Agility is a project management framework that breaks down bulky projects into granular sections which in turn makes managing the project easier. From faster project delivery to lesser costs for project development, many are the benefits associated with agility.
However, to get the most out of agility, you should adopt certain best practices. In this blog post, we would be looking at these practices in detail.
Generic best practices
There are multiple approaches or frameworks that you could adopt in agile project management. But regardless of the approach, certain best practices are always applicable.
In agile projects, an iterative approach is adopted for project management. This involves breaking down huge projects into smaller pieces or iterations. Each of these iterations in turn goes through continuous tests based on which they could be repeated until the desired result is achieved. This iterative approach helps the teams understand the drawbacks of the product version at hand and improve upon it.
Agility insists upon regular meetings ideally on a daily basis. These meetings are typically short and are used as venues in which the team members could fill others in on the progress they have made with their tasks so far and what remains to be done. This helps you stay updated on the project progress and also know if there are any impediments any of the team members face with their tasks, with which you could help them.
Use of a good project management tool
Using the right project management tool goes a long way in implementing the agile methodology in your organization. From regulating the workflows to fostering better teamwork, a smart project management system is a great ally for any project manager. It could also be useful for documentation and reporting, which in turn helps reduce your overheads.
Best practices specific to agile frameworks
Now, let’s look at the best practices you should adopt depending on the agile framework that you use for your project.
Arguably the most common agile framework, scrum is known for its brisk efficiency as well as simplicity. If you are using this framework, these are the best practices should adopt.
Create a product backlog
A product backlog is simply the list of items which should be added to successfully develop a product. In the scrum framework, you should create such a backlog in conjunction with the product vision.
The product vision, to put it simply, is the stated objective of a product and how you plan to achieve that objective. By creating both the product backlog and product vision at the same time, you can ensure that the product development team and the product stakeholders are in sync.
This helps avoid confusion and any resultant delays that may cause.
Sprints are an important part of the scrum framework of agility. A sprint is a short iteration or part of the product development in which a particular feature of the product is created.
In huge projects, the number of sprints could be high. Also, if continuous testing is implemented, each sprint could in turn have multiple iterations. Such things make tracking and managing sprints quite the exercise for managers.
It is in this context that a daily burndown chart becomes an important, and useful tool to keep a finger on how a sprint is progressing.
A burndown chart is an elegantly simple visual representation of the work that has already been done and also the work that is pending in the project. This representation is given in the backdrop of the total time available for the project. It’s an excellent tool to forecast the potential of tasks getting delayed.
Have proper communication guidelines in place
Good teamwork is essential for the efficient completion of any agile project, or any other type of project, for that matter. However, it is especially important in the scrum framework in which every sprint comes with its own stated objective and the team members would need to collaborate closely if they are to achieve those objectives. Having strong, uninterrupted communication among the team member is then crucial.
To this end, a foolproof communication strategy should be devised for all the team members to follow. This avoids any confusion regarding communication protocols and also bottlenecks that may arise because of that. Setting up communication guidelines is particularly useful when the team members are spread geographically and are working with each other remotely.
Stand-ups or daily scrums are so much a part of scrum, they have become synonymous with each other in the imagination of those who follow the scrum framework of agility. Typically lasting up to fifteen minutes, these short meetings are, as the name suggests, performed standing up. The idea is for everyone to share their progress about tasks with the other team members so that everyone remains on the same page.
Kanban is among the most visually-oriented approaches to agile project management. Originally developed in Japan, it involves the use or color-coded cards to keep track of tasks(Fun fact: it was originally created to keep track of demand and supply of goods in a production line). These days, Kanban is widely used as a framework for agile project management. To successfully adopt Kanban, you could consider the following best practices.
In Kanban, the workflows are represented as forms or cards which depict the current status of every task in a project. It gives you a clear overview of the project’s progress and also if there are any impediments in the product development pathway. Kanban boards are typically interactive in that you could drag and drop a task from one position to another as per its progress.
Optimize the number of works in process
So that the project manager doesn’t get unwieldly, the number of cards or tasks in progress at any given time should be limited. This should be done by taking into consideration the team size and also the time the managers or team leaders could realistically spend evaluating tasks in progress without affecting the quality of their work. Optimizing the number of work also helps ensure that the team members can finish their tasks on time. Also, having a limited number of tasks in progress at a time makes it that much easier to re-prioritize or re-arrange the order of tasks if any unforeseen requirements come in during the product development process.
Get continuous feedback from team members
As mentioned before, a strong collaborative culture is of utmost importance in an agile project. Getting continuous feedback from team members about how they find the process is one way to help bolster collaboration. It helps you identify problem areas- especially in terms of how team members are communicating with each other, or related to the lack of resources essential to the smooth functioning of the team. Also, team members could provide you with insights that may help improve the quality of the final product.
