What Agile Project Management Looks Like in Real Life

What Agile Project Management Looks Like in Real Life
Michel Cohen

Whoever said that being a project manager is easy has never had that responsibility. To carry out a project successfully, be it for a multinational company or a small startup, you need dedication, patience, and organization, as well as concentrated, bitter, and boiling-hot coffee or energizing infusions.

If you want to be successful, you must also rely on the most effective tools and methodologies. To do so, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Applying existing processes for managing projects can save you a lot of effort and minimize risks. Here, I give you a head start by describing some of the best methodologies and tools to make your project a success.

What Agile really is

Success doesn’t come from not making mistakes, but from not making the same mistake twice. This is one of the chief values of Agile methodologies: adapt and improve. This principle, among others, offers an improvement over outdated management methods that used to fuel the world of software development. The Agile Manifesto summarizes these principles perfectly.

Agile Manifesto

The agile manifesto prioritizes:

❖ Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

❖ Working software over comprehensive documentation

❖ Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

❖ Responding to change over following a plan

Any method, framework, or process that follows these values can be called Agile. These methodologies have many advantages, such as helping teams manage work more efficiently while delivering high-quality products on a budget.

Within the Agile methodologies, two are recognized as the most productive: Scrum and Kanban. Before I discuss them, keep in mind that the main advantage of Agile is to be adaptable without losing efficiency. Therefore, its guidelines aren’t meant to be followed rigidly and without taking other factors into account, but to give the team a stable roadmap. After all, if you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.

How Scrum works

Quality work is everyone’s responsibility. Therefore, this methodology focuses on team harmony and usefulness. Scrum teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. Self-organizing teams choose the best way to get their work done, rather than being led by outsiders. Cross-functional teams have all the skills needed to get the job done.

To improve is to change, to perfect is to change often. The team model in Scrum is designed to optimize flexibility, adaptability, creativity, and productivity. These features are useful while developing a new idea or when the scope of the project changes as the team studies the market.

Below I list the four most significant Scrum concepts and how they’re applied practically.

1. Scrum Team: The following team roles are predefined for better collaboration:

  • Product Owner (PO): The PO is responsible for understanding business and market requirements. This person represents the interests of the customer and communicates the vision of the product. They receive input from users and stakeholders, manage priorities, respond to team inquiries about requirements, and define acceptance criteria. 
  • Scrum Master (SM): The SM educates the team, the PO, and the company on Scrum processes. It’s this person’s responsibility to manage the team’s workflow and schedule, and provide all the necessary resources to complete each task. They ensure that all parties adopt Scrum in the best way. 
  • Development team: The team also includes professionals with different skills, such as developers, testers, a technical leader, etc. All team members must support each other to be successful. The most efficient Scrum teams usually have a maximum of five members.

2. Sprint: A sprint is an iteration of the project with a defined timeline, fixed during its execution (timeboxing). The goal of each sprint is to implement a list of product backlog items (PBIs). A PBI specifies a requirement. There are several types of items: bugs, tasks, epics, etc. 

One type of PBI is known as a story. A story specifies a functionality, written as follows: As a <role>, I want to <feature> so that <reason>. For example, a story from a photo editing app might be: “As a user, I want to be able to take pictures directly from the app, so that I can filter them and share them on my social media easily.” The result at the end of the sprint should be a potentially deployable, integrated, and tested increase in functionality.

3. Scrum meetings: The Scrum team must have the following meetings: 

a. Planning: The team reviews the PBIs and defines which ones will be targeted during the next sprint. In this meeting, team members also set the sprint’s objective. Each GDP included within it is estimated in story points.

b. Daily: In this daily meeting of approximately 10 minutes, each member talks about what they did the day before, what they’re going to do that day, and if they have/will have any impediments in their tasks.

c. Review/Demo: The participants review the sprint outcome to update the PBI list if necessary. The development team, PO, and stakeholders all participate. Completed items are displayed.

d. Retrospective: The objective in this meeting is to review how the sprint performed in terms of people, relationships, processes, and tools. It serves to identify crucial elements that went well and opportunities to improve. Then, the participants create an action plan. The PO can participate.

e. Backlog refinement: In this permanent maintenance meeting for the backlog, participants estimate items and break large ones up to be smaller and more manageable. The PO and the SM participate. Part of the development team can participate.

4. Product backlog: It’s an ordered list of ideas and requirements to develop. The person responsible for it is the Product Owner. It’s set by hierarchical priorities. Items can be added or removed at any time.

How Kanban works

“If there is no explicit limit to work-in-progress and no signaling to pull new work through the system, it is not a kanban system.”

David J. Anderson, Kanban

Acclaimed for its ability to produce deliverables in the shortest time possible, Kanban is one of the most renowned methodologies that enables work teams to achieve on-time production. When a business that relies on constant value creation stalls, its workflow isn’t optimized. By focusing on workflow, Kanban shifts the team’s mindset to prioritize finishing tasks over starting them.

