Agile project management is defined as an iterative approach to managing projects, focused on continuous and incremental release of outputs. Within these incremental releases, clients and end users are able to provide feedback, and changes or updates are able to be made.
Within Agile project management there are 4 core values:
- 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 core values highlight the importance of the factors to the left in contrast to those on the right, which are typical of Waterfall project management. The core values are used to inform the standard way of working and highlight that collaboration and a people-driven approach is necessary for the appropriate application of Agile. Additionally, organisations need to build trust, commitment, identity, visibility, and leadership (Chikhale and Mansouri 2015). The end goal of Agile is to deliver something that is functional and provides significant value to the end user. These core values link into the principles of Agile.
From these values flow agile governance, which follows the same principles of being iterative and flexible. Agile requires rapid decision-making, using minimum effort governance processes and without the need for heavy front-end planning. There are identifiable governance points within the Agile process including authority, standard practices, metrics, and artifacts, which are part of the planning phase. Therefore, for Agile governance to occur there needs to be (Disciplined Agile Consortium 2014):
- collaboration over conformance
- enablement over inspection
- continuous monitoring over quality gates
- transparency over management reporting.
Collaboration, both within and outside the organisation, is a vital component of successful implementation of Agile. Stakeholders’ commitment needs to be sought early on to promote transformation, adaptation and flexibility, and there must be alignment between organisational strategies and business plans.
12 Agile project management principles
Within the Agile Manifesto (2001), there are 12 key principles of Agile project management:
- The number one priority is customer satisfaction through the early and continuous delivery of valuable outcomes.
- Changing developments are welcome, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Deliver working outputs frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
- Businesspeople and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.
- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
- Working outputs are the primary measure of progress.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity — the art of maximising the amount of work not done — is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organising teams.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.
Agile methodology encourages delivering outcomes in iterative stages, as it is better for the outcome to be tested and improved over time. Additionally, collaboration is key. The process of collaboration should be across all departments and for successful delivery it is fundamental to develop strong interpersonal relationships. Figure 16 outlines the common phases within the Agile methodology.
Figure 16. Common phases in Agile methodology, by Carmen Reaiche and Samantha Papavasiliou, licensed under CC BY (Attribution) 4.0
How to apply Agile
There are 7 steps that can be used to support the implementation of Agile project management.
Step 1: Document the vision and scope for the project within the planning meeting.
- Planning meeting:
At the start of the Agile project (similar to any other project), the business need should be established.
The first meeting covers strategic planning. It requires the project team to consider what the scope is.
The planning meeting should ask each client, stakeholder, and project team member the following question:
Who is our target client?
What is the need?
What is the product name and the product category?
What are the key benefits?
What are the key differentiation points?
Attendance -Those individuals required to obtain buy-in:
project team members.
When -Before the project starts.
Length -Between 4 and 16 hours; however, this should be broken up over a period of days.
Step 2: Develop the project road map
Translate the conversation and agreement from the planning session to a roadmap.
It should provide a high-level view of requirements, user stories, and time-frames.
Each goal should include:
The product owner is responsible for the development; however, support should be obtained from key stakeholders or subject matter experts.
It should be developed prior to starting sprint planning.
Step 3: Release plan
- A high-level timeline needs to be developed to outline potential or proposed release dates.
- The release should document between 3 to 5 sprints.
- The project team should work with the project owner, project manager and Scrum master to develop the plan.
- A new release plan should be created every quarter.
Step 4: Sprint planning
- The project team develops a plan for what will be developed within the short iteration (sprint), determining the specific tasks and activities, along with the goals of each sprint.
- A list is created of a backlog of tasks which can be completed within the sprint.
- This occurs at the start of each sprint and takes approximately 2 hours.
Step 5: Progress tracking
- Use daily stand-ups to monitor the team progress – these are approximately 15 minutes each. In this stand-up, each team member will outline:
work completed the day before
work to be completed today
Step 6: Sprint reviews
- At the end of each sprint a review should be completed to highlight the work completed.
- Feedback is also obtained in these sessions and supports continuous improvement.
Sprint 7: Sprint retrospective
- Continuous learning is a requirement of Agile. Therefore, after each sprint a retrospective is used to understand what worked and what requires improvement from the previous sprint.
- All project team members should be there.
- The key questions for the retrospective include:
Did everything go to plan?
