It takes a well-rounded team full of talented individuals to complete a project. But even your most talented employees need direction to guide them toward success.
For most companies that direction comes in the form of project management. There are countless project management strategies your team can use to get the job done. Depending on the size and experience level of your team, one strategy might be better than another.
If you’re looking specifically for a project management strategy for your product development, however, look no further than agile project management.
What is the agile project management process?
Agile project management is a project management strategy that focuses on collaboration, speed, and flexibility. It’s designed so that teams can develop product features at a quickened pace, while delivering the highest quality product.
Agile is the intersection of speed and quality. It allows your team to focus on the work rather than the process. With agile, you’re not as concerned with how the sausage gets made as much as if the sausage gets made correctly. Producing a quality product is the most important part of agile.
Understanding agile project management
Agile is a project management strategy used to divide large projects into smaller deliverable sections known as features. Agile is commonly used alongside product development. The term agile project management refers to the quick nature of these sprints that allow your team to change directions during a project as needed.
Agile project management focuses on a constant feedback loop. It allows teams to quickly pivot based on daily updates. It’s less rigid than other project management methodologies and opens the floor to open communication and collaboration.
When you adopt the agile project management strategy, you’re doing away with the idea of rigid planning. In order to successfully implement agile, you must be okay with the constant ebb and flow of a project. These shifts and changes are not signs of a project going poorly, they’re signs that the project is evolving into the best version it can be.
Which industries use agile project management?
According to the 13th Annual State of Agile report by Version One, tech isn't the only industry putting agile project management to use.
Interested in which industries are leaning into agile project management? Here are the top five industries using agile project management to date.
While some of those percentages might seem low at first, it's important to note that the 90% respondents to that same study claim that DevOps transformation was crucial to the success of their organization. These numbers are expected to keep increasing as more teams adopt the agile framework for their own organizations.
TIP: Agile isn't the only project management methodology out there. If agile still doesn't seem right for your team, read up on some of these other project management processes.
Agile project management has its own language you’ll need to learn. Whether researching agile best practices or just communicating with your own team, these key phrases are important to know. Here’s a look at some popular agile terminology:
Actual Cost of Work Performed (ACWP) – ACWP measures the actual cost of the work done as opposed to what was budgeted beforehand.
Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP) – BCWP is the predicted cost of the work done before the project begins. This number is likely to change as the project moves forward.
Gantt Chart – A Gantt chart is a scheduling tool used by project managers to visualize project milestones and deadlines for a specific project.
Kanban – Kanban is a project visualization tool that a team uses sticky notes on a white board to track the progress of their sprint or project. They’re usually separated into three columns: to-do, in progress, and completed.
Scope Creep – Scope creep refers to the danger of having your project slowly balloon outside of the original project scope. This can refer to extended deadlines, exorbitant costs, and extra deliverables.
Scrum – Scrum is a popular version of the agile methodology that focuses on delivering a product in the shortest amount of time. Scrum is focused more on the product team self-organizing as opposed to being led by a project manager. This version of agile is best used by a product team with years of experience and leadership under their belt.
Triple Constraint – Triple constraint refers to the relationship between your project cost, project scope, and project timeline. If one of these three things changes, the other two variables must be adjusted as well.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) – WBS is a project breakdown structure that chops a larger project up into smaller, more manageable pieces. In agile project management, these smaller sections of work are known as a feature.
Agile project management methodology
As mentioned above, the basis of agile methodology is drawn from the Agile Manifesto. The principles of agile project management as we know them today haven’t changed much since the manifesto was first written and can be divided into two primary focuses: the four core values of agile and the 12 principles of agile.
What are the four core values of agile?
The core values of agile project management are the guiding principles of agile. Any team that adopts this method must follow them. If you find yourself disagreeing with any of the core values of agile, then a different project management strategy might be better for you.
1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
The first value of the agile methodology is people over process. This means you place priority on your teammates and employees over workflows. This is important because communication and adaptability are at the core of agile.
If you disrupt the work of your employees and discredit their concerns for the sake of workflows, you will derail the process. You’ll also lose the trust of your team. They’ll be less likely to suggest improvements or ideas and as an end result, your product will suffer.
