Agile Project Management: The Beginner’s Guide

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Project management can have you feeling like you’re running in circles.

Keeping track of all the moving parts—from team members, to project deliverables, can be both challenging and exhausting. 

But, with an agile operation, project management doesn’t have to be such an uphill battle.

Agile project management allows teams to become responsive instead of reactive, adapting to changes that may arise at any point in the project.

Agility allows project management to become smoother, more proactive, and more adaptable.

Why Agile Project Management Is So Important

There’s no standing still in today’s warp-speed business world.

Organizations must consistently find ways to move forward with new ideas and new projects in an effort to maintain their position in the industry.

Unfortunately, no idea is enough to keep them on top forever. 

Gone are the days where an organization can afford for their new product to take months or years to develop and launch. The rigidity of traditional project management which allows little room for real-time changes is no longer practical.

Especially when your competitors are reaping the benefits of an agile operation.

The methodology of agile project management is heavily focused on continued evolution and collaboration.

It targets organizations working with rapid-to-market deadlines, ever-changing priorities, high client engagement, and a need for flexibility. In other words, agile project management targets most businesses today!

With an agile operation, organizations will have wider project visibility, be able to maximize efficiency, and catch and correct errors early.

The agile method is all about iterative planning, which makes it easy for project teams to adapt when requirements change or to spot errors as they arise in the making.

The iterative nature of agile project management also means that you’ll start delivering on business values right from the beginning. 

For example, using a traditional project management approach, teams may spend six months developing a product or service from start to finish, only to see it potentially outdated by the time it reaches the market. 

By applying agile project management methodology, teams will be able to release the first iteration of a product or service within a few weeks and then continue to release updated, adaptive versions over the next six months.

This method results in a much more effective, relevant, and useful product or service, that has developed as a result of real in-market testing and feedback. 

With this example in mind, it’s easy to see that agile project management is the way to move forward, especially for organizations that deliver fast-changing deliverables. 

How to Improve Agile Project Management Today

The first step in improving your agile project management capabilities today is a collaboration with high-caliber software.

We’ve done a review of the best agile project management tools out there. But when it comes to the best tool for most, the popularity is undeniable–it has to be is a powerhouse business product suite that is consistently rated as one of the best tools for agile project management. 

This is thanks to the software’s flexibility, clear project visibility capabilities with a range of structures such as Kanban board, Gantt style charts, or list views, and the simple and aesthetically pleasing dashboard.

Not to mention, offers premium customer service and tons of integrations with existing business software tools. 

Whether organizations are managing basic projects or complex portfolios, teams will be able to deliver their best, most efficient work. That’s why over 100,000 teams trust with their agile project management. 

It’s technical enough to allow you to keep a finger on the pulse of your project with real-time reporting, insights, and updates. But it’s easy enough to master that even the non-technical users of the team will be able to grasp the software.

Below are some of the core agile project management principles that will be able to help you with. 

Visualization of the Entire Project

Although agile operations thrive by breaking the project down into smaller sprints, complete visualization of the entire project is still a core aspect of the process. 

For example, let’s say you’re on a road trip. You’ll inevitably need to stop along the way for gas, food, and a bathroom break, so it’s a good idea to plan those stops out on your route.

But this doesn’t take away from the importance of you knowing exactly how to get to your end destination, does it?

The same can be said for agile projects. Although you’ll be breaking your workflow down into smaller sprints, you need to know where you’re going to manage those sprints effectively. 

Creating visual workflows using Kanban boards or Gantt charts makes it much easier.

Both stakeholders and team members visualize the overall target of the project.

Within this workflow, they should be able to keep track of current tasks at hand, while having an understanding of upcoming tasks in future sprints. 

For example, the NHL saved at least four weeks on custom application development cycles by implementing agile project management practices, focusing on the visualization of the entire app project.

The transparency this process offered meant there was no longer any confusion, misalignment, or misunderstandings between team members regarding the tasks assigned to them, allowing them to simply tick the tasks off and progress the project seamlessly.

Planning Projects and Creating Product Maps

In addition to being able to visualize the entire project, planning out the project and creating product maps is another core component of agile project management. 

This practice is important in helping all stakeholders to understand the goals and values behind the project by the time it begins.

The scope of the project and its various components are the most important elements that should be covered in this process. The best way to get these things across is by creating a roadmap that includes the deliverables required at each step to create the final product or service. 

Not only does this bring simplicity and clarity to the workflow, but it will also help teams to determine the value associated with each task within the project—the “why” of each step.

Knowing the “why” of the task at hand gives teams an opportunity to take on accountability for the tasks that add the most value, and to eliminate tasks that are unnecessary to the end goal. 

For example, Falkbuilt, an interior construction company, went from $0 to $1.3 million in revenue in under 12 months by building a seamless workflow.

This workflow connected the main office and remote team members to the production floor in a way that allows them to work quickly and efficiently, as well as having information flowing freely between them.

The mapping of this product workflow was the key component to the company’s success. Each team member understood the product map and could easily identify which tasks were important to their role, and which were not.

Ability to Course Correct

As mentioned earlier, traditional project management follows a rigid approach based on strict agendas and plans. This leaves no room for you to correct your course or to recognize when the course needs adjusting, along the way.

The risk behind this is that you may be blindly following one rigid plan the entire project, only to learn that all your hard work has gone out the window because the final product is not even remotely similar to what was aimed for.

Whereas when you follow agile project management methodologies like Kanban, Scrum, or Gantt, you lend your team flexibility to improve on any mistakes as they appear throughout the process. 

