The Ultimate Guide to Agile Project Management (Part 1 of 5)

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Would you like to do more things in less time? Time, as it’s popularly described, is money.

Some might point out that accomplishing more in less time by investing a reduced amount of effort is what they desire. This is exactly what Agile Project Management allows you to achieve. Since 2001, Agile Project Management has brought about a paradigm shift in project management.

In this 5-part series, I’ll share practical, in-depth insights into Agile Project Management. This guide will help you understand following concepts:

  • Agile Project Management Process,
  • Essential Elements and Characteristics of an Agile Project,
  • Agile Project Lifecycle and its Stages,
  • Best Practices to manage an Agile Project,
  • The Tools and Techniques required to ensure success,
  • Project suitability for applying Agile Techniques.

In this part of the series, I’ll decode Agile Project Management for you. Moreover, I’ll also introduce you to the Agile Lifecycle Stages as it’s critical for fast moving and innovating businesses as well as complex software development projects.

What is Agile Project Management?

Agile Project Management refers to the process of dividing and implementing the project in small logical chunks of work. These small chunks are commonly known as ‘sprints.’ By implementing the ‘sprints,’ Agile projects enable businesses to create and convey value through small deliverables called ‘features.’ Agile allows project managers to focus on current business needs and leaves enough room to accommodate future business needs in subsequent ‘sprints.’

The super-efficient Japanese companies (primarily Toyota and Honda) are credited with the genesis of Agile Project Management in the late 70s and early 80s. However, it was a group of innovative software developers who formalized Agile as we see it today. They gave us The Agile Manifesto. Since then, Agile has transformed project management, most notably in the world of software development.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”full-width-content” unlock_row=”” row_height_percent=”0″ override_padding=”yes” h_padding=”2″ top_padding=”0″ bottom_padding=”0″ overlay_alpha=”100″ gutter_size=”3″ shift_y=”0″ row_height_use_pixel=””][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ zoom_width=”0″ zoom_height=”0″][vc_single_image image=”57692″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” media=”57692″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”full-width-content” unlock_row=”” row_height_percent=”0″ override_padding=”yes” h_padding=”2″ top_padding=”3″ bottom_padding=”2″ overlay_alpha=”100″ gutter_size=”3″ shift_y=”0″ row_height_use_pixel=””][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ zoom_width=”0″ zoom_height=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column_text]

When can you make use of Agile?Agile Project Management is best suited for those businesses where business requirements change very frequently. It is primarily because Agile offers businesses an augmented capacity to cope with fast changing priorities. Although Agile is commonly used to manage IT projects, it has been successfully adopted by various other sectors. For example, the Construction industry has developed its form of Agile methodology called the Agile Construction Management. Agile is also commonly used for reorganizing companies and restructuring business processes.Any project where deliverables are developed and implemented in a short cycle, and where deliverables are augmented or added with new features, can make effective use of Agile. For example, development of any MVP (Minimum Viable Product).You can adopt Agile in your enterprise irrespective of its size. As Eric Reed, CTO, GE Capital puts it, adopting Agile can be fruitful only as long as the “entire organization (and not just the development team) buys into the Idea of Agile.

Characteristics of Agile projectsFirstly, it is vital that each project is divided into logical ‘sprints.’ These sprints generally last for four to twelve weeks. Secondly, unlike traditional project management techniques, Agile gives prominence to real-time face to face discussions over project documentation. It’s preferable if the development team and other support teams are co-located either actually or virtually. Furthermore, the stakeholders must have the willingness to accept and accommodate changes rapidly.Agile is similar to traditional project management techniques as they both require:

  • Foresightedness,
  • To follow widely understood project lifecycle,
  • To use a consistent schedule across the board,
  • To have a tenacious team, and,
  • To have a crystal clear system of communication amongst the stakeholders.