How was the workload?
What are the improvements?
Did you learn anything that will support the project?
- Post retrospective the project team will return to Step 4 and start sprint planning again.
Benefits of Agile
There are several documented benefits of Agile project management methods which relate to the iterative and flexible nature of the delivery (Brunet and Aubry 2016):
It empowers team members to make decisions – it increases project team member autonomy to implement ideas, be innovative and solve problems.
It’s adaptable – you can manage changing priorities, based on continuous feedback and collaboration.
Decreased risk – due to the sprint cycles there is better project visibility and increased reporting requirements which are based on actual conditions.
Improved customer satisfaction – due to the collaborative element, stakeholders are encouraged to co-design and provide real-time feedback.
In sum, Agile methodologies are cyclical project management processes that support organisations and project managers and teams. This approach supports projects which are unclear and require iterative outcomes. The Agile approach requires the project team to collaborate with clients and key stakeholders throughout. Through this approach outcomes are supported, the team is goal oriented, and making incremental improvements.
The following methodologies are part of the Agile family:
- Scrum – method focus is on sprints, clearing out roadblocks
- Kanban – method focus is on tasks made visual in lanes
- Scrumban – method focus is on iterative planning
Let’s discuss each of these methods in more detail.
The Scrum method involves working within a team, led by a Scrum Master. The role of the Scrum Master is to complete work required, remove any obstacles impacting project outcomes and collaborate to meet the desired end-state (Pichler 2010; Rubin 2012; Verheyen 2015; Ockerman and Reindl 2020; Scrum Guide 2020). Similar to the Agile method, work is completed within short cycles or sprints. Within these sprints the team will meet daily, holding stand-ups where they discuss current work on hand, support required and roadblocks.
There are 3 key pillars of Scrum (Scrum Guide 2020):
Pillar 1: transparency
Pillar 2: inspection
Pillar 2: adaption
To use Scrum, the project must start with a clear purpose which is either provided by or to the business, and a set of requirements which are prioritised (Rubin 2012; Verheyen 2015; Scrum Guide 2020). There are several key terms and components which make up Scrum (Scrum Guide 2020):
- Features: these requirements are created by the client and/or organisation.
- Backlog: storage document which outlines all features which are yet to be started. Backlogs are maintained by the Product Owner.
- Product Owner: the client or representative who is responsible for prioritising work.
- Sprints: short or set periods of time which the team is allocated to complete selected work or features. These can be between 1 and 4 weeks. The length should be consistent throughout the project life cycle.
The Scrum Guide (2020) outlines a number of elements that need to be completed or considered during the course of a project:
- Team members select requirements from the backlog, and they identify requirements which are achievable in the time-frame.
- A sprint backlog is created to document requirements and tasks that need to be discussed as part of the sprint planning meeting.
- As the team commits to the sprint backlog, work begins on key tasks and requirements.
- During the sprint, teams are protected from interruptions and their focus is on meeting outcomes.
- During the sprint, no changes are made to the backlog.
- The backlog requirements and priorities can be shifted in preparation for the next sprint.
- Daily stand-ups occur each day (15-minute meetings). Team members share what they completed yesterday, plan for today and discuss any blockers.
- At the end of the sprint, the team will share their completed work with the key stakeholders and clients. This will be used to obtain feedback to support future work. Reflection sessions (also called retrospectives) are used to support improvements.
Roles and responsibilities
Within the Scrum Guide (2020) there are 3 primary roles:
Scrum Master: responsible for the process and advocates for the team. They are responsible for removing obstacles or blockers, supporting team communications through discussion and mediation, negotiates resources and negotiates with the external team. They are primarily there to support the team.
Product Owner: responsible for representing the client’s voice and making decisions regarding the project priorities. They are the owners of the backlog, communicate the stakeholder’s vision, and works with the team daily to answer questions and provide guidance and support.
Project Team: the team is comprised of 7 members (plus or minus 2), who are responsible for project delivery. They are responsible for the estimations, committing to tasks, and daily status reports. The team should also be self-organising, requiring no specific structure.
Figure 17 shows the key phases within the Scrum process. It highlights that there are several different components within Scrum, including multiple meetings (also referred to as ceremonies). These ceremonies include sprint planning meetings, daily stand-ups, review sessions and retrospectives. There are several reporting requirements and steps within Scrum (Pichler 2010; Rubin 2012; Verheyen 2015; Ockerman and Reindl 2020; Scrum Guide 2020), including:
Step 1. Familiarisation with the Scrum guidelines: understand the steps required to use Scrum within a project.
