In today’s business climate, the only constant is change.  In our ever-evolving, fast-paced technological world, project management has become the key to helping businesses eliminate glitches and run efficiently.  Organizations of all sizes are exploiting technology and implementing project management strategies geared at successful and timely software development delivery.  Success is dependent upon being nimble enough to foresee and react to change in real time.  While numerous project management approaches exist, Agile is widely recognized as one of the most progressive and flexible software development mechanism existing today.

Traditional is not always best

Traditional project management, also referred to as the waterfall approach, utilizes a linear set of steps that occur in sequence, one after another.  This concept places an emphasis on the predictability of elements such as tools and experiences and follows the same life cycle.  Every project is planned upfront and moves through the same development stages: feasibility, plan, design, build, test, production, support.  This approach assumes that time and cost vary but that requirements remain the same, leaving no room for change.  Consequently, this traditional, inflexible reasoning often leads to budget and timeline issues.

What is Agile project management?

While the traditional approach focuses on pre-planning factors such as cost, scope and time, Agile project management is built upon teamwork, customer collaboration, and flexibility.  The basis of this concept is the ability to respond to change effectively in uncertain situations rather than static predefined processes.  Customer satisfaction is used by teams to fast-track software at every stage of development, while adaptive planning allows them to easily shift gears, preventing time consumption on variables that are bound to change.

Agile methodology breaks down projects into small sections, referred to as iterations, that are completed in short work sessions called sprints.  Each iteration is a single development cycle that is reviewed and critiqued by the team.  The feedback provided during the critique is used to determine what the next step in the process will be, effectuating the ability to respond to issues as they arise.  Consequently, making necessary changes to a project at the optimal moment can save resources and allow teams to deliver successful projects on time and budget.  As the development progresses, teams release segments of the project as they are completed.  In turn, the continuously scheduled releases allow teams to demonstrate that the segments are successful or, if needed, to quickly fix flaws, reducing the chance of large-scale failures.

Guiding Principals

Given the adaptability of Agile project management, it is unsurprising that tech giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Spotify are putting this methodology to work and making it look easy.  While Agile does embrace change, there are several foundational principals that remain static.  In 2001, seventeen independent-minded software developers created a manifesto for agile software development, outlining the core values:

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

Wanting to leave nothing up to interpretation, they also provided the following twelve governing principles:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility
  10. Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly

Agile is not just a method, it is a complete mindset. When transitioning to Agile project management, keep in mind that you will learn new skills and unlearn old ones. It’s important to remember that the goal is to change the way team members, managers, and customers interact and this can be accomplished through adaptation and flexibility.