What is Agile Project Management?

Agile is a much used term in the modern business world, but it’s often a minefield for the uninitiated.

With more than 50 methods, frameworks and approaches, 4 core values, 12 principles, 6 steps, more than 35 tools, and many misconceptions, where do you start and what (if at all) is right for you and your projects?

Some see Agile project management as a different discipline to project management. In this article (perhaps controversially) we argue that project management is project management, regardless of whether the project execution is following one of these Agile frameworks or not.

What is Agile?

Agile normally refers to a group of methodologies based on iterative & incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organising cross-functional teams.
To be clear, Agile isn’t actually a methodology of any kind. It is a movement with a seventy three word manifesto and twelve principles. The manifesto and principles were intended for the optimisation of software development.
We are aware of more than 50 methodologies, frameworks and approaches for Agile.  Henny Portman’s A PM’s Guide to 42 Agile Methodologies provides an interesting breakdown of many, categorised as follows, which we’ve built on a little:

Portfolio Level:

Management of Portfolios (MoP), Standard for Portfolio Management (SfPfM), Agile Portfolio Development (AgilePfM), Disciplined Agile (DA), Evidence-Based Portfolio Management (E-B PfM), Bimodal Portfolio Management (Bimodal PfM), Praxis and Agile Shift.

One-time Program Level:

Agile Program Management (Agile PgM) [MSP].

One-time Project Level:

Agile Project Management (Agile PM) [derived from DSDM], PRINCE2 Agile, PMI-Agile Certified Professional (PMI-ACP), Project Half Double.

Business as Usual (BaU) Product/Program Level:

Product Targeted: Scale Agile Framework (SAFe), Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS), Nexus, Scrum at Scale (S@S)
Team Targeted: Spotify Model, Scaled Agile Lean Development (ScALeD)
Culture Targeted: AgileSHIFT, Agile Fluency, Apen Space Agility (OSA), Agility Scales, Holocracy, Sociocracy.
Agile Digital Services (AgileDS), and Toyota Production System (TPS)

Team Level:

Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, DevOps, (Bus)DevOps, Design Thinking.

Engineering Level:

eXtreme Programming (XP), Acceptance Test Driven Development (ATDD), Test-driven Development (TDD), Behavior-Driven Development (BDD), Feature-Driven Development (FDD), Experiment-Driven Development (EDD), User Experience Design (UX Design), Agile Business Analysis (Agile BA), Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD), Agile modelling (AM)
Agile Methods Mindmap
Methodologies, Frameworks and Approaches for Agile Development

The Agile Manifesto has:

4 core values:

i) Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,
ii) Working software over comprehensive documentation,
iii) Customer collaboration over contact negotiation, and
iv) Responding to change over following a plan

12 principles:

1) Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software (or whatever else you deliver).
2) Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
3) Deliver projects frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
4) Coordinating team members must work together daily throughout the project.
5) Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.
6) Face-to-face conversation is the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within different teams.
7) The final product is the primary measure of progress.
8) Agile processes promote sustainable development. All stakeholders should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
9) Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
10) Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
11) The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
12) At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Typically there are 6 steps:

i) Project planning,
ii) Product roadmap,
iii) Release planning,
iv) Sprint planning,
v) Daily meetings,
vi) Sprint review & retrospective

and 7 team member characteristics:

T shaped, Cross-functional, Adaptable, Curious, Entrepreneurial, Team-oriented, Committed to excellence.

There are a host of tools available to support Agile Development.  They include: Active Collab, Agile Bench, Agile Manager, airfocus, Assembla, Axosoft, Clarizen, ClickUp, Easy Project, Github Project Management, Gravity, Icescrum, Jira Agile, Kanbanize, LeanKit, monday.com, nifty, Nostromo, Pivotal Tracker, Planbox, Productboard, Proggio, Quire, Ravetree, ServiceNow, SpiraTeam, SprintGround, Taiga, Target Process, Telerik TeamPulse, VersionOne, VSTS, Wrike, and Zoho Sprints.