Step 2. Assign roles within Scrum teams: identify the Product Owner, Scrum Master and development/project team members.
Step 3. Create backlog: identify the breakdown of the different tasks and activities required.
Step 4. Sprint planning meeting and daily stand-ups: held on the first day of each sprint. All members should attend. Within this meeting:
Product Owner presents the next priorities that need to be completed.
Project team determines how these priorities will be addressed, including estimating how long items will take and what the project team can commit to.
Daily stand-up allows team members to provide updates on their progress.
Step 5. Determine sprint start and end dates: ensure that each project team member is aware of the length of a sprint, when they start and when they finish.
Step 6. Review and reflect: at the end of each sprint, run a reflection session to understand what worked and what did not, while ensuring performance is reviewed.
Figure 17. Scrum process example, by Carmen Reaiche and Samantha Papavasiliou, licensed under CC BY (Attribution) 4.0
Additionally, the project team needs to track their progress. Once work has commenced, progress is tracked through ‘radiators’.
Radiators are visible information documentation, including burn down charts of tasks and the task status board. An example of this is outlined in Figure 19. There are normally 5 columns:
Story – voice of client
To do – tasks
In process – work underway
To verify – work requiring testing
Done – completed work
Advantages of Scrum
There are many advantages to applying the Scrum methodology:
- supports the delivery of deliverables efficiently
- effective use of resources, schedule, and budget
- work is divided into manageable chunks
- work is developed and tested within a sprint
- fast development cycles
- transparency of work completed, next steps and issues
- client and team feedback adopted regularly.
Disadvantages of Scrum
There are also a few disadvantages to applying Scrum:
- scope creep can occur
- lack of specific end date
- without commitment from and cooperation of the project team, clients, and stakeholders the project can fail
- Scrum in large teams is difficult
- experienced team members are required
- daily meetings can be burdensome
- project team members exiting the project early can hinder outcomes
- quality metrics can be hard to determine and compare against in the fast-paced environment.
In sum, Scrum is a common form of Agile project management. This framework supports team members to collaborate with one another, clients, and stakeholders to support achieving the goals and outcomes of the project. Due to its iterative and incremental nature, Scrum is a flexible process which is aimed at satisfying the client’s expectations.
Kanban: tasks made visual in lanes
Kanban is a project framework which is used to visually implement Agile. This requires the encouragement of small, incremental updates to the project, systems and teams as required. It is used to remove blockers and to manage and improve the ability to meet requirements, demands, and the capacity of team members (Anderson 2010, 2016; Burrows 2014; Steyaert 2018). The work items are visualised using a Kanban board. This provides team members and stakeholders with a visual of the project progress, the processes, and next steps (Anderson 2010, 2016; Burrows 2014; Steyaert 2018). Work is allocated from the board as team member capacity permits and completed in an order that builds upon the last item.
Kanban is used to support decision-making about what, when and how much can be completed. In addition, Kanban is often used in combination with other Agile methods, including Scrum, and is normally applied to software development (Anderson 2010, 2016; Burrows 2014; Steyaert 2018). Kanban has been known to improve team productivity, outputs, quality, and reduce waste.
Kanban does not require users to follow specific procedures – it is a simple framework. It is often used to support existing work processes and is easy to establish in different industries.
Principles of Kanban
There are 5 core principles within Kanban (Anderson 2010, 2016):
1) Visualise the workflow: visualisation is key to the use and success of Kanban. Through visualisation the work can be understood, progress documented and issues mitigated early.
2) Limit work in progress: determine the amount of work achievable by the project team, across each phase, and how the workflow is being and can be tracked.
3) Manage and enhance flow: workflow is constantly monitored and improved, and used to support and track performance.
4) Make workflow clear: improvements to workflow efficiency ensures that each project team member is aware of the steps, processes and procedures of the project management method utilised.
5) Continuous improvement: team using the Kanban process should be able to identify issues and encourage feedback to ensure the process is always improved.
