What is Agile Methodology in Project Management? Principles, Frameworks & Benefits

in Research   Posted on July 13, 2021  Author: Imed Bouchrika,

When it comes to overseeing work, there are a number of project management methodologies to choose from. But one particular methodology has become so popular in recent years, that some PMOs see it as the key to project success (Brower, 2019). This approach is known as the agile methodology.

The agile methodology aims to deliver products and services to the market in a more flexible and efficient way. From the word ‘agile,’ which refers to the ability to move quickly and easily, the agile approach empowers teams to work faster and easier. With this, project teams can ensure that all tasks are accomplished within the required timeframe and budget (Alexander, 2018).

In this article, a more comprehensive agile methodology definition will be discussed, as well as its origins, principles, types, benefits, and drawbacks. Anyone who asks ‘what is agile methodology in project management and how does it work?’ will find this guide of value.

What is Agile Methodology in Project Management: Table of contents

  1. What is Agile in Project Management?
  2. The 12 Agile Principles
  3. Popular Agile Frameworks
  4. Agile Methodology: Benefits and Drawbacks

What is Agile in Project Management?

Fundamentally, agile is a collaborative, repetitive project management approach that focuses on continuous releases while incorporating customer feedback into every iteration. It uses short development cycles of project planning and execution called ‘sprints’ to enable teams to continuously adapt and improve a product or service (Alexander, 2018). Through this, project teams can ensure that products are delivered consistently without being delayed by changes.

Origins

Agile methodology is not new. Its origins can be traced back to the 1990s, 1975, or even as early as the 1960s. However, it was only in 2001 when 17 software developers created ‘The Agile Manifesto’ that the agile methodology was formally established.

This group of software developers hoped to come up with a concrete solution to the major problems of the software industry during that time. They aimed to develop new methods to produce outputs on time and within budget even with the continuous change in customer requirements.

The Agile Manifesto was initially drafted to create a new way of managing software development. But it has since grown to cover projects across various industries, from engineering departments to marketing, sales, finance, and even human resources.

Source: Digital.ai, 2019

The 12 Agile Principles

The Agile Manifesto outlines 12 agile principles that all projects should follow (Beck et al., 2001). These principles have become the basis for what is agile methodology in project management.

  1. Customer satisfaction is the highest priority. This could be achieved through the early and continuous delivery of products and services.
  2. Changes in requirements are embraced at any stage of the process to provide customers with a competitive advantage.
  3. A product or service is delivered frequently, preferably in shorter timescales.
  4. All stakeholders, including the business people and the project team, must collaborate closely on a daily basis.
  5. All stakeholders must be kept motivated. This could be done by giving them all the necessary tools and support, and by trusting them to accomplish project goals.
  6. Face-to-face meetings are deemed the most efficient and effective means of conveying information.
  7. A final working product is the principal measure of success.
  8. Agile promotes sustainable development. Project teams and stakeholders should be able to maintain a constant and ongoing pace.
  9. Agility is enhanced through continuous attention to technical excellence and proper design.
  10. Simplicity is essential.
  11. Self-organizing teams produce the best architectures and designs.
  12. Regular intervals are used by project teams to improve efficiency through fine-tuning and adjusting team behaviors.

agile manifesto 4 core values

Popular Agile Frameworks

On the surface, agile is a simple project management approach: it emphasizes effective customer demand management and empowers collaboration in teams to improve their work. But since its creation in 2001, it has evolved to cater to different industries and businesses. Depending on the needs of the organization and the projects it intends to carry out, there are several types of agile methodology a team may employ.

Scrum

Scrum is one of the more popular and widely used agile frameworks. It is a lightweight framework that can be adapted for all types of iterative projects. Managers and organizations deem Scrum to be more straightforward, sustainable, and flexible compared to other types of agile methodology (Tyagi, 2020).

