Gantt - The illusion of Control
Agile - The illusion of No Planning
Agile Project Management
Does a meticulously detailed Gantt ensure a successful project? Meeting schedules, timelines, and budget of the project?
Life teaches us differently. That things happen, that changes occur.
So if budget, time, and contents are predetermined, and there’s a change in one or more of these parameters, what is our ability to respond to this change?
This article will detail how Agile project management reduces risk, reduces rework, and helps project managers and product managers by giving them the ability to accurately predict the product development process and/or the problems they may encounter, to discover “surprises” in the early stages of development, and respond quickly and flexibly.
What's the difference between managing an Agile project vs. a traditional project?
Traditional project management is studied in the academia and professional courses. It is an established methodology in which projects are run per pre-known and pre-defined stages: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and completion. The traditional project management approach places special emphasis on linear processes, documentation, planning and budgeting. According to the traditional method, the time and budget are determined per the requirements at the beginning of the project. Therefore, in this method, the flexibility to make changes – scope, time and budget is zero. Any significant change in one of the three parameters becomes a challenge… In particular, since the three parameters are fixed, the only way to deal with a significant change is to add man hours, or, alternatively, significantly impair quality.
How do you run an Agile project?
Agile is an approach used primarily for development in complex worlds (software, hardware, integration between them, or projects requiring creative thinking), and relies heavily on teamwork, collaboration, and flexibility to respond to changes as quickly as possible.
Advantages of Agile project management:
- Risk reduction – because there’s always a “part of the system” that works. At the end of each sprint there is a demo demonstrating what was developed, enabling early learning that affects how to progress.
- The client participates in the demo and his feedback influences the next phase of development.
- Even in the case of a fundamental change, and even in the case of stopping – there is a value to what has already been realized – a learning value,
- In long-term projects – adaptability to constantly changing requirements and market conditions.
- Reducing costs by reducing rework- because if you have to change direction, you do so at early stages.
- Improved quality – constantly testing and integrating!
- The ability to manage and monitor the real progress of the project, and to predict meeting of the project schedule – at the end of every sprint there is something that works.
- The ability to manage the relationship with the customer, even when there are delays
To summarize – Agile project management is an iterative process. In every sprint (2-3 weeks), the project team demonstrates a working product/system/sub-system. Unlike the traditional approach, less time is invested in planning ahead – long term. In practice, because every sprint has to be re-planned (re-adjusted) and re-prioritized, flexibility is created, and planning becomes an iterative ongoing process reflecting the change in understanding of the situation. In the Agile way, planning occurs at a time we know (more?) the real situation, unlike the traditional method, where planning happens at a stage where there is almost no knowledge of the project and its needs.
The Project Manager’s Role
The Project Manager coordinates and reports on project progress. Often project managers are part of the PMO organization, these are usually goal-oriented people, with a broad knowledge of the organization, often with specific knowledge of the project. The Project Manager is not the Project Team Manager. The Project Manager manages the project, not the team.
The role of the project manager to verify and report that the project team is meeting its objectives. Project managers use many different tools, techniques and approaches to meet the project’s goal.
Project Manager Competencies & Skills:
- Goal-oriented – project success
- Strong interpersonal communication skills – uses different tools
- Builds motivation and focuses on the success of the project
- Resolves ad-hoc problems that arise along the way
Agile Project Lifecycle
Step 1 - Start a new project
Each project starts with an idea, with a customer’s need, in an attempt to improve a process/tool/platform.
The long-term planning is high level without investing unnecessary resources in detailed planning on what we do not know and do not understand, and as the project progresses matures we break-down the short-term tasks (3 to 6 months ahead) into more detail.
Step 2 – Managing the Project
The Agile backlog that is managed in systems such as Jira, Azure, Trello and similar, is our tool for managing all our ideas and constantly prioritizing them according to parameters such as business value, feasibility, and more. The Agile backlog is also used as the ‘conversation tool’ to communicate with the project stakeholders.
As an idea matures more and more, meaning business value, feasibility and other relevant analyses have been done, it progresses in a predetermined workflow.
In order to move forward, there is constant process of discovery and grooming and breaking down tasks to small chunks of work and of course identifying and defining what is the first MVP and the following MVPs.
One of the underlying principles of Agile project management is transparency and visibility.
Anyone, at any given moment, can see the status of the entire project or drill down to a single task level (userstory), or view a collection of tasks (feature), or a collection of several features (epic).
The backlog is structured in a hierarchic way so you can choose whether you want to view high level or go into the details.
Step 3 – Follow-up and Control
The teams engaged in project execution use tools like the Burndown Chart that help them track execution against planning and know which tasks are finished and which tasks are not.
There are, of course, other reports like Cycle Time, Version Report and more.
The Version Report allows monitoring and control and version management,
What does the Agile way contribute to project management?
- Team and managerial discipline
- Breaking down the product/project in an Agile backlog (discovery & grooming)
- Flexibility, predictability, and transparency
- Milestones – a working system at the end of each sprint (demo)
Agile Project Management helps product managers by giving them the ability to accurately predict the product development process and/or the problems they encounter, and to the teams to work in sync and transparency with the other moving parts of the project.
High level long-term planning and short-term detailed planning, in accordance with the project phase, are an integral part of success. Agile becomes a tool helping management, project managers, customers, and teams to navigate in a constantly changing environment, achieve max productivity, and deliver max value to the business and to its customers.