What Is Agile?
Agile is a collection of principles used for project management and software development. This management and software development approach focuses on incremental steps to complete projects, enabling teams to deliver on their commitments in bite-sized steps, in short-term development cycles.
Agile allows teams to continuously revisit and tweak their requirements, plans, and results. Plus, instead of top-down administration and following established procedures without changes, the agile approach leans on speedy delivery, adaptability, and a collaborative process. Thus, it is one of the most used project management methodologies for software development.
What Is Agile Project Management?
Agile project management is an iterative approach to project management. It focuses on breaking down a big project into smaller and more manageable tasks, and teams complete them in short iterations throughout the project life cycle. Thus, teams using Agile methodology to complete work faster and to be more adaptive to tweaks in project requirements and workflow optimization. Agile project management is a continual method of developing software projects. This approach ensures that individuals and teams can work swiftly on customer feedback, making responsive changes at every stage of the product cycle.
Agile methodology enables project teams to work quickly and collaboratively and complete projects within their defined timeframes and budgetary overlays.
Why Does Agile Matter?
The agile process allows teams to evolve and optimize at every step of the software development process, making it a seamless and collaborative exercise for all stakeholders, including the clients. Also, the agile methodology has a proven track record of providing faster outcomes with greater efficacy and purpose.
It is starkly different from other project management methodologies as it does not mandate elaborate design and building processes, which can lead to unresolved bottlenecks, delaying the development process substantially. Instead, agile commences with addressing the most visible problems for quick value and course correction. It shifts the focus to providing immediate value, followed by developing the software and supplementing desired features.
How Is Agile Different?
Agile is different from other types of project management methodologies in its approach. The more conventional methods of project management usually progress linearly. Thus, teams undertake the planning, designing, implementation, and closing stages after completing the previous stages. Project teams using the agile methodology work at the same time on different stages of the project. Also, development and testing teams work concurrently in agile, which is not the case in waterfall testing, where these teams work separately.
A Brief History of Agile
“Thinking outside the box,” agility, and the ability to adapt and change quickly are much more than buzzwords. These attributes are crucial to the success of projects and, in extension, organizations. Companies now prefer getting the job done rather than detailed documentation, collaboration over negotiation with the client, and ingenuity and agility over following plans in letter and spirit. These core values broadly define any modern-day, future-ready organization. And, these values are also becoming intrinsic to modern project management methodologies.
But, project management methodologies were not always this progressive. For example, back in the 1990s, organizations employed the highly-restrictive Waterfall method for project management that followed a linear process of initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and completion. While it offered clearly-defined goals, objectives, documentation, and greater accountability, it also created several constraints because of its static methods and a highly formal approach.
There were other drawbacks, too, like project methodologies did not encourage a consultative approach and the assimilation of clients’ input. Besides, they focused more on planning and not so much on adaptation.
Project teams and clients increasingly found existing project management methodologies inadequate in addressing the gaps between delivered products and the clients’ requirements. Rampant project delays, unsatisfied clients, and teams’ focus on documentation instead of clients’ needs forced industry leaders to devise a new project management technique that addressed these shortfalls. Also, conventional project management techniques could not keep pace with evolving customer needs. Thus, software developers could not fully use versatility when developing software.
Thus, 17 software developers met in Oregon in 2001 to brainstorm how they could shorten the time required to develop software and make it market-ready. The developers zeroed in on two crucial advantages that such an approach could provide. First, making products accessible to users in the shortest span could address the product-market fit issue. And second, getting quick, early, and continuous user feedback would ensure that the software worked without glitches and improved on the go.
The developers came together again at a ski resort in Snowbird, Utah, to create a more concrete solution to the challenges in software development. They penned a “Manifesto for Agile Software Development,” also known as the Agile Manifesto. Thus, agile was conceived, emerging as one of the more progressive, collaborative, and solution-centered methodologies for project management.
What Are the Four Core Values of Agile?
The agile methodology is based on the four core values that differentiate it from other project management approaches like Waterfall and Critical path method.
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Agile Project Management Principles
The agile principles outline the agile methodology, besides laying down the best practices for teams practicing them. The agile manifesto lists the principles and core values mentioned above. Incidentally, agile principles apply to project management methodologies like Kanban or Scrum.
