Agile Project Management (APM)

What Is Agile Project Management (APM)

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I continue to encounter many people and clients looking to Agile to improve project delivery. This helps me conclude that Agile project management is still a real thing and will be so for quite some time. It’s why people take agile project management training, with some going so far as getting certified in Agile Project Management.

In traditional project management, you assemble teams for a short duration and disband them once the project ends. This leads to inefficiencies as teams never get a chance to gel and inhibit continuous improvement. Agile, on the other hand, is all about creating resilient, cross-functional teams that persist beyond individual projects. It’s a very different paradigm than your traditional project-based delivery.

In this article, we’ll explore how some have tried to improve project management by infusing Agile concepts into the approach. And we will help you to learn: ‘what is agile project management.’ Then, we will talk about the value it can bring, but more importantly, we will talk about the limitations of this approach. Also, we’ll provide real-world examples to illustrate its application, helping you grasp the practical side of Agile Project Management.

Additionally, we’ll clarify the relationship between Agile Project Management and agile frameworks such as Scrum. This comparison will showcase how Agile Project Management can be a reasonable introduction to a full transition to greater agility across your organization.

Let’s start by uncovering Agile Project Management’s essence and exploring its inner workings.

 

Agile Project Management Definition

Most people nowadays get an agile project management certification. In fact, project management involves assembling teams (often of part-timers) for specific projects and disbanding them once the project is completed. This can lead to a range of inefficiencies and a lack of continuity needed for learning and improvement. All the efficiency of working in a team is thrown out the window.

When used together, the two terms make little sense because Agile focuses on creating stable, cross-functional teams that persist beyond individual projects. Of course, this hasn’t stopped the industry from adopting the term.

Projects also often imply a strict adherence to predefined plans and processes. Moreover, work is often less defined in Agile environments, at least at the beginning. Instead, work is organized around ongoing product development and enhancement, with priorities adjusted based on customer feedback and changing market conditions. Also, this shift requires a fundamental change from the traditional project management mindset. 

Using Agile concepts through project-based work, while not a sustainable approach in the long term, can be a practical starting point for organizations. It permits teams to experiment with Agile principles and practices in a contained environment. It also serves as a learning experience, offering insights into Agile’s emphasis on collaboration, iterative development, and customer feedback.

However, it’s essential to recognize this as merely the beginning of a potentially more profound transformation. For lasting impact, the focus should eventually shift towards cultivating a holistic Agile culture and mindset across the organization, moving beyond the constraints of project-based work to foster continuous improvement, adaptability, and resilience in an ever-evolving market landscape.

With that in mind, we’ll define Agile project management as the use of agile thinking and practice to introduce an organization to a new way of thought.

How Does Agile Project Management Work?

A better way to express this question is, ‘How can Agile be used to help a team manage a project?’ The answer lies in adopting Agile practices and methods to meet the project’s needs. This includes:

1. Forming the Agile Team

Forming the agile team is about establishing a cross-functional group with diverse skills necessary to complete the project.

2. Instilling Agile Values and Principles

By instilling agile values and principles, we can manage the project’s complexity by prioritizing individuals and interactions, customer collaboration, and responding to change.

3. Iterative Development and Feedback Loops

First, introduce the concept of iterative development. After that, break down the project into smaller, manageable segments or iterations. Next, each iteration should aim to deliver a piece of a working product, typically lasting a few weeks. Encourage regular feedback from stakeholders and customers, and use this feedback to guide future iterations.

4. Team Autonomy and Self-Organization

Move away from PM-led to team-led. And encourage the team to self-organize and make decisions about achieving their goals. Also, guide them to establish their processes and workflows that align with Agile values but are tailored to their unique context and the project’s goals.

5. Visual Management Tools

Use visual tools like Kanban boards or task boards to track progress and manage value creation. In fact, this helps maintain transparency within the team and provides a clear view of the work in progress, completed work, and upcoming work.

6. Emphasis on Delivering Value

Keep the group focused on delivering value to the customer. Indeed, this involves moving the focus away from just completing tasks and ensuring that what is being delivered meets customer needs and contributes to the project’s overall objectives.

By following these steps, Agile Project Management can effectively manage projects while also serving as a transformative approach for teams new to Agile. Meanwhile, it’s about creating a flexible, adaptive environment where the team continuously improves and responds to changes effectively, emphasizing delivering value.

