Agile Project Management: Principles, Structure, and Methods in 2022

Are you looking to learn about Agile project management?

Agile project management is a modern project management approach that breaks your project down into smaller, more manageable chunks. You work on each of these chunks during 1-2 week intervals called sprints, helping you easily incorporate customer feedback and make project changes.

As a result, a number of companies have started adopting the Agile approach, making it one of the most common project management methodologies today. Agile adoption within software development teams increased from 37% in 2020 to 86% in 2021.

However, what is Agile project management exactly?

We have everything you need to know about managing agile projects it in this article.

Looking for an easy way to manage your Agile team all in one place? Get ClickUp’s Agile Management Template for free here!

 

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What Is Agile Project Management?

Agile project management is a modern project management method that dramatically improves the efficiency, adaptability, and success rate of projects. It breaks your project down into short 2-week development cycles called sprints.

Agile is really successful because it actively involves customers in the development process by creating continuous feedback loops for them. 

What are the differences between traditional project management and Agile?

Traditional project management methods like Waterfall involve working for months (and even years) at a stretch to deliver a final working product. In Agile, however, there are continuous releases of the working software every one or two weeks. 

Sure, adopting Waterfall lets you work uninterrupted, but it’s putting a whole lot of faith in yourself! Are you really that sure that your customers are going to love all of the features you’ve spent months/years on? 

Agile techniques help your team make quick modifications to your project in line with changing customer needs and project realities.

Unlike traditional project management methods like the Waterfall methodology, Agile embraces change and welcomes customer feedback and user stories into its development process. Adaptability, productivity, and customer focus are the core facets of it.

That’s why it’s called Agile!

Check out our detailed comparison of Agile vs Waterfall, to get a better idea of how these methodologies differ.

Why Does Traditional Software Development Fail?

Traditional methods are nearly guaranteed to exceed their budgets and timelines. Moreover, customers are always less satisfied with software built with this approach.

There are two major reasons why it’s faulty:

1. Unrealistic and rigid plans

“Here’s the annual plan. Do this”

Essentially, that’s how traditional software development works.

A cross-functional group of senior leaders will decide what the software should look like and determine a timeline and budget. They will tell the project manager to make a project plan to complete the project within those time and budget constraints.

However, top-down plans are unrealistic because they don’t consider the inputs of those people who will actually do hands-on work on the project. 

Rigid plans are also counterproductive because they make it difficult to quickly change the work when something goes wrong. Besides, they also put enormous pressure on the developers, which affects their productivity.

Want to stay productive when working from home but not sure how to? Here are 10 tips to help you out.

2. Incorrect assumptions

Every project begins with a vision of what the output is supposed to look like. This vision is based on certain assumptions about what would be most useful to the customer.

But that’s all they are: assumptions.

After the project initiation, you might find that several of these assumptions turn out to be different from the facts. And when you deliver the project, the customers might change their minds about what they want. 

Which can make you tear your hair out, we get it.

That’s a completely acceptable reaction.

However, that’s also perfectly normal customer behavior too. Customers can’t be expected to be 100% clear about what they want. 

Only once they experience the product can they truly offer meaningful feedback. 

The truth is, human beings are not great at predicting what they want. 

The only way a customer will actually know what’s useful to them is through actually using the product.

A common challenge in traditional development is that you spend months building a tool based on assumptions about what your customers want.

And if you are wrong? 

Your customers reject your product, and you lose millions in dollars of project work.

This waste was all too commonplace before companies started implementing Agile methodologies.

With numerous acceptance tests, Agile helps you work closely with end-users and change the direction of the project based on their feedback. This makes a massive difference to the success and quality of the final products. 

You’re literally building a product for the customers and by the customers!

Why break up your work?

As you’re breaking down your project into smaller segments, it helps you quickly release each segment to your customer base when it’s completed. This helps you get instant customer feedback for each sprint and make any necessary changes and fixes immediately. 

How does this help?

With continuous improvement and the continuous integration of product features based on customer feedback, there’s a lower chance of delivering something that doesn’t match your customer’s final expectations. Additionally, as you’re making the changes immediately, you’re creating self-organizing teams that manage themselves.

