What is agile project management?

Agile project management is an iterative approach to delivering a project throughout its life cycle.

Iterative or agile life cycles are composed of several iterations or incremental steps towards the completion of a project. Iterative approaches are frequently used in software development projects to promote velocity and adaptability since the benefit of iteration is that you can adjust as you go along rather than following a linear path. One of the aims of an agile or iterative approach is to release benefits throughout the process rather than only at the end. At the core, agile projects should exhibit central values and behaviours of trust, flexibility, empowerment and collaboration.

what is agile project management

Diagram Source: Directing Agile Change

What are the principles of an agile way of working?

The agile philosophy concentrates on empowered people and their interactions and early and constant delivery of value into an enterprise. 

Agile project management focuses on delivering maximum value against business priorities in the time and budget allowed, especially when the drive to deliver is greater than the risk. Principles include:

  • The project breaks a requirement into smaller pieces, which are then prioritised by the team in terms of importance.
  • The agile project promotes collaborative working, especially with the customer. 
  • The agile project reflects, learns and adjusts at regular intervals to ensure that the customer is always satisfied and is provided with outcomes that result in benefits.
  • Agile methods integrate planning with execution, allowing an organisation to create a working mindset that helps a team respond effectively to changing requirements.      

More on agile principles

Featured article - Becoming agile 

The move to becoming an agile organisation brings change. It impacts on the traditional culture and introduces new ways of working on projects – so not everyone will be convinced! What does it take to successfully introduce that change? Agile project management has come a long way since its emergence in the world of IT back in the 1990s.

Yet the concept is still surrounded by misgiving, misconception and even mistrust by many, particularly if it entails a shift in culture, changing the way things have always been done – you know where you are with tried and tested processes, tools and techniques. ...

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What are the differences between an agile and waterfall approach?

These four aspects highlight the difference between agile and waterfall (or more traditional) approaches to project management:

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation;
  • Individuals and interaction over process and tools;
  • Responding to change over following a structured plan;
  • Prototyping/working solutions over comprehensive documentation.

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What are the benefits of agile working?

  • Agile approaches empower those involved; build accountability; encourage diversity of ideas; allowing the early release of benefits; and promotion of continuous improvement.
  • Agile helps build client and user engagement because changes are incremental and evolutionary rather than revolutionary: it can therefore be effective in supporting cultural change that is critical to the success of most transformation projects.  
  • Agile allows decision ‘gremlins’ to be tested and rejected early: the tight feedback loops provide benefits in agile that are not as evident in waterfall.

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The practical adoption of scaled agile

Interview with Sue Clarke videos

This APM Research Fund study builds on the 2015 APM North West Volunteer study on the practical adoption of agile methodologies which provided a review of approaches at a project level, this study aims to investigate the level of practical adoption of those programme and portfolio components addressed by scaled agile methodologies. 

The objective of the study was to understand the extent to which scaled agile tools, techniques and roles are practically in place in corporate portfolio, programme, project and development management methodologies, to determine the level of corporate commitment to exploiting scaled agile, e.g. pilot, full use, selective based on need, as well as drivers for selection or deselection of the framework based on the overheads.

Watch part 2  Find out more

Agile resources

Agile glossary

Agile terminology can be confusing. We have compiled a list of the most common agile terms you may come across, and their definitions:

  • Agile – a project management approach based on delivering requirements iteratively and incrementally throughout the life cycle.
  • Agile development – an umbrella term specifically for iterative software development methodologies. Popular methods include Scrum, Lean, DSDM and eXtreme Programming (XP).
  • Agile Manifesto – describes the four principles of agile development: 1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. 2. Working software over comprehensive documentation. 3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. 4. Responding to change over following a plan.
  • Backlog – prioritised work still to be completed (see Requirements).
  • Burn down chart – used to monitor progress; shows work still to complete (the Backlog) versus total time.
  • Cadence – the number of days or weeks in a Sprint or release; the length of the team’s development cycle. 
  • Ceremonies – meetings, often a daily planning meeting, that identify what has been done, what is to be done and the barriers to success.
  • DAD (disciplined agile delivery) – a process-decision framework.
  • Daily Scrum – stand-up team meeting. A plan, do, review daily session.
  • DevOps (development/operations) – bridges the gap between agile teams and operational delivery to production.
  • DSDM (dynamic systems development method) – agile development methodology, now changed to the ‘DSDM project management framework’.
  • Kanban – a method for managing work, with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery.
  • Kanban board – a work and workflow visualisation tool which summarises the status, progress, and issues related to the work.
  • Lean – a method of working focused on ‘eliminating waste’ by avoiding anything that does not produce value for the customer.
  • LeSS (large-scale Scrum) – agile development method.
  • RAD (rapid application development) – agile development method; enables developers to build solutions quickly by talking directly to end users to meet business requirement.
  • Requirements – are written as ‘stories’ that are collated into a prioritised list called the ‘Backlog’.
  • SAFe (scaled agile framework enterprise) – agile methodology used for software development.
  • Scaled agile – agile scaled up to large projects or programmes, for example by having multiple sub-projects, creating tranches of projects, etc.
  • Scrum – agile methodology commonly used in software development, where regular team meetings review progress of a single development phase (or Sprint).  
  • Scrum of scrums – a technique to operate Scrum at scale, for multiple teams working on the same product.
  • Scrum master – the person who oversees the development process and who makes sure everyone adheres to an agreed way of working.
  • Sprints – a short development phase within a larger project defined by available time (‘timeboxes’) and resources.
  • Sprint retrospective – a review of a Sprint providing lessons learned with the aim of promoting continuous improvement.
  • Stories – see Requirements.
  • Timeboxes – see Sprints.
  • Velocity – a measure of work completed during a single development phase or Sprint.
  • Waterfall – a sequential project management approach that seeks to capture detailed requirements upfront; the opposite to agile.
  • XP (eXtreme Programming) – agile development methodology used in software development; allows programmers to decide the scope of deliveries.




APM Agile summit report

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Does Agile work?

Does agile work?

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Can agile be scaled?

Can agile be scaled?

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Directing Agile Change 

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A Guide to Assurance of Agile Delivery

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Practical Adoption of Agile Methodologies

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Agile and Earned Value

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