Steps to apply Kanban
The 5 principles of Kanban also form the 5 steps for applying the method to a product, service, project or outcome (Anderson 2010, 2016; Burrows 2014; Steyaert 2018). This is visually represented in Figure 18, and the detailed steps are outlined below.
Figure 18. Kanban phases, by Carmen Reaiche and Samantha Papavasiliou, licensed under CC BY (Attribution) 4.0
Step 1. Workflow visualisation. Map the process currently in use for delivery of work, either physically or digital boards. Within the visualisation there are columns which represent a step for the addition of new work. Every step should be mapped, from start to finish. Figure 19 shows the potential columns that can be used to develop the Kanban board.
Figure 19. Column examples within a Kanban board, by Carmen Reaiche and Samantha Papavasiliou, licensed under CC BY (Attribution) 4.0
Step 2. Apply work in progress constraints. The number of tasks that can be completed at a time are limited. The exact number of tasks depend on the type of work underway. Work should not move to the next column until there is space for it.
Step 3. Outline clear policies. Work within the project can be classified into different complexities, dependencies and interrelationships. Within these classifications, some tasks will be prioritised over others, including work that will have a high cost if delayed.
Step 4. Flow measurement and management. The metric is used to measure cycle type, throughput and quality of work completed. This step requires the analysis of the average time taken to complete work and move it on, whereas throughput is the units which are moved during the period of work.
Step 5. Optimisation using empirical evidence. Understand the impact of changing the Kanban before making the change and ensure that the outcome is measurable and specific. When changes are made, ensure that the performance is logged and reconfigured as required.
There are several documented advantages to applying Kanban, including:
- Increased flexibility: there are no set durations; it is a fluid method which re-evaluates priorities as the latest information becomes available.
- Reduced waste: the focus is on waste reduction and ensuring project teams do not waste time on unnecessary work.
- Easy to get started: it is visually intuitive and easy to understand, so the project team do not need to learn a new methodology.
- Improved flow: the just-in-time approach is based on delivering work at regular intervals.
- Minimise cycle time: the entire project team focuses on reducing blockers and ensuring that work moves quickly through the process.
There are several documented disadvantages to applying Kanban, including:
- Overcomplicated board: applied properly Kanban is simple; however, many times the boards are unclear and difficult to follow.
- Outdated board: poor board maintenance creates the risk of the project team working off inaccurate information.
- Lack of timing: columns are labelled with phases (to do, in progress, complete), so timing can be difficult to track.
Kanban can be used across tangible and intangible projects, depending on the level of workflow, and the existing processes in place. It is important to remember that there are complexities associated with the prediction of delivery timeframes (Anderson 2010, 2016; Burrows 2014; Steyaert 2018); therefore, these are some of the factors that should be considered before using Kanban:
- flexibility is required
- estimation of scheduling is not required
- deadlines are not fixed
- continuous improvement is required
- the aim is to release product approval at any point of the project life cycle
- change is not supported by your team
- the provided system needs to be easy to follow
- improvement of delivery flow is a priority.
Kanban vs. Scrum
Both Kanban and Scrum are Agile methodologies; however, they differ in several regards:
- Scrum requires specific roles and responsibilities.
- Scrum is iterative and time-based, following process improvement and release.
- Kanban does not include required activities and/or timelines.
- Kanban limits work in progress to the capacity of the team, whereas Scrum requires the limiting of work in progress in each iteration.
- Scrum leans to rigidity and change resistance (during a sprint), whereas Kanban embraces change.
- Scrum boards reset after each sprint; Kanban are used continuously.
Scrum and Kanban have the following similarities:
- They are empirically tested processes.
- The project team can work simultaneously on multiple projects.
- Work in progress is limited.
- They use pull scheduling.
- The focus is on delivering early and often.
- Transparency is used to improve processes.
In sum, Kanban is another common form of Agile project management, and it also can be used as a tool to support work allocation and completion. The value Kanban provides is within the visualisation of the project tasks and activities, which improves workflows due to the transparency provided. The use of Kanban as a project method can support improved efficiencies of the project team, reduced waste or mistakes and an overall improvement in the team’s focus by limiting what work they can focus on.
Two Agile project management methodologies form the basis of Scrumban – Scrum and Kanban. Scrumban takes the flexibility from Kanban and the structure and routine from Scrum to create a hybrid environment that encourages a more agile, efficient, and productive workflow (Ladas 2009; Reddy 2015; Blokdyk 2017; Rao 2017).