How long are sprints?

Unlike the Waterfall approach, Agile sprints are usually short and run between two to four weeks. This short turnaround time ensures that things move quickly, and you implement feedback as soon as possible.

man grabbing a book and saying how are you so fast

What Are The Benefits Of Agile Project Management?

Ever wonder why the Agile project management method is so popular?

It’s because the project management methodology works!

Here’s a closer look at a few of the numerous benefits you get when you switch to an Agile framework:

1. Better customer satisfaction

Unlike other management methodologies, a high degree of customer satisfaction is Agile’s project success metric. 

Instead of assuming what a customer may want or need, the Agile approach actively collaborates with them to give them a product they’re happy with. This is largely down to the sprint-based approach, where you have regular intervals to accommodate user stories and opinions at all project stages.

2. More adaptability

Unlike other project management methodologies, Agile welcomes change. 

It’s an extremely adaptable project management methodology, allowing you to deal with sudden project scope and feature changes with ease!

Confused about what project scope is? Learn more about project scopes.

3. On-time and budget

Adaptability helps project teams develop collaborative decision making to make tradeoffs between time and budget constraints over project goals. Consequently, projects experience faster turnaround times and stay within budget.

Cost savings and time savings?

Talk about the best of both worlds!

4. Better teamwork

As this methodology prioritizes face-to-face collaboration, it results in better teamwork. Everyone actively works together to make the customer happy and accommodate user stories. 

Additionally, Scrum meetings are the perfect place for your team to build chemistry and resolve any pending issues or queries. 

5. Increased motivation

Agile’s sprint-based approach is the perfect way to boost team morale. As they only work on smaller, short-term project goals, they can complete them quickly and feel a sense of achievement. This will motivate them to carry on and complete more sprints faster!

Look at it like this:

Since you’re splitting your project into shorter, more achievable deliverables, you can complete more deliverables. And that means rewarding yourself more.

Which Companies Follow Agile Project Management?

The popularity of the Agile approach has exploded in the past decade and is widely applied in managing software development work

It’s now followed by companies, including Fortune 100 companies (IBM) mid-sized companies (Red Hat) to startups (ClickUp).

Although Agile is primarily used in software development, it’s also used in domains such as professional services, manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, etc.

Get the top Agile project management tips from Agile experts

What Are The 12 Principles Of Agile?

The Agile Manifesto is a document that was developed by Jeff Sutherland and Martin Fowler. It’s a body of knowledge that defines what the Agile methodology stands for and what its guiding principles are.

  1. Customer satisfaction must always be your highest priority. The only way to do this is through early and continuous test-driven, sustainable development.
  2. Always embrace changing product requirements, even if they’re at the latter stages of the development process. These iterative (recurring) changes help you target a customer’s needs and wants better
  3. Deliver working results like products and services frequently. That’s the only way to get continual customer feedback and adapt the next version in line with what customers genuinely need 
  4. The primary mark of a successful project is a working product or working solution that satisfies a customer’s needs
  5. Aim for test-driven sustainable development. Your agile team must be able to maintain constant pace and high quality work indefinitely
  6. Continuous dedication to technical excellence will help you adapt to customer feedback and deliver a final product that satisfies their needs
  7. Team members and project stakeholders must actively collaborate for continuous improvement. Actively working together is the only way to get a clear, shared understanding to implement customer feedback
  8. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the support and environment they need to get the work done
  9. Face-to-face conversation, in person, is the most efficient way to collaborate over projects. After all, we’re all a little tired of video meetings, right now!
  10. The best project work comes from self-organizing teams. When teams can manage themselves, they need less supervision, and your project can progress faster
  11. Simplicity is a core element of the Agile framework. Simplicity can be viewed as cutting down any unnecessary steps and procedures from your general management process
  12. Remember to constantly evaluate your team’s progress at regular intervals. Use this to fine-tune your future sprints and processes

How do these principles help?

