Automation and Processes

The project manager's guide to agile project management

Agile project management is one of the most sought-after skills organisations look for in project managers today. So get the guide and get started.

Agile Project management - Project manager's guide
28 Mar 2023 | 3 min read
Stefanie Frid Jørgensen, Henrik Hajslund & Lars Eith
Stefanie, Henrik and Lars contribute with knowledge from the consultancy ChangeGroup. Stefanie works as a journalist, Henrik is a senior advisor and Lars is a senior agile coach - all of them are passionate about agile models and change management.

Is the role of project manager brand new to you? Or maybe you are wondering what type of project manager you want to be.

Or have you been carrying the classic project model in your toolbox for many years and now want to expand your project style with agile management principles?

Whatever situation you are in, here is a baseline guide to agile project management.

The guide gives you a complete overview of the method and why it has become increasingly popular among organisations.

What is agile project management?

Unlike the classic project management model, agile project management focuses on greater flexibility and therefore allows for quick adaptations to the project deliverables.

It is an iterative and incremental approach where the project manager and the team work together to achieve the project's overall goals. This is done through a series of small deliverables - called sprints - rather than a fixed project plan.

The project manager acts as a facilitator, guiding the team to achieve their goals by focusing on the project's vision and values.

It is essential in agile project management to have a strong collaboration between the project manager and the team and an open and communicative culture where all parties feel that their input is heard and considered.

When does an agile approach make sense?

Agile project management is suitable for projects where requirements are uncertain or may change along the way and where it is crucial to be able to adapt the project continually. It is also well suited to projects requiring close collaboration between team members and projects with high innovation and creativity.

In recent years, an increasing number of organisations worldwide have moved from using the classic project management method to using agile project management or a mix of both approaches.

Agile project management has proven to be effective in addressing the ever-increasing demands for faster time-to-market and to better adapt to a changing environment where organisations must be able to adapt quickly.

Agile project management vs. classic project management (waterfall project management)

The classic form of project management - also known as waterfall project management - is characterised by the project having a fixed schedule, a fixed budget and established requirements for deliverables.

It is a linear approach to project management, where you work systematically, and the phases of the project follow each other in a flow similar to a waterfall - hence the name "waterfall project management".

Waterfall project management typically assumes that the requirements and deliverables cannot be changed during the project process.

It is effective for projects with well-defined objectives and requirements. However, it may be less suitable for projects where requirements are uncertain or may change during the project.

Photo: ChangeGroup
Agile project management or traditional models?

Different types of agile project management

Agile project management has been around for more than 35 years and is based on the experience of IT development projects and the conceptualization of Scrum (Takeuchi and Nonaka, 1986: "The New Product Development Game"). Later came XP and the "Manifesto for Agile Software Development".

Today, a wide range of complementary agile methods and concepts have been developed, with the most commonly used among organisations being:

  • DAD
  • Kanban
  • LeSS
  • SAFe
  • Spotify

The reference standards are, however, still Scrum and Kanban. There are many supporting technological solutions for agile project management. But the most widely used are:

  • Atlassian (Jira & Confluence)
  • Azure DevOps
  • ServiceNow

Common to all methods and concepts is that all types of deliverables across the company and organization can be developed and delivered based on agile principles, methods and concepts.

The fundamentals of agile

Agile project management is based on a number of fundamental principles:

  1. Customer involvement: It is crucial to have a frequent and open dialogue with the customer to ensure that the project meets their expectations and requirements - especially as these may change during the project.
  2. Flexibility: Agile project management takes into account that the requirements for project deliverables can - and often will - change along the way.
  3. Collaboration is vital: It is essential that there is strong collaboration between the project manager and the team and that all parties involved believe that their input is heard and considered in the delivery of the deliverables.
  4. Short sprints: Agile project management focuses on achieving the project's overall goals through a series of short sprints - deliverables - rather than following an extended, fixed plan.
  5. Frequent evaluation: In agile projects, it is essential to continuously evaluate the project's progress and adjust the plan based on these evaluations and the customer's wishes.

How to run an agile project?

Agile project management typically follows a specific method, such as Scrum or Kanban, which defines the project process. Still, it leaves the project manager and team with plenty of room to tweak along the way.

The phases of agile project management can vary depending on the method used. However, the common characteristics of the phases in agile projects are:

  • Planning: The project manager and team define sprints, requirements and resources along with the customer.
  • Development: The team works to achieve the project's overall goals through short sprints (typically 2-3 weeks).
  • Test and evaluation: The project manager and team continuously evaluate the project's progress and deliverables and adjust the plan as needed with the client.
  • Handover: The project is handed over to the client and further evaluated to ensure it meets the client's expectations.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of an agile approach?

When to choose an agile project vs a classic waterfall project?

When it comes to choosing which approach will be the right match for a given company, it is essential to look at the type of organization that the project method will be matched against.

Regardless of the project method, it is ultimately about getting the employees on board and achieving the deliverables. Therefore, the project methodology is not irrelevant.

If you are an agile organization, then it is an obvious choice to run agile projects, as employees understand the agile setup and already work with an agile mindset.

If, on the other hand, you have an organization that is not used to agility, then the classic waterfall method or a hybrid project - a mix of agile project management and classic waterfall project management - is a safer choice. Adopting a mix of methodologies helps you make sure that you have the people on board and that you don't get pushback while, at the same time, you're more confident about completing the deliverables.