The Scrum framework involves three elements: product owner, scrum master, and scrum team. The product owner lists the project requirements, keeps track of the stakeholders’ expectations, and gathers the resources that the scrum team needs. Meanwhile, the scrum master provides guidance to the scrum team, making sure that they are focused on their targets. Both the product owner and scrum master manage the scrum team.

Kanban

Similar to Scrum, Kanban is designed to foster more effective collaboration among project teams (Tyagi, 2020). This agile framework is an eminently visual workflow management approach that provides teams a system to break work down into smaller pieces. With Kanban, stakeholders can accomplish continuous improvement by tracking and analyzing the flow of work items from one state to another (e.g., from ‘backlog’ to ‘in progress’).

Kanban can be applied to any business process with work in progress, as long as it follows these principles (Roussel, 2021):

  1. Visualize workflow
  2. Limit work in progress
  3. Focus on flow
  4. Continuous improvement

Lean

Lean focuses on the implementation of team resources, ensuring that everyone is as productive as possible for maximum time. It is an iterative methodology that emphasizes the creation of high-quality products by detecting defects at the first stages of project development. Essentially, Lean is all about eliminating wastes (Sergeev, 2016). With Lean, managers can determine bottlenecks and waste, consequently, reducing wait time.

Lean entails five principles vital for improving workplace efficiency (Do, 2017):

  1. Define value
  2. Map the value stream
  3. Create flow
  4. Establish pull
  5. Pursue perfection

Extreme Programming (XP)

Unlike other agile frameworks, Extreme Programming is mostly employed in IT organizations. This framework centers around engineering practices to ensure the delivery of high-quality software. In Extreme Programming, teams work collaboratively in short, precise development cycles and are adaptable to change (Tyagi, 2020). In addition, Extreme Programming involves planning, designing, coding, testing, and regular communication with customers.

Extreme Programming covers five principles essential in fostering cooperation within the team, ultimately, producing higher product quality (Altexsoft, 2021).

  1. Rapid feedback
  2. Assumed simplicity
  3. Incremental changes
  4. Embracing change
  5. Quality work

Source: Digital.ai, 2019

The Best Agile Framework

Each framework that follows agile principles involves unique methods or techniques in the development process. Different businesses utilize different agile frameworks according to their specific needs. The paper “Comparative Analysis of Agile Methods for Managing Software Projects” reviews and compares the widely used agile frameworks based on their process, roles, current research, project management, lifecycle coverage, and practices (Bogojević, 2017).

Published in the European Project Management Journal, the researchers noted that all agile methods were created, developed, and tested for a particular organization. Thus, it is through trial and error that any of these agile frameworks could work as a project management methodology. Given this reason, none of the existing agile frameworks can “provide full product life-cycle coverage.”

Furthermore, the research claimed that applying an agile model to a particular team, without studying and testing it first, will not be effective and productive. Organizations should examine and use the principles and ideas behind any agile framework as inspiration when developing a custom-tailored methodology for their project management processes.

This goes in accordance with the 15th State of Agile Report, which states that approximately 30% of the surveyed companies use a mixture of agile models (Digital.ai, 2019). Accordingly, it is important for project managers and the people involved in defining the organizational project management procedure to be knowledgeable of the different agile frameworks. By doing so, they can be aware of the agile frameworks’ suitability for varying real-life work situations and they can find a way to use whatever resources and processes that are available at the moment.

Agile Methodology: Benefits and Drawbacks

The agile methodology may seem to be a mere trendy project management approach, but it has proven itself to be a sustainable practice that many organizations can employ. The agile methodology allows teams to work more iteratively and flexibly, empowering them to deliver faster and adapt to their project’s shifting requirements. And while agile as a project management methodology has been implemented across various industries, it cannot be applied to every project. Listed are some of the benefits and drawbacks of incorporating agile project management.

Faster delivery

Given that agile incorporates a continuous development process, it ensures that the project team is continuously delivering workable products. Moreover, studies have shown that integrating agile methodology in project management can improve time-to-decision, or the time to act on new opportunities, by 40% (Coleman Parkes Research, 2016). By combining agile with the use of digital technology and communication, organizations and project teams can deliver high-quality products and services faster.

