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Wednesday, 10 June 2020 11:58

The AGILE approach in project management

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Whether you are a project manager or involved in the field of project management, you must have heard or applied the Agile method.

If it is the case, the subject of this article will seem familiar to you. If you are not familiar with the subject, don't panic! This article will explain this approach to you in a simple way so that you can tame it.

Are you ready? Then let's do it!

The Agile approach

When talking about project management it is common to think about planning. This is indeed an essential point in traditional project management methods. It is often said that 20% of the project's time should be devoted to planning and that project that is not sufficiently planned is more likely to fail. On this point the Agile method differs. According to the Agile approach, too much planning in the long term would be counterproductive. Especially since a project generally never goes as planned. Imagine planning a vacation for a month an unexpected event disrupts everything, or even makes the planning obsolete. Frustrating, isn't it?

The second major difference is in the reasoning. In an Agile approach the reasoning is more in relation to the product than to the project. The goal is to deliver the most accomplished product as close as possible to the customer's expectations. With the Agile methodology, the place given to the customer is not the same as in traditional project management because the project team maintains a close collaboration with the customer. In a traditional project management approach, the customer is mainly involved at the beginning of the project when he gives his expectation and at the end, when the product is delivered. In an Agile approach there is an ongoing relationship with the customer in the development of the product. He is involved from the beginning to the end of the project and is in direct contact with the collaborators of the project. Customer satisfaction must be the first concern of the team.

Another element of differentiation is the special concern for communication. Indeed, face-to-face interactions are preferred to other means of communication. This allows a better transmission of information between the different parties and therefore, more efficiency.

Finally, unlike traditional project management methods, the Agile approach accepts the unexpected as well as requests for changes encountered along the way. This is one of the main principles of this method: constructive changes must be accepted, even if they arrive late in the project or at the end. They represent an added value that will bring the product closer to the customer's expectations.

The Agile way of working

Let us now look at how it works in a little more detail.

At the start of the project, the project team meets with the customer to discuss their expectations regarding the product and the specifics to be brought to the table. The goal is to understand what the customer wants to achieve and to determine the tasks to be carried out.

From there the project will be broken down into several short-term cycles called iterations. The project team sets a first objective to achieve for the first iteration. Behind this objective is a set of tasks to be accomplished. These tasks are selected in order of priority in the product development. The team then launches directly the development by self-organizing itself to gain even more efficiency.

Once the first objective has been reached, a first version of the product is ready to be presented to the client. Of course, the product is only partially realized, but it is already in working order. At the end of each iteration a new version of the product is presented, either with new features or with improvements. This way of working allows to progress step by step in an empirical way, to reduce the risks linked to the project and to have a feedback from the customer throughout the development. The customer gives feedback on what has been achieved, he can also ask for changes to be made or make some adjustments if necessary. The project team also meets following every iteration to look back on what has been done to improve the product for the next iteration. The Agile method is a race for efficiency.

Operating by iterations has another advantage. It makes it possible to put the product into production, even partially finished, in order to collect first opinions and feedbacks from users. Because the opinion of users is essential in the design of a product, this way of proceeding makes it possible to best meet their expectations.

Another specificity of this method is that it is possible to stop the project at any time. If at the end of an iteration the product is suitable for the customer, it is possible to stop the project development and deliver the product definitively. In this case if there are no financial means to continue the project, the product will not be completed but will still be functional in a partially finished version.

Project management tools compatible with the Agile approach

To accompany you in your Agile approach, web-based project management software such as Gouti are available. A tool like Gouti offers you a way to be in direct contact with the customers of your projects but also a method to be able to fix your projects on the short term as well as on the long term and an efficient and flexible way to manage your changes.


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Illustration of Agility in Project Management

An example is better than a long speech, let's illustrate roughly (I insist on roughly) the Agile approach through an example that will speak to everyone: the design of a classroom.

  • During the product meeting, the client explains that he wants a square classroom, with a door, 20 tables, 20 chairs, a chalkboard, carpet on the floor, 10 lamps on the ceiling and a light switch.
  • The project team meets. The priority is to deliver the classroom structure at the end of the first iteration. The first iteration begins, and all four walls are installed. A door is added, then the lamps, the switch and finally the carpet. It took three weeks. The classroom is presented to the client, he is satisfied with the result and adds that he would like to have four windows in the room.
  • The project team gets together, and the second iteration begins, the goal is now to install the windows and set up the room. The team starts by installing the windows, then they set up the board, the 20 tables and 20 chairs. Two weeks later, once the iteration is completed, the classroom is presented to the client again. Finally, the chalkboard no longer suits him, he would like to replace it with a felt board. On top of that he would like to add 10 tables and 10 chairs because there will be more students than expected in the room.
  • The team meets again, one of the skills of one of the team members has not been well exploited, they could have been more efficient on the installation of the tables. For the third iteration this skill will be highlighted. The goal this time is to add 10 tables, 10 chairs and replace the current table with a felt board. Once this is done the objective is achieved and the room is presented to the client. The client is satisfied, and the room can start welcoming students, nevertheless he would still like to add a video projector with a projection screen...

The project will go on and on until the final validation of the product.

The advantages

Compared to traditional project management methods, the Agile approach has several advantages that makes it attractive.

One of the most important is the flexibility brought to project management. By following iterations, the project team becomes more responsive to unforeseen events and change requests. This reduces risks as the project progresses step by step. It also allows the quality and reliability of the product to be enhanced by additions and improvements made gradually and according to feedback from the customer and users.

Iteration operation provides several additional benefits for the customer. He has continuous visibility on the project and can request adjustments and changes along the way before final delivery. He can also decide to put the product into production before it is completely finalized, because even if some specific features or functionalities are not yet present, it can already be used. By making the product available to users before it is fully completed, he can get feedbacks for possible additions or simple adjustments of the product.

A final advantage is the cost control. By moving forward step by step, it is easier to follow the evolution of your budget throughout the project. However, the Agile method is not necessarily the best when it comes to staying within a budget.

Disadvantages

Since Agile is based on planning by very short-term objectives and opens the door to requests for change, it is not the safest approach when a certain budget has to be followed. At the beginning of the project a provisional budget can be evaluated but it will vary throughout the life of the project. With each request for change or new addition desired the budget will change. This is a fact that can be unpredictable.

Another disadvantage can be the importance given to the customer. The fact that the client must be available and involved throughout the project can be problematic because they might not always be available.

Also, the emphasis on interaction and direct communication rather than written documentation can be a problem. Direct communication usually takes more time and means that the collaborators must be there in person to communicate which can sometimes be difficult or even impossible.

To summarize

This new approach to project management greatly differs from more traditional methods. It proposes a more autonomous and collaborative organization, with a focus on interactions and the human factor. The skills of each team member are used to the best of their abilities in order to become more and more efficient in the realization of a project.

The main preoccupation is refocused towards the satisfaction of both the client and the users, with a concern for reliability and quality.

Léo Garvey

Léo is a project manager for CG Project Management in Strasbourg, France. He writes about various themes linked to project management and project management tools on various websites.

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