Agile operations allow you to come up with the best way of doing something for now. You can experiment with that process for a while and fine-tune it as your project progresses. You can even decide that the way you’re doing something is completely wrong and try a completely different take. 

The ability to course correct is made possible using the agile methodology of sprints–shorter timeframes where effort is dedicated to achieving one part of the larger project whole.

Because the project is broken down into smaller sprints, with reviews at the end of each sprint, teams have the opportunity to reflect on the progression of the project and the processes they’re using and adjust them if need be.  

Communication and Collaboration

Clear lines of communication and collaboration are crucial to successful project management. If you’re using multiple channels of communication to deliver instructions to your team at the same time, you will inevitably end up in a puddle of confusion.

The right agile project management software will provide a single source of information for your entire team. It acts as a central platform to brainstorm, discuss, communicate, and understand.

Keeping everything in one place not only ensures that key information is not lost in translation, but also ensures that teams have a clear overview of all the information required to tackle the task at hand.

Furthermore, clear lines of communication and collaboration allow for complete project transparency and accountability. When the entire team has a visual of the project and understands what is coming next, work can flow seamlessly, preventing bottlenecks and declines in team productivity.

For example, ThoughtWorks is a global software consultancy company who attempted to scale their marketing operations without an agile project management software in place.

Initially, they simply monitored everything through email. Before long, their inboxes were flooded with hundreds of emails, which turned into lengthy threads and endless chat messages. 

Keeping track of who requested what and where, which requests had been filled, and who was available to tend to the campaign became impossible to manage.

By enlisting an agile project management software, ThoughtWorks improved their global team collaboration by 73%. The software allowed them to centralize their communication through one platform that included full-team access and real-time updates and responses.

Instead of spending their days managing an overflowing inbox, they freed up all that time and increased operational efficiency exponentially.

6 Best Practices for Agile Project Management

Although enlisting an agile project management software will make your life a lot easier, it’s important to put these best practices in place to get the most out of your software.

1. Divide the Project Plan Into Sprints

One of the most important practices of agile planning is to break the project into several iterations or sprints. Each sprint should have a fixed length (typically 1-3 weeks). During the sprint, teams will have a predetermined list of tasks to complete.

For example, the first sprint of a construction project could be to have the project blueprints drawn, reviewed, and agreed upon, before moving on to the next sprint of ordering construction materials and preparing the worksite. 

The methodology of the sprint allows teams to narrow their focus for short periods of time. This increases productivity and minimizes the kinds of project errors that typically arise when trying to complete a wide range of tasks at once.

2. Plan Your Project Based on User Stories

With traditional project management methodologies, teams would create detailed technical specifications of exactly what is to be accomplished to complete the project.

Each team member of the project would understand the in’s and out’s of how to achieve the goal, but may not be able to identify which tasks are their responsibility. 

However, agile operations only document what the user needs. This concept is referred to as the user story. Examples of a user story include:

  • “As a team member, I need to know which tasks are currently assigned to me”
  • “As a project manager, I need to receive a notification when one of my team members is running behind schedule on a task”

By using this methodology to plan your project, you’ll avoid overloading team members with unnecessary information surrounding their tasks at hand, thus avoiding potential procrastination and confusion with how to get started. 

3. Limit Work in Progress

What are the roadblocks that are stopping you from completing the tasks that allow the sprint to progress? Any tasks that are unable to be completed sit as backlog or “work in progress.” 

It’s important to limit work in progress as much as possible so that the duration of the sprint is not prolonged unexpectedly. Limiting the amount of unfinished work also means there is no longer a need to re-prioritize tasks, and bottlenecks in the workflow are limited. 

Embracing agility allows team members to move quickly and finish their own tasks on their own timeframes, rather than always having to wait for someone else to finish a task before they can start the next one.

4. Make Daily Stand-Ups a Habit

Daily stand-ups or scrums are a ritual for any successful agile project management team.

At the start of the day, all team members will engage in a quick stand-up meeting where each team member will take no longer than one minute to provide an update. Usually, they’d discuss what they did yesterday, what they’re doing today, and what’s standing in the way of concluding their task. 

These daily stand-ups are crucial for communicating progress and identifying and solving issues during a sprint.

The concept of standing up for these meetings is to ensure they are kept short and sweet, lasting no longer than 15 minutes. They are also known to create productive energy among the team and ensure members are ready to take action from the get-go. 

5. Set Communication Guidelines

Naturally, there will be a need for further communication between team members outside of the daily stand-up.

With any fast-moving project, setting communication guidelines is an important step in ensuring the team understands that they can communicate outside daily scrums and knows when and how they should communicate. 

For example, you may have team members going back and forth over emails for a week to resolve an issue. This not only takes up valuable project time, it reduces the productivity of the sprint. 

Instead, the issue could be resolved with a simple 5-minute phone call or face-to-face discussion. Setting clear guidelines will ensure that team members are using the best and preferred form of communication, wherever possible. 

6. Include Sprint Reviews

One of the key benefits of agile project management and the breaking down of the project into iterations is the opportunity to quickly and easily course-correct. You can achieve this by holding sprint reviews or feedback sessions at the completion of each stage of the development process. 

In practice, the team would hold two meetings at the end of each sprint. The first involves all team members of the project so that the finished product can be presented and discussed.

The second seeks to evaluate the sprint by assessing the sprint’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvements.  

Including sprint reviews in your agile project management process means you’ll have a true indication of how the project is developing and be able to prevent the project from straying off-course before it’s too late to fix it.

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