Agile Project Management vs. Managing Agile Projects

Author: Lindsey Marymont

Serious business or herding cats?

There’s a lot of buzz about Agile transformation right now, particularly in the realm of project and portfolio management. Publications like Forbes and CIO have been writing about its application across the enterprise for years, while firms like Forrester and Gartner have generated multiple reports on its impact on operations.

Although it may seem like herding cats, it’s safe to say that agility is no longer a trend — it’s a permanent fixture in business operations and one that needs to be seriously considered by anyone seeking ways to optimize processes. As noted above, one area that is rapidly adopting Agile methodologies is project management (PM). What does it mean to manage your projects with Agile methodologies? Moreover, how do your project management offices (PMOs) manage these Agile projects once you’ve taken the leap? We’ve got the breakdown on Agile Project Management and managing Agile projects to help you gain a broader understanding on this methodology and the value it can deliver to your business. 

Agile Project Management

Agile Project Management is modeled after a methodology originally created by software developers who wanted to deliver products to market faster while also innovating during development and production. The method ensured that every software product that went to market met rapidly shifting customer expectations and delivered authentic value.

When applied to project management, being “Agile” means breaking a given project into short bursts or sprints of activity while continuously adapting on the fly — also to ensure that the final product or deliverable meets or exceeds customer expectations. Rather than creating a complex, inflexible, long-range plan with a series of set milestones and a fixed process, Agile projects are completed iteratively, allowing project managers continuous opportunities to gather data, track progress and improve and refine deliverables.

There are lots of benefits to applying Agile Project Management methods. For example, instead of getting to the end of a long project only to find numerous flaws in the end product that require a whole new set of deliverables, Agile’s continuous feedback and testing during sprints mean that deliverables can be improved or changed without causing chaos in project management office (PMO) or breaking promises to customers. That makes your projects more effective and your customers happier — a huge win on both counts. Speaking of your PMO …

Managing Agile Projects

When we talk about managing Agile projects in a portfolio, it can be a little intimidating for PMO leaders who aren’t familiar with the process. After all, the changing deliverables and short-term planning can appear to make the job more difficult and much more like herding cats! However, most PMOs find that a good Agile project management tool can go a long way toward simplifying the job. We’ll talk more about those further down.

Adding Agile projects to a portfolio doesn’t have to complicate the portfolio manager’s job further. If anything, Agile projects can make their job even easier. As a recent digital business article from Gartner notes: “Program and portfolio management leaders are under constant pressure to transform their project management office into an entity that can respond faster to business requirements and deliver more value.”[i] Since Agile projects are geared to be completed faster with better results, it stands to reason that having them in the portfolio will improve a PMO’s metrics. Additionally, Agile projects can be housed in the portfolio alongside traditional waterfall projects, which reduces the hassle of managing them even further…which brings us to those tools we promised to talk about.

Agile Project and Portfolio Management Tools

What are some examples of Agile Project Management tools? Your PMs (and other areas of your organization) might be utilizing one already! Popular tools include Trello, Wrike, JIRA, Asana and Backlog, each with their own unique features that can align to the needs of your business. While the benefits of these Agile Project Management tools might vary, they all can make managing the iterative, rapid-delivery process of an Agile project easier.

Portfolio managers who sometimes look at the shift to Agile with trepidation (as they think of trying to manage and innovate an entire portfolio of shifting projects on the fly), usually discover that integrating their project and portfolio management (PPM) solution with these tools can make their jobs even easier than using traditional portfolio management methods. Why? Because these tools promote and advance the Agile concept of consolidation and high visibility. With a strong PPM solution, every type of project in the portfolio is able to be viewed in a single space and the progress and delivery is equally accessible and visible in real time across the organization.

By consolidating these Agile PM tools into your PPM solution, PMO leaders can make informed decisions about the investment of time, resources and money based upon real-time performance updates. The PMO can also create a backlog of vetted, ready-for-action projects to fill in those empty spaces and reduce lags in productivity. And, as we noted above, these PPM solutions are perfectly capable of housing both Agile projects and projects that follow more traditional methods, like waterfall. The PMO has the ability to monitor all of them through a single lens, which is definitely a benefit.  

With so many organizations embracing Agile methodologies, there’s no doubt that the process is here to stay. And, as we’ve discussed here, the benefits to processes like project management are numerous. In a digital marketplace that demands more value and faster delivery from companies every day, it’s worth considering if a PPM solution that can manage Agile projects could enhance your business (no cats to herd!).