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A project manager’s guide to Agile methodologies

Unlock the secrets of Agile with our blog post! Dive into our comprehensive guide covering everything from the basics to Agile Gantt charts. Plus, snag free PowerPoint templates! #Agile #ProjectManagement

Oct 17, 2022

30 min read

Agile methodologies: guide for project managers

Agile methodologies are a type of project management tools that emphasize collaboration, flexibility, and constant iteration. Businesses often use them in software development, but you can apply them to any type of project.

There are many different Agile methodologies, but they all share some common principles. These principles include focusing on the customer, valuing collaboration, and embracing change.

Agile methodologies can be a great way to manage projects, but they are not right for every situation. Before you decide to use any methodology, you should understand how it works and what its benefits and drawbacks are.

If you’re looking for a primer on Agile methodologies, this is the article for you. You will learn the basics of Agile, what it is, and how it can help you streamline your workflow. Plus, we’ve included a series of free PowerPoint templates that you can download, customize and use in your Agile project planning and stakeholder meetings.

Here’s an overview of what we’ll cover:

Let’s get started.

What is Agile methodology?

Peter Drucker was one of the most influential management scholars of our century. He has a quote that brilliantly summarizes the fundamental philosophy of Agile methodology. It says: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”.

In Agile project management, teams continuously refine and redefine priorities to best suit the current context of the project. This process eliminates superfluous tasks on the go.

Flexibility and adaptability give the Agile model its edge over the classic Waterfall project management methodology. However, project managers who are considering a shift towards the Agile approach often have trouble disseminating the abundance of information and advice on the subject found online.

This guide is designed as an overview of the core concepts behind Agile management. Its role is to help you decide if Agile practices are suitable for you.

What is Agile methodology in project management?

The Agile development process is the divide et impera of project management methodologies: it’s all about splitting complex projects into small and actionable tasks. These tasks are assigned to individual teams who handle them over the course of short iteration referred to as sprints.

In a sense, working in an Agile environment is similar to solving a puzzle together with your friends: everyone is responsible for the piece they add to the board. 

At the end of each sprint, the team needs to present functional deliverables to the customer or stakeholders, and request feedback. Based on the feedback received, the team can adjust the direction and priorities of the Agile project in real time.

By constantly re-evaluating the direction of the project, companies can bring improvements to their processes, shorten the delivery lifecycles and tailor products to match the client’s vision.

A final staple of the Agile environment is that all team members can contribute their input to the decision-making process. Make no mistake, project managers are still a keystone in Agile planning. However, here they call themselves “Product Owners” and, in addition to planning, their responsibilities also include a liaison role between the customers and stakeholders.

The history of Agile project management

It can be hard to establish a single point of origin for the Agile methodologies. This is because the concept we know today went through different shapes and improvements over the course of multiple iterations. For instance, some consider that the iterative software development emergent in the 1960s sits at the heart of Agile thinking.

Others point to the 90s’ software development crisis as the catalyst for this radical shift in perspective. To give you a bit of context here, the issue software developers faced at the time was known as “application delivery lag”.

Essentially, requirements, systems and business needs were changing at such a fast pace that development teams were unable to keep up. This resulted in an estimated gap of about three years between identifying a business need and implementing a solution. Traditional methodologies became unsuitable in software development.

There is one consensus among Agile historians, even the sticklers: the Agile manifesto. This document is the project manager’s equivalent of the Declaration of Independence, or the New Testament if you will, in more ways than one.

The document emerged in February 2001, when 17 of the top leading developers and programmers of the time came together in Snowbird, Utah.

The signatories of the Agile manifesto became known as the Agile Alliance, which transitioned from a small group of likeminded developers to a global non-profit organization. Over the next two decades, it grew into a community of over 70,000 members worldwide.

This document highlights 12 principles and 4 core values for Agile software development. Over time these concepts were adopted by project managers in a variety of other fields as well, like pharma, manufacturing, healthcare, energy, aerospace and telecom, to name a few.

Let’s have a closer look at the tenets causing this paradigm shift.

The 4 Agile Manifesto values

What brought the 17 original apostles of the Agile Alliance together in the first place was a belief that a better way to approach the application delivery lag must exist. To find it, they would need to stray from the beaten Waterfall path and redefine the core values of the software development process.

