What is the Agile Methodology?

Traditional project management has many benefits, but it isn’t the best approach for all scenarios. Typically, project management is a somewhat methodical, step-by-step process. However, when dealing with a business sector that moves fast and the demands of the market change rapidly, that traditional way of thinking just might not get the job done. When a more-responsive method is called for, the Agile methodology might be the perfect solution.

What is the Agile Methodology?

The idea behind the Agile methodology is that it can be adapted and adjusted as a project develops to reflect the changes that are happening all-around the organization. Since things like outside market forces and consumer interests can’t necessarily be forecast at the start of the project, using the Agile methodology will give you the opportunity to change course as needed to make sure the final result of the project is something that will be of value to the organization. After all, it doesn’t do any good to complete a project if the final product is no longer something that has a home on the market.

Freedom within the Team

If you are used to using a traditional approach to project management (PMBOK, PRINCE2, etc), you are likely accustomed to closely managing your team throughout the project.

As the project manager, you lay out things like schedules and deliverables and then follow through with the individual members of your team to make sure things are progressing as they should. By contrast, the approach to Agile Management is far more relaxed and independent. Team members are allowed more freedom in this system, and while they are still responsible for certain deliverables, there is little structure as to how those goals should be met. The individuals within the teams tend to appreciate this approach because they are left to their own devices and get to make decisions that shape how the project will develop.

Naturally, this requires a great deal of trust between the project manager and the members of the teams working on the project. If the team members lack the necessary skill and experience to work in this kind of environment, problems could develop when progress isn’t being made in a timely manner. However, an experienced team of professionals will love not having to answer to their project manager day after day. If you are considering leading a team using an Agile Management approach, you will need to ensure that you have the right kind of team to make this strategy successful.

Flexible Project Requirements

Another traditional facet of project management that most leaders are familiar with is the idea of setting project requirements right from the start. Usually, the scope of the project is established clearly before any work begins – and all work going forward is guided by the goals that have been laid out. The Agile methodology ignores this approach and instead establishes the requirements for the project on an ongoing basis during the project. That means that what ends up being accomplished within the project could be very different than what was expected at the start.

This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective and the project at hand. The advantage to this kind of management is that the project is flexible enough to develop over time until it precisely suits the needs of the market. You don’t run the risk of creating a product that has no market at the end of the project because the project teams have the ability to adapt the final deliverables all throughout the process. Being responsive and flexible is typically a good thing for businesses because they can avoid falling out of touch with what the market is asking for.

On the other side, however, is the risk that the project will never gain traction and get moving in the right direction. The reason traditional project management asks for requirements right up front is so the project has a direction and all of the team members can use that direction to guide their day-to-day activity. In the absence of that structure, the team will have to step up and take ownership of the project in order to ensure that it continues to progress toward a successful conclusion.

Ongoing Testing and Evaluating

Usually a project won’t have a product to release to the market until it has been completed. Again, that is something that is different when an Agile Management approach is used. Rather than waiting until the entire project is finished to get user feedback and comments on the product or service that has been developed, that process runs concurrently to the project itself.

The project team develops small scale releases that can be tested by a limited number of users for the purpose of gaining feedback and direction. While this can complicate the development process, it also give the project team a great advantage over the traditional approach – getting feedback during the process can help to avoid major issues arising only after all of the work has been completed. When that feedback comes in only partway through the project, the necessary adjustments can be made ‘on the fly’.

Being adaptable is the name of the game when it comes to the Agile methodology. While this won’t be the right approach to take for all organizations, it will be the perfect way for some businesses to manage their projects. Agile Management is especially well-suited to technology companies who are dealing in a space that changes at an incredibly fast pace.

Starting on a project that won’t be completed for six months is a risky proposition considering how much the market landscape can change within that time period. Instead of taking on that kind of project with a traditional approach, using Agile Management will remove some of the project risk because the project can more-easily be adapted along the way so that the final product remains in line with consumer tastes and interests. There are challenges that come along with using the the Agile method, but the benefits will outweigh the negatives for a wide range of organisations.

Key Points

  • Agile software development is a group of software development methods in which solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.
  • It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, continuous improvement, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change.
  • Most agile development methods break the tasks into small increments with minimal planning and do not directly involve long-term planning.
  • Iterations are short time frames (timeboxes) that typically last from one to four weeks. Each iteration involves a cross-functional team working in all functions: planning, requirements analysis, design, coding, unit testing, and acceptance testing.
  • At the end of the iteration a working product is demonstrated to stakeholders. This minimizes overall risk and allows the project to adapt to changes quickly.
  • An iteration might not add enough functionality to warrant a market release, but the goal is to have an available release at the end of each iteration.

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