What is agile project management? (Everything you need to know)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

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.

Agile project management is an approach to project planning in which the team is constantly evolving and adapting their approach according to user feedback. Typically used in software development, the teams complete and release a project in parts and update each version as they are working on it. The advantages of an agile approach to project management include faster product development and improved responses to market trends and feedback. In this article, we provide the answer to 'what is agile project management?' and provide examples of when this approach can be helpful for you.

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What is agile project management?

The answer to 'what is agile project management?' can depend on several factors, including what field you're in and what type of project you're working on. At its core, an agile approach to project management includes tasks that are necessary for the completion of a project are divided into small parts, called iterations or sprints. Each sprint is a development cycle that usually lasts anywhere between a few days to a couple of weeks.

An agile approach to project management includes the following steps:

  1. The team creates and then releases a new sprint.

  2. The team members, project stakeholders and/or consumers test, review and evaluate the sprint.

  3. The team uses any feedback from consumers or stakeholders to guide the next stage of the project.

  4. The team begins the next sprint.

  5. This process is repeated as many times as necessary until they decide the project is complete.

The goal of agile project management is to introduce new stages of the project on a continuous basis and make constant improvements. The benefit of the agile project management method is that it helps to make sure that one part of a project is a success before the team advances to the next stages which helps companies launch projects on time and within budget.

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Agile project management vs. the waterfall approach

Agile is one of the main project management systems teams adopt to ensure a project's success. The other, more traditional product management method is called the waterfall approach. In the waterfall method, the team carries out each task and easy stage of the project in a precise order. They are required to complete each stage fully before they can move on to the next phase.

The various phases in the waterfall approach include:

  1. initiation

  2. planning

  3. execution

  4. monitoring

  5. closure

Choosing one approach over the other depends on the type of organisation and client you are working for. Here is how agile project management compares to the waterfall approach:

Order of events

In the waterfall approach, the team only releases a product for testing after each step has been completed. In agile project management, the team tests and releases each product as soon as a phase is completed. This provides more flexibility and leaves room to be more adaptable and make changes earlier in the project.

Customer involvement

The waterfall approach is based on a defined structure, plan and sequence, while agile project management completes sprints according to order of importance. The team may be working on many features at the same time, and will only launch or present the product to the stakeholders when it's finished. In contrast, the agile approach requires stakeholders and customers to be involved in the early stages throughout the development process.

Management styles

A waterfall approach to project management means the project is typically overseen and guided by a project manager. It requires detailed documentation of each step in the project. Agile project management is more of a collaborative approach, where all team members monitor progress and make decisions. The agile approach places less importance on recording and documenting each step in the process and more focus on producing a working product.

Size of the team

The size of the team can also differ in the different approaches to management, with traditional methods typically requiring larger teams with individual skills and agile methods including a small group of experienced professionals. Projects involving traditional management approaches are typically on a larger scale. Agile projects are typically smaller scale because they focus on one sprint at a time.

Related: What are the main responsibilities of a team leader?

Agile project management pros

There are many advantages of using agile project management, especially for teams that work on complicated projects or software development that are required to release products rapidly and continually update their work during the development process. Other pros of agile project management include:

Fast response

An agile approach typically allows teams to spot issues earlier and respond accordingly. As the teams test the products they develop after each sprint instead of at the end of the project they can fix issues straight away. This increases a team's likelihood of having a successful product at the end of the project.

Reduced time and cost

A business may save on resources if they make changes and fix any issues with a product in its development phase. Once a project is finished, it's much more expensive and takes a lot more time to make alterations on a large scale. Agile management can help a project stay on schedule and within budget.

Flexibility

The agile approach is also more flexible. Due to the nature of the approach, it's easier for teams to adapt to any change of requirements if the client or stakeholders has a request or if customers provide feedback. As the next stages of the project have not yet been thoroughly planned and changes are accounted for, it's far easier to make changes.

Collaboration

Agile can also improve collaboration as the entire team is involved in the development, review and decision-making processes regarding the product. This can make them more engaged and feel more empowered. Team members may be more likely to take ownership, share ideas and come up with innovative solutions to problems. Agile also provides the end-user or consumer with a chance to engage with the product through testing and review.

Reduced risk

Agile management reduces the risks associated with a project, as the team can identify any issues and correct them before a project is launched there is an increased likelihood of success. This also means there is a reduced risk of investing a lot of time and effort into something before finding a problem as the product has been tested multiple times before its launch.

Customer satisfaction

A large part of agile project management involves communicating with stakeholders and customers at each stage of the project. This means the team has more feedback from customers in the development stages. Having customer feedback at different stages makes it more likely that the team will create a product the client is happy with.

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Agile project management cons

As with all project management approaches, the agile method has some potential disadvantages and it may not fit the needs of every organisation. Here are some potential agile project management cons:

A faster pace

The fast-paced nature of the agile approach may not be suited to every company. At every new sprint, it's necessary for the team to make decisions and any adjustments very quickly. This means that agile project management may not be the right approach for companies that make decisions using a committee or take a long time to analyse things before acting.

Dependence on teamwork

In agile project management, each team works together as a single unit. For a project to be successful, it's vital that the team works well together and communicates effectively. If the project team needs to develop their skills in communication or collaboration, you may consider using an alternative project management approach.

The potential to lose focus

Though a less structured approach may allow for more flexibility and adaptability, it may also create opportunities for error. The absence of a linear structure and a defined project manager can cause agile teams to go off track more easily, or lose sight of the original goal. Because the agile method relies on customer and client feedback, unexpected critiques or clients that do not know what they want can send teams in different directions than they originally planned.

Less documentation

Agile project management prioritises action and improvements over outlining or documenting the process. This can mean that if an issue occurs, it can be hard to establish how this occurred or where in the development process it happened. This means it may be harder to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Unpredictable outcomes

Projects with agile management continually respond and adapt to feedback and are constantly changing. Because of this fluid process, the project completion date and final product may be unpredictable or unknown. This may not be suitable for an organisation that relies on concrete forecasts and planning instead of making changes to the project throughout each stage of completion.

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