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What is Agile Project Management?

A Getting Started Guide

According to the 15th State of Agile Report, 94% of companies are practicing Agile. This statistic is somewhat misleading as it does not mean that all of these companies are receiving benefits or even successful with their Agile approach. That said, many companies are trying to find ways to incorporate Agile methods. When I work with customers, often the biggest challenge they face is trying to explain their Agile needs in a simple way. They tend to have trouble locating resources to help them head in the right direction to take on or improve their Agile methods. My goal with this article is to enable you to have the discussions needed in your organization to move ahead with this approach.   

When there is a reference to Agile, you may think of the Oxford dictionary definition, which describes the term as the ability to move quickly and easily. When this concept is applied to project management, you are taking a traditional approach to delivery and modifying it to include techniques, which produce some immediate results in a shorter period of time.

In an Agile approach, you do not want to wait a long period of time to deliver something to the customer or sponsor. Your goal is to deliver something as soon as you can, so you get immediate feedback, and can modify your approach as needed. 

The Agile approach does not work well when the customer is not willing to participate in ongoing discussions about the project, when the customer is not willing to prioritize their requests, or when the customer does not support flexibility in the evolution of the solution. Those customers might be better suited for a traditional waterfall project.

Customers who support a flexible delivery date, who are anxious to jump in, who provide feedback, and who answer questions very quickly are well suited for an Agile approach.

Agile methodology works well when team members who are subject matter experts are able to take a concept and figure out the best approach to work through that concept, when team members are willing to adjust to new customer requirements and changing information about a project, and when team members support each other during challenging periods. Team members who need detailed directions or are not able to develop solutions themselves may be better suited for a traditional waterfall project where tasks are assigned to them directly.

In my opinion, the Agile approach is about managing the known information you have available at a point in time and regularly evolving the solution as more knowledge becomes available. There are always unknown factors in a project, but in the Agile approach, you regularly meet to address those factors and plan an approach for moving forward.

Organizations may also choose to adopt various methodologies to begin managing in an Agile way. For example, Scrum is a methodology which emphasizes delivery in short increments and frequent meetings. Scrum was originally used in software development projects. Kanban is another popular Agile methodology, which uses boards or cards to group work into columns or categories. The Kanban approach typically provides a very visual way to illustrate progress. Kanban was originally used in manufacturing projects.

I have a great way to explain Agile to a customer or someone who doesn’t understand it. Imagine an Agile project is a hair cut given by a hair dresser in training at a school. For illustration purposes, we will assume that this hair dresser in training is cutting my hair, and I am the customer sitting in the chair receiving the hair cut. There are two approaches to this hair cut. In the waterfall approach, the hair dresser gathers all of my requirements and delivers the final hair cut for approval. In the Agile approach, the hair dresser regularly solicits feedback from me and makes incremental changes throughout the haircut. In the Agile approach, as the customer, I have the option to modify a straight cut to an angled cut or to modify the length of any side of my hair. In a real-life experience years ago, I was horrified to have experienced a waterfall approach to a haircut! I discovered that a hair dresser had cut off too much of my hair only when I was turned back around to face the mirror. This made me an unsatisfied customer because I had no way to provide feedback throughout the process. I now explain to my hair dressers that I want the Agile approach where they do a minor hair cut and I can request more if I am not satisfied.   

To summarize, working in an Agile way continues to be a trend in organizations where customers want a flexible delivery approach. Becoming familiar with general Agile concepts, key trends, and Agile methods is a great way to start or continue Agile discussions at your organization.  

As a call to action, I recommend you review the 15th Annual State of Agile Report to be informed about all the benefits and challenges with Agile methods. I also suggest you review my MPUG articles and webinars to gain more insight on implementing Agile project management. I have also provided the below resource list on Agile that you may find useful.

Comments welcome below!

Additional Agile Resources

To see a demonstration of Agile features available in Microsoft Project Online desktop client, register now for my upcoming MPUG webinar, Use Agile Project Management with MS Project. Recording available at the same link.

To learn more about general Agile concepts, refer to my MPUG webinar available as part of your member package: Key Agile Concepts Illustrated.

Individuals who prefer to self-study the Agile features in Microsoft Project should refer to relevant chapter in one of my books:

Other outside resources to help you learn more about Agile methodologies and certification options are:  

Written by Cindy M. Lewis

Cindy Lewis is an awarded Microsoft Project MVP and an expert in scheduling with a long history in project management. She holds numerous credentials in the field including: PMP, PMI-SP, MS, MOS, and MCT. She serves on the board of the MPUG Detroit chapter and is a frequent speaker at conferences and events across the country . Cindy’s personal passion is sharing knowledge with others and helping them grow and achieve personal success. Her training philosophy is known as the 4 Pillars of Success® which is also the name of her company. Feel free to connect with Cindy on social media or contact her directly through her website www.4pillarsofsuccess.com.

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  1. What is Agile PM
    Nice down-to-earth article!
    I would add that Agile is meant for software development projects that sets time and cost goals BUT leaves “scope goals flexible” so the project sponsors or product owners can prioritize and reprioritize the work they want done. An Agile approach makes sense for some projects, but not all of them.
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