The Agile Manifesto gives you a very clear measure of what a successful product should be. As long as it satisfies your customers’ wants, it’s a good product. By emphasizing a sustainable incremental and iterative approach to software development, you can support constant changes without getting bogged down or burn out. This will help you maintain high-quality work

As your team is constantly in touch with your customers, there’s no chance of them misunderstanding what your customers really need from a product 

Additionally, by following an adaptive project framework for changing requirements, you’re able to give customers their priority items first, even if they’ve only informed you of this later on. No more hyperventilating after last-minute change requests! 

As you cut down on unnecessary steps and processes, it’s easier to speed things up to cope with changing project demands

What are the 4 core values of Agile?

The 4 core values of the Agile method are:

Here’s a breakdown of each one:

A. Customer collaboration is key

The manifesto for Agile also prioritizes customer satisfaction over contract negotiation.

This Agile value states that the only way to truly satisfy the customer is to continuously involve them in the test-driven development process.

Your project team must routinely turn to your customer base for hands-on experience on how the product is shaping up. It’s then up to your team to tweak your project as per your customer’s recommendations. 

This constant collaboration process is the only way to create a final product that meets your customer’s product requirements.

Sure, you could try and simply read their minds to find out what they want, but we’re not sure about how successful that’ll be!

B. Embrace change

Most other project management methodologies view change as an unnecessary spike in project cost. This makes agile the best project management methodology for non-profits, especially for those planning events!

However, that’s not the case with the Agile projects.

The Agile Manifesto understands that change is the only way to eliminate waste and achieve continuous improvement

That’s because initial assumptions about a project often prove to be incorrect. And when that’s the case, trying to fit the project requirements to those faulty assumptions leads to inferior products that no one really wants!

*ahem* foldable smartphones *ahem*

That’s why every Agile sprint gives your team ample opportunities to review every project development phase and make easy changes to them, offering you greater flexibility.

C. Individuals over software

One of the major benefits of the Agile Manifesto is that it prioritizes individuals and interactions over the software products and processes.

Why?

Because, no matter how complex and advanced your Agile tools and Agile processes get, there’ll always be a human element attached to it. And it is this human element that’s integral to understanding customer needs and adapting to them

D. Working software over extensive documentation

Agile prioritizes delivering working software or a working prototype over carefully documenting everything. 

For example, when you’re under time constraints, Agile practices emphasize on value delivery, i.e. delivering a final finished product over documenting what you are doing for future reference.

Why?

You can always document things later, but if you don’t prioritize delivering the end product, you’ll miss your deadline!

However, that doesn’t mean this project methodology views documentation as useless. While it doesn’t prioritize it to the extent that the Waterfall approach does, documentation is essential for reviewing sprints and trying to optimize them.

You need something to look back on and be proud of, right?

If you want a more detailed look at these values, check out our detailed guide on Agile values.

What Is The Structure Of An Agile Team?

An Agile team is usually a small unit with a product owner leading the way, helping the team understand what the customers need. The project manager, in turn, is in charge of making the development team members do their job properly.

However, the best thing about the Agile methodology is that it’s adaptable to your entire business setup. That’s why you’ll rarely find two Agile practitioner companies with the exact same team setup!

Want more clarity on how Agile teams work? Here’s our complete guide.

What are The Different Agile Project Management Methods?

There are tons of variations on the Agile project management methodology

However, four of the most popular are:

Here’s a small breakdown of each:

1. Scrum project management 

Scrum project management is a popular Agile development method

The Scrum framework is characterized by:

  • A Scrum master (project manager) and a self-organizing Scrum team 
  • Breaking down the entire project life cycle of a product into separate time boxes called sprints
  • A Scrum team which works in sprints that last from one to four weeks
  • Cross-functional groups with overlapping responsibilities
  • Best For: Longer projects that constantly evolve and change. For example, developing a new software product when you’re unsure of what users want

At ClickUp, we love Scrum. It’s one of the reasons why we also love writing about it!

For a quick brief on it, check out our article comparing Agile vs Scrum.

And if you’re really curious about Scrum, we have tons of resources explaining what it is and how it works. 

