Project Management guide

Agile Project Management Tools & Techniques

Common Setbacks to Adopting Agile Project Development

While there are many benefits of adopting Agile project development, transitioning to a new way of managing projects can be challenging. The 2019 State of Agile report found that the most common setbacks companies face when implementing Agile methodology are:

  1. The organizational culture is at odds with the values of Agile.
  2. There’s a general resistance to change across the organization.
  3. Management support and sponsorship are inadequate.
  4. There is a lack of skills/experience using Agile methods. 
  5. Processes and practices are inconsistent across teams. 
  6. Training and education are insufficient.
  7. The customer, business, or product owner aren’t available enough.
  8. Traditional project methods are too entrenched within the company.
  9. Data and metrics are fragmented, providing an incomplete “big picture.”
  10. There aren’t enough collaboration and knowledge-sharing among employees. 

Many of the struggles businesses face in implementing Agile are the same as those of any broad organizational change undertaking. In other words, the setbacks are often not Agile-specific but rather the result of poor organizational change management. 

When considering how to implement Agile project management, it’s vital that you incorporate not only consistent Agile guidelines, but also follow best practices of change management, which we will discuss in the next section. 

Change Management Tips for Implementing Agile in a Waterfall Environment

When implementing Agile in waterfall environment, proper change management can mean the difference between successful adoption and failure. 

Respondents of the 2019 State of Agile survey provided these five tips for how to implement Agile in an organization:

  1. Put in place internal Agile coaches who help others learn and implement Agile. 
  2. Have strong executive sponsorship for the adoption of Agile project management. 
  3. Implement company-provided training programs for all employees who will be involved with or be a stakeholder of Agile projects.
  4. Promote and enforce consistent practices and processes across all Agile teams.
  5. Provide common tools across all teams. 

Your Agile implementation plan should follow the guidelines and structure of any organizational change implementation plan. For instance, before implementing Agile, leadership needs to start inspiring employees to change by presenting a compelling vision for the future. This includes communicating the advantages of Agile methodology over a waterfall model and how Agile will benefit your people and your business. 

Communication is key – before, during, and after implementation of any large change, the management team should be consistently communicating what, when, and why changes are happening and what they mean for employees. It’s also important to communicate what will be staying the same

For instance, if both waterfall and Agile methodologies will be used by the organization to suit the different project and customer/business needs, then it’s important for everyone to understand which methodology will be used and when. 

Strong management support can help usher in change, but it’s also vital that training and coaching are provided to all impacted employees. Bringing in Agile experts to help teach your teams how to apply the Agile methodology properly will help them make a smooth transition. Plus, it ensures consistent processes and practices throughout the organization.

What if waterfall methodologies are too entrenched and the culture of your company doesn’t align well with Agile values? This can create a general resistance to change that’s not easy to overcome. In this case, management may need to focus on enforcing Agile practices. 

It’s also important to capture project data and metrics. If you can show Agile vs. waterfall statistics and prove that Agile results in greater project performance, it can help win over hesitant stakeholders. 

The Top 5 Agile Books

Due to the growing popularity of the Agile methodology, a lot of books on the subject have been published over the last few years. There are currently over 3,000 Agile books listed on Amazon.com. 

Here are the five best Agile project management books:

  1. Agile Project Management QuickStart Guide: A Simplified Beginners Guide To Agile Project Management

The “Agile Project Management QuickStart Guide” is one of the best Agile books for people who are brand new to the subject. This book provides a great overview of what Agile is, how to use it, how to figure out which framework is best for your project, and more. It also comes with free lifetime access to guides, checklists, and cheat sheets that can help you plan and execute your first Agile project.

  1. Head First Agile: A Brain-Friendly Guide to Agile Principles, Ideas, and Real-World Practices

“Head First Agile” is a complete guide to Agile, including the most popular Agile frameworks such as Scrum, XP, Lean, and Kanban. If you’re studying for your

PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP®) exam, this book guarantees 100% coverage of the exam subject matter. One of the reasons this is one of the best Agile project management books is its unique format. Head First Agile is not text heavy – rather, it focuses on multi-sensory learning and cognitive theory to help you grasp new concepts faster. 

  1. Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction

This book is short, brief, and to the point. It’s a pocket-sized guide that you can carry around with you and refer to on the go. “Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction” is a great way to familiarize yourself with the Scrum framework in under an hour. If you’ve just been thrown into a scrum project and you’re brand new to Agile, this book can help keep you from feeling lost. 