Greater customer satisfactions

While traditional methodologies in project management only require customer communication at the beginning and at the end of the project, the agile approach reiterates the importance of continuous contact throughout the entire process. Through this, project teams can receive real-time feedback, ensuring that they are accomplishing the customers’ requirements.

A recent study by Kropp et al. (2018) suggests that constant customer collaboration is essential to customer satisfaction. Hence, higher satisfaction is reported more by organizations that use agile than those that use traditional approaches to project management.

More adaptability and less risk

One of the most reported benefits of agile methodology is flexibility. In a meta-analysis of agile studies, results show that using agile in non-software development contexts can increase the team’s responsiveness to change (Gustavson, 2016). With agile’s iterative approach and emphasis on continuous feedback, project teams can make more impactful choices based on actual conditions, thus, reducing risks.

More time and money to save

Another advantage of implementing agile methodology in project development is that it saves time and money. As teams become more flexible and cooperative, project KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) improve as well; consequently, lessening the needed time and budget.

This is backed by a recent study that showed a correlation between the team KPIs and the production costs (Peitl & Baptista, 2017). The paper indicated that since the implementation of agile, teams have improved their communication and performance. This, further, resulted in the reduction of production costs.

Happier teams

Research shows that individuals who work under agile methodology in project management are more motivated and satisfied than those who use the traditional approaches (Kropp et al., 2018). Since agile teams are more autonomous, they have the freedom to innovate and suggest new ideas. Stakeholders are trusted and encouraged to view themselves as integral members of the team. In addition to that, the emphasis on collaboration and communication in agile fosters more efficient and satisfied teams.

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Benefits of Adopting Agile

Benefits of Adopting Agile
Flexibility: 70

Flexibility

%
Benefits of Adopting Agile
Project visibility: 65

Project visibility

%
Benefits of Adopting Agile
Business alignment: 65

Business alignment

%
Benefits of Adopting Agile
Delivery speed: 60

Delivery speed

%
Benefits of Adopting Agile
Team morale: 59

Team morale

%
Benefits of Adopting Agile
Increased productivity: 58

Increased productivity

%
Benefits of Adopting Agile
Risk reduction: 51

Risk reduction

%

Source: Digital.ai, 2019

Designed by

Poor resource planning

While agile project management posits a number of benefits, it bears several drawbacks as well. One of the limitations of using agile as a methodology is that it lacks upfront planning (Agrawal et al., 2015). Since agile is grounded on the idea of flexibility and efficiency, it does not usually require resource planning at the beginning of the project. Given this reason, it is challenging for managers and teams to predict efforts like cost, time, and resources. This also makes it difficult for larger more traditional organizations with rigid processes and sequential projects.

Lack of sufficient documentation

Throughout the development process, agile focuses more on the output rather than the documentation. This is because the agile method favors the changing of requirements at any stage of the process (Agrawal et al., 2015). While the agile principles perceive this as the right thing to do, insufficient project documentation could become a drawback for project teams in some situations.

Less predictable

Since Agile requires minimal planning at the beginning, it becomes challenging for managers to measure team progress (Agrawal et al., 2015). Additionally, project teams cannot have a clear vision of the final product. This is another reason why agile is seen as inefficient for large organizations.

Making the Most of Agile Methodology

Since its initial inception, agile has progressively become more widely recognized and employed outside the technology sector, with a far more diverse range of industries and businesses now utilizing agile techniques. This growth can predominantly be attributed to the success and impact that the agile methodology continues to yield.

In the study ‘The Benefits and Key Challenges of Agile Project Management under Recent Research Opportunities” published in the International Research Journal of Management Sciences, it was concluded that while the agile methodology entails a number of benefits, it cannot be considered as a fault-proof approach to managing projects. To reap all the benefits and overcome the challenges of applying the agile methodology in project management, the authors advised organizations to consider blending some elements of traditional project management such as documentation of project activities and development of formal project organization structure.

