A Comprehensive guide to Agile Project Management

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A Comprehensive guide to Agile Project Management

Introduction

Managing software development projects can be a herculean task. Allocating responsibilities, overseeing execution, meeting deadlines, all the while maintaining quality of deliverables is of utmost importance and managing it is surely challenging. There are many methodologies which organize and structure development processes making it easier to coordinate amongst team members and clients. Methodologies like DeveOps, Waterfall, Agile can help improve development time, shortening the lead time between fixes, reducing the rate of failure of new releases and minimizing disruption in the developmental process.

Amongst many such methodologies, Agile Methodology has been the preferred methodology for a while now. It stands out for its ability of iterative releases which means that it allows software to be released in increments. This enables team members to micromanage small parts of the software and rectify defects early on while improving quality periodically. This, in turn, increases the efficacy of the input of team members and quality of product which makes agile reliable and steadfast.

Origin and history of APM Methodology

In the early 1990’s, development teams of different industries such as software, aerospace, defense and finance were working on identifying problems and then solving them. They would pick one problem at a time and then move on to the next. This methodology relied heavily on meticulous planning, descriptive documentation, and consecutive execution. Developers termed this method as Waterfall methodology. Even though this methodology was a disciplined approach to any project, it lacked speed and flexibility. It required teams to stick to the requirements and scope of work, set out at the very beginning of the project and any additions or changes were not possible once a phase was completed. Waterfall methodology also believed in bringing only the complete product to the market which meant it could be years before the masses could use the product and give critical feedback.

While Waterfall methodology was not feasible in the long run, it was also quite wasteful. Many times developers struggled with products which no longer served the right market fit since they were too late in being introduced to the market. This led to a developmental graveyard of unfinished or unwanted projects and hours of wasted efforts, resources and energy. Major changes to such methodologies were much required and the next decade brought that.

In spring of 2000, a group of 17 software developers convened in Oregon to discuss the drawbacks of existing methodologies and to brainstorm on how they could enhance the development process in order to introduce the product more quickly to the masses. They devised a manifesto including four main agendas:

  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 strict plan

These agendas were the foundation stone for Agile methodology. But the founders did not stop here and went on to lay down 12 Agile principles which focused on customer satisfaction, working software, face to face conversations, sustainable development, simplicity and consistent attention to technical excellence amongst others.

What is Agile Project Management?

As mentioned earlier, Agile is an approach to project management that seeks the continuous delivery of working software created in rapid iterations. Its iterative releases come with countless benefits for developers wherein they can rectify, debug and modify their software at any given time. Agile project management is often assumed, incorrectly, to be a singular framework — rather, it is an umbrella term for many different frameworks such as Scrum, Kanban, Adaptive Project Framework (APF), Extreme Programming (XP) etc.

That being said, at the core, all agile projects exhibit central values and behaviors of trust, flexibility, velocity and inclusion of clients .

5 Phases of Agile Project Development

Agile Project Management framework encompasses 5 different phases. These steps take the initial vision of the product to the final delivery. They are:

1: Envision phase

The first phase of any APM framework is the envision phase. As the name suggests, it’s a phase in which all agile key members participate, to create a compelling and capable vision of the product the client wants. Once the customer’s vision is identified, team members brainstorm on the technical requirements and business objectives of the project. The next step is to finalize participants and stakeholders of the project. Once everything is finalized, a project charter is prepared which includes all decided-on details.

2. Planning phase

Once the project charter has been approved, the next phase entails planning and defining goals/ deliverables, preparing project schedules and creating a communication plan. An initial understanding of projects is expected from all team members at this phase. Multiple “user stories” are ideated upon. The features of the projects are then prioritized accordingly.

3.Exploring and executing phase

This phase is where work deliveries and testing takes place. Here, the product vision needs to be changed into a release plan and then to the respective iteration plan. At the same time, workload is managed and use of proper technical practices is ensured. This is an important phase of the project since maximum risks are mitigated here so as to deliver the product features at the earliest. Project manager ensures the smoothest workflows and makes sure the team and stakeholders are on the same page.

4. Adaptation phase

The adaptation phase focuses on rectifying, changing and revisiting the product’s lifecycle to better the product. The first three stages are visited again and again to improve the product and multiple feedback are taken into consideration. This phase also checks how far the expectations of the products are from reality. The team then usually suggests and incorporates the improvements required and prepares the product for the next iteration.

5.Closing Project phase

Last phase of the cycle is the closing phase. Many times developers delay this part of the APM cycle trying to perfect their product . Failing to determine the project’s endpoint can result in the product losing the right product-market fit and can disappoint clients. Therefore it’s important for the team to close the project before it’s too late. Before terminating, it is also a good practice to map all the key findings and knowledge gathered from the project and document for the next team for their benefit.

Traditional project management vs agile project management

Often referred to as Agile’s antagonist, Waterfall or linear approach for project management was the precedent of modern day project management methodologies. It is also referred to as traditional project management. Waterfall approach is linear where all the stages of a process occur in a proper sequence.The stages usually include conception, initiation, analysis, design,development , testing and debugging, implementation and maintenance. Every project which is developed using the waterfall approach follows this same life cycle. This inhibits the developers ability to make changes at the later stages or after a particular phase is completed. This is one of the many reasons that waterfall or traditional project management is not used for large projects. It lacks flexibility and client interaction is minimal.

Agile methodology contradicts traditional waterfall project management approach in many ways and for the better. Given below are some differences between Agile and waterfall methodologies which differentiate the two.

