Agile project management and agile development are growing in popularity across industry. Last year’s ‘State of Agile’ survey saw more respondents from financial and professional services than the software sector.
Agile is an iterative approach where projects are delivered in short sprints. Those who use agile cite benefits including increased productivity and morale within teams, faster delivery times and capacity to deal with change within the project.
Agile methodology emerged within the software industry at the turn of the century. While agile was conceived primarily to answer key challenges within software development, certain concepts can be transferred across a range of other disciplines.
The original agile manifesto highlighted four values (and 12 principles):
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
There are a number of benefits associated with agile, not least its focus on collaboration and flexibility.
In certain projects, for example, aspects of the project requirements may be undetermined so there may be an element of uncertainty from the get-go. Where managers are unclear on key details, agile’s focus on delivering stage in sprints means work can begin quickly and business value realised early.
There is also a strong emphasis on involving the customer in the development process and building in stakeholder contribution to the project as it evolves. This focus on collaboration with customers (and within teams) promotes creativity and ideas development, so improving overall product quality.
Getting under the skin of agile methodology and learning how to deploy agile strategies is easy and quick to do. Four-day courses such as Agile Training supply foundation and more advanced techniques that can immediately be introduced to the project management process. Other courses such as MSP Courses or PRINCE2 Courses will incorporate elements of the agile process alongside governance systems to promote delivery of successful programmes.
However, use of agile isn't appropriate for every situation and there are advantages attached to operating a more traditional project management system. For example, where a project begins with clear and detailed information on scope and project definition, a comprehensive ‘waterfall’ strategy is likely the optimal approach.
As agile focuses on short cycles of activity, there are also risks in ensuring each element marries seamlessly within the overall scheme and specifically addresses the project’s original requirements.
The critical driver to ensuring the success of an agile project is effective collaboration. If teams are not routinely working within the same location or if communication is defective, it will severely impact on the quality of delivery. Where project managers are not assured that regular contacts for feedback and review are possible, a more traditional approach may, again, be more appropriate.
From XP and Lean, to Kanban and Hybrid, there are a range of different practices within agile. But - due to agile’s application within software - by far the most widely used is Scrum which relates to managing the iterative, sprint approach. For agile practices within specialised IT based projects, the Scrum Master Training and Scrum Product Owner Course offer a strong grounding for teams in two of the three main drivers in the Scrum approach. Course content is more closely aligned to the Agile Manifesto and its core principles. But the basic principles of iterative sprints, strong collaboration among teams (the daily scrum meetings) and incorporating constant feedback underscore the Scrum framework.
Overall, an agile approach can produce high-quality results more quickly in projects where change is expected. And it is the pace of technological change and the effect of constant market disruption which means agile’s growth in popularity among managers looks set to continue.