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What is Agile Project Management?

“What is Agile Project Management?” on Small Biz Club, September 20, 2019.

Agile Project Management: 5 FAQs

1. What is agile project management?

For a simple, clear definition of agile, we turn to Alan Zucker, founding principal of Project Management Essentials:

Agile is a mindset with a set of principles and values that focus on collaboration and quickly delivering value. Agility can be achieved in entrepreneurial environments, even where more traditional development methodologies are used.

To underscore this definition, Zucker shares the story of his former role at a technology company in the 1990s. His team used traditional development practices, but he considered their approach agile. The team worked across organizational boundaries to deliver new product offerings every two to three months, which was much faster than their competitors. “We would launch products that were ‘good enough,’ see how they performed in the marketplace, and then either improve them or cease further development depending on how much customer interest the products received.”

3. What are the agile manifesto principles?

There are 12 principles that comprise the agile manifesto. Zucker summarizes these principles this way: “Agile’s principles are about empowering creative people and trusting that they will do the right thing. They create an environment that embraces courage and taking thoughtful risks—where people can experiment with new ideas and nix them if they aren’t working out.”

4. What are the agile phases?

While specific agile phases may differ depending on who you ask, Miller manages projects according to these five general phases:

  1. Plan—The team comes together to determine which items from the backlog should be slotted for the current sprint and assign user stories/acceptance criteria for each task.
  2. Develop—The team works on each user story and delivers the first main feature based on the requirements and acceptance criteria.
  3. Test—The team begins with testing the feature enhancements that were developed during the previous stage. Testing could range from smoke tests (which ensure the most important functions work) to regression tests (which ensure changes haven’t broken existing functionality).
  4. Deliver—The team delivers the features to the customers.
  5. Assess—The team solicits feedback from the customers and key stakeholders to determine whether new enhancements should be developed for the next sprint.

If these phases seem familiar, they’re the same ones used in more traditional waterfall projects. Zucker explains that the phases are just much shorter on agile projects. If a team is practicing scrum, they go through these phases in a two-week and sometimes shorter development cycle. If the team is practicing a flow-based, agile approach (e.g., Kanban) they are taking one piece of work through the process as quickly as possible. “It’s all in the timing and the relentless focusing on creating value as quickly as possible.”

5. What do all agile frameworks have in common?

Zucker says the commonalities between all agile frameworks are empowered teams and delivering value quickly. One of the things that distinguishes experienced agile users is they borrow and combine good ideas, concepts, and practices from any source. “So you will see scrum teams using a Kanban board, for example, and no one will care because the larger concern is finding the best ways to develop the product quickly.”

Agile has become so prominent because business today requires agility, especially when it comes to software. If you’re looking to deliver value to customers faster, agile could be a good choice.