What does agile project management mean?

Agiles Projektmanagement

The fast-paced nature of processes, innovations and the associated production cycles demands ever more agile and effective project management. We tell you what this means.

Today’s consumers are used to next-day delivery of orders and direct answers to questions. Lengthy and less user-oriented processes, on the other hand, encourage consumers to switch to another supplier with similar products at short notice. Companies and producers have to react to these circumstances in order to fulfil consumer expectations as best and as quickly as possible. A successful approach to this is agile project management, which was developed by the software industry in the 1990s and can now be adapted to many other project types. Agile project management does not require lengthy planning and calculation, which saves a lot of time and manpower. Lean processes, which are limited to essentials, allow fast development times, followed by a quick satisfaction of consumer needs. Essential for a successful agile project is that the agile basic values and principles are observed and applied. The agile values are the base of every project.

People and their interaction are more important than processes and instruments

One characteristic feature of agile projects are their dynamic progresses. They make it even more important to focus on the team collaboration. To shorten communication channels, project teams often sit close together. This allows spontaneous, direct exchange and faster problem solving. However, even in agile project management there are some standards that must be complied with. For example, regular meetings take place in which the team discusses the project.

A performing product is more important than comprehensive documentation.

An agile project begins with a briefing by the customer, in which the ideas and customer needs are communicated. However, language and visualisation have their limits and so it is important to communicate regularly with the customer based on functioning partial products. In this way the feedback can be formulated in a much more constructive way and the product – not the documentation of the development – is always in focus. Of course, there are also aspects of agile project management in which documentation must be maintained for legal reasons. By focusing on the project and the necessary documentation, all resources can be used in a targeted manner and the final product can be implemented efficiently.

Cooperation with the customer is more important than contract negotiations.

In order to implement what the customer has told, regular coordination is essential. This is the only way to quickly implement the feedback and optimize the development in order to finally push the completion of the product. The customer is the central part of the team and the direct exchange with the customer is the basis for contractual formalities. For example, a product can be satisfactory and “finished” even before the targeted end of production.

Responding to change is more important than following a plan

Agile project management demands a high degree of adaptability from the team, as it is in a permanent mode of change. In case of change requests from the customer or due to own self-optimization processes the team must behave agile and flexible. It is important that agile project teams are accompanied by experienced agile coaches at the beginning. This guarantees that the few but important rules are adhered to and that change is not seen as criticism but as an opportunity. Regular reflection can prevent the persistence of habits and create an open mindset.

What does this mean in concrete terms?

Let’s stay with the example of software development: At the beginning there is usually the idea of a customer, who formulates his and his customers’ wishes in a conversation and specifies a time and budget frame. In the next step, the team leader informs his experts and developers. The team then begins to develop the product in a self-organized manner based on the customer’s specifications. The self-organization of the team defines responsibilities and increases effectiveness. Since the software cannot be compared in detail with the customer in advance, but rather exists as a vision, regular coordination with the customer and obtaining feedback are crucial. In agile project management, work is carried out in previously defined time periods, the so-called iterations. After completion of an iteration, the customer is presented with the current status as a functioning sub-product. This is also referred to as an increment. In addition, the team reflects the applied processes and the cooperation after each iteration and develops optimization proposals. These suggestions are then implemented as an opportunity for process optimization and after the next iteration they are evaluated in a reflective manner and retained or rejected. It is important that the team understands these regular adjustments as a chance for process optimization and implements the permanent improvement cycle of agile project management. In this way the optimal added value for the customer can be achieved.