  1. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

“Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” is considered one of the premier books about scrum. It also happens to be created by one of scrum’s founders. This book covers both why Scrum is beneficial and how to embrace the framework. It delves deeper into Scrum than many beginner books, providing both an overview and an implementation guide. 

  1. Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition

Most Agile methodology books focus on providing an introduction to beginners. What makes this book stand out is its focus on teaching you how to coach others on Agile. It covers all of the important Agile coach’s roles, including teacher, mentor, problem-solver, conflict navigator, and performance coach. If you’re looking for a resource to help you build a self-organized, high-performing team, this may be just what you need. 

While most recognized Agile certification programs (such as the PMI-ACP mentioned earlier) do come at a cost, there are two free Agile certification options currently available. 

  1. Scrum Fundamentals Certified by Scrumstudy

This course is for anyone wanting to learn more about the basics of Scrum. It also results in a

free Scrum certification once you’ve successfully completed the 40-question, multiple-choice exam. 

  1. Agile Scrum Training by Master of Project Academy

This is a free online course that provides a brief overview of Agile and Scrum. At the end of the 30-minute course, you’ll receive a digital course completion certificate. 

Other options:

edX offers a number of free Agile courses, such as Agile Leadership Principles. However, while the course is free, if you want to obtain an instructor-signed certificate with the institution's logo to verify completion, it’ll cost you. 

Similar to edX, udemy also offers a number of free Agile courses, such as Basics of Scrum, Agile and Project Delivery. However, you won’t receive a certificate at the end of the course. 

The Scrum Training Institute gives away a free Scrum certification to one lucky person every quarter. While this is perhaps one of the best Scrum certifications available, it typically carries a cost of over $1,000 USD. 

If you’re looking for Agile certification for beginners, International Scrum Assembly offers free online training. While its free courses can help you prepare for several different Scrum or Agile certificates, the actual certificates require you to pay a fee.

Leading Companies That Use Agile Methodology

Agile is being used by a growing number of companies, large and small, across all industries. While technology is still the most common industry for Agile to be used, companies in finance, professional services, insurance, government, and many other sectors are also embracing it. 

Some of the most well-known companies that use Agile methodology are:

  • Amazon – Some form of Agile was present at Amazon as early as 1999, but it was during the period of 2004-2009 that the organization achieved the widespread adoption of Scrum. It’s now one of the most common and well-known examples of Agile project management.
  • Cisco – Cisco adopted Agile in 2015 to reduce defects, reduce employee overtime, and improve product delivery times. 
  • Google – Google is one of the leading companies that use Scrum. The company has many applications such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Calendar, etc. that all need regular updates. In order to handle the updating, testing, and release of so many products quickly and consistently, Google embraced the Scrum framework. 
  • Lego – Lego adopted agile back in 2015 to improve communication, focus, and productivity. It helped them achieve more accurate estimates, reduce paperwork, and become more efficient. (Check out the video below for more on the Agile framework that Lego used and how they implemented it.)
  • Netflix – Netflix is a great example of one of the companies that use Agile project management to remain innovative and stay ahead of the competition. Netflix uses Agile to help it specialize in niche television shows and movies so that it can quickly and consistently provide content for all demographics. 
  • Microsoft – Microsoft uses Agile for both small and enterprise-sized projects. The company first implemented a small-scale Agile model and then learned how to scale and modify it for larger projects and solutions. 
  • Spotify – Spotify embraced Agile software development practices in order to compete with huge, well-established companies such as Apple, Google, and Amazon. 

How to Choose the Best Agile Project Management Tool

Agile project management tools are any tools that you use to manage and execute an Agile project. In the most basic form, a whiteboard and post-it notes could be considered Agile management tools. The key difference between Agile methodology tools and other project management tools is their ability to handle Agile frameworks, such as Kanban and Scrum. 

In other words, tools for Agile project management must be able to support Agile project management best practices. For instance, if you’re adopting a scrum framework, it’s important that you select Agile project management software that enables you to create, update, and share Scrum boards. 

Plus, the best Agile software will help your team embrace the key pillars and values of Agile. This means your Agile management software should help increase visibility, communication, and collaboration among team members and stakeholders. Your Agile software should also be flexible enough to enable you to easily change the requirements of your project as needed. 

For instance, when looking for the best Agile tools, consider whether or not the software will allow you to add in new tasks, change resources, or create a new sprint on an existing project easily. 

