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Agile management tools and why we need them

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It is well known that we and our project teams need tools to help us keep track of what’s been done, aid decisions and inform our stakeholders. In the agile world, we have moved away from sole control and responsibility on the project manager and actually encourage the team to be more self-managing. This type of team is vital when working on agile projects.

A self-managing team can plan their workload, surface issues and resolve them efficiently and frequently, which allows the scrum master to really focus on blockers that could impede the team in hitting their goals for that sprint (timebox).

Agile tools (and artefacts) such as Kanban boards, and product and sprint backlogs are key to the team being able to progress forward. The Kanban board is there to provide a transparent view of the work in progress, and what is planned for the sprint. Platform software such as Jira, Monday, Pivotaltracker, Trello and Salesforce-Agile Accerator can support communication and transparency to give a live view to the whole organisation on the progress being made and issues faced.

Documentation is an imperative part of building cool stuff too, and the tools used, should support this. Whether that’s within software, construction, pharmaceutical, media, or whatever industry you may be in. Ensuring that documentation is live, helpful and maintained is vital. Documentation does matter in the agile world, despite what you may think. Looking back to the agile values, we see: ‘working product’ over ‘comprehensive documentation’. This simply means that we craft documentation that helps the team get started; it’s enough and it’s live. As agile teams, we produce documentation that aids our design and that could be used to aid maintenance as the product is released. A lack of documentation is a risk to the products’ and team’s health.

Whilst agile tools can help our teams – supporting data driven progress and continuous improvement – they should not replace effective communication. A key agile value to call out here is 'individuals and interactions over processes and tools'. The tools are there as an aid, not a replacement. As agile organisations and teams, we value the communication between teams, departments and individuals more; finding the tools that work for us.

“It's not difficult to research the different tools available but individual project managers and individual organisations have different needs so it is important to be sure you know what to look for, what you need and how you could benefit from project management software before making a commitment to a particular package.”

Paul Naybour hit the nail on the head – we have information overload in terms of what tool is best. And the more sparkles one has the more excited people get. Take time to first really address with your teams what they need to be able to bring the most value. This often comes down to timeboxing features, surfacing and resolving blockers (issues), teams collaborating and owning work, and for management, money spent.

Here are four key tips on finding the best agile project management tools:

Take time to understand needs. It takes time to choose an agile tool that will aid your teams, so take time to work with the teams, on the ground to see what will enhance their day-to-day. Don’t choose in silo, or be the type of management making the decision - it may not have be fit for your teams and could slow them down.

Keep the tools you use simple. Over clicking or complicated forms to populate or log risks will reduce the amount it’s used. And for those to be in context and accessible, most often than not there are already tools in use by the team that can support the goal (no need to add yet another application and login).

Bear in mind how flexible the tool is. It’s important to know whether it can be adapted (without a developer!) in order to be enhanced if needed, think ‘click not code’. As the organisation develops, teams change and people come and go, is the tool going to be able to support that?

And lastly, consider automation. Think about whether manual tasks such as budgeting, forecasting, reporting can be automated. An agile team is an automated team, focusing on real creativity over manual repetitive work.

Agile project management tools are there to support your iterative or agile projects, are there any tools you recommend, or some that you completely avoid? Let us know in the comments.

Discover more about agile project management here.


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