  

Agile Project Management Principles

When discussing Agile project management, shifting the focus from traditional project management principles to those underpinning agility is crucial. Additionally, Agile project management isn’t just about applying agile methods to projects; it’s about getting started on the path to embracing a fundamentally different mindset and approach to work. Here are fundamental principles that align with this perspective:

1. Emphasis on People and Interactions

Emphasis on people and interactions prioritizes individuals and their interactions over processes and tools. Agile environments thrive on collaboration, open communication, and team empowerment.

2. Iterative and Incremental Delivery

Work is done in small, manageable increments. Also, this allows for frequent assessment and adaptation, ensuring that the end product fits closely with user needs and market demands.

3. Customer Collaboration

Continuous engagement with customers or stakeholders is crucial. This collaboration ensures that the product or service evolves in response to real user feedback and changing requirements.

4. Responsive to Change

Agile is about being open and responsive to change rather than strictly following a predetermined plan. Moreover, flexibility is a key to allowing teams to adapt to new information and evolving situations.

5. Outcome Over Output

Focus on delivering outcomes that provide value rather than merely completing tasks or adhering to schedules. Moreover, this shift from output to outcome changes how success is measured.

6. Sustainable Pace

Maintain a pace of work that can be sustained indefinitely. This principle acknowledges the importance of work-life balance and aims to prevent burnout.

7. Continuous Improvement

Regularly reflect on how to get more effective and adjust accordingly. This principle is about learning from experience and constantly seeking ways to improve the product and the process.

8. Empowered Teams

Teams are given the autonomy to make decisions that affect their work. In addition, this empowerment fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility, leading to better outcomes.

9. Quality Focus

Quality is not an afterthought but is integrated into the workflow. Plus, this involves practices like continuous integration, test-driven approaches, and software craftsmanship.

10. Simplicity and Efficiency

Striving for simplicity and focusing on what’s necessary encourages effectiveness and helps to avoid rework, whether it’s in processes, code, or features.

These principles are incomplete but provide a solid foundation for understanding how agile project management differs fundamentally from traditional approaches. They emphasize a holistic and flexible approach, focusing on delivering value and adapting to change.

 

Agile Project Management in Action

If you want to know the answer to the question: ‘What is agile project management,’ you should learn that it’s important to clarify that we view Agile not primarily as a ‘project management’ approach but as a product delivery and organizational approach. 

As stated, the term ‘Agile Project Management’ can be a bit of a misnomer, as it implies a focus on projects in the traditional sense. Instead, traditional vs agile project management shifts from a project-centric to a value-centric mindset. 

In this context, examples involve stable, cross-functional teams working iteratively and incrementally on products or services rather than on discrete projects.

The following real-world examples involving our firm, Agile By Design, demonstrate the practical application of Agile Project Management in various sectors, highlighting its adaptability, efficiency, and effectiveness in handling complex projects and organizational transformations.

Public Sector Transformation Project:  Agile By Design assisted a large-scale public sector transformation project, where more than 20 developers worked in parallel. Agile best practices were applied to this complex project, showcasing how Agile can effectively manage large teams conducting intricate projects. This example demonstrates Agile’s flexibility and adaptability in a high-stakes, public sector environment where traditional project management methods might struggle​​.

Financial Institution’s Agile Transition for Payments & Cash Management: Payment technology is transforming rapidly, and our financial services client needs to develop and implement new payment methods more quickly. Our focus was on organizing for uncertainty, working with small and frequent units of work, and enhancing self-organization. The results included faster value realization, shorter time-to-market, and increased delivery effectiveness without sacrificing quality. This example highlights how Agile can transform a traditional financial environment, enhancing productivity and efficiency through Agile stories and metrics​​.

Agile Implementation in Strategic Payment Channels: In another instance with the same client, Agile principles were used to drive frequent incremental releases in strategic payment channel onboarding, leading to earlier business value feedback and increased flexibility. The approach involved training and coaching for both business and technology leaders, emphasizing the formation of an exceptional Agile backlog of MVPs (Minimum Viable Products). This facilitated integrated business and technology teams to work more collaboratively and efficiently. The result was improved performance predictability and quality over time and a happier staff with a sense of pride and ownership in their products and services. This case exemplifies the transformative power of Agile in fostering a more responsive and collaborative work environment​​.

It is worth mentioning that we have stated about Agile methodology in this website if you want to level up your information about Agile methodology project management.

Why Have These Agile Transformations Succeeded?

Now, we like to discuss why these agile transformations could work:

1. Cross-Functional Team Formation

Instead of assembling project teams for a specific duration, stable, cross-functional teams were formed. Teams included members with diverse skills – software developers, testers, product owners, UX designers, and operations staff.

