What are agile methodologies in project management?

By Indeed Editorial Team

3 January 2022

As a project manager, it's crucial to continually research and expand your techniques to stay ahead in a rapidly developing field. You can stay competitive by delivering value to your clients, and one way to do this is by employing agile methods to provide quality management over a project. With a deeper understanding of agile methods, you can streamline your next project and ensure you meet goals. In this article, we explain what agile methodologies are in project management, discuss how they can benefit business projects and outline some of the most common types.

What are agile methodologies?

Agile methodologies are used by project managers to separate their project tasks into several small phases or increments. Agile methods focus on continuous collaboration between managers and stakeholders to provide consistent and real-time feedback and improvements at all stages of the project. All parties can evaluate results continuously so project members have a natural mechanism for responding to change quickly and appropriately.

Agile was launched as a formal methodology in 2001 when a group of technologists drafted what's called the Agile Manifesto. This proclamation outlined four major tenants or values of agile project management to improve software and develop better ways of working. These values focus on:

  • individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • working software over comprehensive documentation

  • customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • responding to change over following a plan

Related: Project management skills and how to improve them

The main principles of agile

Implementing an agile work environment properly requires a clear understanding of the main principles that uphold this method. Agile methodologies strive to provide incremental and frequent functionality through cross-functional teams by adhering to these tenants:

Working in smaller increments

Agile frameworks update more traditional methods of software development that rely on different and longer stages, such as planning, designing, building, testing and delivery. Agile development makes the process more manageable with smaller stages and allows for initial results sooner. Stakeholders can usually complete the development process within a few months.

Communicating consistently and effectively

Agile approaches adhere to open and frequent communication between project leads and all contributing teams within the business. Agile teams within a business work together daily at all stages of the project to react to changes in real time. In doing so, project implementation has a higher likelihood of staying on schedule, even if requirements alter.

Providing feedback at all stages

Traditional methodologies rely on scheduled updates and team meetings to assess progress. These are usually pre-determined before the initiation phase begins. Agile methods, in contrast, look to gauge success at every phase of production by providing constant updates and progress reports. You can then measure the success of the project after the delivery of each incremental stage.

Building and maintaining trust

Agile teams rely on honesty and communication to keep everyone working towards the same goals and to mitigate any unforeseen problems quickly. This openness creates an atmosphere of self-organising trust between team members and stakeholders. Agile teams focus on motivating team members individually by trusting them to meet their goals and finish their tasks.

Welcoming and adjusting to change

One of the principal tenants of agile methods is expecting and welcoming the inevitable changes that occur during project implementation. This allows for teams to adjust to small changes regularly and continually, which can help the project adhere to the established schedule. Because agility is based on continuous feedback, teams embrace even late-stage changes and acknowledge the value they can have for the customer.

Related: Business development skills: definition and examples

Benefits of agility in project management

Allowing teams to be agile encourages diversity of ideas, builds personal commitment and accountability and promotes continuous improvement. Here's a list of some benefits of using agile methods:

Quality results

In agile project management, testing is a part of all phases. By continually evolving throughout the project, clients can remain an important part of all stages of development. This means they can ask for small changes as they arise rather than potentially missing them when presented only with the end product.

Client control

Agile methods create an atmosphere where transparency, consistent quality control measures and integrated feedback are typical and expected. With real-time updates and daily progress reports, managers have better visibility of all stages. This visibility allows managers to make informed decisions as they arise and maintain control of the overall results and expectations of the project.

Business risk reduction

Agile working methods are based on the fundamental idea that business risks are avoidable if teams work in small segments and ask for feedback at all stages. By delivering continuous results, clients can adjust their requirements easily and incrementally. A major benefit is that even if one segment doesn't go to plan, the risks to the overarching project are minimal because teams work to produce small and consistent results.

Less rework

Agile methods allow for work to be completed faster, and also completed with fewer mistakes and less necessary rework. By involving the client in every phase of production and delivery, projects remain on task at a micro-level, adapting to customer needs at each of these phases. This ultimately results in less backtracking after implementation has already been completed, and less time spent waiting for customer feedback to make changes.

Relevant metrics

Traditional waterfall methodologies track performance by showing how closely a project is following the estimated cost and time that was established before the project began. Agile methodologies instead emphasise producing continual results while constantly optimising performance. To do this, agile methods produce important metrics like cycle time that give a better understanding of progress. Agile metrics aim to identify immediate production issues and help teams make instant, informed and data-driven decisions to help correct them.

Related: Time-management skills: definition, examples and tips for improvement

Agile team member roles

In practice, agile methods of project management start by identifying users, team members and each person's role for addressing the scope of problems, opportunities and values of the project. The project manager works with a multidisciplinary and specially selected group to deliver their client's vision. Here are the main roles within agile teams:

Project manager

The project manager's main responsibility is to define the client's vision and then work with a development team to produce it while following any set standards. Project managers act as the voice of the customer, including internal stakeholders, by accurately internalising insights, feedback and ideas when creating a product vision. The project manager is responsible for accurately assessing who the client is, what values they want to address with the project and how they can deliver these.

Team senior

The team senior, or scrum master, ensures that messages they receive from the project manager are fully understood by all parties and that responsible persons finish tasks with a high degree of accuracy. This member of an agile team is responsible for team welfare and support when needed. Team seniors play a crucial role in offering support and guidance while ensuring teams work to meet deadlines.

Development team members

Development team members comprise most of an agile team. Project managers often choose team members for their unique skills and working styles. Team members accept assignments, consult each other and the project lead when they have questions and work on tasks independently or collaboratively, depending on the project's needs.

Related: How to become a project manager

4 common agile methods

Within the agile framework, there are four common agile methods that businesses use to achieve agility. These methodologies include:

1. Scrum

Scrum is one of the most common agile methods and is characterised by defined cycles, or stages, of development. These stages are referred to as sprints, and the overall goal is to fully utilise a short amount of time to produce a product. Scrums consist of small, daily meetings and a larger daily scrum to synchronise the team's schedule and find the best way to plan the workday.

2. Kanban

Kanban, a term linked to Japanese concepts of time management, is an agile method that relies on documenting and showing every flow of a project. The project is represented physically on a kanban board or on a table where workflows are divided into columns. As development progresses, the information on the board also evolves, allowing for the creation of new tasks.

3. Extreme programming (XP)

XP methodology emphasises values like communication, simplicity, feedback, courage and respect. The emphasis of this method is on customer satisfaction. XP offers trust to the project team by motivating them to accept changes in the customer's requirements.

4. Crystal

There are different kinds of crystal methodology, but they all focus on people, interactions, skills, community, talent and communication. Crystal aims to provide clients with the best possible project development process. The key principle in this methodology is interaction and teamwork.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.