Why Agile Project Management Matters to Your Career

Agile project management has become a hot topic in the profession over the past few years. The prospect of finishing projects faster and adjusting to change rapidly has piqued the interest of many companies. Let’s dig beneath the hype, understand where agile came from and cover some of the methodology’s key techniques.

The Origins of Agile

In 2001, the agile manifesto was published by a group of software experts. This document laid out a series of principles for improving the delivery of software projects.

Within the agile community, there are multiple variations of the methodology. Scrum, promoted by the Scrum Alliance among others, stresses flexible requirements and responding rapidly to changes. In contrast, extreme programming (XP) emphasizes “pair programming” and other methods to improve communication and oversight between developers. To this day, the technology industry is the strongest proponent of agile methods.

Today, agile has gained recognition in many organizations and professional organizations promote it as a way to improve performance. The Project Management Institute offers an agile certification. In addition, the Scrum Alliance offers training programs related to agile. For many employers, “Do you know agile methods?” is fast becoming an important interview question in project management job interviews.

Introduction to Agile Project Management Techniques

Learning about a few fundamental agile techniques and methods will give you an edge over those who focus exclusively on traditional project management methods.

1. The Daily Stand-up Meeting

In the scrum approach to projects, the daily stand-up meeting is an important technique. Each day, the project team meets for 15 minutes to address three simple questions. First – what did you do yesterday? Second – what will you do today? Third – are there any obstacles standing in your way?

This simple focus makes it easy to understand what everyone on the project is doing. As the project manager, the third question is critical because it helps you to find ways to help the team achieve their work. As a project manager, you play a critical role in removing roadblocks that prevent your team from moving ahead.

2. Planning In Sprints

Planning a project in detail months or years into the future is a daunting exercise. If you’re planning a Mars mission, that approach is probably still the best way to go. For many other projects, the spring approach is a great way to go. With a sprint, you focus on planning out in 1-2 week periods and then review progress at the end.

3. Prototypes and Iteration

According to the manifesto for agile software development, it is important to “satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” In practice, this means delivering prototypes and seeking direct feedback on them. From the project manager’s viewpoint, this principle calls on your stakeholder management skills to organize users and make sense of their feedback.

By committing to “early and continuous delivery,” you are unlikely to build a product that fails to meet the customer’s demand.

4. The Product Backlog

Imagine you have a software concept in development.

How do you decide which features and functions to build first? The product backlog concept helps you to set priorities in a transparent fashion. In brief, the product backlog is a prioritized list of functions that is visible to everyone and can be added to by anyone on the team. In order to keep the document useful, the backlog is regularly reviewed and reprioritized.

The backlog is helpful on projects for two reasons. First, it encourages suggestions from everyone involved on the project. Second, the project’s priorities and current focus are transparent to everyone.

5. The Agile Retrospective

While agile improves value and effectiveness, there is always room to improve. Similar to the daily stand-up meeting, there are three specific points covered during a retrospective: continue, stop and start. This approach discourages assigning blame and pointing the finger. Instead, the team focuses on practices and processes changes which will improve future results.

Running an agile retrospective requires strong communication skills to keep the session running smoothly. As you develop your career, take the time to hone your listening and communication skills. Your ability to politely but firmly guide a meeting is a skill that will stand you in good stead for years to come.

The Limits of Agile?

As suggested by its origins, agile project management is best suited for software development projects. If you are creating an app, website or similar product, it is a proven approach. However, agile is not currently developed for all industries. For example, construction and civic engineering programs have greater risks and compliance considerations. These requirements often translate into requiring greater control and planning typical of traditional project management.

Wiley Project Management Review would like to introduce Part Five of Project: You, written by Bruce Harpham, PMP®. Bruce is a columnist at Projectmanagement.com, has worked on various banking projects and is the author of the upcoming book Project Managers at Work.

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