What is Agile project management?

Agile project management is an iterative approach to managing software development that continuously incorporates feedback throughout development lifecycles.

Also referred to as Agile project management, this approach is based on the Agile methodology of software development, where cross-functional teams use continual collaboration, planning, learning, and improvement to deliver software more quickly and respond more flexibly to change. The aim of the Agile approach is to deliver benefits throughout the entire software-development process, rather than releasing all of the benefits only at the completion of the project. Agile management exists to help coordinate teams, establish effective processes, set deadlines, and ensure that Agile software projects are successful.

Although Agile and Agile management were originally created to facilitate better software development, the core values of Agile are inclusive enough to encompass many different kinds of projects. These core values are taken from the original Agile manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

In other words, Agile needs to be free to rely on intelligent team members to create working solutions, rather than dogmatically following established processes. It brings customers into the development process, soliciting feedback and workshopping solutions. It focuses on creating actual deliverables, instead of spending large amounts of time creating detailed documentation. And through it all, Agile must be able to improvise and adapt.

Agile project management is a tried and true management philosophy that has proven itself in the software development space and is beginning to see application in other industries and projects. This is because Agile project management and the Agile methodology it supports bring with them a number of significant business advantages. These include the following benefits:

Streamlined processes

The iterative nature of Agile project development naturally cuts down on unnecessary, inefficient work. What is left is a resource-friendly set of highly-visible processes almost completely devoid of waste.

Reduced overhead

Because Agile project management allows for more-streamlined processes, work can be completed more quickly and efficiently. This drastically reduces project spend. At the same time, issues and defects can be discovered and resolved more quickly, eliminating a number of costs associated with repair and remediation.

Increased adaptability

The benefit that gives Agile its name, adaptability is a core focus of Agile management. The iterative approach allows teams to easily reassess projects mid-development, pivoting where and whenever necessary to better address emergent issues and shifting priorities.

Reduced risk

Agile management uses short work sprints and relies on regular, consistent reporting, for project transparency unmatched by more-traditional methodologies. With clear project visibility, teams are much less likely to encounter an unexpected issue, and will have a head start addressing any issues they do encounter. This means less risk associated with any Agile projects.

Increased employee engagement

Although Agile project management is designed to help guide Agile teams, the truth is that most Agile teams are extremely autonomous. They enjoy the freedom to innovate, ideate solutions, and come up with new ideas. At the same time, smaller teams help ensure that everyone involved is playing an integral part in achieving goals. Together, these and other factors help individual team members feel valued and trusted, improving employee engagement.

Improved customer satisfaction

Perhaps the most important focus of Agile management is the satisfaction of the end user. In Agile development, the customer becomes a member of the team, providing ongoing feedback and collaborating with developers to workshop solutions and ensure higher-quality deliverables. By working with customers, teams provide their end users with solutions that actually solve customer problems. Additionally, customers know that their input is valued, and that the organization is committed to providing them with the best possible service.

Although Agile and Agile management were originally created to facilitate better software development, the core values of Agile are inclusive enough to encompass many different kinds of projects. These core values are taken from the original Agile manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

In other words, Agile needs to be free to rely on intelligent team members to create working solutions, rather than dogmatically following established processes. It brings customers into the development process, soliciting feedback and workshopping solutions. It focuses on creating actual deliverables, instead of spending large amounts of time creating detailed documentation. And through it all, Agile must be able to improvise and adapt.

The Agile process can be broken down into six key steps:

  • Requirements
    Teams ideate the project and determine what their priorities should be based on company goals and customer needs.
  • Plan
    Project managers assemble teams, secure funding, and determine initial project requirements (which will likely evolve as the project continues).
  • Design
    Teams begin developing the product. Incorporating ongoing feedback and taking established requirements into account, these teams use multiple iterations and reliable communication to move the project towards completion.
  • Development
    During the development stage, QA testing, training, and documentation development are put into production.
  • Release
    Upon release, development teams continue to refine and support the product through on-going iterations.
  • Monitoring
    Teams deliver the product to the customer. Teams continue to consider customer notifications and migrations, along with any end-of-life tasks.

 

Graphic displaying the agile development process

As previously stated, Agile management was designed based on Agile software development practices. That said, its approach may be easily employed in other departments (such as marketing or products), and organizations in many different industries are adapting Agile management to improve their processes.

In fact, any business that needs the flexibility to operate in an uncertain environment may benefit from Agile management. This includes automotive, education, military, and more. Agile project management contributes to organizational agility, empowering businesses to adapt quickly and with minimal disruption to changing operating environments.

