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Agile project management - the what and the why

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Firstly a brief overview of what agile project management is and how it differs from more traditional project management approaches.

There are several methodologies that can be used to manage an agile project; two of the best known being Scrum and Lean. An agile project's defining characteristic is that it produces and delivers work in short bursts (or sprints) of anything up to a few weeks. These are repeated to refine the working deliverable until it meets the client's requirements.

Where traditional project management will establish a detailed plan and detailed requirements at the start then attempt to follow the plan, agile starts work with a rough idea of what is required and by delivering something in a short period of time, clarifies the requirements as the project progresses. These frequent iterative processes are a core characteristic of an agile project and, because of this way of working, collaborative relationships are established between stakeholders and the team members delivering the work.

Scope has to be adaptable where no detailed requirements exist initially, but agile still has processes to ensure that, at each stage, the work to be done is defined and in-line with client needs.

The role of project manager tends to be quite different on agile projects (and is often known as the Scrum Master or Project Facilitator); it is the team member who deals with problems and handles interruptions to allow the other team members to concentrate on producing the work.

So agile projects need documentation, reviews and processes just as traditional projects do to meet requirements, manage costs and schedules, deliver benefits and avoid scope creep; agile simply does not place as much emphasis on highly detailed documentation and does not expect to fully understand the requirements before work can begin. Instead it emphasises the importance of delivering a working product as something tangible for the client that can then be refined until it fulfils the client's needs. The key measure of project progress is this series of working deliverables.

There is clearly a risk to starting work on a project before the extent of that work is fully known but this risk is mitigated by the speedy delivery of a working product, albeit one that is unlikely to be perfect at first.

Why is agile project management necessary?
Agile project management has its disadvantages such as less easy identification of project risks and poor management of resources, and many project teams don't understand how to use agile project management effectively. However, with the fast pace of business change in the 21st century many projects need to be sure they will deliver something that meets client needs at the end of the project and not expend wasted effort refining requirements that will be out of date by the time the end-product is delivered.

Even in business environments that do not change rapidly it can be difficult to fully articulate requirements without seeing a tangible product first so there is still the risk of delivering something that doesn't quite meet the client's needs. That is why agile is becoming increasingly necessary for many different types of projects.

Read more about what is agile project management

This is a Project Management Fundamentals blog written and sponsored by Parallel Project Training. For more about our project management training courses visit my  Google+ profile.

Not sure if agile is right for you? Learn more about choosing the right life cycle in APM Learning.



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  1. Paul Naybour
    Paul Naybour 12 June 2015, 09:18 PM

    Thanks for the comments. In the real world many projects are delivered using a combination of agile, lean and traditional techniques. We have used the ideas from lean thinking in project management several years to reduce waste in the process and create flow based on the last planner. This has been highly successful at improving project delivery for some organisations.More and more project managers are implementing agile for the delivery of part of the project life cycle, along side a more traditional approaches. In general I agree with Pat conclusion agile is an effective tool for use in delivering products where the outcome is uncertain. Whilst created as a software development methodology, many of the ideas can translate to mainstream project management.More and more project managers are implementing scrum for the delivery of part of the project life cycle, along side a more traditional approaches. In general I agree with Pat conclusion Agile is an effective tool for use in delivering products where the outcome is uncertain. Whilst created as a software development methodology, many of the ideas can translate to mainstream project management.

  2. Rob Impey
    Rob Impey 11 June 2015, 09:35 AM

    I agree with patw and Robin - the article has a number of inaccuracies.I've worked with organisations using Agile for a number of years now and more education and clarity is needed.Scrum is a framework - look at the manifesto, and it doesn't have a PM role. However in many places it should co-exist alongside the ScrumMaster to focus on the wider project delivery, governance, budget management etc. The Scrum Master effecively just concentrates on the software development and delivery.With Kanban, you need to look at the overall delivery, and decide what management roles best suit the team. I have worked this with a Tech Lead, a PM and a Team manager - all successfully as the management of delivery has focussed on smaller elements of work, rather than longer project work.The disadvantages stated above are no different from a usual project - you would always have a high level view of requirements, budget, timing - so select a team and then adapt as you go. A risk assessment at the beginning of the project should draw out the main items - and then issue manage once you start. I do agree many teams don;t understand agile project management - which is why healthy debate and more education are so important. For any new project, it is vital to have a kick off, with a clear picture presented of the roles, delivery process etc.

  3. Robin Leysen
    Robin Leysen 05 June 2015, 12:40 PM

    I would have to agree with patw, scrum is not a project management methodology, nor is lean.I cannot, however, clarify agile project management any better, because I am in the middle of getting to grips with it.Discussion on this topic is healthy, and I'm looking into setting up a PM Meetup in my area around Agile PM.

  4. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 05 June 2015, 05:50 AM

    This blog continues the confusion between product development and project management. Project management is responsible for ensuring the product is developed and delivered. Product development is focused on creating the product. Scrum is a product development methodology.Lean is a manufacturing concept useful in all types of projects.The way a projects is managed has to adapt to the product development being used, see:  Many Lean and Agile concepts can be used to reduce bureaucracy and improve the management of any project! 

  5. Adrian Pyne
    Adrian Pyne 14 July 2019, 08:29 PM

    I am aghast that this wildly misleading article is still prominent on APM's website. The FOUR YEAR OLD comments are correct. This damages APM's already poor reputation in respect of Agile PM. Alas probably not for the last time......Scrum is Agile but Agile ISN'T Scrum!

  6. Annie Mirza
    Annie Mirza 02 December 2019, 03:07 PM

    Thank you everyone for your comments. Please take a look at our agile project management section here:

  7. Ayushi Parekh
    Ayushi Parekh 14 January 2021, 06:23 AM

    The future of work will witness a shift from heirarchical business structures to agile, project based work. Antonio Nieto Rodriguez talks to peopleHum about agile project management strategy and its importance in this day and age.