Project management in the digital age can get highly complex. Project management tools help, but many enterprises are turning to agile project management strategies to help streamline workflows, hit deadlines and reduce time to market.

In this article, we’re exploring the makeup of agile project management with the help of industry experts.

What Is Agile Project Management?

Agile project management is a project management methodology that prioritizes the speedy and continuous development and improvement of a project, product or service. When you hear the term agile project management, it will usually be in the context of software development — however, the concept of agile project management can apply in a myriad of situations and contexts.

While there are many different forms of agile project management, the concept of breaking down large projects into bitesize chunks and working on them continuously while gathering teams regularly to discuss progress and brainstorm ideas, is a consistent one. 

“The core principles and values [of agile project management] are directed at giving the best chance for people and products to succeed with: early and frequent delivery, mechanisms to accept change early and often, and of course an extraordinary focus on people throughout,” said Christopher Allen, Product Manager at Minnesota based Allen Interactions.

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What is The Agile Manifesto?

The foundations and core methods of agile project management are expressed in the Agile Manifesto. It is made up of four key values and twelve principles.

Although iterative and incremental development methods can be traced back as early as 1957 (Unsurprisingly, IBM had a lot to do with that), it took until 2001 for seventeen software developers to meet and discuss lightweight development methods. Together they published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which is still universally referred to as the guide to the entire concept of agile development, management, thinking and planning.

What Are the Four Key Values of Agile?

The concept of agile project management was seen as an upgrade to the waterfall model, a traditional project management methodology made up of a series of individual project phases, with phases only starting once the previous phase is complete. The upgrade was categorized in four ways, making up four new key values of contemporary project management:

  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 plan

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What Are the 12 Principles of Agile?

The agile manifesto also includes twelve principles which help make up agile project management (and pretty much anything else that you could apply agile thinking to outside of software development).

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The 12 principles of agile are as follows:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Should You Adopt Agile Project Management?

Whether you’re a software vendor, an internal project manager or an events planning company, you may be wondering whether it's time you adopted agile project management strategy.

“Each of the Agile Manifesto’s 12 principles can be applied to any type of work, although specific flavors of agile project management like ‘Extreme Programming’, maybe really hard to tune for anything other than software development,” said Allen.

For organizations who decide that they are in a position to adopt an agile mindset, we asked Karen Crone, Chief HR officer Cincinnati based Paycor, about what a brand’s first steps in that direction should be should be. According to Crone, it’s less about adopting a new strategy and more about changing your company culture. “An agile mindset allows for quick wins — but it’s not about completing the project today. It’s about making progress, one step at a time, and sharing results to get feedback from a variety of people representing different disciplines and interests. You’ll find that when you [culturally] set aside perfection and instead aim to complete just one piece of the puzzle in time for your next agile standup, your team will move faster to completion than if you wait to unveil the perfect solution [in one fell swoop],” Crone explained.

Phedra Arthur, Principal PM Consultant, Chicago based Exelon, concurred, “[Adopting an agile mindset] is a culture shift.  Start with the people [in your team] before jumping into fancy software and tons of training. There needs to be a consistent and meaningful shift towards transparency and individual coaching across all functional areas for this to work well. So, I would advise that brands invest in their people and create better hiring processes to ensure you build the most optimal self-organizing teams,” Arthur said.

She continued by saying that the process should be, centered around principles, not rules. 

Finally, Allen chimed in one more time to warn brands not to adopt agile project management strategies just because they’re new and trendy. According to Allen, agile isn’t for everyone. “If you have a process that works for you, awesome. Many teams and organizations feel compelled to switch to whatever is the latest and greatest buzzword around. Process, on the other hand is about predictable success. So even if your new process is an agile process and it doesn't work for why do it?,” Allen said.