When your projects are running behind schedule and the outcomes aren’t meeting the standards you’re hoping to reach, it’s time to take a hard look at your project management framework to see if it’s holding you back. Old, traditional project management methodologies can be cumbersome and inefficient, and if you’re still using them, odds are good that adopting a newer, better framework – like Agile – could be a game-changer for your team.
Making a sudden shift from traditional to Agile project management can be a seismic event, especially if your team members are unfamiliar with it and have a whole new set of jargon to learn. Reconciling your old project management methods with an Agile framework smoothly requires agility (ironically enough), but it’s well worth the effort.
Although Agile began as an approach to software coding, the sprint-based structure translates exceptionally to project management. Here’s how to provide By providing continuity between the old ways of doing things and the new, and you can ensure your team shifts gears successfully.
What Is Agile Project Management?
Essentially, Agile is a set of principles designed to structure project management methods that deliver better, faster, more consistent results. The core idea behind it is the need to be responsive to change, in order to succeed in an unpredictable development environment. Today, Agile has adapted to handle workflow for projects in all types of industries.
Here are the key concepts of Agile project management:
- Scrum: The Scrum is the framework by which Agile project management is implemented. Agile is the theory, Scrum is the practice.
- Sprints: A Sprint is a defined period of time (usually two weeks to a month) during which the team accomplishes a set list of prioritized tasks.
- Stand-Ups: The Daily Stand-Up is a short meeting in which team members discuss what they worked on the day before, what they’re working on today, and what, if anything, is impeding their ability to accomplish their tasks.
- Retrospectives: At the completion of a Sprint, the team reviews what they’ve accomplished.
Ready, Set, Go: How to Sprint
As the basic organizing unit of workflow under the Agile framework, Sprints are the most important thing to understand and implement. All tasks required to complete a project are organized into Sprints, and all tasks within a Sprint must be completed before the next Sprint can begins.
Every task in a Sprint is ordered according to priority, but no due dates are assigned to individual tasks—each task is effectively due at the end of the Sprint. In the Agile project management framework, tasks don’t span more than one Sprint.
How do Sprints compare to task-organizing methods under traditional project management frameworks? We can contrast them with an old project management system that’s been in use for more than a century: Gantt Charts.
Agile vs Gantt
A Gantt Chart is a way of visualizing various tasks spread out over a period of time, using bar graphs. It can be an effective way of referencing project tasks creating a reference for what tasks need to be done to complete a project, visualizing what the time frames are for individual tasks (and the overall project), which team members are set to work on which tasks, and how the various tasks overlap and relate to each other.
Gantt Charts are sometimes associated with “Waterfall” project management, since as the appearance of the sequential bar graphs on a Gantt Chart can call to mind a cascading waterfall.
A well-constructed Gantt Chart makes for a good visualization of a project, but as soon as things start going in unexpected ways – a task takes longer than intended, or the specifications of the project change – the usefulness of that carefully-organized visualization starts to break down. Adding or changing tasks on a Gantt Chart might also mess up the look of your Waterfalls.
However it only takes a little shift in your thinking to see that each Waterfall can be treated like a Sprint. If you’ve already got a Gantt Chart going, you can probably make a Sprint out of the tasks that make up each identifiable Waterfall.
Milestones refer to key events or goals on a Gantt Chart. Under an Agile framework, you could see each Milestone as the end of a Sprint or series of Sprints, as well as an occasion for a Retrospective.
One of the biggest benefits of the Agile framework is continuous deployment, the practice (in software development) of minimizing the lead time between writing code and releasing the resultant functionality to users. Ideally, each completed task should result in deployable output, which can be helpful in larger Gantt-based planning.
Constructing a Sample Sprint
Here’s a walkthrough of a simple Sprint workflow, to give you a template you can use for your own projects:
- Determine the Product Owner: The Product Owner is the team member who has the final say over what’s going into the project and what the result is supposed to look like.
- Make a Backlog: The Backlog is the prioritized list of tasks that make up the complete project. The Product Owner is in charge of the Backlog, but it can be developed with input from the whole team.
- Sprint Planning: This is where you figure out the goals and the workload capacity for the upcoming Sprint. The whole team needs to have a clear understanding of the goals for each Sprint.
- Assign Tasks: Each task within the Sprint should be accounted for by a team member who will be responsible for getting it done.
- Begin the Sprint: It’s time to get to work, with each team member tackling the tasks they were assigned, collaborating when possible.
- Hold Daily Stand-Ups: Meet every day to discuss yesterday’s work, today’s work, and any impediments in the team’s way.
- Finish the Sprint and Hold a Retrospective: When all the tasks are completed, it’s time to have a Retrospective meeting to present and review the work that was done, refining the Backlog to prepare for the next Sprint.
Becoming Agile is Easier than You Might Think
Switching from traditional to Agile project management environment can be intimidating for those unfamiliar with it, but it’s not overly complex, once you get the process established. Many of the concepts and structures of traditional methodologies can be easily adapted into Agile analogs, making it less of a hassle than you might think, and allowing you to streamline your team’s work processes and outcomes.