To get started, we recommend these articles:

What is Scrum project management?

What is a Scrum master?

What are Scrum roles?

What are Scrum artifacts?

What are Scrum values?

2. Kanban

Kanban is a visual-first Agile methodology that just happens to sound like Marie Kondo’s newest organizing technique.

The Kanban methodology is characterized by:

  • Prioritizing the amount of work that’s in progress over everything else
  • Always visualizing your workflows for simpler task scheduling and management
  • Not having a timeboxed development life cycle
  • Best For: Managing projects where priorities regularly change, and work-in-progress tasks may be abandoned

Here are our in-depth guides on Kanban project management and Kanban boards.

3. Lean software development

Lean software development is another frequently-used Agile project management method. As you might have guessed from it’s name, it’s all about removing unnecessary excess from your projects.

Here’s a quick look at some of the Lean principles:

  • Minimizing wasteful and unnecessary activities at all project stages
  • Focusing on value provided to the end customer and optimizing the whole rather than small parts
  • Simplifying and shortening the software development life cycle
  • Empowering individual team members to work on project activities themselves (something not usually present in a Waterfall project)
  • Best For: Simplifying current processes and delivering only what is valuable (not everything possible). For example, when your development times are too high, and users aren’t adopting new features, use the Lean principles to solve this

In case you were wondering what those principles were, here’s our guide on Lean principles.

4. XP (Extreme Programming)

The Extreme Programming form of Agile project management is characterized by:

  • Focusing on the technical aspects of software development in particular
  • Setting up consistent project stages for software developers
  • Prioritizing face-to-face conversation within cross-functional teams
  • Best For: Most complex software development projects

If you’re curious about XP, here’s our article on what XP is in Agile.

How Does Agile Project Management Work?

The Agile project management method can be broken down into two distinct processes: planning and sprints.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to both:

1. Project planning

As with any other methodology, the Agile process starts with project planning meetings

However, unlike the Waterfall approach, the Agile method emphasizes agility and minimal waste. 

That’s why your Agile planning stage shouldn’t be needlessly drawn-out and detailed. Just follow these three simple steps:

Project vision statement

This is a quick description of your project’s scope, project milestones, and deliverables. It’ll highlight the product vision, the targeted product specifications, and how it will satisfy customer needs.

Product roadmap

Your product roadmap highlights all the features you’re planning to add to the product specifications. It’ll also mention how each of these features is beneficial and how it helps the customer. 

Most roadmaps also include a rough timeline of when each feature is expected to be released.

Product backlog

A product backlog contains all the items in your product roadmap. However, this isn’t a concrete list of backlog items. Most teams add features to this backlog as changes are made, and new features are requested.

Unlike the Waterfall methodology, the Agile process prioritizes change. That’s why you should never view your project plan and backlog as unchangeable. Instead, look at it as a rough blueprint that you’ll keep editing as an agile project moves along.

Here are two other key concepts to keep in mind:

Release plan

Each project will have several release plans at progressive stages. Each of these plans will include a set of features to be released during a specific development cycle, called a sprint. It’s like a roadmap for your customers, giving them an idea of what’s to come (and what to be excited about!)

Increment 

This is the deliverable at the end of the Agile sprint, such as a new feature that’s been developed.

2. Sprints

Sprints are the backbone of any Agile process. They’re short development cycles that can range from a few days to even a couple of weeks. 

Here’s how they help:

  • They break your project into smaller, more manageable parts. Instead of looking at one long-term goal, your team breaks the project into smaller increments that are more achievable. This, in turn, leads to continuous delivery and increased feelings of achievement and motivation!
  • Sprints give your team the opportunity to constantly re-evaluate your project at every single development phase. This makes it easier for you to accommodate customer feedback and change things around

There are also four key meetings associated with sprints. Here’s a brief breakdown of each:

Sprint planning

Sprint planning sessions begin with your project team agreeing on the project goals and deliverables associated with it. They’ll go over who needs to perform which task and the expected timebox for this sprint. During the sprint planning stage, the sprint backlog is created.

