This methodology features a product owner who works with a development team to create a product backlog, a prioritized list of the features, functionalities and fixes required to deliver a successful software system. The team then delivers the pieces in rapid increments.
Additional Agile frameworks include lean, kanban and Extreme programming (XP).
Advocates for Agile Project Management say the methodology delivers numerous benefits. These include the following:
There are also potential drawbacks, however, including the following:
Agile Project Management was, and remains, a counter to the waterfall methodology. The waterfall methodology features a strict sequential approach to projects, where initiatives start with gathering all requirements before the work begins. The next steps are scoping out the resources needed, establishing budgets and timelines, performing the actual work, testing and delivering the project as a whole when all the work is complete.
In response to what were recognized problems in that approach, 17 software developers in 2001 published the Agile Manifesto outlining 12 principles of Agile Software Development. These principles continue to guide Agile Project Management even today. They include:
Some of the more prominent examples of APM include the following:
Teams normally pick one or two APM methods to implement. For example, the Scrum project management framework emphasizes teamwork, accountability and frequent progress toward a well-defined goal. Progress is tracked and tweaked as necessary. Scrum roles include product owner, Scrum Master and Scrum development team. These roles support the three pillars of Scrum — transparency, inspection and adaptation.
Discover 10 benefits of Scrum and tips on how to achieve them.
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