How does it work? 

Kanban consists of a board with cards located in columns with a number at the top of each one.

Cards: They represent the units of work as they progress through the development process.

Work in progress (WIP) limit: The number located at the top of a column indicates the number of cards allowed in it. This is the big difference between a Kanban board and an ordinary task board. The team enters a new item only if there’s a free space in the corresponding column of the board.

But Kanban is much more than a board. What we know today as Kanban supports six crucial workflow principles:

  1. Visualize workflow: This is the most fundamental step to adopt and implement the Kanban method. You need to visualize, either on a physical or electronic Kanban board, the steps of the process. 
  1. Limit WIP: Limiting WIP means focusing on completing a certain number of tasks and then starting on the next ones. Less is more, so when WIP is low, the lead time is shorter, and throughput is higher. As I mentioned before, the WIP limit is applied to each column of the board, allowing team members to place no more than the maximum number of cards allowed.
  1. Manage flow: Managing flow is about analyzing the process for creating items and developing deliverables to identify unproductive areas and improve. The team can do so by using Kanban metrics:
  • Lead time: Measures the time lapse from item creation to completion.
  • Cycle time: Represents the time lapse between starting to work on an item and completing it.
  • Cumulative flow: Shows the number of tasks at each stage of the development process and their progress over time. The items in different columns on the board are color-coded to create a flow chart.

     4.   Make explicit policies: For a process to be explicit, you must create detailed instructions in the column descriptions of the Kanban board so that each participant understands the criteria for each task and what it takes for an item to move from column to column.

For example, in the “Coding” step of the development process, there’s a policy that states: “The code review must be completed before the item is approved for testing.” You can also add, “A unit test must be done for the item to be considered ‘completed.’” For the “Testing” step, you can state,: “The testing plan should be documented and discussed with the team before being put into practice.”

    5.   Implement feedback loops: Feedback loops are the foundation of an efficient system. Getting feedback early, especially if the team is on the wrong track is crucial to delivering the right job, product, or service to the customer in the shortest time possible. Therefore, the Kanban method recommends the following three types of feedback loops:

Getting things done:

  • Kanban meeting: This is a daily meeting of approximately 10 minutes to help keep the team focused by discussing the day’s tasks and possible obstacles.
  • Delivery planning meeting: This meeting is held to plan deadlines for deliverables and make a delivery manifesto. It lasts from one to two hours.

Doing things better:

  • Operations review: A monthly meeting where the team evaluates the performance of the entire process and implements improvements that can be made in the workflow. On average, this meeting lasts one hour.
  • Risk review: The purpose of this monthly meeting is to review the parameters for managing risks as well as obstacles to the team’s ability to deliver and how they can be minimized. Although it normally lasts an hour, it can take up to two hours.
  • Service delivery review: A meeting that is held two days per week to analyze whether the work is progressing according to the client’s expectations. Ideally, this meeting should last 30 minutes or less.

Doing the right things:

  • Strategy review: By far the longest meeting of all (approximately 4-5 hours), a strategy review is conducted to help the business see the big picture in terms of adapting to changes in its industry and the needs within its company. This meeting is held quarterly to review and evaluate, among other things, OKRs, current markets, strategic business position, go-to-market strategies, and production capabilities.
  • Replenishment meeting: During weekly replenishment meetings, the team focuses on how each task can be accomplished, either by assigning additional team members on task cards or by identifying what’s needed to move tasks along the columns. They last for up to 30 minutes.

     6.   Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally:

Quality is never an accident; it’s always the result of intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution; it represents choosing the best option among many alternatives. The Kanban method is a process of evolutionary improvement. It helps to adopt small changes and gradually improve at a rate the team can easily handle.

Project management tools I recommend

In a survey conducted by Processmaker, 78% of the leaders interviewed said that, since the pandemic began, they have started implementing project management (PM) software and tracking tools to ensure their team remains productive.

Good communication is as stimulating and useful for work as black coffee. For this reason, at BEON Tech Studio, we have used Slack since 2014 to communicate with our team daily because it offers features like chat channels, groups, video calls, DMs, reminders, and much more. The two project management tools we use the most at BEON are Jira and Trello, which both have a simple structure and, at the same time, allow the application of Agile methodologies such as Scrum and Kanban for complex projects. Finally, for time tracking, there are also many tools available, including Toggl, Timenotes, and TimeCamp. Another one is Hubstaff, which we use to analyze and report equipment performance and time usage to our clients.

Agile tools and methodologies summary

Being a project manager isn’t easy. However, today’s tools can help them move work forward at a steady pace. Agile methodologies and tools enable an especially effective work structure for all software development projects, as they focus on customer needs and constant results.

At BEON Tech Studio, we strive to follow best practices in every project we undertake and use the most effective tools to organize work. Would you like to know more about how we work? Drop us a line, we will answer you today.