Don’t forget that both Agile and non-Agile project management tools should enable you to follow project planning best practices. This means that any tool you choose should help you create and maintain project structure, record changes, track and monitor progress, view trends, and gain visibility into your projects’ performance.

When determining which Agile project management tools are best for your team or organization, here are some other important factors to consider:

  1. How many projects will you need your tools to handle at one time?
  2. How many people need to be able to use the tool at once?
  3. Will you be managing both Agile and non-Agile projects? Do you need a tool that can handle both?
  4. Do you expect your organization to grow in the next two to five years? The best Scrum tools should be capable of growing with your business. 
  5. How user-friendly is the tool? What’s the average user satisfaction rating of the tools you’re considering? 
  6. How will users access the tool? Do you need Scrum project management tools that are accessible from multiple locations or mobile devices? 
  7. What other tools or systems will your new tools need to integrate with? If you have ERP (enterprise resource planning) software you need your Scrum management tools to integrate with, it’s important to check for this compatibility before purchasing.

Building Out Your First Agile Workflow & Project Plan

Once you’ve selected your Agile project management tools, it’s time to start creating your first Agile workflow and project plan.

It’s often easiest to start developing a project plan before you create your workflows, as the plan will help you identify which workflows and phases your project will need. 

The role of the project plan in Agile is similar to that of any traditional project plan in many ways. First of all, an Agile project begins with a pre-planning step where the project vision is both defined and documented. This is also where known business and technical requirements are documented. 

This phase of basic project planning is also when your project team members will be assigned. High-level estimates for budget, time, and scope should also be gathered and documented in this phase. You and your project team will then determine the number of sprints or iterations required for the project, as well as the length of each sprint, and the expected deliverable or outcome that should result from each sprint. 

The big difference in project planning methodologies between an Agile project and a traditional one comes after the high-level planning is done. At this point, for an Agile project, you’ll plan only the initial sprint in detail, rather than the entire project. Under the Agile methodology, it’s only after each sprint is completed that the details of the next sprint are planned. This iterative process enables your project team to adapt the plan for each sprint based on the outcomes of the previous sprint(s).

The sprint details of your plan should be input into your Agile project management tool. If your software comes with templates, you may be able to use a blank Agile template or a sample Agile project plan to create your new project plan. 

Here’s an Agile project plan example that can be used as a template:

Once your project plan is complete, it’s time to set up the proper project management workflows within your new Agile project software. For instance, if you’ll be using the Scrum framework you’ll now need to create your Scrum workflow.

Workflows simply ensure that tasks and activities move through the right people at the right time and the work is properly completed and tracked. Since Agile best practices outline an iterative and incremental approach to work, your workflows need to be able to accommodate cycles of work. 

A standard workflow would often assume a task would move from “in progress” to “in review” to “complete.” But with Agile project planning, you may need to be able to send tasks between “in progress” and “in review” several times before they ever get to the “complete” phase. It’s critical that your software can handle this without losing visibility of progress. 

Here’s an Agile workflow example:

Once created, you can use these workflows, along with a project dashboard, to easily track your overall project progress. 

More Than a Methodology: How to Create an Agile Environment

As we discussed in the first section, two of the most common setbacks to adopting an Agile methodology is due to the culture of the organization being at odds with the values of Agile and/or there being a general resistance to change across the organization.

Therefore, it’s critical that Agile be viewed as not just a project methodology but also as a holistic approach to projects. In other words, Agile impacts the entire organization, even those not directly working on projects. And to be successful, the overall environment of the company needs to support the values and principles of Agile. 

The four pillars of Agile that any Agile environment needs to support are:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
    The company must value people over standard processes and be willing and open to adapting to changing needs. 
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
    The emphasis must be on creating working project deliverables. This means that stakeholders, including the executive, should support eliminating needless documentation and reducing paperwork requirements to allow team members to spend more time creating project deliverables. 
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
    The customer must be viewed as a teammate, and it’s critical that an open relationship is formed with frequent communication. Your company needs to be willing to make changes to satisfy the customer, even if that means having to amend the original contract. 
  4. Responding to change over following a plan
    An Agile environment requires a widespread willingness to be flexible and adapt quickly to changes. If technology changes midway through a project and requires a change of scope, an Agile team will work it into the next sprint, whereas a traditional environment may refuse to adapt. 

The bottom line is that companies with Agile environments typically accept and promote change, innovation, and process improvement. They understand the different Agile frameworks and support important Agile practices, such as planning in sprints and working collaboratively. These workplaces support their team members. They also view engaged employees and customers as more important than following documented processes and contracts.