In this blog, we’ll pull back the curtain on what exactly agile principles are, where they come from and how they can be applied to your project management approach.
These are the principles that allow industry titans like Google and Microsoft to update and release new software so quickly. Objectives that would take other organizations much longer to achieve. It helps them move fast and give their customers what they really want.
It can help you too. Once you understand these agile principles, you’ll be able to apply them to your project management approach and improve your results.
This will be fun, promise!
Where Do Agile Principles Come From?
Agile principles originated in the tech world as an efficient approach to software development. Let’s visit every high school student’s best friend, Wikipedia, for a definition of the term “agile software development”:
Agile software development is an approach to software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customer(s)/end user(s).
Still confused? Don’t worry, Uncle Toggl is here to break it down for you…
Agile software development ensures that software is released to consumers in a timely manner, is continually updated and improved, and is created in the simplest manner possible.
Why should you, a project manager, care about this? Because, software isn’t the only thing to which agile principles can be applied. Many fields are adopting the framework. And the principles have proven to be especially effective in the world of project management.
Studies show that agile project management leads to more companies meeting their goals, deadlines and budgets. But before we discuss applying these concepts to your project management strategy, let’s take a moment to define the principles.
Here You Go: The 12 Agile Principles
Before we get into applying agile principles to project management, let’s go over what the principles actually are. There are 12 of them as outlined in the legendary Agile Manifesto:
- The highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Always welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Frequently deliver working software. Aim for new releases within a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
- Business people 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.
- Face-to-face conversation is the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- The continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- At regular intervals, teams should reflect on how to become more effective. Then tune and adjust their behavior accordingly.
In the next section, we’ll outline the steps you need to take to apply these principles to your project management style.
Applying Agile Principles to Project Management
Now that we know and understand the 12 agile principles, let’s outline the five steps you’ll need to take to apply them to your project management workflow.
1: Strategize for Success
Want to start implementing an agile project management approach? It all starts with a plan. A foolproof strategy that will allow you to achieve success.
To create this strategy, you need to take a big picture look at your project. What problem are you addressing? What outcome are you hoping to achieve? Which team members will be crucial in making sure this project is successful?
Answer these types of questions before you move on to the next step.
2: Map Out Your Approach
Once you’ve cemented your project strategy and identified both your start and end points, it’s time to map the space in between. This is more high-level stuff. Don’t let the minutia bog you down. Instead, loosely determine the steps you must take to reach project completion.
The most important part of this step, though, and the way we introduce agile principles into the equation, is to keep your approach goal oriented. Meaning, the end goal of your project should always be at the forefront of your mind.
For example, if the project you were assigned to manage was your company’s big, summer marketing initiative; you’d want to focus on the main goals of the operations such as customer acquisition and engagement.
If an idea doesn’t directly align with these objectives, put it on the back burner. All in all, try to choose three to five goals per project, no more.
You then need to assign tentative completion dates to each goal and get buy-in from all stakeholders such as marketing and sales personnel. Get them excited to be working on this project. That enthusiasm will help carry you through if/when challenges arise.
3: Begin Working
Now it’s time to get down to business and make the magic happen.
You’ll want to work in, what’s known in the software development world, as “sprints.” These are short production cycles that last anywhere from one to four weeks and focus on one goal at a time. Yes, our agile principles strike again!
Host a quick meeting before each new sprint begins. Includes every team member who will be working on the project. Make sure each of them understand their role and have a chance to voice concerns.
This will save you a mountain of hassle down the road, help you maintain efficiency, and make the entire process much more enjoyable.
4: Continually Discuss and Review Progress
Our twelfth agile principle states that “At regular intervals, teams should reflect…” It’s now time to do just that. As the project manager, you should be hosting daily meet-ups with your staff to discuss progress, any potential roadblocks, and next steps.
When an entire sprint is completed, a team-wide meeting should be held. Review the whole cycle. Determine what went well and what can be improved. Then adjust accordingly. By fostering a culture of continuous learning, you’ll increase efficiency.
5: Clearly Define Next Steps
At this point, you’ve created a project strategy and mapped out the steps you’ll take to achieve success. You’ve then set to work completing your plan and continually reviewed progress along the way. You should now have a completed project, or at least one completed part of the whole.
Take what you’ve learned so far and clearly define your team’s next steps. What can you do better in the future? If your entire project isn’t yet complete, do you need to adjust the timeline? Make sure both you and your staff know exactly where you’re headed.
Our Top Software Picks for Agile Project Management
Are you onboard with the agile principles we’ve outlined in this blog? If so, we’re sure you’ll want to begin adding them to your project management approach. This short list of software solutions will help you get started:
We’re big fans of Trello — especially for those working in smaller teams. Why? Because it’s incredibly intuitive and they offer so much at no cost to the user!
This app uses the KanBan methodology. This simplifies the project management process by allowing teams to visualize their workflows on a customizable “board” and see what specific step comes next. If you’re looking to begin implementing agile principles into your project management strategy, Trello is a great tool to use!
Monday.com is a tool that allows users to apply Scrum agile principles to their workflow with ease. Not sure what Scrum is? It’s probably the most popular agile methodology and relies on task prioritization by way of a backlog — a list of everything your team needs to complete.
Monday makes agile project management simple with powerful software that allows teams to plan and execute.
Toggl is a time management app, NOT a project management one. It’s included in this short list because effective time management is essential to becoming a better project manager and completing projects more efficiently.
Toggl allows you to boost productivity by cataloging the hours you spend on projects — no matter what device you happen to be working on — and providing detailed reports on the findings. You can then use the information to optimize processes and improve workflows. Pretty cool, right?
The use of agile principles can radically improve your project management abilities. So don’t be surprised if your tasks reach completion quicker, stay on a budget better, and cause you less stress once you implement them.
Simply refer back to this post if ever you get stuck in the process. Study up on the 12 agile principles first outlined in the Agile Manifesto. Then get back to basics and focus on first creating a project strategy and mapping out each step.
As you begin working, analyze your workflow; continually looking for ways to improve it. And whatever you do, make sure the next step is clearly defined and understood by your entire team. Good luck and stay agile!