Project Management Guide

Agile Project Management Tools & Techniques

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 methodology are:

  1. There’s a general resistance to change across the organization
  2. There is a lack of leadership participation in Agile
  3. Processes and practices are inconsistent across teams
  4. The organizational culture is at odds with the values of Agile
  5. Management support and sponsorship are inadequate
  6. There is a lack of skills/experience using Agile methods
  7. Training and education are insufficient
  8. The customer, business, or product owner aren’t available enough
  9. Traditional project methods are too entrenched within the company
  10. 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. 

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

  1. Put internal Agile coaches in place to 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 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 project 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 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:

  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 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.

  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 more quickly. 

  1. Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction

This 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. 

  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 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) do come at a cost, there are currently two free Agile certification options. 

  1. Scrum Fundamentals Certified by Scrumstudy

This course is for anyone who wants to learn more about the basics of Scrum. It also awards you a free Scrum certification once you’ve 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 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. 

Like edX, udemy also offers many 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 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. 

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 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 project management 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 easily change the requirements of your project as needed. 

When looking for the best Agile tools, consider whether the software will allow you to add 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 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:

  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 essential to check for this compatibility before purchasing.



Building your first Agile workflow & project plan

Once you’ve selected your Agile project management 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 the 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:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
    The company must value people over processes and be willing and open to adapt to changing needs. 
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
    The 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. 
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
    The 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. 
  4. Responding to change over following a plan
    An 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.