Organizations that wish to succeed in the digital age recognise that agility is an imperative not only for software development and delivery, but also for a successful business strategy that is aligned to uncertain markets. Businesses everywhere are under increased pressure to adapt to volatile and unprecedented conditions—responding quickly to the needs of their customers and stakeholders, and accelerating the development of new and improved products, solutions and services.
Agile methods are the preferred choice for many development teams, especially those for whom an environment of continuous delivery is important. Agile project management is characterized by high levels of collaboration and flexibility and works through iterative cycles that can easily adapt to evolving requirements and market conditions.
In this article, you will get under the skin of Agile project management, understand its pros and cons and get an insight into the various methodologies that comprise the Agile umbrella.
Agile Project Management (APM) is an iterative approach to planning and executing project processes, that follows the core Agile values and the principles as laid down in the Agile Manifesto. The project is broken down into smaller cycles called iterations, while allow for greater flexibility and adaption to evolving market conditions and customer needs.
Agile Project Management has the ability to change course and respond to issues as they arise over the course of the project journey. What this means is that projects can be successfully delivered on time and without major overshoots on budget, even if there are changes in scope necessitated by external factors.
Prior to Agile, development teams typically followed rigid waterfall methods of product development. Teams would define the requirements and project scope right at the very beginning of the project, and till the very end changes or additional features were not accommodated. Following such a rigid plan proved to be troublesome. Markets were rapidly evolving—and quite often the finished product (which could take years to build) would no longer suit the customer’s needs.
In a bid to find a solution to these issues, in the 1990s some software development teams changed their approach to planning and delivering software. New development methods like Rapid Application Development, DSDM and Feature-driven development were introduced, which allowed for greater flexibility and less planning ahead.
History was made in February 2001, when a group of 17 software developers, including Martin Fowler, Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber, Jim Highsmith, Jon Kern, and Bob Martin met in Snowbird, Utah to find a workable solution to all the software development problems that were rampant at the time.
By putting their heads together, they came up with the first draft of the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”, which we call the Agile Manifesto today. While it was originally designed to be applied to software development, Agile has found applications across industries ranging from construction and manufacturing, to finance and healthcare, and more. Any industry where a flexible approach to manage a project would result in more efficient processes would benefit from the Agile approach. This, then, was the beginning of Agile project management.
As laid out in the Agile Manifesto, the four core values of Agile software development are:
These are the twelve principles, outlined in the Agile Manifesto, that help teams to execute a project with agility.
Agile is an umbrella term for several methodologies, each of which follows the principles and values as listed in the Manifesto. The most popular methods include Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Bimodal, XP, Hybrid, and Crystal.
Teams that are very used to traditional methods of top-down hierarchical project management might have some resistance toward adopting this radically different approach. They will need to be educated on how they will move into their new roles, and exactly what adopting the Agile methodology will entail. This is not always a smooth transformation and nurturing an Agile mindset and getting everyone on board with the new practices should be the first step.
Once the transition has been put in place, proper tracking of progress is essential. Any impediments to a smooth Agile adoption should be addressed right away so that teams do not feel that the new approach is not working. An Agile coach can help the organization navigate through the change, guiding teams through their doubts and challenges and finding solutions and workarounds to any problems they may face.
It is important to monitor progress and set up benchmarks and goals, as teams that can see the results will be more motivated to continue the same track. Positive Agile metrics will help to instil the required confidence in those who are still stuck in old ways of working.
It is also important to understand that teams should be faithful to the spirit of Agile and should both do agile and be agile for it to work. Teams that 'Do Agile' are simply following the practices without committing to the agile principles and values. But 'Being Agile' is going all in, living, and breathing Agile principles and values and inculcating an Agile mindset, not just in work practices but day in and day out!
While Agile comes with immense benefits, it is not without its drawbacks.
On the plus side...
Agile Project Management offers significant benefits and has far more potential than traditional methods, as was conclusively proven during the pandemic. Companies that had already adopted Agile ways of working were able to survive and even thrive in the face of uncertainty. They were able to embrace change and make rapid decisions that helped them to manage changing priorities easily.
Agile allows greater flexibility and easy adaptability to changing conditions and enables quick decision making and deployment of solutions. It uses resources more efficiently, and detects and mitigates problems as they arise, thus reducing risk and allowing quick solutions to the problems. There is greater collaboration with users and stakeholders, which results in more efficient products that meet user needs in a better way—creating sustainable customer delight.
On the minus side…
Unless the changes are reined in by the Product Owner, there could be a tendency for projects to go off track and lose their focus. Again, as compared to traditional projects, Agile does not lay as much emphasis on documentation and sometimes this can cause a problem. Teams require a balance between too much and too little documentation and it is important that some amount of documentation must happen even in an Agile project.
While waterfall outcomes are very predictable, Agile is not so; which is a boon that can also be a bane. By its very nature, Agile adapts to unpredictability, but this does not mean that the finished product should be so far off track as to be unrecognizable from what was first set out to achieve.
Agile management relies on rapid decision making. This makes it unsuitable for a company culture where issues are weighed deeply and analysed at depth before concluding.
The 15th State of Agile Report states that (there is) “significant growth in Agile adoption within software development teams, increasing from 37% in 2020 to 86% in 2021.”
In the past year, there has been explosive growth in the numbers of organizations that have successfully adopted Agile practices and processes, not just in the software world but across non-IT industries and sectors. As the world turns more competitive and more companies transition to digital models of working, agile and its various offshoots will continue to find increased acceptance across industries.