by David Lesue
If you’re new to agile project management methodology, it might look at first like a complex and difficult-to-manage system. But, whether you realize it or not, you’re already doing many of the things agile project management requires. With a few tweaks, you’ll be on your way to shorter development cycles and smaller, more frequent product releases.
Today, agile project management methodology is used by software developers, construction companies, educational organizations, and even marketing teams. Many organizations can benefit from agile project management, and it’s simple to set up and utilize.
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While you can take advantage of software, books, or agile coaches, each agile team is unique, and understanding the basics can help you put together an agile project methodology that works for you and your team.
The Guiding Principles
Agile project methodologies can be as diverse and unique as each individual team, but these 12 principles should always guide your decisions and product development. If you and your team are new to agile project methodology, it can be difficult to get out of the traditional waterfall project management mindset.
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software (or whatever else you deliver).
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Deliver projects frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
- Coordinating team members must work together daily throughout the project.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.
- Face-to-face conversation is the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within different teams.
- The final product is the primary measure of progress.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. All stakeholders should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
The Team Members
Each agile project methodology has its own unique list of team members, and while the titles may change, there are a few universal characteristics that agile team members should have:
- T-shaped. A valuable team member has a wide breadth of basic knowledge about their subject but also deep knowledge, experience, and ability in one (or more) specific areas.
- Cross-functional. Cross-functional team members have skills outside their traditional areas. They might know some basic graphic design principles and data analysis or even some HTML/CSS.
- Adaptable. If they have a diverse skill set, they know how to use it. No matter the environment, their output remains consistent.
- Curious. Part of optimizing and becoming more efficient is asking the right questions and challenging the way things have always been when it’s appropriate.
- Entrepreneurial. An agile team member is one that doesn’t wait to be told what to do. They’re ready to fill in and develop campaigns where they see a need.
- Team-oriented. Team players prioritize the success of the team over their own personal glory. If everyone is delivering on time and syncing well together, they see that as a win.
- Committed to excellence. One of the key benefits of agile projects is delivering quality work, faster. Team members who are committed to excellence don’t settle for average. They’re not hung up on perfection, but they’re dedicated to always producing their best work.
The Basic Process
The goal of agile is to produce shorter development cycles and more frequent product releases than traditional waterfall project management. This shorter time frame enables project teams to react to changes in the client’s needs more effectively.
As we said before, you can use a few different agile project management frameworks—Scrum and Kanban are two of the most common. But each agile project methodology will follow the same basic process, which includes:
1. Project Planning
Like with any project, before beginning your team should understand the end goal, the value to the organization or client, and how it will be achieved.
You can develop a project scope here, but remember that the purpose of using agile project management is to be able to address changes and additions to the project easily, so the project scope shouldn’t be seen as unchangeable.
2. Product Roadmap Creation
A roadmap is a breakdown of the features that will make up the final product. This is a crucial component of the planning stage, because your team will build these individual features during each sprint.
At this point, you will also develop a product backlog, which is a list of all the features and deliverables that will make up the final product. When you plan sprints later on, your team will pull tasks from this backlog.
3. Release Planning
In traditional waterfall project management, there is one implementation date that comes after an entire project has been developed. When using an agile project methodology however, your project uses shorter development cycles (called sprints) with features released at the end of each cycle.
Before kicking off the project, you’ll make a high-level plan for feature releases and at the beginning of each sprint, you’ll revisit and reassess the release plan for that feature.
4. Sprint Planning
Before each sprint begins, the stakeholders need to plan what will be accomplished by each person during that sprint, how it will be achieved, and assess the task load. It’s important to share the load evenly among team members so they can accomplish their assigned tasks during the sprint.
You’ll also need to visually document your workflow for team transparency, shared understanding within the team, and identifying and removing bottlenecks.
5. Daily Meetings
To help your team accomplish their tasks during each sprint and assess whether any changes need to be made, hold short daily meetings. During these meetings, each team member will briefly talk about what they accomplished the day before and what they will be working on that day.
These daily meetings should be only 15 minutes long. They aren’t meant to be extended problem-solving sessions or a chance to talk about general news items. Some teams will even hold these meetings standing up to keep it brief.
6. Sprint Review and Retrospective
After the end of each sprint, your team will hold two meetings: first, you will hold a sprint review with the project stakeholders to show them the finished product. This is an important part of keeping open communication with stakeholders.
An in-person or video conference meeting allows both groups to build a relationship and discuss product issues that arise.
Second, you will have a sprint retrospective meeting with your stakeholders to discuss what went well during the sprint, what could have been better, whether the task load was too heavy or too light for each member, and what was accomplished during the sprint.
If your team is new to agile project management, don’t skip this essential meeting. It helps you gauge how much your team can tackle during each sprint and the most efficient sprint length for future projects.
These are the most basic and important parts of an agile project methodology. As you transition your team to an agile methodology, these processes, roles, and principles will help you change your mindset and begin working together to be more flexible and adapt to changes as they come.
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