1. Our Highest Priority Is to Satisfy the Customer Through Early and Continuous Delivery Of Valuable Software
This statement reflects that customer satisfaction is a necessary prerequisite to the success of any project, which teams can achieve by routinely seeking customer feedback. This approach speeds up the process, allowing teams to make timely changes and avoid cost escalation. It also increases customer satisfaction as customers are continuously involved in designing the product and get to shape its contours early on. This early opportunity to provide feedback reduces the chance of significant changes at later stages, eliminating the chances of excessive rework.
2. Welcome Changing Requirements, Even Late in Development. Agile Processes Harness Change for the Customer’s Competitive Advantage
Agile frameworks do not focus on reducing the variations to pre-decided requirements but are highly open to changes as they take bite-sized steps. Resultantly, teams can deliver on new requirements or modifications to the original concept as they work on small patches at a time and receive continuous client feedback. These attributes make agile a highly nimble approach.
3. Deliver Working Software Frequently, From a Couple of Weeks to a Couple of Months, With a Preference to the Shorter Timescale
Agile prefers compartmentalizing product development into bite-sized chunks and sharing them with the clients for their feedback. Thus, instead of one complete release, the agile approach advocates regular and continuous mini-releases. This approach increases the speed of product development. Besides, teams usually spend a fraction of the time documenting their progress and work done, which is contrary to the Waterfall product development methodology.
4. Business People and Developers Must Work Together Daily Throughout the Project
Excellent project management depends on clear and frequent communication among all stakeholders, especially when teams collaborate in remote and hybrid setups. Agile teams meet, virtually or in person, and discuss with stakeholders regularly. These interactions between business professionals and developers increase trust and transparency, positively impacting outcomes.
5. Build Projects Around Motivated Individuals. Give Them the Environment and Support They Need, and Trust Them to Get the Job Done
Right people for the right tasks, with the right skills, are necessary for seamlessly executing projects. Agile focuses on empowering team members, reducing micro-management, and defining responsibilities before a project commences. Thus, project leaders provide the tools, access, resources, and an enabling environment in culture, people, and external processes. Teams can use these resources to get the job done without being micromanaged. These elements ensure the speedier execution of projects.
6. The Most Efficient and Effective Method of Conveying Information to and Within a Development Team Is Face-To-Face Conversation
Organizational pivot toward remote and hybrid work environments may make this philosophy somewhat redundant, but its spirit remains intact. This principle refers to a real-time exchange of information between those executing the project and the client. Or between team members to address their problems. Irrespective, the crux is collaboration, which is crucial for agile teams.
7. Working Software Is the Primary Measure of Progress
Ideation, reflection, and planning are critical, but working software is more important. Agile methodology focuses on creating functional software rather than chasing perfection or flawless documentation. The software must solve the pain points for which the team designed it, and the client must find it worthwhile. These requirements precede all other aspects—functionality triumphs over aesthetics and excellence.
8. Agile Processes Promote Sustainable Development. The Sponsors, Developers, and Users Should Be Able to Maintain a Constant Pace Indefinitely
Setting realistic expectations is crucial to keeping track of deliverables as agile teams often work on tight deadlines and back-to-back releases. Instead of a lopsided emphasis on delivering the product in a short span of time, agile teams focus on continuing in a rhythm and delivering consistently. Therefore, this principle stresses the need for maintaining high morale and setting achievable targets to avoid overburdening project members.
9. Continuous Attention to Technical Excellence and Good Design Enhances Agility
Agile teams must not lose sight of developing high-quality products when focusing on short cycles and regular releases. The software must be technically sound, and agile teams should improve their skills continuously. However, developers must refrain from over-engineering. Developers are known for going overboard when coding software.
10. Simplicity—the Art of Maximizing the Amount of Work Not Done—Is Essential
Agile stresses getting the things done that impact the project’s outcomes, which means focusing on the objectives and making decisions that help achieve them. This way of working declutters provides a simple approach to project management to streamline processes. Besides, teams can use agile tools to reduce work and gain more control over the project.
11. The Best Architectures, Requirements, and Designs Emerge From Self-Organizing Teams
The best teams act independently without needing their managers’ hand-holding. The team must work together without hierarchy, encouraging everyone to contribute equally and make collective decisions rather than letting the management decide the road ahead.
Project managers must trust their teams to get the job done. Once they have brought together the best professionals for a project, they must let them act without interfering in the decision-making process.