2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
The second value of agile is the end product over process. Too often project managers get caught up in their need to document every part of the process. This slows your team down and delays the launch of your product.
While documentation is important, this value stresses the importance of only documenting what is absolutely necessary. That means eliminating useless forms or duplicate spreadsheets and instead allowing your team to spend their time working on the product.
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
The third value of agile project management is all about collaboration. So often, we negotiate contracts with the customer and then box them out of the process until the final product is finished. Agile encourages the customer to be part of the process at every stage.
This can be intimidating to deal with, especially if you’re afraid to show the customer how the sausage gets made. But allowing the customer to be part of both your successes and failures along the way makes for a better product. There won’t be a question of whether you’ve delivered what the customer wants at the end, because they’ve been part of the production since the beginning.
4. Responding to change over following a plan
The final value of agile is welcoming change over following the plan. This should be easy enough to understand. Sometimes the plan is just wrong. It can be easy to see why being flexible would be important in a situation like that. But this core value also means questioning the plan even when it’s going well.
With agile, there’s no excuse to move forward with the plan because it works well enough to get the job done. There is no room for mediocrity. Agile forces you and your team to ask if something that’s already working well can be working better and then changing it, regardless of the plan.
What are the 12 principles of agile?
If the four core values of agile answer the why, the principles of agile answer the how. It’s one thing to say you’re going to be more agile, it’s another thing to do it. The Agile Manifesto outlines twelve things you should focus on to optimize agile methodology.
1. Customer satisfaction
Delivering a product that the customer is happy with is the number one priority for any project management team. This is done by delivering features early and often. Customers want to be involved in the process and prefer receiving work at regular intervals, rather than waiting months in between releases.
2. Welcome change
This is about more than just collaboration. The agile methodology is about creating the best product possible. When you push back against suggestions and change, it causes the entire process to stop. These delays will result in blown deadlines and a frustrated customer. You can avoid these problems by being open and receptive to change.
3. Deliver frequently
Agile project management is defined by its short sprints known as features. The process is designed to allow your team to deliver project pieces more frequently. When you deliver projects in smaller, more manageable pieces, it allows feedback and changes to be done more quickly.
4. Work together
The best products on the market all have one thing in common: they were designed through teamwork. Working in a silo stunts creativity and collaboration. You and your team should be meeting with each other daily or weekly. This encourages open and candid discussions that will push your product to be better.
5. Motivated teams
It’s no secret that motivated people produce better work. Creating an environment where your employees feel encouraged to do their best will translate to your product. This means finding what motivates your employees and then giving it to them. It also means understanding that not everyone is motivated by the same thing.
6. Face-to-face interactions
We’ve mentioned the importance of meeting with your team regularly, but haven’t touched on the importance of these meetings being face-to-face. Avoid having these important conversations via email. Meeting in person reduces the chances of things getting lost in translation and keeps your team more engaged. When possible, you should be meeting in person to discuss your ideas.
Having trouble getting everyone in the same room? Video conferencing software can help you gather your team in one place for face-to-face meetings.
7. Working software
This might sound like a no-brainer but the product needs to work. Not only does it need to function properly but it also needs to be able to perform the tasks the client wants. Working software means a product runs without bugs or system failures.
8. Constant pace
You’ll know your team has mastered agile project management when you’re able to maintain a consistent, repeatable pace. Your team should become familiar enough with their workflows that you as the project manager do less day-to-day managing and more big picture stuff. This allows you to churn out quality products on a reliable, quick timeline, without employee burnout.
9. Good design
Design is about more than how your product looks. The product functionality and user experience is just as important, if not more, as the visuals. Your team should be testing your product design along with every other aspect of the product. Nothing is worse than a product that launches with a bad user-interface or clunky design.
We’ll take our own advice in this section: keep it simple stupid. Only do what is absolutely necessary to deliver your project on time and with the highest quality.
11. Self organization
A team that can self-organize is critical for agile project management. Your employees must be allowed to make decisions, take ownership of their ideas, and communicate with other team members on their own. This helps drive the process forward and prevents roadblocks. It also makes for a better product overall.
