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Agile was initially designed for software development project management. It enabled teams to quickly model potential solutions, incorporate feedback, and adjust scope as needed throughout the project lifecycle. This not only sped up delivery times, but it also supported changing requirements as new developments arose.
Today, Agile is useful for much more than just software teams. The tenets of Agile are more useful for projects that result in a concrete deliverable (rather than a service.) But Agile is a flexible methodology that can ultimately be used on nearly any large scale project in any industry, market, and company.
Any of the following project teams can benefit from using Agile:
- Project teams that handle fast-changing deliverables such as technology products.
- Any team with a project that evolves over time or does not have clear scope and requirements at the beginning.
- Project teams that need to work closely with customers and other external parties over the course of the project.
- Teams that emphasize process and product improvement and need a method for continual improvements’ advancement.
- Teams with a lot of interdependent tasks, who need to work closely together and frequently communicate to ensure success.
- Project teams that need to create a prototype before building the final project outcome.
- Teams that must have rapid feedback from each product iteration, before creating the next draft.
An Agile team is the project team assigned to an Agile project. It’s the group of employees, contractors, or freelancers who are responsible for executing the project. Agile teams are typically co-located and often wholly dedicated to the project during its timeline. In other words, they’re on one project full-time and not spread across multiple projects simultaneously.
An Agile team needs everyone required to produce the end product or service. Therefore, the team is typically cross-functional, and team roles will vary depending on the needs of the project and the type of Agile framework that is chosen.
For instance, when using a Scrum framework, an Agile team should have a Scrum Master and a Product Owner, as well as any other required Team Members. The Scrum Master (often the Project Manager) is responsible for overseeing the project, facilitating collaboration, and organizing the daily meetings. The Product Owner is responsible for ensuring the end product meets the requirements of the customer. Subject matter experts and other stakeholders may provide input into the project as needed, but they’re not typically considered part of the Agile team.
Scrum is a framework that prescribes rules, roles, events, and artifacts that are used to implement Agile projects. It is an iterative approach, consisting of sprints that typically only last 1–4 weeks. This approach enables your team to ensure they are delivering a product on a regular, frequent basis.
Scrum was designed using a software model that follows a set of roles, responsibilities, and meetings. It can be used for any complex project. However, it works best when your project results in a concrete product, rather than a service.
Scrum in Agile requires particular roles and responsibilities, including the following:
Product Owner: The product owner on a project is responsible for representing the customer’s best interest. This person has the ultimate authority to say what is included in the final product.
Scrum Master: This person is a facilitator, responsible for arranging the daily meetings, improving team interactions, and helping to maximize productivity. The project manager often takes on the role of Scrum Master, but it can also be delegated to anyone on the team who is a Scrum expert and a strong facilitator.
Backlog: The backlog is a list of tasks and requirements that must be included in the final product. It’s the responsibility of the Product Owner to create the backlog.
Sprint: A sprint is a set time frame for completing each set of tasks from the Backlog. Every sprint should be the same length. 2 weeks in length is typical, but the sprint can be anywhere between 1–4 weeks depending on the needs of the team and project.
Daily Meetings: A Scrum project team is expected to meet every day to discuss progress. These meetings are typically referred to as a Daily Scrum or Daily Stand-Up.
Retrospective: Each sprint should end with a review meeting, called a retrospective. This meeting is where the team reviews their progress so far and discusses how they can improve the execution of the next sprint.
Using Agile project management methodologies, projects are broken down into sprints or iterations. These are short, repeatable phases, typically one to four weeks in length. Each sprint should result in a draft, prototype or workable version of the final project deliverable.
The purpose of sprints is to break down a project into bite-sized chunks. This enables the team to plan a single sprint at a time and adapt future sprints based on the outcome of the sprints already completed.
While the planning occurs at the beginning of each sprint, the number of sprints should be determined at the beginning of the project. A sprint in Agile needs to be timeboxed, and each sprint must be the same length.
Scrum is one of the frameworks of Agile project management. A Scrum Board is a tool used to help organize a Scrum project and add visibility to project progress.
Initially, a Scrum Board was often a physical board, such as a whiteboard with sticky notes or cue cards attached. Today, there are more sophisticated, digital versions of Scrum Boards available online and as part of many project management software solutions.
The board is broken down into columns with each one representing a different phase of progress, such as “Not Started,” “In Progress,” “In Review,” and “Complete.” Then each card or post-it note represents a task within the project. As work on the task progresses, the card is moved from one column to the next on the board. This enables you to have an at-a-glance update of project progress and understand where tasks are at all times.
The Agile style of project management is fundamentally different than the traditional approaches to project management (such as the waterfall methodology). In fact, many Agile frameworks, such as Scrum, don’t even have a clear role for a project manager within the project team. Instead, there is a “Scrum Master.”
The key difference for a project manager is that Agile focuses on a collaborative approach to projects, emphasizing teamwork, and making the role of the project manager less defined. This means the role of a traditional project manager needs to evolve in an Agile environment into more of a guide, facilitator, mentor, change expert, coach, and/or trainer.
If you’ve decided that the Agile methodology is the right approach for your project, customer, and company, here are five steps on how to implement Agile successfully.
Step 1: Get stakeholder buy-in
Step 2: Start with one project
Step 3: Focus on empowering and motivating your team
Step 4: Choose a framework and stick with it
Step 5: Revise and adjust