Imagine this: You and your team have been working hard on a difficult project. You collaborated with other teams in the company to complete it and are close to the finish line.

Then, your client decides they want to switch gears, sending your schedule into a tailspin. Sound familiar? If this situation happens more often than not, it might be time to adopt an Agile project management strategy. This type of methodology allows you to quickly adapt and pivot while still preserving your resources.

But what exactly is Agile project management? This guide will break down the basics, help you decide if it's right for your team, and guide you on how to start implementing the method.

What is Agile project management?

Agile project management approaches a project development process in an incremental, iterative way. Software development teams commonly use it because it allows for greater speed and flexibility throughout a project's life cycle. However, Agile frameworks help all project teams by enabling simultaneous work on various project stages — otherwise known as iterations or Agile sprints.

This iterative approach lets you solve problems, make changes, and continuously improve in real time based on customer feedback and results.

Speaking of customer feedback, Agile project management also often leads to a better customer experience. A study by McKinsey and Company showed that 93% of Agile organizations saw improved customer satisfaction.

When to use Agile project management

Use Agile when:

  • The requirements for a project are subject to change at a higher level than normal.
  • The project is complex and requires frequent iterations or sprints.
  • The client requires frequent feedback.
  • The project is risky and comes with a high level of uncertainty.
  • The client is highly focused on delivered value.

Example of Agile project management

Agile project management is popular for software development projects, but any industry can have an agile team.

Here's an example: Let's say you run a marketing firm and are managing many different types of skill sets. You always want an advantage to get better, faster, and cheaper results for your clients to outshine your competition.

Your team is preparing a marketing campaign for a product launch that is coming up in three months. If using a traditional project management strategy, you might spend three months planning the initiative and launch the campaign when you complete it.

But with Agile project management, your team would have multiple completion points. Under one iteration or sprint, your team would:

  • Gather requirements
  • Build a project brief
  • Develop the campaign
  • Conduct testing
  • Continuously adjust

During each round, you would conduct a sprint review and make necessary changes, such as design or copy edits. Once you finish the sprint, you can move on to the next one and continue the process until the project is ready for launch.

4 Agile project management values

When using Agile project management, you'll drive every decision with the following values from the Agile manifesto:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Every person on your team provides a unique skill set — and when they have freedom to stretch those muscles, they perform their best work. Trusting their creativity, problem-solving skills, and technical knowledge instead of strict methods is important for sustainable development.

Requiring your team to do the same things every day stops them from surprising you with fresh, innovative ideas.

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Of course, documentation is vital for keeping everyone on the same page. However, some team members might view heavy documentation as a blocker instead of an aid for successfully completing projects.

If documentation is too complicated, your team might feel overwhelmed trying to document everything before making actual assets. They could even become discouraged if they spend hours on a report that goes largely unread. So when possible, focus instead on producing documentation that adds value to the project instead of hindering it.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

In traditional project management styles, you and your customer agree on specific project, and they sign the contract. Halfway through, your customer realizes they need something different — destroying your rigid schedule. You might even find yourselves in a quiet battle for control over the project.

With an Agile approach, you can speed up development and work closely with your customer, removing worries about delays. This means you should encourage open conversation at each sprint review and be open to their feedback.

Responding to change over following a plan

Much like the value above, Agile value #3 requires you to embrace change — because it's usually unavoidable. Instead of resisting changes, see them as improvements and inspire excitement about how they will enhance your project.

The guiding principles of Agile project management

The Agile Manifesto also includes 12 guiding principles:

  • Satisfy the customer: Meet the needs of your target market.
  • Don't fear change: Many changes, even late in your project, can give the result a competitive edge.
  • Deliver working versions frequently: Focus on finishing sprints instead of finished products.
  • Unite business and technical teams: Gaps between departments can cause gaps between products and customers.
  • Motivate, trust, and support your team: Create a supportive environment that fosters success for your team.
  • Engage in face-to-face conversation: Regular feedback is essential.
  • Measure progress with working versions of the final product: Course-correct whenever necessary.
  • Encourage sustainable development: Focus on continuous progress.
  • Pay attention to technical excellence: Good design enhances agility.
  • Keep it simple: Don’t waste time on adding extra details that your customer doesn't need.
  • Use self-organizing teams: Give your team autonomy so they're more motivated and productive.
  • Regularly reflect and review: Without evaluation, your team won't be able to learn and grow.

5 benefits of Agile project management

We've already mentioned a few benefits of Agile teams, but let's dive in deeper.

1. Increased customer satisfaction: Your customer's happiness is always the ultimate goal. They want to be happy with your project's end result and also have good communication throughout the entire process.

2. Dynamic changes: Agile project management provides a process where change is readily embraced.

3. Efficient use of resources: Identifying necessary changes in real time can save time and money since the team can quickly make adjustments without starting from scratch.

4. Boosted collaboration: Agile encourages collaboration between both team members and departments, which in turn results in creativity and innovation.

5. Speed to market: The agile methodology allows you to quickly deliver the concept to your customers.

3 Agile project management methodologies

While surveys show Scrum to be the most popular with 87% of respondents citing is as their chosen framework, there are multiple options.

Scrum project management

Scrum Agile is a method for teams to test ideas, learn from the results, and make changes based on reflection.

When using Scrum you break your team into smaller Scrum teams, including a Product Owner and Scrum Master. The Product Owner represents the overall business goals, and the Scrum Master is in charge of minimizing roadblocks.

The teams have autonomy on how they organize themselves, and operate on Scrum sprints lasting anywhere from one to four weeks.

Kanban project management

The Kanban framework is also popular and requires full project transparency and real-time capacity communication. Cards on a Kanban board visually represent tasks, giving team members constant insight into the status of each piece of work. The board also outlines workflows for adapting when issues arise.

Kanban doesn't utilize sprints but instead requires teams to work together to continuously improve the project.

Lean project management

Lean project management reduces waste, encourages department collaboration, and optimizes your ability to work together towards the same goal. Organizations that are highly regulated or rely on speedy deliveries often favor this type of Agile method. Key factors of Lean project management include:

  • Continuous integration
  • Small batch sizes
  • Customer feedback loops
  • Working cross-functionally

Use Harvest to aid your Agile team

Harvest's powerful tools can help to amplify your new Agile project management strategy. By using Harvest to track time and expenses, you can gather important project information in real time.

This helps you learn from the past, stay on schedule, and make better estimates for future projects. Even further, you can increase transparency with your clients by continuously updating them on important project details. Get started with a free trial today — no credit card required.