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Think Agile


Agile project management thrives in complex and complicated problem environments (P1) Source: Edwin Stoop

The Agile Manifesto

Agile Project Management is a general set of methods and practices based on the values and principles expressed in the Agile Manifesto. (1)

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,
Working software over comprehensive documentation,
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation,
Responding to change over following a plan

The foundation of the Agile Manifesto rests on “adaptability” with a focus on “satisfying the customer through the continuous delivery of useful software solutions.” In accordance to this, following a strict plan and producing comprehensive documentation do not take priority. Instead value is placed on close collaborations between the customer and the business, the relevant teams, and the individuals in those teams.

In the 16 years since its inception agile project management has helped establish the software industry as one of the world’s largest and most responsive. Its applicability is however not just limited to the development of software, but can be applied to virtually any project. To understand the benefits of adopting an agile approach, let’s first take a look at the limitations of the traditional project development approach.



Agile Steps

Traditional project management is a sequential process (P2) Source: Paulsmith99

The Traditional Project Management Approach

Traditional project management adopts a standardized, sequential approach towards any project. This means that the design, execution, and appraisal phases of a project are done one after the other in blocks, with each phase commencing only once the preceding phases are complete.

This approach has several drawbacks in addition to being time consuming. Working sequentially creates a lack of visibility regarding the quality of the solution and the time-to-completion of a project. The final stages can often be rushed and the outcome unsatisfactory as some of the problems can only be identified during the final testing and valuation phases. Therefore the rigidity of the step-by-step traditional approach, while trying to be methodical, actually increases the risk of producing low quality work. (2)


Agile project management allows for all the development phases to be run in parallel (P3)Source: Agile in a Nutshell

Agile in Practice

Instead of being sequential, agile methods use an iterative approach where project goals are broken down into bite-sized objectives that can be designed, executed, and tested independently. This means that once the project commences there is a much shorter lead time for the project to test its key assumptions and validate its benefit to the market. This method of execution requires an improved collaboration not only between the company and its customer, but also between the different teams within the company, as well as between the different individuals within each team. (2)

To this end, agile practices are designed to improve transparency and interaction. Bundled together in packages like Scrum, these practices allow for a better collaboration between all parties involved in the project, improving the visibility of potential obstacles, which is essential in a fast changing business environment.

The agile aproach

A more transparent project management framework (P4) Source: Patrick Perkins

Agility Beyond Software

It is important to note that while agile project management can be applied outside of software development, it is not applicable to projects in all business sectors.

For instance, OpenView Venture Partners, a Venture Capital (VC) firm embracing agile, found that it could apply agile management much more easily in some sectors than it could in others. Sectors such as strategic planning and marketing directly benefited from agile methods which allowed their creative multidisciplinary teams to tackle complex problems by breaking them down into smaller deliverables.

On the other hand, the sales sector for instance could not utilize the same approach. As a sales call can change a representative’s work schedule instantly; re-assembling a sales team, changing the portfolio backlog, and re-assigning accounts each time is impractical.(3)However there are sales management tools which adopt aspects from agile and are better suited to accommodate this. 

Nevertheless wherever it is applicable, agile is extremely efficient. Agile methods address key weaknesses in traditional project management, especially its general inability to respond to change. However, there are many pitfalls companies can face when implementing agile.

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