12. At Regular Intervals, the Team Reflects on How to Become More Effective, Then Tunes and Adjusts Its Behavior Accordingly
The best teams pause to reflect on their successes and setbacks to learn, unlearn and tweak their processes to ensure they deliver better results. Agile does not advocate a strictly-defined approach but continuous improvement with every release. But this aspect of continuous improvement also pertains to processes and teams. Thus, the agile methodology encourages creating a constantly engaged group of professionals who are fixated on improving productivity and delivering better results.
Phases of Agile Project Management
Agile methodology lets teams break the software development project into smaller segments. This approach helps create a more satisfactory and beneficial product for the client in a much shorter timeline. Agile project management encompasses five stages. They are also called Agile System Development Life Cycle (SDLC).
1. Project Initiation / Envisioning a Project
This is the first stage in the life cycle and is called the “initiation” or “envisioning” phase. The teams first outline what the project intends to deliver and validate the ROI without discussing specific details. Here, managers identify the resources and determine the time required to complete the project. This exercise helps evaluate the costs involved and assess whether the project is financially viable. In addition, this phase determines the “what,” “why,” and “how” of the project.
The teams collectively discuss the list of features available in the final product and ways of creating them. Then, they focus on breaking down the project into several high-level milestones and finalizing the project delivery timeline. The teams understand the assignments critical to the project’s success, prioritizing some tasks over others. And, they create a roadmap of the parts of the project that assume the highest priority.
The development of the product begins after the team finalizes its details after consultations with the client and other stakeholders. Developers start by building the first “cut” of the product to create a usable version at the end of each sprint. The team then revises this “cut” multiple times before releasing the final version. Therefore, this version of the product offers only basic functionality. Teams can deliver by collaborating, maintaining quality, aligning with the stakeholders’ priorities, and providing working products after every cycle.
The end-users can use the product in the production phase. Here, the teams must monitor the software for defects or bugs that they may have overlooked during the testing phase. Meanwhile, the product teams train the support teams and transfer product ownership to them. Support teams help the client address any grievances and offer after-sales services.
The ‘retirement’ phase is called the ‘end of the product life cycle’ because companies no longer produce the product. Thus, they inform customers about migration to newer releases or offer them alternatives to retain them. Products are usually retired because companies move to new releases or do not support the older release. Sometimes, companies also factor in the product’s cost-effectiveness before making these “phasing out” decisions.
What Is Scrum?
For the uninitiated, Scrum is the most widely used agile framework. Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka coined the term ‘Scrum’ in a 1986 Harvard Business Review article, comparing high-performing teams to the scrum formation used by rugby teams. The Scrum Guide explains Scrum as “a lightweight framework that helps people, teams, and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.”
Advantages of Agile Project Methodology
Adopting the agile methodology approach toward software development offers several advantages, as outlined below. We have mentioned some of them below.
1. Attention to Excellence
The agile methodology focuses on creating technical excellence by doing away with fixed processes that create bottlenecks in a team’s approach to software development. Here, the emphasis is on continuous feedback from clients and other departments, creating a better understanding of the marketplace dynamics and the software’s workings. These cumulative advantages enable developers to build better software that is more in sync with the clients’ expectations and more likely to solve customer pain points.
2. More Flexibility
Flexibility is critical to the success of projects because clients’ requirements may evolve while creating software. Thus, a rigid approach may not allow teams to adapt to changing needs. Agile enables teams to create better-quality software because they can modify their course on the go. This process of continuous adaptation also ensures enhanced customer satisfaction and retention.
Agile encourages a collaborative approach where teams are not working in isolation. Instead, all stakeholders of the project, including clients, are equally involved in shaping its outcome. This approach helps bring new and untapped ideas on board and provides unique perspectives to developers that they may otherwise overlook. Diverse perspectives lend more inclusiveness to the process.
4. A Highly Client-centered Approach Ensures Customer Satisfaction
Customer satisfaction takes precedence in the agile methodology as teams work on the products together, more collaboratively, creating products faster. Clients also offer direct and regular feedback that teams work upon when upgrading software. It is a highly customer-centric approach that allows clients to directly shape the growth of a product, ensuring higher satisfaction.
5. Improved Collaboration and Exchange of Ideas
The agile method encourages regular team meetings, allowing members to share their progress and the work to be done. Such an approach also provides all team members clear visibility into the tasks at hand and regular feedback that lets them make immediate changes, increasing the pace of the project.
6. Cost Rationalization
An agile method can help teams reduce project cost as teams can review the budget at the end of each stage before making future decisions. It enables teams to understand the costs of every feature that they can consider before making strategic decisions. This ability allows them to conclude whether or not they will continue, withhold or nullify tasks or the project.
