What is Agile Project Management

Posted on: April 4th, 2012 - Written by: John Blomberg

Agile project management is an iterative method of determining requirements for engineering and information technology development projects in a highly flexible and interactive way.

Jim Highsmith, a foremost expert on Agile and author of books on the topic, defines Agile in his book Adaptive Software Development by writing “… the ability to adapt and respond to change … agile organizations view change as an opportunity, not a threat.”

Agile Project Manager

Project Management and Development

Do not confuse Agile project management with Agile software development.

There is a difference between the two.  Product development methodologies make use of project management methodology in order to create a finished product.  This is not clear in many of the discussions of agile software development.  There is a tremendous distinction between managing projects in an agile manner and the management of agile projects.

Of course, a project using agile software development methodologies may also be managed using Agile project management. It requires empowered individuals from the relevant business, with supplier and customer input.

Agile techniques may also be called extreme project management. It is a variant of iterative life cycle where deliverables are submitted in stages. One difference between agile and iterative development is that the delivery time in agile is in weeks rather than months. Since agile management derives from agile software development, it follows the same standards defined in the  HYPERLINK “http://agilemanifesto.org/” Agile Manifesto when it comes to collaboration and documentation. Several software methods derive from agile, including scrum and extreme programming.

Agile vs. Waterfall: What is the difference?

Comparing agile with traditional or “waterfall” project management

Waterfall, as a project management methodology, has been criticized for not being able to cope with constant changes in software projects, and with the inability of customers to specify adequate requirements before they have tried prototypes.  The huge overhead of specifying requirements before starting the actual development may cause long delays of a project.

The iterative nature of Agile makes it an excellent alternative when it comes to managing development projects, especially in software.

Agile, however, can have its disadvantages. Many believe that it doesn’t scale well, hence large software projects are still being conducted in Waterfall. Agile techniques are best used:

  • In small-scale projects
  • On elements of a wider program of work
  • On projects that are too complex for the customer to understand and specify before testing prototypes

Since the strength and usefulness of agile are both exhibited in projects with frequent changes, it does not offer tremendous advantage over waterfall when it comes to classical projects where requirements are nearly always constant and unknowns are rare, such as construction projects.

However, improvement to the Agile project management process, as laid out by Jim Highsmith in Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products, make improvements in the best practices for managing larger projects in agile environments.

Because the pace of project management moves faster in today’s development environments, project management needs to be more flexible and far more responsive to customers as Agile project management offers. Project managers can achieve goals without compromising value, quality, or business discipline – even when managing the largest projects in the largest organizations. The very same efficiencies can be achieved in incorporating agile values, scaling agile projects, release planning, portfolio governance, and enhancing organizational agility and by promoting agility through performance measurements based on agile’s core drivers of value, quality, and business discipline.

To understand more about Agile project management, read our post on Agile methodology.

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