12. Reflect and adjust
Agile project management puts a big emphasis on making quick changes. Sometimes not all the changes you decide to make will work, and that’s why reflecting on the process regularly is important. When you take the time to check-in with your team and recalibrate, things run smoother and processes improve.
Implementing agile project management
All of these foundational pieces are useless without a plan to put them into action. Agile project management should be tailored to your individual team, however, there are some basics you can use to get started. Here’s a quick look at what that process might look like:
There are dozens of moving parts for each section that require careful attention to detail. Let’s dive deeper into each part of the process and learn more. The more you understand, the better you can create an agile process that works for your team.
The first step to agile project management is designing your project plan. A project plan is designed to map out everything about a project, from what deliverables are needed, to the cost, and more. Project planning for the agile methodology is different than what you’re probably used to.
When you create a project plan for agile, you do so with the understanding that your project plan will change and evolve over time. Agile project plans aren’t as rigid. They are designed with the knowledge that things will shift and your team will work to adjust as needed
Most teams will use project management software at this phase of their planning. Project management software allows you to delegate tasks within projects, establish goals, and create project timelines for your team to follow.
Find the best project management software on the market based on real user reviews from people like you.
Product roadmap creation
Once you’ve planned the project it’s time to create your roadmap. A product roadmap lays out everything that needs to happen to take your team from an idea to the final product. In agile project management, you should limit your product roadmap to just the essentials.
Here are some questions you should ask when creating a product roadmap:
Again, the key to all of this is being flexible. Your roadmap might change along the way and that’s okay. Being agile means being adaptable.
Sprint planning is a concept borrowed from Scrum. Scrum is a project management methodology that breaks work for large projects into smaller sprints. These sprints are designed to make releasing each feature easier. Your sprint is a set period of time where all the work for a specific release is done.
At the end of each sprint your team will deliver the new feature to the customer. Once that’s complete, your team begins planning and working on their next sprint. This cycle continues until the project is complete.
Most teams set their sprints to last for about two weeks each. Any longer than four weeks and your timeframe is no longer considered a sprint. It’s important to keep your sprints short because it allows your team to work quickly without getting burned out.
Daily scrum meetings
Once you’ve established your sprints, you’ll want to lock down a time your team can meet every day. Remember, your sprint is likely only lasting two weeks. That means there’s very little time for miscommunication. Daily meetings are vital to your team’s success. They allow you to air out any problems you’ve run into, adjust accordingly, and keep pushing forward.
Sprint review and retrospective
Once your team completes your sprint it’s time to debrief. Sit with your team and talk about what worked and what didn’t. Allow everyone on your team to talk about their successes and frustrations with the last sprint and then create a plan to fix those things moving forward. Sprint reviews are important because they allow you to fine tune your process over time. Eventually, you’ll use these meetings to talk about big picture stuff rather than small inconveniences.
Agile project management roles
If you’ve never built an agile project management team before, you might be unfamiliar with who your key players should be. Here are a few roles you’ll need to fill in order to plan sprints, execute product design, and more.
Product managers are strategists. Your product manager is the person on your team who advocates for your product outside your company. They head up the market research for your product and communicate directly with clients on setting the budget and project scope. Your product manager is the person who knows the most about the ideal customer for your product.
Product owners are technologists. They own the implementation process and manage the day to day work of the dev team. The product owner takes the strategy designed by the product manager and turns it into an actionable plan for the rest of the team. They help coordinate daily scrums, plan sprints, and turn the larger plan into a reality.
Development team members
Development team members are the people who build your product. These are your software engineers, your data scientists, and website developers. It’s important to have role diversity on your development team because each team member brings a new perspective to your team. If you have seven software developers and zero copywriters, your team will suffer for it. Stack your team with different talent!
The scrum master is the project manager. They’re the person in charge of keeping everything moving forward. When project roadmaps arise or something goes wrong during the sprint process, the scrum master is in charge of fixing any issues. Scrum masters are the most effective when they have some formal authority within their organization because they can more easily influence change.
Skills of an agile team member
Building your team is about more than job titles, you need the right set of skills to propel your agile strategy forward. The right mix of hard and soft skills are needed for an agile team. Aside from the typical coding or software knowledge your development team will need, expertise in communication and leadership are important too.
