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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.

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Why do we need agile project management?

We need agile project management because it helps us focus on what matters. Becoming more agile through organisations and team’s brings flexibility to change and allows us to deliver value often with continuous feedback.

The goal is not to ‘be agile’ the goal is to improve. With an incremental and iterative approach, we increase predictability and control risk.

Read the blog here.

Traditional project management vs agile project management

What are the principles of an agile way of working?

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

Iterative or 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. Some agile 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

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?

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Three common myths debunked

When approaching agile project management for the first time, it becomes apparent that there are various trains of thought. Some people believe it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Others are less convinced, seeing it as an excuse to wreak havoc on tried-and-tested delivery processes. We clear up some of the main misconceptions and share a holistic view of what agile project management is (and crucially, what it is not).

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Watch: The practical adoption of scaled agile

Interview with Sue Clarke

This APM Research Fund study builds on the 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

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:

  1. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  2. Individuals and interaction over process and tools
  3. Responding to change over following a structured plan
  4. 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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What are agile techniques?

There are various iterative or agile techniques that can suit any project method, they’re not limited to agile. You also don’t have to use them all; choose the ones that work for you, your team and the project.

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APM Podcast


Agile or agility? A valuable addition to the project toolkit

Emma meets Adrian Dooley, who has 45 years’ experience in project management. He is the founder and lead author of the Praxis Framework.

In this podcast, he shares how, in his experience, many fads rise to prominence and then become integrated into good practice. He believes agile will follow that same path.

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Agile project management glossary

Iterative or agile terminology can be confusing. We have compiled a list of the most common agile terminology 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.

Related reading

Does Agile Work (1)
Does agile work?
This article looks at the benefits, or not, of applying an agile method of project management, as opposed to more traditional methods.
Practical Adoption Of Agile
Practical Adoption of Agile Methodologies
Agile needs more from a project manager in way of communication for risks, issues and stakeholder management, as speed of resolution is of the essence. By members of the APM North West branch.

Directing Agile Change

Directing Agile Change is the first ‘how to’ agile guide published by APMIt seeks to recognise that agile is not limited to software development but can also be applied to many aspects of an organisation.

Buy from the bookshop
Directing Agile Change (1)

A Guide to Assurance of Agile Delivery

This guide shows how undertaking traditional assurance reviews can be adapted and adopted to ensure assurance activity of agile projects is both effective and valuable.

Buy from the bookshop
A Guide To Assurance Of Agile Delivery

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