Project Management Basics: What Is Agile Project Management?

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Have you heard of agile but are perhaps still wondering what it is and how it can be used in project management?

If so, this article, an introduction to agile and when to use it for project management, was written just for you.

Enjoy and let us know if you have any additional agile-related questions. We’ll be writing more soon, too!

Introduction to Agile Project Management

In this article, we’ll provide an introduction to agile project management, attempt to anticipate and answer some of agile agile FAQs, and point you to resources where you can learn more.

We should also let you know that through sister-company RedVector, we offer online project management courses, including agile project management courses, to help you prepare for and pass the PMI project management certification examinations. Let us know if you have any questions about this.

What Is “Agile?”

As explained by the Agile Alliance, agile is:

…the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment…It’s about thinking through how you can understand what’s going on in the environment that you’re in today, identify what uncertainty you’re facing, and figure out how you can adapt to that as you go along.

Amongst other things, as you’ll see in this article, agile places a strong emphasis on collaboration, self-organizing teams, incremental and iterative development, frequent communication, and a human-centered design approach focused on meeting the end customer’s needs.

Where Does Agile Come From?

Agile is a project management method that can date back to roots in the 1950s with evolutionary project management. By the 1970s, we had adaptive software management, and agile really began to take off in the software industry in the 1990s.

In 2001, a group got together to create the Manifesto for Agile Software Development (more on this below), and since then, agile has become commonly used in software development but also in project management, instructional design, and other fields.

What Is The “Agile Mindset?”

Again according to the Agile Alliance, “agile is a mindset,” and in particular one “informed by the values contained in the Agile Manifesto and the 12 Principles behind the Agile Manifesto.”

The Agile Manifesto

The Agile Alliance wrote the Agile Manifesto–you can read the Agile Manifesto at their website. In short, it says they value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

They also note that they DO place value on the second items in each pair (process and tools, etc.), it’s just that the place MORE value on the first items in the pairs (individuals and interactions, etc.).

The 12 Agile Principles

The 12 Agile Principles, which you can also read about at the Agile Alliance website, follow from the Agile Manifesto. The 12 principles, in somewhat-abbreviated fashion, are:

  • Highest priority is satisfying the customer through early and continuous releases of software
  • Change requirements are welcome, even late in the project. Agile project teams use change to create competitive advantage for the customer.
  • Deliver working software frequently, preferably at shorter time intervals
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout project
  • Face-to-face conversation is more efficient and effective for communication within a team
  • Working software is the primary measure of success
  • Agile promotes sustainable development. Sponsors, developers & users should be able to maintain pace indefinitely.
  • Agility is enhanced by continual attention to technical excellence and good design
  • Simplicity–the amount of work not done–is essential
  • Self-organizing teams create the best architectures, requirements, and designs
  • The agile team should reflect on how to be more effective at regular intervals and adjust accordingly

Agile’s Relation to Lean

According to the Agile Practice Guide created  by the Agile Alliance and the Project Management Institute, both Agile and Kanban can be thought of as subsets of lean.

Lean, as you may know, developed through an American training project known as Training Within Industry (TWI), which was then picked up and refined by Toyota to create the Toyota Production System (TPS), which has since been popularized as lean manufacturing. Although lean manufacturing originated in the manufacturing industry, it’s since been used in other industries as well.

You may also know that kanban is a visual workplace management technique used in lean manufacturing. These days, it’s also used in other industries, and there are many software programs that allow organizations to create electronic/online kanban boards for project management and collaboration (Jira, Trello, etc.).

Check our our on-demand webinar on Implementing Lean & Continuous Improvement for more about lean.

Differentiating Agile Project Management from More Traditional Forms of Project Management

If agile project management is a newer, quicker, more flexible approach to project management than other, more traditional approaches, a question comes to mind: what should we call those other, non-agile project management methods?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) addresses this issue in their Agile Practice Guide (2017). Typically, a traditional project management methodology involves projects which include known deliverables. In those cases, it’s easier to plan up-front and then execute that plan through the entire scope of the project.

As a result, the PMI notes that these traditional, non-agile project management methods are sometimes referred to as plan-driven project management (because you’re executing a plan that’s already been created) or a waterfall method (because the project tends to progress in a linear, step/step/step method). However, PMI chooses to use the phrase predictive project management for this same idea.

One central aspect of lean is to please the customer (in particular, in lean they discuss maximizing value for the customer). Likewise, agile places a central importance on satisfying the customer. Continuous improvement is also a key element of both lean and agile.

Additionally, you might hear agile referred to as lightweight project management and predictive project management referred to as heavyweight.

When Is Agile More Appropriate for Project Management?

One way to think about the difference between agile and predictive project management methods is to consider the type of work being performed. Typically, predictive project management is more appropriate when the work within the project is easy to anticipate and define. And agile is more appropriate for projects that are less well-defined and involve more uncertainty.

Projects that involve new designs, attempts to solve problems, and work that’s never been done before often fall into this more uncertain category and therefore agile is often a good project management approach for these projects. You’ll find that these projects often have more change, complexity, and risk, and the shorter work cycles and increased feedback of agile can help with all this.

Agile Project Management Life Cycles Are Both Iterative and Incremental

Agile is both iterative and incremental.

Iterative project management means there’s an opportunity to review, get feedback, and improve on the project before delivery.

Incremental project management means a delivery is made and then additional deliveries are made, building upon, expanding, and improving the original delivery. Incremental project management allows for getting a working product to a customer, even if it’s smaller, so they can begin using it sooner. Then, more can be added in subsequent deliveries.

Conclusion: Agile is a Powerful, Adaptive, Flexible Project Management Tool

We hope you enjoyed this introduction to agile project management. Stay tuned for more from us on agile and other forms of project management; be sure to check out our online project management courses; and good luck implementing agile for project management at your workplace!

And why not dowload the Intro to Agile Infographic below before you go?

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Intro to Agile Project Management Infographic

Download this infographic about agile agile project management, including the Agile Manifesto, 4 Agile Principles, and 12 Agile Values. And check out us for online project management continuing education and certification examination prep courses.

Download Free Infographic

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 25 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center and an Instructional Design certification from the Association of Talent Development (ATD), and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training. Jeff frequently writes for magazines related to safety, safety training, and training and frequently speaks at conferences on the same issues, including the Washington Governor's Safety and Health Conference, the Oregon Governor's Occupational Safety and Health Conference, the Wisconsin Safety Conference, the MSHA Training Resources Applied to Mining (TRAM) Conference, and others.

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