Managing projects the Agile way

‘Agile’ has become one of those buzzwords in recent years – the thing you need to adopt, the thing your organisation needs to be, the …etc. But while Agile has its origins in, and is a tried and tested approach to, software and digital product development, how about for other, less ‘tech-y’ projects?

At the very least, it’s worth considering. A PMI report noted that 71% of organisations have used agile methodologies; and according to PwC, project management with an agile mindset is 28% more successful.

Agile started with software development but Agile principles have gone beyond that now because Agile is not so much a system or process as an attitude.

Agile basics

As a project management approach, what makes Agile different is the built-in assumption that the project requirements will change during the course of the project. Or to be more precise, no matter how well you research, plan and strategise, you can’t think of everything and sooner or later factors or issues will arise that necessitate a change in plans.

Think of a sailboat analogy. If you’re sailing from point A to point B and the wind changes, do you keep steering on your original course (clue: no, you don’t) or do you change course, tack into the wind, and chart a new course to point B that takes account of the changed circumstances? Or maybe the harbour at point B is now closed and it makes more sense to now head towards point C? You get the idea.

Put simply, Agile project management is about breaking down the project goal into smaller deliverables (iterations) each of which add or offer value. With each deliverable, there’s a planning stage, and afterwards, progress is reviewed, feedback is gathered, and the overall course is corrected if necessary. The joint priorities (the destination) are your business goals and customer/client requirements – you’re aiming to fulfil both.

The result is an integration of planning and execution, a high degree of flexibility, and a minimum of wasted effort and resources.

Agile for non-software projects

So, which elements of Agile can be used for non-software projects?

  • Working in iterations – break down the project deliverables into a series of separate elements, according to what can be worked on in isolation. Each is worked on by the team in short bursts (of between one to four weeks) called ‘sprints’.
  • Feedback and input is key – Each sprint is planned, carried out, reviewed and tested. The planning process for each sprint (and the goal-setting) benefits from the learning gained throughout the whole project so far. Feedback is essential to Agile working – start early and do it often.
  • Collaboration – Key stakeholders and customer/client representatives are included in the process, influencing the planning and evaluation of each stage of the project.
  • Frequent (daily) communication and improved teamwork – Open communication is key and this, together with the collaboration and involvement, results in a more committed and focused team.

Benefits of Agile project management

If Agile working is a good fit for your project, you stand to reap a number of benefits, including:

  • Better quality outcomes (the planning and review cycle means you’re more likely to deliver what’s needed).
  • Business goals met.
  • More enthusiastic customers/clients (both because of the ‘better quality outcome’ and their involvement/consultation during the project).
  • Quicker delivery (less blind alleys or cul-de-sacs and the customer/client sees tangible benefits sooner in the shape of the work delivered by earlier iterations).
  • More effective teamwork.
  • More effective use of resources.
  • Flexibility & innovation (the regular reviews and course corrections encourage less rigid thinking – the team is really in control of the project).

Agile may have come out of software development but its central tenets of collaboration and flexibility are applicable to a wide range of industries and projects, digital or otherwise. Agile offers a way to manage progress closely while also encouraging creativity.

If you’re looking to incorporate this kind of mindset and approach to your projects, The In-House Training Company offers a one-day workshop – Agile: an introduction – which can be delivered face to face or virtually. Or simply call us on 01582 463463. We’re here to help.

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