Agile Project Management In A Nutshell

Productive outcomes— delivered as quickly as possible— are a top priority for any organization. Unfortunately, in complex environments, productivity can be difficult to manage. At the turn of the century, Agile development emerged as one of the most effective ways to manage complex development efforts. 

The Scrum framework now boasts widespread adoption. In fact, according to the latest report of The State of Agile, 95 percent of companies use agile project management to some degree. 

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By prioritizing collaboration and continuous improvement, Agile delivery methods can help to ease the pain of developing complex products and technology projects, thriving especially in teams willing to pivot to more productive and inventive outcomes. In order to effectively implement Scrum, however, organizations must first understand the core philosophies that drive the framework.

What is Agile Project Management?

Simply put, Agile is an umbrella term that covers many frameworks, methodologies and techniques for iteratively delivering value to customers, as quickly as possible. With pillars such as transparency, inspection, adaptation as the core to an empirical development process, many teams already have the early workings of Agile culture. In order to fully realize Agile development’s benefits, however, significant operational shifts may be required.

Traditionally, organizations have utilized the Waterfall methodology, executing the design, implementation, and operationalization of projects in distinct, sequential phases with many months to years before the customer realizes any value..

In contrast, Agile delivery encourages rapid, flexible development in short iterations of time immediately baking the feedback received from customers into the next iteration. To be highly nimble, teams are small and cross-functional, enabling them to achieve their objectives quickly and independently. As a result, Agile delivery methods have gained massive popularity, with a multitude of industries incorporating it from technology firms to educational institutes.

Core Values of Agile 

For years, several thought leaders were applying Agile project management techniques. After years of trial and error, inventing their own ways of working, they finally came together to see what they had in common. What they put together was first articulated in The Manifesto for Agile Software development.  The Agile Manifesto distilled the experiences of its authors— an accomplished coalition of technology leaders and developers— into a single document. Four core values were outlined:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools People are your greatest asset. Let their backgrounds and expertise guide how your team works together.
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation Remember that the ultimate objective of any enterprise is to deliver value to users, as quickly as possible.
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Your clients and users will have some of the most meaningful insights about the direction of your project. Those insights may change over the life of product development and should be embraced rather than prevented by a contract
  4. Responding to change over following a plan Flexibility and adaptation are enormous assets when it comes to saving time, money, and resources.

By embodying these 4 values, organizations can begin to incorporate Agile principles and practices, ensuring their teams are aligned in a common effort to collaborate effectively and continuously deliver value.

Principles of Agile

Those unfamiliar with Agile development might believe it requires significant restructuring and reorganization. In reality, many organizations already embody various principles in their day to day. The Agile Manifesto lists 12 key doctrines:

  1. Satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  1. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Take advantage of them.
  2. Deliver working software frequently, with a preference for shorter timescales.
  3. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  4. Build projects around motivated individuals. Support them and trust them to get it done.
  5. A face-to-face conversation is the most effective means of communication.
  6. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  7. Agile processes promote sustainable development.
  8. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  9. Simplicity– the art of maximizing the amount of work not done– is essential.
  10. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  11. The team regularly reflects on how to become more effective, then adjusts accordingly.

Customer focus, clear communication, and continuous reinvention are essential principles for any organization. By standardizing these practices through the embrace of Agile practices teams can ensure these values are acted upon consistently, deliberately, and efficiently.

Agile Workflows

While all Agile teams share these principles of nimble, rapid development, various manifestations of Agile software development have existed before “Agile” was a thing, while some have emerged in the years since. Each technique offers a slightly different approach for implementing Agile principles and values. Among the most popular include:

  • Scrum: As a simple, lightweight framework with a proven track record of increasing productivity, Scrum is the clear leader of the Agile family. Core to the Scrum experience is the concept of a Product Backlog, a collection of business items varying from new features to bug fixes. Once these priorities have been formulated, self-organizing Development teams execute on their development, delivering incremental improvements over short sprints ( 30 days or less). Learn more about Scrum and how to utilize it to serve as one of the leading experts in the field at Responsive Advisors– as licensed Professional Scrum trainers, Responsive Advisors evaluates obstacles within your business and creates nimble and agile delivery systems that are responsive to change.
  • Lean Software Development: With a focus on the elimination of waste and inefficiency, Lean relies on constant feedback between the team and its customers. Lean also gives power to individuals— rather than complex hierarchies— and manages the flow of work  through a process known as value stream mapping.
  • Kanban: Often used in conjunction with Lean methods, Kanban serves as a highly visual workflow management system focussing on measuring, managing and improving flow of value to the customer, allowing teams to understand the big-picture context of their decision-making.
  • Extreme Programming: As one of the most controversial methods within the Agile discipline, Extreme Programming (or simply XP) supercharges traditional engineering practices to “extreme” levels through practices such as pair programming, collective code ownership, and customer acceptance tests.
  • Crystal: Consisting of a subset of Agile process models, Crystal centers on people and processes, ensuring all team interactions are focused and productive. Business-criticality is of substantial importance, and tasks require frequent reflection and adjustment.

While each flavor of Agile development may differ in their approach to implementation, all share the common thread of iterative improvement, flexible workflows, and cross-functional collaboration amongst the members of a team.

4 Steps to Agile Delivery 

Once your team is tooled with the right talent, delivery optimized for agility often uses a cycle of 6 simple steps:

  1. Planning Determine the business goal to achieve and align on measures of success and plan the work to an actionable level of detail for the next cycle. Create or adjust estimates based on most current information. Break down work to make it achievable and high quality in a short timeframe
  2. Work and Daily Meetings Begin building solutions and meet once per day with your team to measure progress toward the goal. If an adjustment to the plan needs to be made, it’s made.
  3. Review Go over completed work that is releasable with key stakeholders and get feedback. This usually means a change to the Product Backlog
  4. Retrospective as a delivery team, how can you improve your ability to deliver? How can you improve interactions with one another? How can you improve quality?

As the team iterates through these steps, they’ll become increasingly effective— manifesting not only as an increase in output but also in their ability to complement one another as members of an Agile organization. Some of you might notice that the above is just good Scrum. Most if not all organizations that are claiming to be using “agile project management” are really just using Scrum and often don’t realize it. 

Transitioning to Agile Project Management 

In complex projects being nimble is key to success. Agile delivery methods not only help to simplify the project management processes— it also gives teams the room to ebb and flow, consistently resulting in more effective outcomes. As a result, almost any organization dealing with complexity can benefit from these practices. 

Without the right expertise and guidance, however, many groups can struggle to adapt to these new ways of working. If this describes your team, Responsive Advisors is the solution. 

Through best-of-class training programs (offered publicly, privately, and even remotely online) your organization can leverage their experience and expertise to help adopt new practices, deliver greater value, and accelerate meaningful innovation with Responsive Advisors.

Jeff Maleski

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