Focus on the flow of work
In the Kanban framework, it’s always a good idea to focus on how the workflow proceeds as much as on the tasks themselves. After all, the core idea of Kanban boards is to provide you with a clear overview of how the tasks progress in the flow.
If you have a predictable workflow, that means the flow is indeed good. Another indication of a good workflow is if the tasks proceed with minimal interruptions. If on the other hand, the tasks are begun but are halted from time to time, that’s a sign of a poorly designed workflow. If that is the case, you may need to step in and redesign the workflow from scratch.
Lean Development Model
As the name indicates, the lean development model aims at eliminating from the process everything that doesn’t add value to the product. This results in what could be termed a ‘lean’ process. In lean development, these are the best practices that you should follow:
Identifying values in a project could be tricky- especially if the end product has multiple features. The ideal method then is to break down the project into small units of tasks. Each task could in turn have sub-tasks that branch out from them. Once you do this, it becomes easy to identify the value of each of the tasks and sub-tasks.
This will also help you gain a greater understanding of how the workflow is arranged. Further, you could easily identify those tasks that are of insignificant value. This makes it easy to eliminate them from the workflow.
In the previous section, we touched upon the aspect of eliminating unwanted tasks from the workflow. This is one way in which waste could be reduced in an agile project that follows the lean development model. Another way is to eliminate meetings that add little value to the workflow. You could also cut out documentation which doesn’t aid the development of the product.
Constant improvement of the product being developed is one of the key tenants of lean development. And that’s to be adhered to strictly.
One way to achieve such an ever-evolving improvement throughout the different iterations of agile product development is to ensure that the requirements of the product are clearly communicated to the team. Another thing of importance is conveying to team members the guidelines they should follow during the product development process, including the guidelines they should adhere to for effective communication with each other. This helps them achieve the maximum results with little in the way of waste.
Extreme Programming or XP is perhaps the agile framework that uses humanistic principles the most- like mutual respect among team members. The objectives of extreme programming include finding out the best possible way for team members to collaborate while creating software, increasing the productivity of the workers, and creating high-quality software products in the process.
Noble as those objectives are, Extreme Programming wouldn’t be successful unless you adopt certain best practices. Let’s now look at these.
In the traditional method of project management, project planning is performed predominantly or even exclusively by managers and others in the higher rungs of hierarchy. Agile projects, on the other hand, typically aim for a more egalitarian mode of functioning. This is especially true in extreme programming.
To this end, the planning process should be a collaborative process in which all members of a team should participate. This helps eliminate any confusion team members may have regarding the objectives of the project. Meetings should be held for all team members at regular intervals so that updates could be relayed and the progress of the tasks could be measured.
Even before the final code for the software is locked, you should run tests on the preceding iterations, checking the efficiency of individual functionalities. This sort of continuous testing will help the software programmers forecast scenarios in which their code may potentially fail, and make alterations to the code accordingly. The benefits of continuous testing include both faster software development and the production of code with minimal defects.
Shorter release cycles
Traditional software development models involve developing the entire software and then testing it before releasing the finished product. However, agile projects involve shorter release cycles. Usually, at least one functionality is released in one go. Extreme Programming also adheres to this principle. Shorter release cycles help give customers new updates without making them wait for long. This strategy also helps software developers identify bugs in the code that appear during the product development stage.
A quick turnover of software is a typical demand in the highly competitive marketplace of today. A simple software design goes a long way in fulfilling this demand. Not only does a simple design take less amount of time to code, it also makes bug fixing easier. Another important benefit of having a simple software design is that it helps bring down the cost of developing the software. The relative ease of production also makes for a more enjoyable work environment for the team members.
By adopting the agile methodology in project management, and also its best practices, you could reap many benefits including faster project delivery and reduced cost of development. But that’s not to say that managing the project itself is guaranteed to be simple. In fact, managing these projects could get quite knotty, especially if they are huge, involving multiple teams and a large number of tasks. Add to this having to adopt the best practices for agile projects and you may very well be looking at substantial challenges managing these projects.
One way to ease the pain in managing agile projects is by using project management software. A well-designed and features-heavy project management tool could be your best ally for agile project management. However, the catch is that not every project management tool is made equal, especially when it comes to agile project management. There are certain features without which it becomes simply impossible to manage an agile project.
I’m Productive is a project management tool that is perfectly suited for agile projects. The software includes all the features that you would need to successfully manage an agile project. From creating tasks to assigning them to the relevant team members, from tracking the progress of tasks to reviewing them, from commenting on tasks to re-assigning tasks for the next iteration, many are the functionalities that make I’m Productive ideal for agile project management.
Aside from such features, the task management tool also helps you accurately predict the project delivery time. It uses a sophisticated Artificial Intelligence to this end. Predicting the project delivery time helps avoid uncertainties and also helps you gain a predictable revenue cycle. To learn more about the project management tool, and how it aids you in managing agile projects, please visit their website.
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