There are many different kinds of Agile project management tools, but perhaps the two most popular solutions are Scrum and Kanban.

Scrum is a framework for agile management. It follows essentially the same core values listed above, and allows for many of the same benefits. However, it uses fixed-length iterations of work (called sprints) to increase collaboration, speed up development processes, and improve team focus.

Backlogs are a major feature of Scrum, detailing the complete body of work that needs to be done. The product backlog is a list of features arranged by highest priority and the sprint backlog which identifies the tasks that will need to be completed during the Scrum sprint.

Scrum relies on three levels of accountability:

  • The product owner
    The product owner defines the overall project as well as the features it will include. They ensure that stakeholder feedback is being addressed, the product backlog is maintained, and that all associated team members understand project priorities. The product owner is also the voice of the customer, representing their needs and wants.
  • The development team
    Usually consisting of three to nine people, the Scrum development team is self organizing, and determines how best to accomplish the work. These teams are cross functional and accountability belongs to the team as a whole, rather than to individual team members.
  • The Scrum master
    The Scrum master helps keep the Scrum team on track, facilitates communication and improvement, and ensures that Agile principles are being adhered to.

What are the ceremonies of Scrum?

Within Scrum sprints, there are four kinds of meetings (called ceremonies). These ceremonies are held at key points in the development cycle, and help ensure that everyone involved is working collaboratively and on the same page.

The four ceremonies of Scrum include the following:

  • Sprint planning
    Original planning meeting to determine sprint objectives.
  • Sprint demo
    Sharing meeting to demonstrate what was completed during the sprint.
  • Daily standup
    A short meeting allowing team members to sync and update one another on project and task status.
  • Retrospective
    A review of the project, including an evaluation of what did and did not go well.

How do you use a Scrum board?

To visualize projects, processes, tasks, and responsibilities, Scrum incorporates a Scrum board. The Scrum board allows teams to easily move items from the product backlog into the sprint backlog, while incorporating multiple steps into the workflow, such as “to do,” “in progress,” and “done.”

Kanban is another popular Agile framework. Where Scrum is built on short, structured sprints, Kanban takes a more-fluid approach. Kanban matches the work to the team’s capacity, focusing on getting work done as fast as possible while effectively reacting to changes immediately as they arise.

Kanban eschews backlogs and instead uses various columns to designate what work needs to be done. As teams complete tasks or projects, they can move directly onto something new without having to establish a new sprint. To ensure that teams are not operating beyond capacity, Kanab uses predefined limits (called work-in-progress limits, or WIP limits) to how much can be added to any column, other than the To-do column.

What are the components of Kanban?

The Kanban framework includes four components. These are as follows:

  • Stories
    Kanban stories are work projects, tasks, or issues that need to be completed or resolved.
  • Columns
    Columns or lanes on a Kanban board distinguish which projects, users, workstreams, etc. are associated with which tasks.
  • WIP limits
    WIP limits take team capacity into account to determine the maximum amount of work that can be added to each column or lane at a time.
  • Continuous releases
    Working on various stories and without exceeding the WIP limit, teams can and should continually release products as they go.

How do you use a Kanban board?

Much like the Scrum board, the Kanban board offers project and task visualization for effectively establishing timelines and planning resources. The board is structured into the aforementioned columns. New stories are placed in the to-do column until WIP limits allow teams to begin work on the task. Teams move stories through designated columns, progressing through various statuses until they reach completion. Kanban boards not only visually represent what needs to be done, but also what tasks are of higher priority.

ServiceNow provides organizations of all sizes with the tools, resources, and features they need to ensure success within the Agile methodology. Built on the Now Platform, and part of the ServiceNow IT Business Management product offering, the Agile Development application provides easy access to visual Agile management boards, preconfigured or customizable to meet specific needs. And, with built-in analytics and data visualization, users always have reliable insights to help improve teams and projects.

With Agile management from ServiceNow, businesses achieve faster innovation by connecting strategy to execution. They enjoy real-time visibility into development cycles and optimize outcome delivery speed. They gain the ability to track and orchestrate portfolios in a single view. And their workforce sees improved productivity, able to get more done by streamlining the flow from Agile planning to DevOps.

Accurate planning, immediate work-level forecasting, a user-friendly interface, and more, to apply tried-and-true Agile Management to help business deliver more quickly. ServiceNow Agile Development makes it possible.

Dive deeper into ServiceNow ITBM

Drive value with an aligned business and IT strategy using our scalable ITBM solution.

Contact
Demo