In 2001, at Utah’s Snowbird ski resort, 17 software developers got together and produced the groundbreaking Agile Manifesto.
It was meant to streamline the software development process by de-emphasizing inefficient practices such as heavy documentation, excessive meetings, and rigid adherence to process.
There’s no way they could have known back then what the Agile movement would become. More than 15 years later, Agile is everywhere.
It has become a full-on business buzzword among the ranks of “synergy,” “disruptive,” and the all-time great, “thinking outside the box.”
Everyone from the sales department to the mail-room is talking about who’s more Agile than whom.
The big difference between Agile and the rest of the project management buzzwords that came before it? Agile is an actual approach to project management with an actual definition.
This article will cut through the clutter to give a clear, concise definition of the term so that you can correct your manager the next time they talk about how Agile they were with their series of afternoon meetings to plan next month’s series of planning meetings.
By understanding what Agile really means, you’ll also be better equipped to help implement Agile practices at your organization, and recognize situations that could be improved with a dash of Agile (like nixing the weekly meeting-planning meeting).
We’ll also look at three real world examples of Agile project management in action.
A definition of Agile project management
What is agile project management? The first—and perhaps most pure—definition of Agile project management comes from the Agile Manifesto itself:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
- But we can distill that somewhat arcane summary to come up with a more concise definition:
Now let’s break that down.
Agile is iterative, meaning that it is done in pieces (sprints), with each sprint building and improving off the lessons learned from the previous sprint. This is where the Scrum framework comes into the equation. As Gartner research director Nathan Wilson said at the 2017 Gartner PPM Summit, “Scrum is a way of organizing work to promote agility.”
Agile is an approach and mindset. It’s not a textbook, or a list of instructions, or a certification. In fact, trying to turn Agile methodology into a black and white template goes against everything that Agile is. It would be like trying to give someone a detailed, step-by-step plan on how to be “cool,” or play jazz. However, there is project management software that is designed specifically to promote agility.
Agile project management is all about efficient communication over documentation, or convoluted email chains, or excessive meetings. According to the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” If you can communicate something with a ten-second conversation instead of an email, you should. This is where the daily scrum comes into play.
Agile is all about producing tangible, working results after each iteration. This is an important one. According to the 12 principles, “Working software is the primary measure of progress.” To compare Agile to the editorial process—you deliver a rough draft, then revise based on your editor’s suggestions. You’re not delivering the entire piece all at once on the day it goes to press.
Why Agile matters
So that’s what Agile is, but why is it important?
According to the Project Management Institute, more than 70% of organizations have incorporated some Agile approaches, while more than a quarter of manufacturing firms use Agile exclusively.
If your business is not using Agile, you’re in the increasing minority, and you’re falling behind as a result.