“Agile might be great for my business, but it’s just for software development, right?” Wrong. Although Agile was born out of a need to build better software, it’s now in use across a range of different industries, from financial services to manufacturing. Businesses use agile project management strategies to improve their productivity rates and overall work quality. Agile planning was created to take an incremental approach during each project. It stresses the importance of trust, flexibility and empowerment.
Here we take a look at Agile project management and its relevance to a small business. We also consider the importance of following a robust framework when implementing Agile.
Relevance To Small Business
Agile was designed to solve specific challenges in software development and to enable teams to put their customers’ needs first. Using Agile made those teams more flexible, able to cope with changing requirements and able to engage more transparently with stakeholders. Businesses in other industries began to see how Agile was introducing flexibility and productivity improvements and its use spread beyond software development.
A small business is a good match for Agile. Its workforce is used to communicating and working closely together, so changes to business requirements and working practices can be introduced quickly. Management is closely connected to the staff. It can drive through change, while being responsive to implementation issues. Most of all, the business is already flexible and able to change course in response to market opportunities. For these reasons, consider using an agile business model for your small company.
The 12 Principles Of Agile
The principles were drawn up as a manifesto by software specialists and focused on software development. However, they can be easily adapted to a more generic wording:
- Set goals to increase customer satisfaction
- Take advantage of change
- Constantly produce new work
- Collaborate with team members
- Support and reward motivated workers
- Conduct in-person dialogue for a more productive environment
- Measure progress effectively
- Team members should be able to keep up with their work
- Focus on maintaining excellence
- Work to make the biggest impact
- Self-organization is key to quality work
- Adapt to become more productive
Building An Agile Team
A key aspect of Agile project management is to educate the team and to encourage them to “think Agile”. Team members should:
- Be skilled in their own area, but with a good breadth of knowledge too
- Always ask questions and challenge habitual working practices
- Be proactive, recognizing what needs to be done and getting on with it without being told
- Value the team’s performance rather than just their own
- Be committed to high quality and productivity
Frameworks To Follow
In order to implement Agile and run a successful project, the project manager will need to follow a framework or methodology. The frameworks may vary based on department. For instance, agile marketing frameworks will differ from the agile planning for sales. These frameworks set out the activities that need to happen at the start of the project and during its lifetime. Choosing a framework is an important initial task and is not necessarily straightforward. The project manager or team may already have some experience with one of the Agile frameworks, but this needs to be weighed up against the need for regulatory compliance, budgetary control and delivery constraints. Being light on documentation, these frameworks don’t necessarily support all projects.
A robust agile framework will give the project manager the understanding and knowledge to choose an approach and to tailor Agile to suit their particular project needs. The team will follow Agile working methods while satisfying the needs of the business.
Project Management Steps
The majority of activities in executing an Agile project will be familiar to most project managers. Defining the scope and end goals is a familiar task at the start of a project. In Agile these may need to be adjusted during the project, so should not be seen as unalterable. The chosen methodology should enforce good practice regarding sign-off and reporting of changes.
Product features and requirements will be captured in a product backlog. A product owner will be nominated and will maintain the backlog, adding, amending and prioritizing entries. The project will be split into short development cycles, called sprints. Each sprint will be planned individually and will contain a particular set of backlog entries, agreed by the team. The project manager will run daily stand-up meetings where each team member will report on progress, plans and any issues.
At the end of each sprint, the project manager will run a review meeting to demonstrate the product to stakeholders and a retrospective meeting to discuss with the team what went well and what could be improved. Agile project management is well suited to a small business, building on its flexibility and ability to change. Coupled with a robust framework, Agile project management can deliver successful projects in all industries.