Whether you’re kickstarting a career in project management, managing a construction crew, or you’re just trying to grow your small business, you may have heard a lot of buzz around the term “Agile” project management (PM). It’s almost impossible to avoid. Today, nearly three-quarters (71%) of organizations report using Agile approaches sometimes, often or always.
It’s no surprise when you consider that Agile projects are 282% more successful than traditional projects. But is it relevant to what you do?
The answer is yes. Just like the name indicates, Agile gives you the ability to stay nimble and more responsive in today’s fast-paced world, which can be the key to success or failure when managing a business or projects of all shapes and sizes.
So, what exactly is Agile project management?
The idea of Agile project management was born about 20 years ago when several software developers got together and came up with a plan that would free them from what they saw as the restraints of traditional software development. They created a Manifesto, a high-level overview of what Agile project management is and suggested who can benefit from using it.
Even though its roots began in software development, it has since moved far beyond that realm to include industries and functional roles such as marketing, education, human resources, legal and just about any undertaking that involves fast-paced projects with a lot of moving parts and personalities. It reflects the increased emphasis in many organizations to be more fluid, customer-focused and competitive. As you learn more about Agile, you’ll see how it can benefit just about anybody, from seasoned project managers to individuals trying to organize tasks better and meet their goals.
While you can check out the 12 Principles of Agile for yourself, here’s a more informal look at the fundamental values, and how they differ from traditional project management:
- Individuals and human interactions take precedence over rigid processes and tools.
- Customers stay engaged and collaborate throughout the process, rather than being tied to detailed contracts prior to any work starts. In other words, customer service is at the forefront.
- Change is okay. Once seen only as a hassle and added expense, Agile can adapt to project changes quickly; work is done in short iterations or “sprints.” Priorities can now easily shift, and new ideas and concepts added throughout the process.
So, how can this form of project management benefit your style of work and business? Here’s a look at a few ways it can help:
Situation 1: Minimizing potentially expensive changes early-on
Let’s take a home remodeling business as an example. The traditional model is to engage a customer during the design phase, then again at the end of the project. A project manager would include all required remodeling steps and cost in a spreadsheet (aka Bid Proposal) and get the customer to sign-off before starting the project.
However, this can lead to situations where customers suggest changes at the end of the project when they’re often more expensive or even impossible to fix.
To avoid unnecessary rework, any remodeling project can split into smaller, easier-to-manage subprojects or “sprints.” The customer provides incremental feedback throughout the process, allowing the remodeling team to respond to before moving to the next sprint. This method will cut down on any surprises, mistakes or miscommunications regarding the customer’s wishes.
In addition, accurate pricing is easier. Thanks to increased confidence in remodeling estimates, costs stay on track, and the customer gets the results they want at the price they expect.
The most challenging part of such projects is keeping track of all the moving parts, understanding dependencies, and providing visibility to and getting feedback from multiple stakeholders, such as customers and team members.
Situation 2: When the traditional approach isn’t nimble enough
If you work for a larger organization, there’s a good chance you or your co-workers manage projects using some traditional concepts. Here’s an actual example in which a hospital wanted to improve the patient experience during wellness visits.
A healthcare project manager familiar with using a traditional Waterfall approach might build an overall plan with logical steps, like conducting initial diagnostics to identify two to three areas for optimization, and then an end-to-end execution plan. Perhaps, they’re used to having tasks laid out from beginning to end organized in a Gantt chart, which is suitable for communicating scope, duties and timeline. But the Agile approach has its place, as well.
Instead of using a traditional Waterfall plan, they adopted an Agile process by:
- Empowering team members to focus on responsibilities rather than roles and also by creating “prototyping techniques, sticky note workflows and by role-playing with patient advocates to design the care pathway for patients.”
- Continuously testing ideas with clinician leads and then gathering feedback regarding all aspects of the process.
- Changing the design as needed, based on new feedback, ensuring shared decision making.
The team was able to create a better experience for both patients and clinicians, improving care delivery. With the use of traditional Waterfall methodologies, the outcome would have likely been vastly different.
Situation 3: Scaling with the Agile approach
If you are already applying the Agile method for managing your projects, your next challenge might be to figure out how to scale and stay efficient. You might need to manage multiple teams, making live standup or scrum meetings less feasible. You also need to have enough depth of understanding about a work process at the level of each project or compare team progress side-by-side and identify key risks.
The great news is that you can undoubtedly continue applying the Agile approach by introducing the Scrum of Scrums sessions. You can also add more standardization to key milestones for each scrum and compare scrum progress in a roadmap view using a project management tool.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur just starting, or a project manager who wants to scale with the Agile approach, it’s worth getting to know Agile a little bit better. It could boost your productivity, retain valued customers and help you pull off successful projects, big or small.
Learn more about Agile, as well as easy-to-use Agile software solutions.