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What is Agile project management: when and how to use it

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    Agile project management can be a polarizing topic in professional circles.

    Some are firm believers in Agile, claiming it helps their teams conquer any amount of work faster, reach higher, and exceed goals.

    Others complain that it doesn’t focus on the big picture and can lead to oversights in the development process.

    In this guide to Agile project management, you’ll learn exactly what it is and how you could start adapting it appropriately for your organization.

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    What is Agile project management?

    Rather than a step-by-step framework, it’s a more intangible methodology or even philosophy that involves an iterative approach to delivering a project throughout its life cycle.

    What are the 12 Principles of Agile?

    The original Agile Manifesto includes a list of four values and 12 principles.

    • Satisfy the customer. Everything you do should be geared towards your target market.
    • Don’t fear change. Remain flexible.
    • Deliver working versions frequently. For example, work on completing iterations rather than finished products.
    • Bring business people and technical people together. A disconnect between departments leads to a disconnect between your products and your target customers.
    • Motivate, trust, and support your team. 
    • Engage in face-to-face conversation. 
    • Measure progress with working versions of the final product.
    • Encourage sustainable development. Ongoing progress over the long term beats hackathons.
    • Pay attention to technical excellence and good design. 
    • Keep it simple. 
    • Use self-organizing teams. Autonomy leads to more motivated and productive employees.
    • Regularly reflect and review. You can’t learn or progress without evaluating your workflow.

    The Agile Manifesto also highlights a few select values that showcase the same philosophy.

    The 4 values of Agile

    The Agile approach is founded on practical principles and values. It aims to solve the issue of product-market disconnects that plague companies globally.

    • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
    • Functioning end product over comprehensive documentation
    • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
    • Responding to change over following a plan

    How does Agile differ from traditional project management?

    The main difference is the iterative approach and the focus on working closely with the customer to adapt to marketplace changes even after launching your project.

    Traditional project management is also known as Waterfall because it follows predictable stages. You start with the requirements gathering stage and keep going down until the project is over.

    Waterfall vs. Agile

    (Image Source)

    In Agile, you instead cycle through these stages as you work on the project in smaller pieces. Agile teams call this cycle an iteration or Agile sprint.

    The focus is on delivering a single, working product increment at a time. You can produce single features or batch logical choices together.

    For projects with physical deliverables, you can focus on delivering different stages of a prototype. For example, a 3D model would be the first goal, followed by an initial physical prototype, and so on.

    For a more in-depth breakdown, read our full post comparing traditional project management vs. Agile.

    When to use Agile project management

    To better understand when to use Agile project management, let’s take a look at the industries and types of projects that use Agile methodology.

    Industries and use cases

    According to the 2020 State of Agile study, technology and financial services are leading the charge.

    Agile adoption in industries

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    Together, these industries make up over 44% of all respondents. But there are very few major industries that aren’t represented at all.

    The reason for that is simple. In 2021, every business is a technology business — to a certain extent. Chances are you use advanced software to track and monitor the process, even if you do all your business in brick-and-mortar stores.

    When looking at use cases within companies, a Koblenz University study shows a clear pattern.

    Agile use cases

    (Image Source)

    Agile software development is still the #1 use case for the philosophy. But it’s no longer the only implementation.

    More than half of companies use it for other IT-related projects. Almost 40% use it for other, non-IT projects. And 19% of companies even say they use it for physical product development. Note that not all the polled companies make physical products.

    Rules of thumb for using Agile

    In general, you want to use Agile for highly unpredictable projects that don’t need to follow a rigorous schedule or regulations.

    When you’re developing anything new from scratch or transitioning as a company, Agile can work wonders. By shortening the work cycle, you can get to market faster while constantly adjusting the course to align with market changes.

    In an engineering or construction project where everything needs to happen at exactly the right time, full-blown Agile isn’t a great idea. The same goes for highly regulated industries where you need government sign-off before starting.

    However, Agile values still hold weight— for example, boosting business and project collaboration should be a must in every company.

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    Agile project management examples: most popular frameworks

    Let’s take a closer look at the most popular approaches to implementing Agile principles in real life.

    What is the most popular Agile methodology or framework?

    According to the 2020 State of Agile report, Scrum ranks at the top.

    Most popular Agile frameworks in 2020

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    58% of Agile teams use Scrum, and another 18% use a specific Scrum hybrid.

    The closest non-hybrid option is Kanban, which only 7% of teams use exclusively. But many companies use it in addition to Scrum at the team level.

    The next section explores them further.

    Scrum

    Scrum is the most popular framework for implementing Agile at a team level.

    In it, you break larger project teams into smaller Scrum teams of 3–11 people. This team includes the Product Owner — who represents the interests of the business — and the Scrum Master who works to minimize roadblocks that prevent work from getting done.

    These individual teams self-organize and work in a Scrum sprint that lasts one to four weeks.

    Scrum framework diagram

    (Image Source)

    Instead of writing an in-depth project plan, the Scrum team reviews the “product backlog” before every sprint. The product backlog is a list of features the finished product needs.

    The team prioritizes a few of them to work on in each iteration. Another unique aspect is that each sprint ends with a direct user test of the new product version.

