Depending on who you ask and how liberal with your definition of Agile you are willing to be, agile project management has been around for centuries, perhaps even millennia. Simply put, the common sense tenets behind agile project management are just too common sense to be limited to just one industry, country or era.
However, when we talk about agile project management today, we mostly see it in terms of agile software development with a bit of lean manufacturing that directly preceded and influenced agile.
In that sense, we really can talk about a more direct and obvious way that agile changed project management in the last 20-odd years, with far-fetching consequences, both good and bad.
Agile branching out
Agile project management, as discussed today,was born in the software development industry as a way to address certain inherent problems observed when trying to deliver better, more valuable software. A number of methodologies, frameworks and approaches developed over the years, with many of them already having large numbers of proponents when the term Agile was actually chosen to denote this new approach to handling software projects.
Due to the positive effects of agile project management on the quality of software being delivered by the teams and companies that adopted it, agile slowly but steadily started to creep into other industries and it is currently present in industries and fields such as healthcare, manufacturing (where its roots lie), marketing, HR and even sales.
But, what is it exactly that makes agile project management so interesting and beneficial when done the right way?
One of the biggest benefits of agile project management over more traditional PM approaches is the improved adaptability, a true cornerstone of agile. Namely, agile accepts uncertainty and change as an inseparable part of any project and actually welcomes it. Planning done in agile is kept to a realistic minimum and the project is allowed to inform itself, so to say. The team estimates, inspects and re-estimates every aspect of the project as it is going on, making them more adaptable and reducing waste.
Emphasis on communication
The value of constant communication is one of the main themes in agile, extending beyond just communication within the team.Communication in agile entails communication with customers, other organizational groups and individuals, partners, suppliers, end-users and anyone else that could be considered a stakeholder. While all agile approaches preach this, some of them, such as Scrum (the most widely adopted agile framework)even prescribes events that are aimed at boosting communication.
Another way in which agile changed project management is that it re-introduced the world to a very common sense concept – grown-up people do not require round the clock babysitting to do their work. In fact, they will be much more efficient and innovative if they are treated like adults and given autonomy. Agile project management therefore promotes self-organized teams that make decisions on their own, pull in work as they feel comfortable, but also adopt a shared and more pronounced feeling of responsibility for their work.
Better customer outcomes
At the very core of agile is delivering a superior product (originally a piece of software). In other words, we are talking about a product of high quality and high business value to the customer. The points we covered above all lead to this – adaptability which ensures the end product/service makes sense in the marketplace; communication with the customer and other stakeholders which also informs a valuable product and empowered teams that see this product as their own and do not just ‘put in 8 hours at the office’.
A few considerations
Agile project management has become an ecosystem of its own, with its own theory and the inevitable debates, its various approaches, certifications, roles and specifically developed Agile tools.If you are interested in adopting agile for your company, you would do well to learn more.
Also, you should remember that it takes some time and a lot of effort and dedication for agile to work. Just saying you are agile does not mean that you are – it is a huge shift in the way your business does things.
Finally, sometimes agile simply isn’t the best approach due to the nature of the work your company may be doing, your customers or the makeup of your organization. However, even in those cases, agile principles can be a welcome addition, if only in the company culture sense of the word.