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Understanding Agile

Understanding AgileThis is a guest article by Isidora Roskic.

Learning to successfully manage agile projects requires you to first familiarise yourself with the concept of Agile. What is the agile methodology? Where did it start? What does it truly encompass?

If you know all of the answers then you’re off to a good start! If not then the following will help.

Where It All Began

The agile movement first began in the 1970s when it was introduced by a doctor named Winston Royce.

Royce sought out an alternative to the traditional project management approach which was based on an assembly line routine. In fact he believed projects should be managed totally differently.

He believed project teams could respond better to uncertainty if they followed a pattern of incremental work. Today the pattern is known as sprints. They are extremely useful to project managers using agile methods because they allow all aspects of the project to be reviewed and analysed to help discover any issues.

However, there are many things you need to keep in mind as a project manager if you choose to follow this approach. Let’s start with three things that make agile projects different from what you might be used to.

#1: Teams

Teams are often self-directed. You need to understand this because you may need to keep a bit more distance than you’re used to. They should be free to accomplish their tasks as they choose as long as they are still following the guidelines and company policies – whatever rules you have in place for getting work done.

This means you don’t need to monitor their every move. Create project objectives and clarify any confusion that may exist, but once that’s done, step back and leave them to it.

#2: Goals

Agile management doesn’t involve as much upfront planning as other methodologies (such as waterfall) do. It’s very common to develop your project requirements progressively, as needs arise, and as the end users develop their own thinking around the outcomes they expect and need.

As a project manager you will have to recognise how this may impact the final outcome of the project. The end result, after your set of sprints is finished, maybe (is quite likely to be, in many cases) different to what was first envisioned.

However, it is your job to maintain the vision and ensure you are still achieving the project’s objectives, even if the output and deliverables are different to what you thought you’d be building when you started.

It’s your job to ensure you are still achieving the project’s objectives, even if the deliverables have changed since the project began. 

#3: Feedback

As a project manager working in an agile environment your focus should not only be on monitoring the overall progress of the project but also on providing all team members with constructive feedback.

Since task performers are given more flexibility with the way in which they complete their work, it’s important to take the time to provide commentary on how they are doing.

Remember that feedback goes both ways. You must also seek out information from customers and other stakeholders to gather opinions about your products, projects. You can do that by taking a customer-centric approach on the project.

It’s crucial that you learn from your mistakes and evolve future deliverables. Since agile project management can be difficult to get to grips with at first, it’s important that you get users involved and engaged as they can be on your side as you test out new ways of doing things. After all, you are all on the same team.

Armed with an understanding of those 3 things, you can get to the heart of the framework.

Joining The Scrum

It’s known as the “scrum”. Scrum is one of several Agile frameworks (and the one that we’re focusing on in this article) that uses precise roles, meetings, and events to deliver the final product in a specific time frame.

The scrum contains 3 roles: the product owner, the scrum master and the team.

Simply put, the product owner is essentially the stakeholder representative. They prioritise project funding, communicate what the final product should look like and help guide its development.

The scrum master manages this process; they oversee communication, solve problems that may arise and ensure each sprint doesn’t take on any additional, unforeseen objectives.

And lastly, the team is made up of a group of individuals working on short phases of work that deliver products at their completion, known as “sprints”.

If you’re keen to find out more about how Scrum stacks up, read more about how Scrum compares to Kanban and Scrumban as an Agile method.

Making The Switch to Agile

As a project manager you are probably used to endless streams of information and overwhelming data flows, but it’s understandable if Agile seems a bit beyond the normal. Without a doubt agile project management can be difficult but it doesn’t have to be.

With the help of a strong project management tool, you can master working with agile methodologies in no time. The Digital Project Manager has a good comparison of Agile tools as a starting point.

Of course, software won’t replace the understanding you’ll get from working alongside an experienced scrum master and agile team. Training and a supportive work culture where everyone understands what agile is all about will also help you make a success of managing projects in this way.

Project management software like ITM Platform can make this easier by guiding you through the steps to get the work done. Choose a tool that’s designed to support the project management approach you want to use and then even if you aren’t 100% familiar with it, you’ve got some support.

Register for a free demo here*

ITMPlatform Free Trial

About the author: About the author: Isidora Roskic is a blogger at ITMPlatform.

*This article contains affiliate links, meaning I make a small commission if you click and sign up. There’s no charge to you and it helps keep this website going! Thanks!

About

Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.

Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

Comments

  1. I believe the success of the Project Manager is to know what methodology to use based on the context and situation you are in.

    Not all projects need to be run in an agile way. You need to develop a range of methodologies and craft an approach that works best. I like to have Agile, Waterfall, Human Centred Design, PRINCE2 and ADKAR in my toolbox – as well as a whole host of different tools and techniques.

    To shift to agile you need to know when to use it, how to use it and what to do to manage ambiguity and work in an incremental way. You need awesome group working skills. teambuilding mastery, with stakeholder and reviewing skills too as with agile you need to learn on the go with an engaged team and involve your customers a great deal, even if they are busy!

    I’ve developed a approach called CHANGEPRO which combines this way of thinking. Let me know if you want to discuss more.

    • Hello Graham, thanks for your comment. You’re right, of course: not everything needs to be Agile and Agile doesn’t work all the time, just like waterfall doesn’t. Unfortunately once people tend to position themselves as one or the other all projects tend to get shoehorned into ‘the way we do things around here’. I think from the comments and emails I receive, it is hard for people to develop a broad toolkit like you mention because companies tend to only be geared up to deliver in a particular way. More flexibility would be good, but I can understand why it doesn’t happen everywhere.

      • Elizabeth, Graham, thanks for your answers.

        I had an opportunity to work as a PM and Scrum Master (though not full time). I have some knowledge and experience in both.

        So, for example, CSM certificate requires only two days of classes and a simple exam. So, it doesn’t sound like a complex tool.

        Nevertheless, I often hear about agile mindset, special soft skill to manage scrum teams, etc. I must admit I don’t get it. What are these extra skills and transformations that are not a part of other project management approaches?

        In other methodologies we also have ambiguity. We manage stakeholder and thier engagement, changes happen more often than we would like it to be. Scrum is just a variation of PM process described in PMBOK Guide, isn’t it?

        I believe, it is broad question and there is no one true answer…

  2. What do you think is the number one transformation for a project manager here? I mean, how do you switch from PM to Scrum Master?

    • I’ve personally never done it, so I’m probably not best placed to advise. Generally, though, when you want a change of direction it’s a good idea to find a mentor, do some reading around the subject and learn what is expected of you in the new role. Scrum Master is an actual job that you can train for, so doing some training to bring you up to speed and make sure you fully understand what you are supposed to be doing will also be important. A Scrum Master should be the guardian of Scrum processes on the team, so you need to know the tools inside out.

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