    Only if the user — internal or customer — says it helps them can the team move on.

    This narrow and constantly changing focus leads to a hyper-productive but flexible team. Instead of prolonged tunnel vision, it only lasts as long as the sprint. After each sprint, a meeting is held with the goal of improving the strategy going forward.

    Read our guide on implementing Agile project management with Scrum to learn more.

    Kanban

    Kanban is another Agile framework you can use to implement the values. Unlike in Scrum, there are no new team units or positions. Everyone keeps their roles, teams, and responsibilities.

    Instead of working in sprints, in Kanban your teams work together to improve the product continuously. You create a Kanban board that outlines a logical workflow for fixing issues or adding features.

    Then, you involve everyone — regardless of rank — in creating to-do items for the board. You then continually prioritize tasks and assign them to different teams or individuals.

    Kanban board example

    With monday.com, you can easily create a Kanban board for any project in a few clicks.

    What Agile looks like in real-life in 2021: Mortgage Center

    Many think that Agile is only useful for software development, but that’s just no longer the case. A wide variety of companies and teams in a wide range of industries use it in 2021.

    Before moving to monday.com, the 80-member team of the Mortgage Center in Michigan’s Agile workflow process looked like this:

    Pre-monday.com Agile workflow

    The individual cards and physical whiteboard method became illegible and impossible to manage.

    Now, with monday.com they easily use and customize templates to manage their whole Agile workflow.

    Post-monday.com Agile workflow

    As a result, the team saw numerous benefits:

    • Clear ownership and accountability through color-coded shared Scrum boards
    • Significant time-savings in sprint planning meetings
    • Better communication outside of meetings
    • Ability to work remotely

    If you want the full story, you can watch this video where Diana Kosut, Scrum Master and Project Manager at Mortgage Center, breaks it all down.

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    Scaling Agile beyond a single team

    Transitioning a single, tight-knit group into an Agile team is easy. But scaling beyond the team level is a challenge even in ideal conditions.

    Not only is the whole organization resistant to change, but the scale of the change is also massive. You don’t just need to change how your staff works — you must transform how everyone thinks.

    Some Agile frameworks — known as scaling frameworks — aim to avoid the need to start from scratch.

    According to the Scaled Agile Status Quo (2020) study, around a third of Agile companies use a scaling framework.

    Top 6 Agile scaling frameworks

    (Image Source)

    And of these, 54% use SAFe — the Scaled Agile Framework — to go beyond the team level.

    It mixes many methodologies and lays out concrete processes for managing multiple smaller Agile teams and projects.

    How monday.com makes the Agile transition smoother

    monday.com goes above and beyond a bare-bones, working software to give you the flexibility, customizability, and integrations you need to build your perfect Agile workflow from the ground up.

    Create a reliable, shared platform that integrates data from multiple apps and tools.

    With monday.com, you’ve got access to 40+ built-in integrations and our powerful automation builder.

    That can help you bridge the gap between different departments and teams that rely on various apps.

    monday.com automations and integrations

    For example, you can bring together the support team that uses Zendesk and the development team that relies on Jira. By eliminating that silo, your developers can spend more time on the features and bugs that your customers care about the most.

    monday.com also has a unique automation builder so you can eliminate unnecessary manual steps wherever possible. For example, when a work item’s status changes to code review, you can automatically notify your quality assurance team.

    There’s no need for anyone to interrupt their working day to grab hold of someone through Slack or email.

    Work with a shared, real-time product roadmap

    monday.com also makes it easy to create and maintain an up-to-date product roadmap. Use and customize the template to start planning the future of your product.

    Product roadmap in monday.com

    You can then connect items on the board to relevant sprint activity statuses. The roadmap will automatically reflect whether certain features are finished or not.

    That gives your customers and team members a good insight into the progress you’re making.

    Let stakeholders contribute directly to the product backlog.

    Managing projects isn’t something you can do in a vacuum. A core Agile principle is to involve external stakeholders, like customers, in the process.

    With monday.com, you can easily give different levels of guest access to various stakeholders. For example, you can assign a VIP client or project sponsor the ability to add and edit features.

    It makes it easier to meet and collaborate on the backlog, as you can do so over phone or Zoom calls — yep, we’ve got an integration for that — rather than having to meet in person.

    Use custom templates to plan your iterations or sprints

    Instead of messy whiteboards, you can make work assignments super clear with a digital sprint board.

    monday.com iteration planning

    Color-coded item statuses, priorities, and assigned owner columns leave no room for doubt. You can use and customize our ready-made templates to suit your unique Agile process.

    Get a live, high-level overview with connected dashboards.

    You can combine data from multiple sources to build custom dashboards.

    monday.com dashboard

    With our widgets and drag-and-drop editor, you can set up your ideal dashboard in a few minutes.

    Implement the agile methods that work for you, easily

    After reading about how Agile project management is an iterative approach, you may have decided that it’s the right approach for your business.

    In fast-moving industries, where speed and flexibility are crucial, it’s a great option. You can also use it for highly unpredictable projects where you’re breaking new ground.

    Try monday.com to build your Agile project plan for free, no credit card required!

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