What Is Agile Project Management? (Plus How to Use It)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Agile project management involves an iterative method of completing tasks and delivering projects. This approach allows teams to start projects on broad terms, giving them the flexibility to make rapid adjustments based on challenges and feedback from stakeholders. Knowing how to use the agile method can enhance productivity, improve team cohesiveness and make it easier for project managers to pre-empt delays that can affect delivery timelines and costs. In this article, we define the agile method of project management, how to use it, the components and benefits.

What is agile project management?

Agile project management is a style of planning and completing projects with incremental steps. This style differs from the traditional project management approach, where the team has a defined objective from the start and limited freedom to make adjustments. Agile projects start with a vision that gives team members an idea of the result. Rather than defining rigid targets and deploying resources to achieve them, the agile approach takes a general implementation direction. This provides teams with the flexibility to learn and adapt based on the issues that arise as they work towards delivering the project.

Because of its iterative nature, managing projects with the agile approach allows teams to learn as they execute and this can deliver immense benefits in terms of quality and usability of products. As teams execute, they collaborate with stakeholders to get inputs that can help improve processes and results. This is one reason the style is popular in software development, aviation, product development, finance, marketing and advertising. The adoption of agile processes in these industries is largely because of its ability to reduce costs and shorten products' time-to-market period.

Related: 8 Project Management Roles (With Typical Responsibilities)

What are the key components of agile?

The agile approach has several key components, including:

User stories

A user story is a concise and simple description of a product feature from the users' perspective. It links specific features of a project to certain benefits. This shows the team why they're working to build that capability into the product.

Sprints

Sprints are the core components that make agile teams fast and flexible. They're short development cycles that focus on building and releasing a specific feature. Sprints can last anywhere between one to four weeks, although they can be longer.

Meetings

Executing projects with agile requires teams and stakeholders to engage in a wide range of meetings. There are daily stand-up meetings or scrums where each individual discusses what they did the previous day, their activities today and the challenges they're facing in their tasks. Teams also meet before and after sprints to plan and review results after each release.

Agile boards

An agile board is a tool that helps teams and managers organise their tasks. Depending on the project scope, agile boards can be as simple as a table in a notebook, a spreadsheet or sophisticated project management software. You can use these boards to track the progress of each team member, allocate tasks and update customers on revisions to project requirements.

Project backlog

The backlog refers to the various activities required to deliver the project. As you start sprints, your team members are likely going to face certain challenges and stakeholders' and users' feedback may also make adjustments necessary. These new tasks form a backlog, and it's the duty of the project manager to assign people and resources to them for a quick resolution.

Team roles

This project management method has unique roles for team members and other people. Project owners establish goals for sprints and represent the client on the team. There are scrum masters who monitor the progress of tasks, set up meetings and act as liaisons between the team and other stakeholders. Team members perform the tasks required to complete sprints. Stakeholders can be the end-user or the project owner.

Related: What Is a Scrum Master? (Role, Duties and How to Become)

How to use agile project management

Follow these steps to implement agile strategies in project management:

1. Establish project vision and scope

The first step is to scope the project and identify the end goal you want to achieve. Most teams do this by conducting a project planning meeting where they outline the general business goals and specifications. A typical planning meeting covers the target customer, statement of need, the product name, the benefits of the product and its unique selling point. This meeting usually involves the client, product development team, business managers and users who outline the project requirements and strategies to achieve them.

2. Create a product roadmap

After the project planning meeting, the next step is to create a product roadmap. This activity involves working with the product owner to expand on the product requirements in order of priority, set milestones to achieve them and estimate the timeframe for delivery. During this phase, the product team outlines goals, gives those goals names, features, metrics and dates of accomplishment.

3. Make a release plan

Once you have a roadmap in place, start creating release plans. Release plans specify the timeline to deploy specific aspects of the project. For example, in a software development project, each release plan prioritises a feature or milestone to achieve. This is where you estimate the number of sprints required to complete, test, debug and release a feature or function for users. It requires the input of all stakeholders, including the product owner, team members and project managers.

4. Plan sprints

One major feature of agile project planning is the use of sprints. Sprints are short development cycles where the project team focuses on specific tasks to achieve particular objectives. For example, you can use four sprints to perform requirements analysis, another four to write the code and two sprints to carry out quality control activities. As you execute the project, sprints can serve as a measure of progress as each set links to specific deliverables.

Related: What Does an Agile Coach Do and How Can You Become One?

5. Conduct meetings

Agile projects have a component called stand-ups, which are daily meetings where the team appraises their performance and progress. These meetings are short, lasting only about 10-15 minutes, but they help the team evaluate tasks, receive new instructions and identify challenges that can cause delays and brainstorm on solutions. Because of the quick pace of execution, it's easy for team members to lose sight of their primary goals. That's why daily meetings are crucial for productivity and efficiency.

6. Review sprints

These reviews assess the specific activities of the team. During this phase, team members check that their work meets the specifications of the client and users. At these meetings, the client can provide feedback to revise or update completed work, or recommend strategies to improve future outcomes.

7. Collect feedback and start the next iteration

The end of each sprint marks the release of a feature or completion of an important project milestone. After sprint reviews, start preparing for the next phase of the project. Before you begin work on new product features, it's important to identify the lessons learned in earlier iterations and how you can use feedback from stakeholders to improve operational efficiency and future results. Review the process of previous sessions to identify issues related to planning, human resources, capital, deadlines and work scheduling and try to resolve them.

Related: Project Leader vs. Project Manager: Key Distinctions

Benefits of using agile project management

Agile strategies offer project managers several benefits, including:

Provides flexibility

Agile methods provide managers and their teams with more flexibility, allowing them to respond quickly to changing requirements and priorities. Because agile focuses on continuous feedback and learning, teams often improve throughout the project lifecycle, allowing them to enhance their efficiency and results. The inherent short cycles of sprints also make it easier to minimise risks and better predict the pace and outcome of projects.

Enhances customer satisfaction

Agile methods emphasise collaboration among teams, customers and stakeholders, and this can improve clients' experience. Because customers work closely with teams, they can identify deviations from the primary goals and glitches in early releases, allowing teams to make corrections before product launch. Since each release ends with a comprehensive review and sprint retrospective, it's possible to gather the feedback of users and incorporate their experience to create more functional products that meet client specifications.

Reduces time and expenses

Many organisations adopt agile methods because they can help reduce the time and cost of projects. The iterative nature of agile allows users and teams to collaborative effectively, making it easier to catch problems earlier and make adjustments. This isn't always possible in traditional project management, where you define goals from the start and problems often result in large-scale, costly changes far into the project life cycle.

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