Common setbacks to adopting Agile project development
While there are many benefits to adopting Agile project development, transitioning to a new project management methodology can be challenging. The 2020 State of Agile report found that the most common setbacks companies face when adopting and scaling Agile project management techniques are:
There’s a general resistance to change across the organization
There is a lack of leadership participation in Agile
Processes and practices are inconsistent across teams
The organizational culture is at odds with the values of Agile
Management support and sponsorship are inadequate
There is a lack of skills/experience using Agile methods
Training and education are insufficient
The customer, business, or product owner aren’t available enough
Traditional project methods are too entrenched within the company
Data and metrics are fragmented, providing an incomplete “big picture”
Many of the struggles businesses face in implementing Agile are the same as those of any broad organizational change. The setbacks are often not Agile-specific but rather the result of poor change management.
When considering implementing Agile project management, you must incorporate consistent Agile guidelines and best practices of change management.
Change management tips for implementing Agile in a waterfall environment
When implementing Agile in a Waterfall environment, proper change management can mean the difference between success and failure.
Put internal Agile coaches in place to help others learn and implement Agile
Have strong executive sponsorship for the adoption of Agile project management
Implement company-provided training programs for all employees who will be involved with or be a stakeholder in Agile projects
Promote and enforce consistent practices and processes across all Agile teams
Provide standard 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 should inspire change in employees by presenting a compelling vision for the future. This includes communicating Agile methodology advantages and how Agile will benefit your people and your business.
Communication is key. Before, during, and after implementing any large change, the management team should consistently communicate what, when, and why changes are happening and what they mean for employees. It’s also important to share what will be staying the same.
For instance, if the organization will use both Waterfall and Agile methodologies to suit different projects and customer/business needs, it’s important to understand which methodology will be used and when.
Strong management support can aid change, but it’s also vital to provide training and coaching to all impacted employees. Agile experts can help teach your teams the proper applications of Agile methodology for a smooth transition. Plus, it ensures consistent processes and practices throughout the organization.
If Waterfall methodologies are entrenched in the culture of your company, this can create a general resistance to change that’s not easy to overcome. In this case, management may need to focus on enforcing and encouraging Agile practices.
It’s also essential to capture project data and metrics. If you can show statistics that prove Agile results in greater project performance, it can help win over hesitant stakeholders.
The top five Agile books
Due to the growing popularity of the Agile methodology, many books on the subject have been published over the last few years.
Here are five of the best Agile project management books on the market:
The “Agile Project Management QuickStart Guide” is one of the best Agile books for those who are new to the subject. This book provides an excellent 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 to plan and execute your first Agile project.
“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 more quickly.
This Agile project management book is short and to the point. It’s a pocket-sized guide that you can carry around 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, this book can help keep you from feeling lost.
“Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” is considered one of the premier Agile 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.
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 the important Agile coach 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) do come at a cost, there are currently two free Agile certification options.
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 for Agile training:
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.
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.
Industries that can benefit from Agile project management techniques
The Agile methodology is used by a growing number of companies across all industries. While technology is still the most common industry for Agile, finance, professional services, insurance, government, and many other sectors are also embracing it.
Numerous companies are adopting the Agile methodology with confidence. Organizations are taking rapid strides towards growth even as the world evolves at lightning speed. However, an Agile transformation is overdue for many companies. Let's look at industries that can significantly benefit from going Agile:
Construction industry projects are perfect for the Agile methodology. A typical project life cycle involves design, pre-construction, procurement, development, and the final post-construction stage.
It is a very linear industry where the next step can be started after the previous one is completed. Agile construction teams can utilize Agile for the design and pre-construction phase to create iterative tasks, adapt to upcoming changes, and deliver value on time.
By including the Agile principle of visualization, teams can eliminate waste, avoid loss of time, and immediately respond to emerging issues.
Agile project management techniques are a great fit for the traditional engineering sector's linear and well-defined sequential processes.
Different stages in an engineering project span from concept development, requirements gathering, system architecture, design and development, integration, evaluation, testing, and operations and maintenance.
Changes in the engineering industry can be costly. When teams apply Agile tools, they proactively collect customer feedback and incorporate that into their prototype or minimum viable product (MVP). This helps them deliver a constant value stream in smaller batch sizes and save on costs.
Agile has a strong focus on continuous improvement. Teams use Kanban boards to map their workflows from start to finish — this way, they spot obstacles before they occur and eliminate any wasteful activities, optimizing the entire engineering value chain.
Whether you're planning for a one-time event or a recurring one, there are many elements to be considered. The Agile methodology enables event planning companies to make real-time changes to their plans and iterate faster to meet deadlines.
Agile's method of visualizing project tasks helps teams track progress and avoid stress due to unnecessary slip-ups.
Agile can be an excellent option for finance companies. Apart from helping them automate routine tasks and establish customized internal workflows, the Agile methodology also eliminates manual errors.
Agile finance teams can also implement emerging technologies, upskill their employees and introduce newer ways of working.
Agile finance teams can monitor budgets and maintain the focus on profitability by tracking every entry in real time. Since Agile brings together cross-functional teams working in sprints, any issue can be resolved at the source.
Agile project management tools are a great fit for the dynamic product development space.
While traditional product development focuses on building the entire product before launch, Agile emphasizes getting work done in smaller sprints. It shortens timelines and increases productivity while creating more autonomy for product teams.
