A Step by Step Guide to Agile Project Management

Traditional approaches to project management follow a linear process: Plan the project, design a solution, build it, test it, put it into production, and then fix any problems. This method is also referred to as the waterfall approach, because it is comprised of cascading steps.

However, traditional approaches are often beset by budget and timeline problems. This is because a conventional development sequence allows for no changes in requirements. It does not make allowances for any alterations in costs or client demands.

What is agile project management?

Agile management emerged as an alternative in the 1990s. Although it was developed by software engineers, it has become popular in other industries. Seventy-one per cent of organizations report using it often or sometimes.

Instead of focusing on fixed sequences, agile project management entails working in cycles that facilitate continuous improvement, innovation, and collaboration. The client is involved throughout the process. According to PWC, projects managed using this approach are 28% more likely to be successful.

To understand what agile project management looks like in practice, here’s a step by step guide:

1. Understand the problem

It is essential that you understand the needs of your customers or client. What do they want and need? What problems are they trying to solve? Agile project managers begin with the end user in mind. This may entail market research or interviews with customers. In short, you need to decide how you will know when you have succeeded.

2. Assemble the right team

Having understood the problem, the next step is to gather together a team with the skills and experience required to solve it. This may necessitate bringing in external consultants or people from other departments. In some cases, you may need to develop your existing team members’ skills.

3. Brainstorm

 The team can now begin generating ideas. At this stage, all ideas should be considered. Innovation should be encouraged throughout an agile project.

4. Build an initial prototype

When you have honed in on a potential solution, put together a rough prototype. This should not take more than a few days. Remember, agile project management is underpinned by creativity and flexibility.

Show this prototype to users and solicit their feedback. If you receive largely negative feedback, assemble another prototype that better aligns with their requirements. One major strength of this approach is that you are alerted to problems with your design early on. You won’t risk working for months on an idea only to discover it isn’t a good fit for your client.

5. Decide on the project boundaries

Drawing on feedback, decide on the scope of the project. You may need to add or remove features depending on how your prototype was received. Draw up a live document outlining the project’s scope. This can be updated – indeed, it should be updated – as the project progresses.

6. Plan out major milestones using a roadmap

The next step entails setting out the milestones you will have to hit while developing the product. This roadmap does not have to be particularly detailed; in fact, it should be flexible and easy to alter. However, you will need to decide on the components that will go together in making up the product, and when you will meet each deadline.

You need to think not only about the features of a product, but the broader goals on which they are based. For instance, is your client trying to build new customers, grow a  social media presence, or boost engagement? Make sure you are completely clear on how your proposed development plan fits with the overarching aims of the project.

7. Plan sprints

A sprint is a short development cycle lasting between 1-4 weeks. To maintain a stable rate of development, try to keep all sprints the same length. When planning a sprint, devise a list of all the tasks your team needs to complete and decide on realistic targets.

Your goal is to assemble a functional product in the shortest possible time frame that can then be further developed and refined in subsequent sprints.The key to a successful sprint is cooperation and planning. Everyone involved in the project must be given a chance to air their views and have their concerns taken seriously.

8. Check in every day

Daily stand-ups allow you to identify any problems early. A standup is a short meeting ­– around 15 minutes in length – in which all members of the team are held accountable for their progress.

Every team member should be able to tell you what they worked on yesterday, what they are planning to achieve today, and whether they have identified any problems or concerns they want to share with everyone else. As a project manager, it is your responsibility to keep the team on track and work with them to resolve any issues.

Agile Project Management

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9. Review the sprint

At the end of each sprint, you need to sit down with your team and evaluate their progress. What did they do well? What lessons can be learned for the next sprint? Retrospectives are important, but daily status updates are also key in monitoring the health of the project.

Ask your team to feed you real-time project updates, and be sure to keep your client in the loop. They should be able to check up on the project at any time and offer their feedback. Your team should show your client what they are working on as soon as possible. Regular “show and tells” allow all parties to work together in ironing out bugs.

10. Plan the next sprint

Continue using the sprint system until the project is complete. Remain open to change and always act on client and end user feedback. Strive for excellence at all times, and never skimp on design.

Effective agile project management relies not just on technical expertise, but strong interpersonal connections. Choose an effective communications channel and ensure everyone on the team is committed to using it.

11. Completion and release

When you have developed a product your client and end users love, you can manufacture and release it. However, the agile project approach doesn’t end there – you may have to make further adjustments if users identify bugs.

With every project, you will get better at communicating within and beyond your team. You may find the rapid pace of agile project management hard to cope with at first but,in time, you will start to wonder how you ever used traditional methods.

Bringing it all Together

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About the author

Kristin Savage
Kristin Savage

Kristin Savage nourishes, sparks and empowers using the magic of a word. She does her voodoo regularly on the Pick Writers blog and occasionally contributes to other educational platforms. Along with pursuing her degree in Creative Writing, Kristin was gaining experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in marketing strategy for publishers and authors.