Agile project planning (with characteristics and benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 18 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many software development teams use the Agile project methodology to manage development, oversee deadlines and ensure quality. Many of the world's leading technology businesses now use this methodology for planning projects and overseeing the timely completion of concurrent projects. This method is popular because of its quick turnaround times, plus it helps developers manage large projects, so it can be useful to learn more about it for your own projects. In this article, we examine what Agile project planning is, discuss its characteristics and review the benefits that make it a popular choice for software development teams.

Related: What is Agile project management? (Everything you need to know)

What is Agile project planning?

The Agile project planning methodology refers to a style of project management that takes a more iterative approach towards a project's development. Companies that follow the Agile methodology usually don't start with a comprehensive plan. Instead, they begin with a basic idea and are receptive to changes in requirements over every development cycle, incorporating feedback from beta testers or users.

Software development teams define specific periods of work known as sprints. Cross-functional teams then work to achieve the company's objectives and key results. They organise work into specific sections before submitting it for review to different stakeholders. Agile project planning offers many benefits, but many prefer it because of its ability to quickly respond to any problems that may arise during the developmental phase.

Related: What is an agile environment? (Key characteristics and tools)

Understanding the Agile project methodology

The Agile project methodology breaks down development into smaller cycles called sprints. These sprints run anywhere from a few days or several weeks to a month or more. During each sprint, teams focus on the initial design and development before the project enters quality assurance and testing. This method is popular as it's fast and allows teams to quickly release segments upon completion. In case of errors or issues, teams can quickly fix problems and continue with their development cycle.

Related: What is an epic in Agile (With definition and examples)

Main characteristics of project planning

The following includes several characteristics that underline this approach to project planning:

Plans focus on user requirements

A major distinction between the Agile methodology and others is that during the planning phase, the focus mainly lies on the requirements of the end user. This is different from other models, such as the traditional waterfall development model, in which companies prepare comprehensive specifications to determine the type of software they want to build, and then divide them into tasks. In Agile planning, the teams simply identify the requirements of the users. This could be a particular feature or a bug in the software that the team needs to remove.

Related: Agile project management principles (with values and steps)

Teams follow an iterative planning process

Team members first focus on dividing different features into actionable tasks. For instance, if the team intends to introduce a new feature, they identify the tasks to perform and assign them to different members. Before work begins, the teams prepare estimates for completion and, if a task may take longer, they evaluate how to break it down further into smaller ones. This reduces uncertainty and ensures that every member knows their tasks.

Time estimates are essential

Time estimates often include a bit of guesswork, but with the Agile methodology, there are certain principles that teams use to make more accurate estimates. For instance, when committing to a particular delivery date, teams often factor in past performance and delivery dates. If a team was able to deliver a feature update within a few weeks and the new feature update is relatively similar, they can use the same time estimate. But if the number of features is greater, they can plan accordingly by using their historical data as a reference.

Efficient management of backlogs

One characteristic of Agile planning is to manage priorities effectively. During the development phase, the order of feature requests is likely to change as demand varies. For instance, if there's more demand for a specific feature, it's probable that the software development team may shift its focus and deliver that feature first before working on another. Being able to shift priorities quickly helps teams deliver new features quickly.

Backlogs are likely to occur in any project. In Agile methodology, there are two types of backlogs that may arise:

  • Iteration backlog: This backlog refers to the list of priority features or tasks to complete to introduce a new feature during the current iteration of the software.

  • Product backlog: This refers to the full set of features to develop for the project.

Related: What are the 4 agile values? (Plus why they were created)

No specific project managers

There are no specific project managers in Agile project development. While project managers play a critical role in conventional project delivery models, their role isn't as important in Agile planning. That's because team members distribute different roles among themselves that a project manager would otherwise perform. These include preparing reports on performance, distributing different tasks among members, setting goals and preparing schedules for work.

But project managers still play a role in Agile development, especially in completing more complex projects. They generally serve in the capacity of a coordinator, taking responsibility for the completion of the project and overseeing its development. In case a problem arises, the managers respond first to resolve it quickly and ensure that deadlines remain on schedule.

Teamwork and collaboration are key

Since every member of the team works so closely with each other, building synergy is advantageous. Close collaboration and teamwork are necessary for Agile projects to ensure timely completion. The team works together to carefully reduce the backlog without compromising quality and build new features in the current iteration. They're also responsible for estimating deadlines and scheduling workflows, which results in a large amount of autonomy for every team member. The project manager or product owner manages the entire plan, but in general, the team is responsible for meeting the requirements and adhering to the deadlines.

In case of a conflict, team members work together to resolve it. Since every member of the team is responsible for their tasks, the interaction between members is important. That's one of the reasons why morale among team members is generally high and communication is open.

Related: Teamwork skills: definition, types and tips for improvement

Benefits of project planning

The following are several reasons why the Agile development methodology is so popular for projects:

Better product quality

Testing is an important part of executing projects, which greatly improves the quality of the final product. After developing a new feature, the team sends it through to testing before it moves forward to quality assurance. The client also takes an active interest in the development and can ask for changes or a shift in priorities depending on market factors. Since this is an iterative process, team members also continue to learn and improve. All of this greatly improves the quality of the final product.

More satisfied customers

The customer is an integral part of the decision-making process in Agile project methodology. Since they directly work with developers, they can request more features and recommend changes quickly. This improves customer satisfaction and retention significantly. This is different from conventional product development methods, as the customer only offers input during the initial design and planning phase.

By working closely with the customer, companies can also reduce their shipping-to-market times. They get feedback and incorporate that quickly into their product, which reduces bottlenecks and ensures that customers remain happy. This allows businesses to scale faster.

Related: What is customer satisfaction?

More consistency and predictability

As team members directly provide deadlines and are responsible for their tasks, projects become more predictable and easier to complete. There's greater visibility into what the teams are doing, and managers can gather data more efficiently. This allows management to plan for contingencies and identify any risks or issues that may arise. Teams become more efficient at performing different tasks and can complete projects within specific time frames, especially since the developers are responsible for providing the deadlines.

More flexibility

A major advantage of using the Agile development methodology is that teams can perform much more flexibly. Since teams work in smaller sprints and receive feedback relatively quickly, they're able to quickly implement feedback and manage their time more effectively. Team members propose their own deadlines, allowing them to manage their work more conveniently.

Better process growth

One of the core principles of the Agile method is to strive towards constant improvement. Since this method relies on iterations, each sprint is incrementally better than the last. Teams learn from their mistakes and errors and plan better for the next sprint, which improves performance. Since effective communication is a key factor, members also learn from each other's experiences.

Related:

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  • What is an agile coach? Definition, duties and benefits

  • Why an agile mindset is beneficial in the workplace


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