Here is what their “New Testament” highlighted:

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

The best tools and processes in the industry are only as effective as the teams wielding them. While this nugget of wisdom is typically a no-brainer for managers, implementation is often where it falls flat.

Jim Highsmith was one of the leading architects of the Agile manifesto. He emphasized the need to create an environment that facilitates communication within and between team as the primary source of creative ideas.

2. Working software over comprehensive documentation

Prior to the revolution brought about by the Agile methodologies, spending countless hours creating comprehensive project documentation (specs, requirements, etc.) was considered the norm. Actual code writing would not commence before dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. Naturally, this approach caused extensive delays and downtime, culminating in the previously discussed “application delivery lag”.

To offset this setback, Agile software development methodology proposed streamlining the documentation process by condensing the info into what we know today as “user stories”.

User stories contain all the relevant details required by a developer to start writing the actual code and preparing it for release. Agile development is all about accelerating the launch and tweaking the product early on, while continuing to make improvements to it over the subsequent iterations.

3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Involving the client in the software development process represents another radical shift away from the conventional Waterfall model. Contract negotiation meant that the team outlines all product requirements with the customer well before the project started. Any changes in deliverables were negotiated in the later stages. Unfortunately, this tactic has the caveat of building the product in isolation, without receiving valuable user input on the part of the client.

The Agile manifesto highlights the fact that aligning with the customer’s needs throughout the software development process is the best way to create the ultimate user experience.

4. Responding to change over following a plan

Using traditional methodologies, development teams were unable to make changes to the plan once the work started without going over budget and/or significantly extending the allocated timeframes.

Once the project was set in motion, everyone was required to follow the structured, linear path showcased in the original plan. By travelling down the beaten path, they hoped to offset all major roadblocks.

The Agile project management methodology represents the antithesis of this blueprint for getting things done. Agile embraces change and the whole array of possibilities for improvement that come along with it. The short, iterative cycles typical for the Agile project enable teams to rapidly react to changes and implement new solutions. This translates to superior products.

The 12 principles of Agile Software

The values highlighted above create the conceptual framework for the evolution of the agile process flow. However, you may have noticed that these values aren’t exactly actionable steps, but rather the ideal outcomes of “thinking Agile”. Therefore, the team also distilled a set of 12 principles to flesh out the Agile philosophy.

Next, we’ll give you a quick rundown of what they are and how they should be understood.

1. Customer Satisfaction Priority

"Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software."

Ensuring the satisfaction of your customers is the number one rule in the Agile software development process. Waiting until the final deliverables are ready to request feedback from the client is a gamble. Any changes requested at that point would involve considerable effort, time and money. Instead, the Agile development methodology aims to deliver functional versions of the product at short, regular intervals throughout the entire project lifecycle, tweaking it where necessary.

2. Embracing Change for Advantage

"Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage."

Teams considered any changes as a setback, especially in traditional Waterfall software development, because it meant a deviation from the original plan of action. This perception originates in the static nature of Waterfall project management, which is simply not equipped to deal with amendments easily.

What Agile brings to the table is the ability to perform last minute changes at every stage. Also, it offers the flexibility to transform seemingly inopportune updates into improvements of the product, while reducing delays and interruptions of the work.

3. Delivering Working Software

"Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale."

Regardless of the project size and complexity, customers who work with Agile teams no longer need to wait for a long time before seeing tangible progress. The Agile software development life cycle breaks down the work into short iterations, each culminating with functional deliverables at predictable intervals.

4. Enhanced Daily Collaboration

"Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project."

Collaboration is an essential part of the Agile environment. When developers and stakeholders give each other regular reality checks, the result is that the goals of both sides align perfectly, and it limits the risk of confusion.  

5. Empowering Motivated Teams

"Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done."

This principle derives from the very first value of the Agile philosophy, i.e. people over tools and processes. In other words, the right people for the job represent the best guarantee for success. As of such, product owners should invest time in assembling the perfect teams, equipping them with the necessary resources. Then, trust them to transform the project’s vision into a reality.

6. Face-to-Face Communication

"The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation."

