Ever wondered why almost every job posting related to project management contains the word ‘agile’? Whether you’re studying for a project management exam or a project manager, this article will help you understand the how agile development approach is used in project management.
Agile methodology in project management is a type of approach that focuses on being flexible during the execution stage. In this article, let’s look at the history of agile, how it differs from other development methodologies and why you should study/learn about it.
If I have to summarize agile in one word, that would be ‘flexible’. And, why do I say that?
A team that adopts agile methodology will be quick to respond to changes, learn throughout the process and deliver outcomes in a shorter period. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘agile’ as “able to move quickly and easily.”
Before we understand the specifics, let’s look at how agile method came into being by looking at its history. Prior to the ‘invention’ of agile methodology, all software companies faced the issue of delayed roll out of product into the market and providing support for problems that cropped up. The project had to go through the planned stages of concept, design, develop and test – where each of the processes are mapped out prior to the beginning of the project. This led to a situation where the project management approach couldn’t accommodate the evolving needs of the project.
The Agile Manifesto
To overcome the issue, a group of developers came together and established the agile manifesto. The manifesto focuses on four things:
- Individuals and their interaction – focus on the individuals and their interaction. Do not overly emphasize on the processes and tools being used in the project.
- Rolling out a working software is more important than having a comprehensive documentation of it in the beginning.
- It is better to utilize time on collaborating with customers over changes, scope than over contract negotiation
- Responding to changes during the project is a better, quicker way to get the product on to the market than following a rigid plan.
Should you use agile in project management?
While there are several factors that determine the development methodology of your project, here are the ones prescribed by the Project Management Institute1:
Choosing agile based on end result
Innovation – for products that require innovation, an adaptive approach (agile) is better suited than the predictive model (waterfall).
Safety – Products/Services that need to adhere to stringent safety norms are usually done using a predictive approach as there’s considerable planning, documentation involved.
Scope – this one is similar to requirements. If the project doesn’t have a stable or a rigid scope, an adaptive approach could be an option.
Ease of change – the importance of agile is the flexibility it offers throughout the project. Therefore, for any project where a lot of changes are expected, an agile approach would be better.
Delivery – this is a tricky. Agile can be adopted for projects where service/products can be delivered in pieces or incrementally. If the end goal is one, big deliverable that cannot be broken into smaller elements, then a predictive approach is better.
Requirement – if the requirements of the project are complex, changing, then it would be better to adopt an agile approach.
Risk – Most high-risk products require thorough planning, extensive documentation. Some projects have high-risk deliverables that can be done incrementally, with customer collaboration. So one has to consider both – type of risk, delivery method – before identifying the development method.
Choosing agile by project condition
Stakeholders – Agile approach will require frequent interaction with the stakeholders as it focuses heavily on collaboration to make incremental changes. One might have to factor in the interest level of various stakeholders, their influence before choosing the approach.
Funding – As mentioned in the manifesto, a working software is more important than having comprehensive documentation around it. If there are uncertainties in funding for the project, one might consider releasing a minimum viable product to test its performance and gain stakeholder approval before scaling it up. In such cases, an agile approach would make more sense.
Schedule – Using an agile approach will generally reduce time to get the product/service to the market.
Choosing agile by organizational factors
Organization structure/culture – Usually, organizations with decentralized, flat hierarchical structure structure benefit the most out of an agile approach. If the structure is rigid, and powers are centralized, then a predictive model would be the better option.
Project team – One has to consider the size of the teams, their location before identifying the model. Typically, smaller teams who’re in the same location benefit the most out of an agile approach.
Project Integration Management: Agile consideration
One of the most important tasks of the project manager, when considering an agile approach, is to promote a collaborative decision-making environment and the ability to respond to changes quickly. That means team members are empowered to determine how plans and components integrate within the project. It is to be noted that the higher the complexity of the project, more sophisticated is the integration approach.
Project Scope Management: Agile consideration
If you recall, in an agile approach, the scope is often not rigidly defined at the beginning of the project. Processes are established to constantly define, refine the scope. To reduce the time taken for a product to enter the market, agile methodology focuses on releasing prototypes and working models to get immediate feedback. And, the product gets refined with multiple iterations.
The requirements for the iteration are in the form of a backlog. The project manager actively determines the various requirements from the backlog to be worked on to create the product.