Agile Lifecycle and its StagesNow that you have a fair idea about Agile Project Management, its characteristics and when it can be deployed, it’s time to look at the Agile Lifecycle and its stages. There are various Agile methodologies in practice now. However, I’ll throw light on an Agile methodology that comprises of the following stages:

  1. Envision: Wherein you define the scope and objectives of the project.
  2. Speculate: Wherein you develop a feature based delivery plan.
  3. Explore: Wherein you develop the deliverable(s).
  4. Adapt: Wherein you implement and review the deliverable(s).
  5. Close: Wherein you formally conclude the project.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”full-width-content” unlock_row=”” row_height_percent=”0″ override_padding=”yes” h_padding=”2″ top_padding=”0″ bottom_padding=”0″ overlay_alpha=”100″ gutter_size=”3″ shift_y=”0″ row_height_use_pixel=””][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ zoom_width=”0″ zoom_height=”0″][vc_single_image image=”57693″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” media=”57693″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”full-width-content” unlock_row=”” row_height_percent=”0″ override_padding=”yes” h_padding=”2″ top_padding=”3″ bottom_padding=”3″ overlay_alpha=”100″ gutter_size=”3″ shift_y=”0″ row_height_use_pixel=””][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ zoom_width=”0″ zoom_height=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column_text]You begin by setting the project scope and objectives in the Envision stage. Subsequently, you move on to the Speculate stage where you develop a feature based delivery plan. As you may recall, ‘features’ are small deliverables that help you deliver value to clients in small chunks. Before you reach the Explore stage, you should have an index of features that you are going to develop subject to the requirements set by the client. Finally, you develop the product.

In the Adapt stage, you review the deliverables and see if it matches client requirements. Further, you also accommodate additional client needs, if any. Then, you loop through the preceding three stages (Speculate, Explore and Adapt) sequentially to complete each sprint, before formally concluding the project in the Close stage.

We’ll now take a closer look at the aspects of each stage to enable you to translate your knowledge into result-oriented action.

A. Envision Stage

The Envision stage is the first stage of the Agile Lifecycle. This stage is fundamental to the success of your project as it sets its foundation. In this stage, the first step is to draft the project charter. The project charter sets the core principles that you can refer to throughout the project.

Following are the main components of the project charter:

  • Scope and Objectives
  • Team
  • Responsibilities
  • Team Values and Norms
  • Team Collaboration tools

Scope and Objectives

The project scope helps demarcate precise parameters for the projects. It entails the ‘project vision statement’ which describes the desirable outcome of the project. The project scope also helps to clearly identify the target segment, key benefits and the overall objectives of the project.

Team

Once the scope and objects are in place, the next step is to form a team. It’s best if the team size is limited to 15 members. Having larger teams will cause the overall team efficiency to reduce. As Agile requires following a tight schedule, it helps if all the team members are on the same page.

Responsibilities

The project charter should unambiguously establish the levels of authority. Also, it carefully allocates the project responsibilities. Further, the project managers should see to it that the relevant team members exercise their respective responsibilities.

Team Values and Norms

It is essential to establish team norms to effect better coordination amongst the team. Team norms set the modus operandi of the project. It helps tremendously if the team understands the mode of operation. Some of the examples of team norms are mentioned in the info-graphic below:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”full-width-content” unlock_row=”” row_height_percent=”0″ override_padding=”yes” h_padding=”2″ top_padding=”0″ bottom_padding=”3″ overlay_alpha=”100″ gutter_size=”3″ shift_y=”0″ row_height_use_pixel=””][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ zoom_width=”0″ zoom_height=”0″][vc_single_image image=”57694″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” media=”57694″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”full-width-content” unlock_row=”” row_height_percent=”0″ override_padding=”yes” h_padding=”2″ top_padding=”0″ bottom_padding=”0″ overlay_alpha=”100″ gutter_size=”3″ shift_y=”0″ row_height_use_pixel=””][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ zoom_width=”0″ zoom_height=”0″][vc_column_text]

Team Collaboration ToolsMaking use of team collaboration tools facilitates teamwork. The stakeholders should identify the specific tools, that the team will employ, in the project charter. The collaboration tools help track and report the status of each sprint. Although there are many tools on the market, the teams should select them keeping in mind:

  • Size of the project
  • Size of the team
  • Cost-effectiveness of the tools
  • The level of coordination desired.