Email, phone calls and IM systems can be great ways to systematize notes, convey clear instructions or set up meetings. However, when constant collaboration between every member involved is a requirement, like it is in Agile, these venues are limited and will in fact restrict communication to a need-to-know basis. The Agile manifesto emphasizes the co-location of teams or at the very least using video calls as the primary means of interaction.

7. Measuring Progress with Software

"Working software is the primary measure of progress."

There are no two ways about it. When it comes to defining the most important metric in Agile, it will always be whether the team delivers functional, high-quality products at the end of sprints

8. Promoting Sustainability

"Agile processes promote sustainable software development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely."

Among the issues with Waterfall is that you cannot deviate from the plan easily, or at least not without triggering subsequent delays down the line. This is due to the fact that in Waterfall, the teams cannot move on to the next task before they complete the previous ones. To offset the problem, teams often need to work extra hours or at an unsustainable pace until the project is back on track.

Agile methodology steps aren’t so interdependent. This means that teams can set a sustainable pace and afford to extend the original timeline estimates without tremendous ripple effects.

9. Focusing on Technical Excellence

"Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility."

Each iteration is, in Agile, a new opportunity to add an improvement to the previous version of the product. And, because the development team aligns with the stakeholders, there should be no shortage of features and advancements to add.

10. Embracing Simplicity

"Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential."

This principle might seem a bit counterintuitive considering the previous one, but the key is to separate the wheat from the chaff. In other words, teams should constantly evaluate the tasks in their backlog. They should eliminate the ones that aren’t helping push the project forward or bringing significant improvements to the deliverables.

11. Fostering Self-Organization

"The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams."

Tight-gripped micromanagement styles have no place in the Agile approach. Instead, if a rigorous selection process for the teams is in place, and you’re sure that skilled, talented and motivated people are on the job, the best strategy is to allow them flexibility. Also, try to promote an environment where people are encouraged to share ideas.

12. Reflecting and Improving

"At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly."

Done regularly and correctly, team performance reviews present a unique opportunity to tackle issues early on, but also to identify areas for improvement. Truly Agile teams use self-reflection as a means to correct problematic practices and to further develop their aptitudes.

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Benefits of implementing the Agile project management methodology in software development

The effectiveness of integrating the Agile development methodology is highly dependent on:

  • How suitable it is for specific types of projects;
  • How well it is understood by the team;
  • The ability of the workplace infrastructure to support it;
  • Adherence to the highlighted best Agile practices.

That being said, here are a few of the key benefits reported by organizations that have successfully transitioned from a traditional approach towards the Agile way of doing things:

  1. Significantly higher customer satisfaction;
  2. Improved product quality and control over the outcome;
  3. Flexibility and adaptability to last minute changes;
  4. Better predictability over outcome and timelines;
  5. Minimized risks caused by unforeseen blockers;
  6. Improved communication within teams, between teams and between developer and clients.

What are the differences between Agile, Scrum, and Kanban?

To put it simply, Agile is a philosophy and general approach to the project management field. It does outline a set of core values and best Agile practices. However, it does not flesh out specific steps for how you can achieve them.

Conversely, Scrum and Kanban are two specific types of methodologies derived from Agile principles.

Let’s give these two emergent PM philosophies a quick rundown.

What is Scrum in Agile development

True to its roots, the Agile Scrum methodology relies heavily on the communication, collaboration and exploration. Here’s where it diverges a bit from the seemingly unrestricted freedom of Agile: fixed length iterations and well-defined roles in the project.

In the Scrum framework, people refer to these iterations as sprints, lasting between 1 and 4 weeks. During a sprint, a single team member completes a single task from the backlog. In Scrum project management, once the sprint is marked as completed, the team member needs to deliver a functional product or software.

What is Kanban methodology

A more flexible version of this style comes in the form of Kanban Agile. By contrast with the ‘strictness’ of Scrum, Kanban project management does not impose task deadlines and no roles or responsibilities are assigned.

There is, on the other hand, a limit set on how many tasks you can mark as “Work in Progress” at any given time. This approach aims to eliminate bottlenecks and promote a smoother, constant flow of work.

How to transition to Agile methodologies

The best place to start the shift towards Agile is your team’s knowledge and training with this methodology. More specifically, all team members must fully understand:

  • Their new roles following the transition;
  • How their current work adapts to match the new model;
  • When the daily stand-up meetings will happen.

