Agile methodology has exploded in popularity over the last few years. As a more flexible, team-oriented response to the traditional “waterfall” approach, Agile allows companies to maximize their productivity in fast-paced environments. This has been a game-changer in the tech industry, where rapid adaptation and frequent user feedback must be incorporated into product development — or else the company risks falling behind its competitors.
While Agile is often used to reorganize teams and workflows to unleash their full collaboration potential, it originally began as a project management method, and it remains a powerful way to streamline projects. If Agile is not implemented at the project level, any company-level changes will not matter. Let us look at the key considerations when shifting to Agile project management.
How does Agile work on a project level?
Agile is often portrayed as a decentralized management structure in which work happens in cross-functional teams rather than bouncing from department to department. That is part of it, but this arrangement is only possible when each project is managed in an agile way. There are three primary components of the traditional Agile framework: scrum, kanban, and lean management.
The word “scrum” refers not only to a specific event in which a team discusses their work, but also a framework in which team members collaborate, perform “sprints” of deep work, then reflect on their progress. Scrum boosts productivity by breaking down projects into manageable chunks rather than forcing everyone to work through a linear timeline. Everything is budgeted and measured to optimize results.
A kanban board is a tool to track the overall project progress. Traditional waterfall management requires project phases to happen in a stepwise process. All tasks in one phase must be completed before the next can begin. In Agile, task progress can happen concurrently, and a Kanban board shows a bird’s- eye view of all tasks. Project chunks are usually categorized as “To Do,” “Doing,” or “Done,” or some variation thereof.
Lean management involves reducing waste from a project whenever possible. That includes removing reviewers who do not need to see a product at an early stage, eliminating features that do not support the user experience, cutting down on unnecessary meetings, and anything else that would get in the way of the sprints.
None of these components are absolutely required for Agile implementation. The beauty of Agile is that it can be fully customized for each workplace. However, scrum, Kanban, and lean management all reflect the basic principles at the heart of the Agile methodology.
Transitioning your project management to Agile
If you have not been using Agile, your first step is to break down all your team’s work into time-bounded projects. For most technology companies, this is simple enough. Each new product (or a new version of an existing product) is a project with an approximate start date, due date, and milestones within. The nice thing about Agile is that each project is less susceptible to “creep,” in which the deadline keeps getting pushed back or the project scope keeps expanding.
Next, you must organize a project team. This usually comprises key people from each relevant department. Rather than bouncing a project from department to department, the project team will meet daily to plan out their “sprints” and assess their results. This allows greater flexibility to accommodate feedback, change requests, and obstacles.
Finally, everything must be reported and tracked regularly. In Agile management, teams do not wait for the monthly staff meeting or the big presentation to show their work. There is constant accountability and measurement so that the workflow can be tweaked along the way. This minimizes the effect of major hurdles and improves productivity.
How an agile consulting agency can help.
As you see, implementing Agile at the project level requires a lot of system changes. Most Agile teams find that they need specific project management tools to conduct scrums, track sprints, and lay out their Kanban board. Managers who are not trained in Agile may find it challenging to select optimal cross-functional teams. Others may be confused about which metrics to track and how to build in non-sprint processes (such as quality assurance and change request management).
An Agile consultant can help you craft a project management strategy that best suits your team, budget, and the type of work you do. They can help you break free of your traditional project management habits (e.g., hierarchical assignment of tasks, setting firm linear deadlines, etc.) and look for opportunities to go Agile (e.g., setting up task dependencies, allowing team members to self-organize, etc.)
When evaluating a potential Agile consultant, ask them how they can help you align your Agile implementation from management level to project level. Look for proof that they can close gaps, recommend team compositions, and enable you to accommodate feedback into project iterations. Ultimately, Agile comes down to the decentralized optimization of daily work rather than controlling a project from the C-suite. A good Agile consultant can help you boost collaboration and “chunk down” projects without derailing your current progress.
Agile is a powerful way to boost your team’s productivity, get products to market faster, and better understand the time and costs associated with your work. To successfully implement Agile, your company’s work must be broken down into projects that can be effectively planned and measured while maintaining an iterative approach. To do so, you may need new workflows, team arrangements, and tools to track your progress. A qualified Agile consultant can help you implement Agile in a way that optimizes your company’s deliverables.
Digital Onion is led by Tony Wong, who has more than 20 years of experience implementing agile methodologies for some of the largest software companies in the world. If you would like to learn how Digital Onion can help your company go Agile or improve your existing Agile methods, talk with a Digital Onion representative using our website’s live chat.