Parameters Agile Project Management Traditional (waterfall) Project Management 
Type of approachIterative. Short phases, small deliverables, more focused on working software.Linear Approach, one phase after another.
Project prioritiesPrioritizes customer satisfaction and working softwarePrioritizes following a strict project blueprint and meeting project requirements
Communication and DocumentationEncourages face-to-face communication and consistent collaboration with clientsRelies heavily on written documentation and formal communication
Project phasesUses short sprints for planning and delivery. Allows for changes and adjustments throughout the project.Includes longer project phases for planning and delivery. Has a rigid plan that is inflexible and changes cannot be incorporated.
Team and their functionCross functional teams, are more versatileFunctionally divided teams
User RequirementInteractive inputs throughout development processClearly defined inputs before coding starts

According to recent studies, Agile has proven to take as much as 30-40% less time than the waterfall approach given its dynamic and flexible working model which also attributes to higher success rate in projects when developed with Agile methodology.

Agile Methods

As discussed earlier, Agile is not a single method or framework but rather an umbrella term for different types of methods which follow the basic principles of agile but have different functionalities and areas of use. The most popular agile frameworks and practices include Scrum, Kanban, Hybrid, Lean, Bimodal, XP, and Crystal. Given below are key features of all these frameworks.

Scrum

Scrum is an empirical process, where decisions are based on observations of different experiments and revisions in the developmental process. Scrum methodology is built on three major concepts which are transparency, inspection and adaptation. Each phase of scrum supports the concept of working iteratively. Empiricism of scrum is basically the ability to work through small experiments, learn from them and adapt, what you are doing and how you are doing it, as needed.

Kanban

A very efficient agile framework, Kanban is a lean method to manage and improve work across different phases. This approach aims to facilitate smooth function in the developmental process by balancing project demands with available resources and capabilities. This is done with the help of Kanban boards which helps you visually organize work, ensure efficiency, and improve consistently. Kanban is an ideal methodology to optimize work delivery across multiple teams along with handling the most complex projects.

Agile – Waterfall Hybrid

Hybrid framework brings the best attributes of both, agile and waterfall, to the table.It combines best features of agile web development within strict parameters of waterfall development such as harsh deadlines, expected expenditure and thorough risk assessment.

Lean

Lean methodology is yet another way to optimize use of resources, team, efforts and energy of your organization towardscreating value for the customer. It is based on two guiding tenets, continuous improvement and respect for people while being less wasteful. Lean thinking can be said to be a more humane approach to problem solving because it pays significant attention to team input and client satisfaction. Unlike waterfall, lean is not rigid and progresses with an evolving software development process. The team of lead methodology also is more independent and has a wider range of function compared to bimodal, hybrid or scrum,

Bimodal

As the name suggests, bimodal framework works with two modes(traditional and agile) run by two teams. The two teams have different goals where one team handles IT system infrastructure while the other focuses on innovation and design. Bimodal framework also encourages cross team collaboration unlike the waterfall approach which has definitive roles and responsibilities for its team members.

Extreme Programming or XP

XP agile framework focuses on the enhancing technicalities of software development and helps team members follow best code writing practices. It requires consistent client input and face to face communication with the team members.

Crystal

Like Bimodal and Lean, the crystal framework also stresses on customer collaboration and their interaction and input. In this framework, different team members work interdependently depending on project priority. There are further variants of crystal called crystal yellow, crystal red, crystal clear etc. based on the size of the team working on the project . Crystal allows early regular deliveries of working software solutions by removing administrative liabilities and reducing distractions.

Top 7 Agile Methodology Advantages

Needless to say, agile is the most preferred approach for software development today. With numerous advantages, it has become the most important project management methodology worldwide. Listed below are its most important advantages :

  • Caters to individual ever changing requirements of the client
  • Extremely flexible compared to traditional process management technologies
  • More control over process and data flow
  • Focussed on a working software rather than blindly following the book
  • Almost twice the success rate than waterfall approach
  • Faster detection of errors and issues at early stages
  • Rapid deployment of efficient products

Agile methodologies have been used by hugely successful companies such as Skype, Apple, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble and many more . These companies are known to put Agile methodologies at the center of their software development approach and have benefited from it greatly all the while recording an all time low defect rate.

Agile PM Tools

The APM model also comes with many tools to facilitate team’s participation and regulate their effectiveness. Tools such as

  • JIRA Agile
  • Agile Bench
  • Pivotal Tracker
  • Telerik TeamPulse
  • VersionOne
  • Planbox
  • LeanKit
  • Active Collab

help achieve agile benefits while developing a project with much less turnaround time.

How do IT Consultants use Agile methodology ?

IT consultants often use the agile method to help companies design and develop the best version of a product. Businesses of any sector rely on the expertise of agile consultants to improve processes and procedures of developing software for their needs. According to a Mckinsey report, agile approaches can enable IT infrastructure groups to boost their productivity by 25 to 30 percent in six to 18 months, depending on the size of the organization. This ensures that all resources are used optimally and in the best way possible.

Conclusion

94% of companies in the software sector report positive experience with agile development. Agile, as a philosophy, has motivated developers to be flexible and creative in delivering just what the client needs. Highly structured project management techniques with fixed roles and inflexible schedules might soon be a thing of the past. With Agile, programmers get a chance to be intuitive and improvise to create the perfect product.

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author
Samragyi Chamoli
AUTHOR

Zealous, enthusiastic, and consistent, Samragyi is an ardent reader and an experienced writer. She loves animals and adventure.

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