Here are some of the most important skills for an agile team:
Most of these skills can be taught or trained on the job. Hire for hard skills and then create an environment that values leadership and communication. Show your team what success looks like through leading by example.
Project management certification
It's not just your team that can benefit from upskilling. The more confident you feel in your ability as a project manager, the more confidence your team will have in you. One way you can focus on your own skills is by completing a project management certification.
There are two popular project management certifications you can choose from: the CAPM and the PMP.
The CAPM certification
The CAPM certification is perfect for someone just starting out in their project management career. To qualify for the CAPM, you'll need to have a minimum of 1,500 hours of work experience, which is about 10 months in a full-time role, and a high school diploma or an an associate’s degree. Once you reach those qualifications, you'll just need to complete any required coursework and pass the exam.
The PMP certification
The PMP certification requires you to have a little more experience than the CAPM certification does. There are two paths to qualifying for a PMP certification and both require 35 hours of additional education.
The first pre-requisite requires you to have 4,500 working hours, which is a little over two years under your belt, a four-year degree, and the 35 hours of training.
The second pre-requisite requires any secondary degree, at least 7,500 hours of experience, which is about four years on the job, and the additional 35 hours of training.
|THE BOTTOM LINE: It's always best to look at which certification program you're closest to qualifying for before deciding and then choose which to pursue. This shortens the amount of time you need to spend working toward completing your certification.|
Pros and cons of agile project management
The agile methodology is just one of the many project management methodologies your team can implement. Before you determine whether agile project management is right for your team, you’ll need to understand the benefits and disadvantages.
Here's a quick look at the pros and cons of switching to agile:
Remember, just because agile is a popular project management method doesn't mean it will be right for your team. Let's take a closer look at the detailed pros and cons of using agile project management.
Pros of agile project management
The agile methodology is known for its quick-pace and flexibility. If your team is the type to think fast on their feet and enjoy a challenge, then agile might be right for you! There are three primary benefits to adopting an agile mindset for your next product launch.
Agile is adaptable
One of the biggest draws of the agile methodology is how quickly it allows your team to adapt. The constant feedback loop allows you as the project manager to spot problems early and fix them. It also helps you check-in frequently with team members to ensure everyone is working toward the same goal .
Agile is collaborative
Another benefit of agile project management is the focus on collaboration. Whether you meet daily or weekly, these face to face interactions encourage your team to speak with each other more regularly.
This is especially helpful if your project involves multiple departments or stakeholders. By encouraging constant communication, you’re less likely to silo your work in a way that could cause problems later on.
Agile encourages accountability
By breaking up the work of each employee into smaller features, you encourage them to become their own mini-project managers. Agile allows your employees the autonomy to make decisions, come to conclusions, and challenge existing processes in a constructive way.
When each employee is accountable for their work in a structured and collaborative environment, you will likely see the quality of their work improves. This allows you to do less managing of employees and more managing of the project itself.
Cons of agile project management
Of course, there are always drawbacks along with the benefits. Agile project management does make it harder to plan projects long-term, as well as demands more time from your team. It’s important to weigh both the pros and cons.
Agile is unpredictable
The fast-changing nature of agile project management makes for a less predictable process. While the ability to change course to make a better product is an advantage, it means your team needs to be ready for anything to change. Planning weeks or even months ahead for a project is impossible with an agile project management strategy.
Agile takes time
Increased communication, meetings with clients, and daily scrum meetings all lead to one thing: more time. All of the things needed to make agile project management run smoothly require a significant time commitment from you and your team. That also means everyone on your team must make a promise to show up every time and give their full attention.
Agile requires diligence
When projects change as quickly as they do in agile, it can be easy to forget what comes next. If you’re not using a project management software to track the changes, your team could easily loose sight of the next step. Your job as a project manager is to make sure your project stays on track during the rapidly changing speed agile project management requires.
Move faster with agile project management
It’s important to note that agile only works if you’re willing to play by the rules. You can’t adopt agile and then refuse to be flexible. It can be hard to make adjustments at first but if you’re able to change your mindset, you and your team will accomplish incredible things.
Interested in learning about a different project management process? Here’s everything you need to know about the waterfall methodology.