2. Iterative Work Cycles

The teams worked in iterative cycles (often called sprints in Scrum, but not limited to that framework). Each cycle focused on delivering a small, incremental part of the feature. This approach allowed for regular feedback and adaptation.

3. Continuous Stakeholder Engagement

Instead of relying on a detailed upfront plan, the team frequently interacted with stakeholders (customers, business representatives, etc.) to understand their needs and gather feedback on the work done. Furthermore, this ensures that the development is aligned with actual user requirements.

4. Empirical Progress Tracking

Rather than focusing on traditional project metrics like adherence to schedule and budget, the progress was measured in terms of working product and value delivered. Metrics like lead time and throughput were used to assess and improve workflow.

5. Adaptation and Reflection

At the end of each cycle, the team reflected on what worked well and what didn’t and adapted their approach accordingly. It’s worth mentioning that continuous learning and improvement were central to the agile mindset.

6. Outcome Orientation

The team’s success was measured by the outcomes achieved – customer satisfaction, market impact, or product quality – rather than merely completing predefined tasks or adhering to a project schedule.

In every case, the focus was not on managing a project within a fixed scope, time, and cost but on continuously delivering value through a stable, empowered team. It was more about creating an environment where agility can thrive rather than applying traditional project management techniques in an agile context.

 

What Circumstances Best Suit Agile Project Management?

When using agile to manage projects, I recommend a plan that helps shift to a more team-centric, feedback-driven model. It is best suited where flexibility, responsiveness to change, and delivering value are critical. It’s particularly effective in contexts where:

1. Uncertainty and Complexity

Projects with high uncertainty or complexity benefit from Agile’s iterative approach because it allows for frequent reassessment and adaptation as more information becomes available or conditions change.

2. Rapidly Changing Requirements

In industries where customer preferences or market conditions change rapidly, agile enables teams to pivot quickly and efficiently to meet new demands.

3. Customer and Stakeholder Engagement

Projects that benefit from or require continuous customer or stakeholder feedback align well with agile. In fact, this ongoing collaboration ensures that the project remains aligned with user needs and expectations.

4. Innovation and Creativity

Agile environments that emphasize teamwork and empowerment often foster more incredible innovation and creative problem-solving, making them ideal for projects that require out-of-the-box thinking.

5. Dynamic and Fast-Paced Industries

Industries like technology, media, and advertising, where the pace of change is rapid, can benefit from agile project management’s agility and speed.

Remember, agile is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Furthermore, its effectiveness depends on the organization’s culture, the nature of the work, the willingness of the team and stakeholders to embrace the agile mindset, and the ability to adapt agile practices to the specific context.

 

Agile Project Management and Scrum

Agile project management and Scrum are often compared and conflated. Agile project management is shorthand for applying the principles of agility to managing the needs of a project. It requires an agile mindset, which lends well to fostering collaboration, iterative development, and using constant customer feedback.

What is the structured way for teams to start using agile principles?

Scrum, on the other hand, is a specific framework that can be used within the context of agile project management. Also, it provides a structured way for teams to start using agile principles, including.

1. Roles

Typical roles are Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development Team.

2. Events

Prescribed events like Sprints, Sprint Planning, Daily Stand-ups, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective.

3. Artifacts

Use specific artifacts like the Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Increment.

APM and Scrum Relationship and Differences

Agile project management is a broad umbrella term used to discuss managing projects more elegantly. At the same time, Scrum is a specific framework that teams, typically stable teams, use to increase agility.

 

Agile Project Management Versus other Approaches

If we want to talk about Agile vs waterfall project management, we can say Agile project management is adaptable and iterative, focusing on continuous stakeholder collaboration and responsive changes.

On the other hand, the waterfall approach is more linear and structured, with extensive upfront planning and a sequential phase approach. Hybrid models blend elements of both Waterfall and Agile project management, offering a mix of flexibility and structure. Moreover, the main differences lie in handling change (Agile is more welcoming of changes) and their approach to project planning and delivery (Agile is iterative, Waterfall is more rigid and phased).

Conclusion

Agile Project Management represents a shift from traditional project-centric methods to a holistic, organization-wide approach focused on continuous improvement and adaptability.

It’s not merely about managing projects efficiently but instilling a culture of collaboration, responsiveness, and value delivery across the organization. While Agile concepts can be introduced through projects, this is a stepping stone towards a broader transformation.

Emphasizing end-to-end flow metrics over traditional measures like story points, Agile prioritizes stable, cross-functional teams and a mindset open to change. It’s crucial to differentiate Agile from specific frameworks like Scrum, seeing it as part of a more significant journey towards a resilient, customer-focused, and innovative organizational ethos.

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