After laying the groundwork for this shift and ensuring everyone is onboard with the new style of work, monitoring progress and effectiveness is instrumental for success. It is likely that, in the beginning, things will not run smoothly by themselves: slowdowns, resistance to change, and so on will occur.

Keeping a closer eye on the teams can help identify areas where they struggle, allowing you to clarify any misunderstandings.

In addition, tracking Agile-specific metrics will allow finding the benefits of this transition and reporting progress accurately in high level meetings. Finally, be sure to equip teams and Scrum masters with forms that outline useful questions to ask during the regular stand-up meetings.

The point here is to improve documentation on the go and to guide those new to Agile towards areas of improvement they had not considered.

Should you always implement an Agile PM methodology?

Despite the numerous advantages discussed previously, Agile is not a one-size-fits-all solution. More specifically, its features may not adapt well to certain organizational environments, industries or even specific types of projects.

Situations when you should avoid the Agile model

1. In projects with stable and well-understood outcomes

Agile methodology steps can help address the issue of uncertainty and decrease the impact of change in projects by splitting the workload into iterative stages. In projects where uncertainty does not constitute a problem and change is improbable, Agile isn’t necessarily the best approach.

Heavily regulated industries where project requirements do not differ, creating multiple draft versions and employing iterative planning won’t improve the outcome.

2. In projects with repeatable deliverables

Reproducibility is not a feature Agile project management is necessarily known for. It may be better to consider other options for this type of enterprise. One example would be production facilities for manufacturing specific automotive parts.

In this case, there is little reason to apply Agile principles and break down the work in creative ways. It might even not be advisable to do so, as to avoid potential discrepancies between parts that should be completely identical.

3. With stakeholders who do not wish to use Agile

Not all stakeholders are willing, or indeed able to participate in regular meetings with the team designing their product. This holds particularly true for projects that aren’t high risk or high value. More traditional approaches are generally preferred in these situations.

4. Within companies where Agile is not supportable

There are multiple scenarios where a company’s characteristics can make it incompatible with Agile. One example would be organizations that rely heavily on outsourcing the work to different geographical locations, across multiple languages, rendering direct communication impossible.

Another possibility is the company operates on a top down approach in terms of distribution of authority, and the team members aren’t involved in the decision-making process.

Agile Gantt charts and timelines

The importance of optimizing the communication between development teams and stakeholders in Agile project management is obvious. However, the difference in technical expertise between the aforementioned parties often represents a barrier in the exchange of information.

In every situation, there is a sweet spot where the presentations are not excessively technical or excessively in-depth to be confusing and boring. It’s almost always about choosing the right visuals to represent a project’s progress and key metrics: Gantt charts and timelines.  

Another reason why these project visuals represent the ideal Agile tools is that they are incredibly easy to create, update when changes occur and even repurpose for other iterations or projects.

And, with online tools, changes are instantly communicated with all collaborators. In other words, their functionality is the embodiment of the 2nd Agile Principle.

Finally, with the addition of swimlanes, sub-swimlanes and multiple timescales, they can be extremely versatile. They allow project managers to use them in the planning of a sprint or an entire program, as well as operate with multiple teams and across different stages.

Office Timeline is a tool that offers Agile projects an excellent means of communicating complex data in a simple, easily digestible visual form that bridges the knowledge gap between developers and stakeholders.

The software comes in two versions, the PowerPoint add-in and the online browser-based version, giving you the chance to select the one that would work best for your company’s profile. Check out the free version or, if you’re looking for a no-holds-barred experience, give the tool's most advanced edition a try.

Free Agile project management templates

There are many different agile project management templates available within Office Timeline. Each template is designed in PowerPoint to help manage projects using the agile methodology.

These templates are free to download as PowerPoint files and you can customize them to fit the specific needs of the project. You can use them to track progress, create reports, and manage project resources.

Agile project plan template

Agile project plan template

Product release schedule template

Product release schedule template

Product development roadmap template

Product development roadmap template

FAQs about Agile methodologies

Let’s explore some frequently asked questions related to Agile methodologies.

Tim is Co-Founder & CEO of Office Timeline, a Seattle-based start-up that aims to rid the world of boring, uninspiring meetings.

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