The word “agile” can be used as a synonym for “energetic” and “lively”, which leads to the main idea of the concept: great flexibility. Whereas classical project management methods always put rigorous planning first, agile methods proceed in iterations, i.e. step by step. They focus lies on a strong team inclusion. The team members organize themselves and their tasks, while the project manager assumes the role of a moderator. Because of flat hierarchies, agile methods require a high amount of self-motivation. These basic principles are defined in the “Agile Manifesto”, a paper written by 17 authors in 2001 about agile software development.
The autonomous way of working means transparency: roles are clearly defined, everyone has their own area of responsibility, exchanging information is made very easy and progress can be measured by the finished work packages. Moreover, at the beginning of many projects, the team hasn’t identified all requirements yet. There can always emerge new ones in the course of the project. Agile project managers can avoid this problem, while in classical methods detailed planning is key. Agile methods are also capable of getting around another problem: since they require a high amount of discussion and agreement, they promote daily communication within the project team.
Agile vs. classical
Now you may ask: Which approach is better? It is, however, almost impossible to give a general answer to this question, it depends very much on the type of project. Also, the management culture is decisive: hierarchic companies are better off with the traditional model, because agile project management requires self-organization and faith in the employees by the superiors.
A well-known type of agile project management is scrum. With scrum, all product requirements are listed by priority in the so-called product backlog. In the next step, team members choose work packages from the backlog and get them done during a sprint. At the end of each sprint, there is a product increment, or rather a completed intermediary result.
Scrum is about learning from errors while still working on the project and not only after is finished. Therefore, at the end of every sprint a retrospective takes place. In the form of a meeting, the team discusses the previous working method in order to improve future sprints and projects.
There are also meetings on a daily basis: the daily scrums. In not more than 15 minutes, the previous activities and next steps are discussed. In this way, progress gets visible and every team member is brought up-to-date. To prevent employees from divagating from the subject, you can nominate a moderator.
Also Kanban counts among the agile methods. It helps you visualizing the workflow with task cards. Each card stands for an assignment. All cards get allocated to a column, depending on its status: “To Do”, “In Progress” or “Done”. The Kanban board can be virtual, that means digital in a project management software, or real in form of a whiteboard with post-its. The benefits of Kanban are that the method is easy to apply and offers a high degree of transparency.