Scrumban also supports the management and guidance through the development of task-based outcomes (Ladas 2009; Blokdyk 2017; Rao 2017; Reddy 2015). Using short iterations, much like sprints, Scrumban enables teams to manage and control their workloads.
Figure 20. Scrumban phases, by Carmen Reaiche and Samantha Papavasiliou, licensed under CC BY (Attribution) 4.0
Figure 20 shows the primary phases commonly outlined or followed within the Scrumban project methodology. Each iteration starts with the identification of the goals, which are documented within the queue (similar to the backlog). This sets out the priorities. Each of these items within the queue are then analysed, outlining the key features and elements required for their completion. Next is the development phase, where the implementation work is completed. Once complete testing has been undertaken to ensure that the item works as intended and future improvements are documented as needed, the item is deployed or finalised. This is a cyclical approach that will continue until all the goals and requirements are completed or the schedule and budget run out.
Elements of Scrum within Scrumban
- Iterative planning at regular intervals, supported by reviews and retrospectives.
- Teams decide on how much work is completed in the sprint based on work complexity.
- Demand-based prioritisation ensures that the team is working on the most vital task.
- Assurance of work ready to begin (definition of ready).
- The use of the ‘ready’ queue (between Backlog and Doing) to organise what’s next.
Elements of Kanban within Scrumban
- Continuous workflow removed from Kanban board as needed.
- Work in progress limited.
- Project team roles not clearly specified.
- Short-lead times allow for just-in-time analysis.
- Process-based diagrams expose weaknesses.
- Focus is on cycle time.
- Policies to support process steps.
Steps to apply Scrumban
There are several steps involved in applying Scrumban to a project, with clear links back to the Kanban and Scrum methods (Blokdyk 2017; Rao 2017). These steps are as follows.
Step 1. Scrumban board development. Similar to Kanban, each column should outline the distinct phase that work will go through.
Step 2. Establish work in progress limits. This includes task and time limits for each sprint. With a focus on continuous workflow, this requires awareness of how much work can be completed by the project team at a given point.
Step 3. Prioritise the board. Establish the priorities of the project and tasks within the board. The project team will decide on what tasks are allocated to which individual.
Step 4. Predefine sprint timeframes. Sprint timeframes should be established at the beginning of the project.
Step 5. Set daily meetings. Hold short stand-ups for the team members to discuss what they will be completing that day and any challenges they may face. At the end of each sprint, these daily meetings should be used for reflection and retrospective.
Advantages of Scrumban
- Saves time: with no sprint planning, plans are made as required.
- Compartmentalisation: allows the project team to focus on what they are currently delivering.
- Identify issues: bottlenecks and issues can be identified within the workflow and resolved due to the visual nature of the planning.
- Clarity: transparency of the priorities through the visualisation.
- Intuitive: easily adopted method, only one planning meeting, and rules are straightforward.
- Independence: project team members are independent, and they have autonomy to choose tasks.
Disadvantages of Scrumban
- As it is a new method, there are no clear guidelines or best practices to support implementation.
- Effort can be difficult to track due to project team member autonomy.
- Progress snapshots are not always clear on how much longer something will take or how long something took to complete.
- The project manager’s level of control can be difficult to maintain.
In sum, Scrumban is a more recent addition to the Agile project management methodology suite. Scrumban uses the structure provided by Scrum along with the visualisation and flexibility provided by Kanban. Therefore, it can be used to support workflow management for a team or be used to support teams transitioning from Scrum to Kanban.
Now that we have introduced the first group of the Agile family, we recommend the following 3-minute reading by Emily Bonnie, discussing ‘8 Attitudes guaranteed to sink your Agile projects’. The article highlights a very important point: there is a big difference between doing Agile and being Agile.
Test your knowledge
- Agile project management is defined as an iterative approach to the management of projects which focuses on continuous and incremental releases of outputs.
- To use Scrum, the project must start with a clear purpose which is either provided by or to the business and a set of requirements which are prioritised.
- Kanban is a project framework which is used to visually implement Agile. This requires the encouragement of small, incremental updates to the project, systems and teams as required.
- Kanban can be used across tangible and intangible projects, depending on the level of workflow, and the existing processes in place.
- Two Agile project management methodologies form the basis of Scrumban – Scrum and Kanban.
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