With increased documentation, it will be easier for project teams to manage quality, knowledge, and schedules. In addition, incorporating a more formal organizational structure will enhance coordination especially in large and multisite projects (Masood & Farooq, 2017).

Is agile right for your project?

The agile methodology has proven itself to be sustainable and operative. However, it is not for everyone. Incorporating agile methodology in your project takes a lot of work. It is a different way of doing the same work. But any change in the system requires tremendous effort. And for agile methods to have a transformative impact, you need to change management roles, leadership approaches, and institutional systems. In the end, implementing agile is a strategic decision that requires significant investment.

 

References:

  1. Agrawal, A., Atiq, M. A., & Maurya, L. S. (2015). A current study on the limitations of Agile methods in industry using secure Google Forms. Procedia Computer Science, 78, 291-297. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301234360_A_Current_Study_on_the_Limitations_of_Agile_Methods_in_Industry_Using_Secure_Google_Forms
  2. Alexander, M. (2018). Agile project management: 12 key principles, 4 big hurdles. CIO. https://www.cio.com/article/3156998/agile-project-management-a-beginners-guide.html
  3. Altexsoft (2021). Extreme Programming: Values, principles, and practices. https://www.altexsoft.com/blog/business/extreme-programming-values-principles-and-practices/
  4. Beck, K. et al. (2001). Manifesto for Agile Software Development. https://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html
  5. Bogojević, P. (2017). Comparative analysis of agile methods for managing software projects. European Project Management Journal, 7(1), 58-74. http://media.epmj.org/2017/12/Petar-58-74.pdf
  6. Brower, T. (2019). Is agile really worth it? Evidence says yes, if you do these 4 things. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tracybrower/2019/10/06/is-agile-really-worth-it-evidence-says-yes-if-you-do-these-4-things/?sh=45d66ddb5488
  7. Coleman Parkes Research (2016). Accelerating velocity and customer value with Agile and DevOps. https://docs.broadcom.com/doc/accelerating-velocity-and-customer-value-with-agile-and-devops-research-paper
  8. Digital.ai (2019). 15th annual State of Agile survey. https://stateofagile.com/#ufh-i-615706098-14th-annual-state-of-agile-report/7027494
  9. Do, D. (2017). The five principles of Lean. The Lean Way. https://theleanway.net/The-Five-Principles-of-Lean.
  10. Gustavsson, T. (2016). Benefits of Agile Project Management in a non-Software development Context – A literature review. Fifth International Scientific Conference on Project Management in the Baltic Countries. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301517890_Benefits_of_Agile_Project_Management_in_a_Non-Software_Development_Context_-_A_Literature_Review
  11. Kropp, M., Meier, A., Anslow, C., & Biddle, R. (2018). Satisfaction, practices, and influences in Agile software development. Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering. https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3210459.3210470
  12. Masood, Z. & Farooq, S. (2017). The benefits and key challenges of agile project management under recent research opportunities. International Research Journal of Management Sciences, 5 (1), 20-28. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316239082_The_Benefits_and_Key_Challenges_of_Agile_Project_Management_under_Recent_Research_Opportunities
  13. Peitl, K. C. & Baptista, C. M. O. (2017). Agile Methodology: Benefits and barriers on its initial application. SAE International. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322361592_Agile_Methodology_Benefits_and_Barriers_on_Its_Initial_Application
  14. Roussel, J. (2021). What is Kanban? A quick guide to visualized improvement. KaiNexus. https://blog.kainexus.com/improvement-disciplines/lean/kanban/4-principles
  15. Sergeev, A. (2016). Lean vs Kanban: The difference. Hygger. https://hygger.io/blog/lean-vs-kanban/.
  16. Tyagi, N. (2020). 7 types of Agile methodologies. Analytics Steps. https://www.analyticssteps.com/blogs/7-types-agile-methodologies