Instead of being told what to build, Agile gives product development and UX teams a more hands-on approach. Agile requirements are generated in the form of user stories and the entire team decides how best they can serve the customer.
Leading companies that use Agile methodology
Some of the most well-known companies that use Agile project management techniques are:
Amazon: Some form of Agile was present at Amazon as early as 1999, but it was between 2004 and 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 lower defects, reduce employee overtime, and improve product delivery times.
Google: Google is one of the best-known companies that use Scrum. The company has many applications such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Calendar, etc. that all need regular updates. To handle the updating, testing, and release of so many products quickly and consistently, Google utilized 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.
Netflix: Netflix is a great example of a company that uses Agile project management to remain innovative and stay ahead of the competition. Netflix uses Agile to create television shows and movies to 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 scaled and modified it for larger projects and solutions.
Spotify: Spotify embraced Agile software development practices to compete with well-established competitors such as Apple, Google, and Amazon.
How to choose the best Agile project management tool
Agile project management tools are any tools used to manage and execute an Agile project. In the most basic form, a whiteboard and sticky notes could be considered Agile management tools. The key difference between Agile tools and other project management tools is their ability to handle Agile frameworks, such as Kanban and Scrum.
In other words, Agile tools must be able to support Agile project management best practices. For instance, if you’re adopting a Scrum framework, it’s important to select Agile project management software that can create, update, and share Scrum boards.
The best Agile software will help your team embrace the key pillars and values of Agile. This means your Agile management software should increase visibility, communication, and collaboration among team members and stakeholders. It should also be versatile enough to change the requirements of your project as needed.
Features to look for in Agile project management tools
When looking for the best Agile project tool, consider whether the software will allow you to add new tasks, change resources, or create a new sprint in an existing project.
Don’t forget that both Agile and non-Agile project management tools should enable you to follow project planning best practices. This means any tool you choose should help you create and maintain project structure, record changes, track and monitor progress, view trends, and give 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:
How many projects will you need your tools to handle at one time?
How many people need to be able to use the tool at once?
Will you be managing both Agile and non-Agile projects? Do you need a tool that can handle both?
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.
How user-friendly is the Agile project tool? What’s the average user satisfaction rating of the tools you’re considering?
How will users access the Agile project tool? Do you need Scrum project management tools that are accessible from multiple locations or mobile devices?
What other tools or systems will your new Agile project management toolsneed to integrate with? If you have ERP (enterprise resource planning) software you need your Scrum management tools to integrate with, it’s essential to check for this compatibility before purchasing.
Before starting with the Agile methodology, check out the top features your Agile project tool should have:
Project progress and visualization
Seeing project progress helps team members know everyone’s status, including the expected time required for completion. Any tasks lagging behind their due dates are displayed clearly, so teams can take action to speed up completion.
Composing frequent and time-consuming emails isn’t great for project productivity. See if your Agile software provides you with a seamless interface for collaborating with the entire team and integrates with your team's favorite messaging app.
Every department tracks various metrics. Therefore, your Agile project tool should be able to provide customized reports for internal teams, senior management, and external stakeholders.
Manage project portfolio
With the number of projects increasing, your Agile project management tools should be able to handle the overall project portfolio. It should allow project managers to jump into different projects seamlessly based on their needs.
Every project has issues and bugs. You need a tool that helps you identify, evaluate, and resolve them immediately. With a robust issue tracking feature, teams will be able to work on specific issues and resolve them without impacting the entire project.
Building your first Agile workflow and project plan
Once you’ve selected your Agile tools, it’s time to create your first Agile workflow and project plan.
It’s easiest to develop a project plan before you create workflows, as the plan will identify which workflows and phases your project will need.
The Agile project plan's role is similar to that of any traditional project plan in many ways. Firstly, 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. Your project team will then determine the number of sprints or iterations required for the project, the length of each sprint, and the expected deliverable or outcome.
The big difference between Agile and traditional project methodologies comes after high-level planning is done. For an Agile project, you’ll plan only the initial sprint in detail, rather than the entire project. Under Agile, it’s only after each sprint is completed that the next sprint's details are planned. This iterative process enables your project team to adapt each sprint plan based on the previous sprint outcome(s).
The sprint details of your plan should be put 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 ensure tasks and activities move through the right people at the right time and the work is properly completed and tracked. Since Agile best practices recommend an iterative and incremental approach, your workflows need 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 exchange 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 another section, two of the most common setbacks to adopting an Agile methodology are due to the organization's culture being at odds with Agile values or a general resistance to change across the organization.
Therefore, Agile must be viewed not just as a project methodology but also as a holistic approach to projects. Agile impacts the entire organization, even those not directly working on projects. And to be successful, the overall company environment needs to support the values and principles of Agile.
The four pillars that any Agile environment needs to support are:
Individuals and interactions over processes and Agile project management toolsThe company must value people over processes and be willing and open to adapt to changing needs.
Working software over comprehensive documentationThe emphasis must be on creating working project deliverables. Stakeholders, including the executive, should support eliminating needless documentation and reducing paperwork requirements to allow team members to spend more time creating project deliverables.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiationThe customer must be viewed as a teammate, and an open relationship must be 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.
Responding to change over following a planAn Agile environment requires a willingness to be flexible and adapt quickly to changes. If technology requires a change of scope midway through a project, 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 different Agile frameworks and support Agile practices, such as planning in sprints and working collaboratively. These workplaces support their team members and view engaged employees and customers as more important than following documented processes.