The backlog is the backbone of your project!

To understand this better, check our detailed article on sprint backlogs.

Daily Scrum meetings

Daily stand-up Scrum meetings are a core part of the Scrum framework. 

This Scrum meeting is usually a short 15-minute face-to-face conversation that gives your scrum teams a daily status update on what’s going on.

In the Scrum methodology, these are meetings that your software teams have on a daily basis, to discuss the previous day’s developments and plan ahead. They’ll go over roadblocks faced, things they learned, and any additions to the backlog.

Sprint review

The sprint review is a meeting where the teams present the project deliverables of an Agile sprint to the project sponsor, other stakeholders, and the customers. The product owner plays an active role here and will gather feedback from the stakeholder and customers and update the product backlog accordingly.

For a comprehensive look at this meeting, here’s our article on sprint reviews.

Sprint retrospective

The sprint retrospective takes place at the end of each sprint. It’s where the project team goes over the entire process to find out what worked and what didn’t. It’s a great way to determine what needs to change in future sprints to achieve optimal customer satisfaction. 

Learn more about sprint retrospectives.

3. User stories

Another big element of the Agile method is creating user stories around the features or products you’re working on. It forces developers, project owners, and product managers to go on a joint effort to think about how the user will respond when using the feature.

This way, you’re putting yourself into the shoes of your customers instead of thinking for them. We wouldn’t be surprised if Agile teams scored super high on empathy tests as a result!

Typically, user stories are short and descriptive statements. This can be stored in your task description with the feature you’re working on, or in the list description in ClickUp.

Here’s a basic example of a user story:

As a <<user>>, I want <<to do this>> so that <<I achieve this>>.

With user stories, the conversation changes from writing detailed requirements to discussing how the feature will be used and what it can do. 

When writing user stories, ask, “What will the user do, and what will it help them accomplish?” 

Sometimes this will be different for the various use cases. Oftentimes, teams will do this activity together, along with every relevant stakeholder (like the project sponsor) towards the beginning of a project or sprint. 

If you want a detailed look at how all these parts come together, check out our article explaining Agile software development and the Agile environment.

Roadblocks with Agile Methodologies

While Agile project management is one of the most useful management methodologies, an Agile environment doesn’t suit every team or organizational structure.

Here are three cases against Agile adoption:

  • If your executive team and project managers are inexperienced and unaccustomed to dealing with sudden changes
  • If your company’s management team is culturally more comfortable working with rigid, standard work processes
  • If your company takes a wild wild west approach to new processes and without setting up best practices.

However, this doesn’t mean that traditional organizations will never be able to adapt to an Agile project management environment.

Here are three things you can do to prepare yourself for an Agile environment:

Develop clear processes

Inconsistencies in agile processes and practices was voted the top agile adoption barrier for 46% of those surveyed in the State of Agile Report. If your company is going to embrace the agile methodology, make sure you have the key stakeholders in place and take an organized approach.

Consider Agile training and certifications: 

Accredited training organizations like the Project Management Institute and Agile Alliance give you the Agile coaching and resources you need to brush up on the Agile mindset. Once you get your thinking caps on and pass their PMI-ACP exam, you’ll have everything you need to become an Agile practitioner or even an Agile mentor.

For more information on this, check out the Top 7 Agile project management certifications.

Use the right Agile project management tool:

Tools like ClickUp are built for Agile project management practices. Once you start using them, you’ll have no difficulty moving on from your existing management methodologies and quickly adopting a scaled Agile framework!

Here’s our guide on the best Agile tools for a better look at what you should be working with.

Conclusion

It’s no secret that Agile project management is one of the world’s most popular project management methodologies.

It’s simple and quick to help your team breeze through your tasks and projects in no time! 

Additionally, as it emphasizes the change in response to customer feedback, you can rest assured that you’ll be putting out a product that your customers love.

If you’re looking to adopt Agile project management methods, why not try a software like ClickUp? 

It has everything you need to manage your projects and sprints effortlessly! Sign up for ClickUp’s forever free version today

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