How Agile Project Management Works

by: Trevir Nath


Project management techniques have evolved from their naval roots in the 1950s to playing an integral part of various organizations. Throughout its evolution, project management, which refers to the planning, organization and controlling of necessary human and financial resources to achieve specific goals, has typically been associated with engineering and software development. The information technology industry in particular uses agile project management methodology and its narrow-focused tools including scrum, lean and extreme programing in order to successfully ensure software deliverables.

However, applications of agile project management aren’t limited to the IT industry. Chain apparel retailer, Zara has used an agile model to transform itself into one of the world’s most valuable brands. Depending on the organization structure and deliverables, conducting agile methodology has its pros and cons.

Agile Project Management

With the basis originating in the twelve core principles of the Agile Manifesto, agile project management is an iterative process focused on the continuous monitoring and improvement of deliverables. At its core, high quality deliverables are a result of providing customer value, team interactions and adapting to current business circumstances. Unlike Waterfall project management, agile methodology doesn’t follow a sequential stage-by-stage approach. Phases of the project are completed in parallel to each other by various team members in an organization. This approach can find and rectify any errors in the project without having to restart.

Agile project management provides more flexibility in error detection throughout project stages, resulting in consistently fewer errors than Waterfall, which can only test bugs during developmental stages. In software development, agile approaches are typically used to help businesses respond to unpredictability. Within the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), team members are involved in the requirement, design, development and testing phases. Most importantly, agile techniques involve the regular overview of task efficiency in order for team members to adjust behaviors and procedures accordingly.

Scrum Methodology

As a part of agile methodology, scrum methods focus on the empirical feedback loops to adapt to the complexity and unpredictability typically found in software development. Decision making is based on observed results following short intervals known as sprints. During each sprint, a tested product is kept in a ready-to-ship state at all times.

As a whole, a scrum is a set of roles, responsibilities and feedback that remains consistent throughout the project. Removing predictable errors in the process allows businesses to easily learn and adapt to future errors. Product owners, team and scrum masters are integral to the scrum’s success. The product owner is responsible for overseeing, communicating and building the vision for the project. The team is responsible for meeting the goals of each sprint in an autonomous fashion. Working with the product owner and team, the scrum master facilitates the completion of goals by removing any impediments.

Lean Methodology

Lean methodology focuses primarily on the continuous improvement of processes through waste elimination. Waste is the root of unprofitable activity and consists of defects, overproduction, transportation, waiting, inventory, motion and processing. By getting rid of waste, organizations can improve their value stream and effectively deliver increasing value to their customers; ultimately, customer value is created through processes with zero waste. With continuous improvements throughout the process, errors in project deliverables are effectively minimized. Individuals who meet certain criteria can become Lean Six Sigma certified, thus validating their knowledge and application of lean methodology in business practices.

Zara Agile Supply Chain

While agile methodology has generally been associated with software development, clothing retailer Zara was once criticized for implementing agile methods within its supply chain. Instead of relying on outside production, processes such as design, manufacturing and warehousing remain internal. Designers and product managers are responsible for the initial orders and in-season responses. Rather than focusing on large production prior to a new season, Zara manufactures products in small batches. Consequently, the company avoids high inventory and the unprofitability of markdowns.

It is estimated that the average retailer sells 30 to 40 percent of items below retail price whereas Zara effectively sells close to 15 to 20 percent. Thanks to internal agility, the company can deliver new product to stores in as little as 15 days. Following basic agile principles, Zara clearly focuses on creating customer value, self-organizing teams and short-cycle deliverables.

Pros and Cons

Agile Project Management can reduce error-related costs through continuous improvement and changes within the planning cycle, particularly in software development. Through constant team interaction at short intervals, errors can be quickly detected, eliminating the need to restart projects. As a result, any repeated work doesn’t the organization as much as it would have otherwise. Likewise, agile methodology focuses on customer value, ensuring end products most effectively meet customer needs.

While agile processes have tremendous upside, this process isn’t fit for all organizations. Agility is contingent on highly skilled team members who can collaborate but also work autonomously. Any holes amongst the team can prove costly and time-consuming for organizations. For example, agile methods wouldn’t be suitable for the construction industry due to its lack of iterative deliverables.

The Bottom Line

Agile project management has and continues to be integral to many successful organizations. Agile methods have replaced traditional project management processes, such as Waterfall, and are most successful when fully supported by an organization. Though an agile process isn’t always suitable for all projects, these methods have been most prominently used throughout the software development lifecycle. By implementing agile tools such as lean, scrum or extreme programming, the project manager and organization can most effectively reduce errors and create customer value and high quality deliverables.

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