You can make use of popular tools like Atlassian’s Jira SoftwareConfluence, and Bitbucket. You should move on to the next stage only when you put all the elements of the project mentioned above in place.

B. Speculate StageIn the Speculate stage, you essentially create a feature based delivery plan. First, you identify the client’s business requirements. Then, you either create a list of features or review them. Next, you determine the amount of effort to be spent on each feature. Finally, once you have prioritized the features, you can create your sprints or update them. Once done, several specific tasks need to be completed.Identify Business RequirementsFirst, the technical team sits down with the business team to recognize the client’s business requirement. If you have already gone through this stage before, you should review previous features along with any new features that you need to accommodate. You should also assess features that you may have put in the backlog or those that remain on your to-do list.Make the List of Features VisibleIt’s important for the entire team to stay updated about the status of each sprint. One way you can make the list of features visible is by displaying them on a projector screen. This is where your agile collaboration tools can come into play. You can also make use of this simple Kanban template. Alternatively, you can simply write the features on sticky notes. Once you have the complete list of features, it will help if you logically organize them into groups.

Review and Prioritize Features

This step is a vital part of this stage. You have to perform this step before each sprint. It involves your technical and business teams to assess the existing features and tweak them until all the business requirements are met. Usually, at this stage, new features are also added to the existing list.

Prepare Work Estimates

Once you list all the features, you move on to determine the amount of effort required to complete each feature. To get accurate estimates, you can involve subject matter experts. While preparing estimates for the first iteration, make sure you draw up estimates for all the features.

Create Sprint(s)

Creating sprints will help you determine what features to complete, by when to complete them and by when to implement them.

This stage should not consume much time. Keep in mind that the initial sprints in this stage take longer to complete as it involves identifying features and preparing work estimates for the entire project. Once you have created the iterations, you’ll be ready to move on to the next stage.

C. Explore Stage

The main benefit of Agile is that you get to move from recognizing features to developing them very rapidly. It’s in the Explore stage that you finally produce the deliverables. Teams streamline product development by conducting daily stand-up meetings. All the relevant teams pitch in suggestions and feedback to improve the final deliverables. The daily stand-up meetings play the most significant role in this stage.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”full-width-content”][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”57695″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” media=”57695″ media_width_use_pixel=”yes” media_title_uppercase=”” media_width_pixel=”800″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”full-width-content”][vc_column][vc_column_text]Following Agile ensures adherence of the sprint schedule. Explore stage comes to an end either on completion of a sprint or when the allotted time for it has elapsed.

D. Adapt Stage

The Adapt stage follows the explore stage. This is where the team takes a step back to evaluate their progress by comparing the feature based delivery plan with the actual deliverables produced. I advise that you incorporate the lessons learned from the preceding adapt stages (if any) to eliminate errors that repeat regularly.It’s also important that you keep your client in the loop about the progress of your project. It will help you harmoniously modify the features if the need arises.The next step is to identify problems in the execution of the delivery plan and solve them by making adjustments like:

  • Adding/Removing features
  • Changing team members
  • Altering business processes

Before implementing the adjustments, ensure that you share them with the stakeholders involved. You should restart the cycle from the Speculate phase in case you have any incomplete sprints.

E. Close Stage

Your project reaches the Close stage if:

  • The team runs out of the allotted time
  • The teams exhausts the financial resources allotted
  • The team completes the final sprint successfully

The first two cases often bring the project to a temporary halt. The project resumes once the project particulars are re-negotiated. However, the project can be formally concluded on completion of the final sprint by:

  • Conveying project results to the stakeholders,
  • Invoicing the clients, and,
  • Receiving the payments.

The Agile Lifecycle comes to an end on completion of the final stage. I’m sure by now all your doubts and misconceptions about Agile have vanished. Read the next article where I bring to light some key issues, tips and tricks to help you understand and perform the Envision Stage.

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