Disadvantages of Agile Project Methodology
We have discussed the advantages of using an agile methodology. However, it also has some disadvantages that project managers and organizations must consider.
1. Difficult to Predict the Project’s Cost
Teams can have difficulty anticipating the project’s cost as they cannot accurately forecast efforts like cost, time, and resources when beginning a project. This drawback makes it challenging for clients to earmark a specific budget. Thus, they may have to hold extra funds in reserve, anticipating additional expenditure during the project.
2. Change Is Difficult to Implement
Not all team members and clients are progressive and open to change. Some of them may want to work on pre-decided plans. Such team members and customers may find agile methodology too fluid and resist changes, increasing friction and delaying outcomes, which is counter-intuitive to the concept of agile project management.
3. The Absence of Documentation Can Confuse Teams
Using agile project management methodology, teams separate extensive data into bite-sized user stories. . Thus, developers can find it challenging to understand precise customer requirements as they do not have any documented plan or detailed approaches to follow. This lack of procedures or defined processes can confuse team members when they move from one stage of the project to another.
4. Does Not Work for Projects That May Require Changes and Run for Long Durations
Agile project management produces smaller deliverables incrementally. This approach works for software development. But such breaking down of information in a highly compartmentalized manner does not deliver good results in longer-term projects, such as creating physical infrastructure. It is not possible, for instance, to change the construction of a bridge after making it. Thus, agile’s scope is limited to software development.
5. Frequent Client Input Can Change the Scope of the Project
Clients can change their requirements frequently, broadening the scope of a project – sometimes even changing the deliverables entirely. In addition, as deliverables change, teams may have to re-write code completely, which is a time-consuming exercise. Frequent changes can also confuse team members about the task priority, causing burnout and impacting the quality of the output.
Tips for Becoming Agile
The following are some tips that can help organizations and project managers become more agile.
1. Hire the Right People
Agile is all about collaboration among professionals with the necessary skill set. The right people in the right jobs is critical for the success of agile teams. Therefore, managers and organizations must hire professionals who have essential expertise in the tools and external processes required to succeed. Plus, they must share cultural values, primarily when most teams operate remotely and physical meetings are rare.
2. Use the Right Project Management Tools
Selecting the right project management tool is vital for streamlining deliverables and for seamless collaboration. Therefore, organizations and project managers must select a PSA (Professional Services Automation) tool that uses AI to offer real-time visibility into important metrics, streamlines resourcing, financials, and project information, giving an up-to-date live view. Managers must also ensure that they can leverage historical and real-time data to quickly adapt to changes and make instantaneous decisions.
3. Foster Inclusivity and Flexibility
Openness and a culture of sharing information and ideas are foundations on which agile operates. Therefore, key stakeholders must not centralize decision-making and must actively seek feedback, encourage discussions, and adopt implementable ideas. Also, agile is a flexible approach where tweaking plans and approaching them without preconceived notions is vital. What worked before may not bear results now. Thus, teams must resist taking a pre-decided route to solve problems and must welcome new ideas.
Which Project Management Methodology Is Right
There are no “wrong” project management methodologies or “perfect” ways to manage a project. What’s best depends on the demands of the project under consideration. Teams must evaluate their needs and the project’s scope, and assess a method’s advantages before adopting a project management method.
They must assess whether or not the method offers guidelines to formulate and manage critical factors, including budget, members, resources, timeline, and stakeholders. Other factors to consider are customer and stakeholder involvement, industry and sector, timeframe, and budgetary allocation. Teams can choose a methodology after carefully considering these factors.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is agile in simple terms?
Agile is a collection of principles used for project management and software development. It focuses on incremental steps to complete projects, enabling teams to deliver on their commitments in bite-sized steps in short-term development cycles.
What are the three Cs in agile?
The 3Cs in agile are “Card,” “Conversation,” and “Confirmation.” A cardholder creates opportunities for conversation while “Conversation” underlines the importance of exchanging ideas to understand user needs. Meanwhile, “Confirmation” ensures that incomplete work is finished and does not escape the development team’s attention.
Which certification is best for agile?
There are numerous certifications for agile. However, SAFe Scaled Agilists, Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, ICAgile, and Project Management Institute – Agile Certified Professional (PMI- ACP) have found the most traction among product owners, Scrum masters, team leaders, and project managers.