Agile Tools Cloud
This list is not exhaustive.  Let us know if you’ve used a great tool to support your projects and we’ll add it to the list!

Common Misconceptions

There are a number of myths and misconceptions around what Agile is and isn’t.  Much that is written about agile is based on experience of poor project management and sadly fails to recognise that there is incredible value and necessity for project management, regardless of the development approach used.  Some of the misconceptions that we often see include:
    “Agile is better (or worse) than waterfall.”  Waterfall is a sequential software design model first introduced by Dr. Winston W. Royce in 1970.  Waterfall can of course be better suited to some developments, but the world of enterprise project management has universally recognised that this is very uncommon.
    “Waterfall is enterprise project management.”    Waterfall is generally considered by the project profession to be the least efficient way to complete a large-scale project.  However, a great number of (usually non-project managers) commentators and enthusiasts have, probably unintentionally, confused ‘waterfall’ with ‘project management’.
    “Agile means ‘we don’t have a plan’ / Agile needs no planning.” Embarking on a project without a plan is like setting off on a journey without knowing where you are going. Detailed planning is as essential to the effectiveness of an Agile project as it is to any other. In any project, planning is an ongoing iterative task, and where there is more agility in execution, then rightly there will be more agility in the level of detail within the plan. We recommend an approach to planning such that the further out the execution activity, the lower the level of detail necessary within the plan, but there should always be a plan to the end of the project.
    “Agile doesn’t need project managers.” Sure, development itself doesn’t need a project manager, but if the development is part of a project (see definition below) then the project will need a project manager if it is going to have any chance of success.
    “Agile only works for developers and software.” There are many types of project where using Agile techniques can add great value to a project and improve their outcomes.  There are of course others where it is wholly unsuitable.
    “Agile doesn’t believe in documentation / Agile means no reporting.” Being agile means being adaptive to change, but it doesn’t mean you don’t need to document anything. A lack of clear project information is an open door to scope creep. Whether it’s the team’s capacity, a baseline plan, or status reports, documentation must not be neglected.
    “Agile alone will fix all of our problems / Agile is a panacea.” Good luck with that! Clearly, one solution does not solve all problems.
    “Agile delivers speed.”  It is usually intended to deliver quality by being more accommodating of scope change to meet the rhythm.
Let us know if you’ve heard some other misconceptions, or you feel more should be added to the list.

What is Project Management?

A project is a unique endeavour, with clear deliverables, a clear start and a clear end point.
Projects will usually have 1 of 4 types of lifecycle:
1) Linear – highly predictive, suiting stable, low-risk environments or commercial arrangements,
2) Incremental – aiming for quick wins, conserving scarce resources or delivering early benefits,
3) Iterative – early learning, scope depends on risk appetite, evolving objectives and an extendable duration, and
4) Evolutionary – highly adaptive, where deployment sees several major transitions.
Project management is recognised as the most efficient way of defining and achieving targets while optimising the use of resources over the course of the project.
At ProjExc we see that project managers are of course responsible for the core project management “wrapper” of:
planning the project,
controlling and reporting on the execution of the project, and finally
reviewing and closing the project.
In addition, and without exception, the project manager is also responsible for the management (and leadership) of the project itself.

What is Agile Project Management?

Some see agile project management as a different discipline to project management. We don’t. Project management is project management regardless of the type of project.  A capable project manager will be able to adapt to the type of project being executed, whether that’s a change project, a customer/deployment project, an infrastructure project or a product development project.  Put simply, Agile Project Management is the management of a project which is using Agile techniques for it’s execution.
At ProjExc, we equip our client’s project managers with the appropriate techniques, tools and competences to be able to do the important project management tasks as well as to be able to successfully lead the project, regardless of the methodologies, often uniquely, appropriate to their business.