Project management used to be something of a dark art. It was done by people who had read and understood A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) sixth edition, all 756 pages of it.
It was mostly written before Agile project management solutions took off. That's reflected in the most recent PMBOK Guide, the 7th edition. The 370 pages of the 7th edition cover Agile, and the focus shifts from project management processes to project management performance.
That's where Agile project management tools are important. If you use the right ones on your projects, they'll support and enhance the Agile methodologies you choose. They'll also help you manage user stories, project planning, project tracking, collaboration, and applying Agile's continuous improvement principle.
In short, they'll help you make sure your Agile projects succeed.
In this article, you’ll get an in-depth look at Agile project management frameworks, tools, metrics, and popular Agile software to discover how they can help you succeed with your projects.
What is Agile project management?
The Agile method is a set of principles and practices used to manage software development and other projects. It does this in a way that focuses on delivering value rapidly, efficiently, and continuously.
Agile is based on an iterative development process. This means your teams work in short cycles to provide incremental improvements in a product or service. It's useful in project management because the approach allows your team to react quickly to customer feedback. This allows them to make changes on the fly rather than rigidly "sticking to the plan."
You can best understand Agile if you think about its core values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation.
- Responding to change over following a plan.
Agile vs. Waterfall
Understanding the differences between the two approaches gets very complicated very quickly. There are five main aspects:
- Planning: With Waterfall, you plan your project in great detail before you start. But Agile is more spontaneous. It lets you begin when you’ve defined the first step, deciding what to do next based on the results of the previous step.
- Flexibility: Waterfall is based on minimal deviation from the plan, but Agile lets previous steps guide the following steps.
- Collaboration: Cooking is a great analogy here. In Waterfall, you’d collect all the ingredients at once and combine them in a fixed order. Agile is more like tasting and adjusting the recipe as you cook based on feedback from other cooks or tasters.
- Documentation: Waterfall is built on detailed documentation and project planning for each stage. Agile focuses more on the journey and its lessons for the next step.
- Feedback: Waterfall generally accommodates testing only once, at the end, and against the plan. Agile encourages testing at each step, the results of which might change the final project outcome.
Importantly, one isn’t better than the other. Each has its place. Knowing the differences between them helps you choose the right one for your project.
Different Agile frameworks
But enough about Waterfall. If you’re reading this, you’ve already chosen Agile, so the next thing you have to decide is which framework. But where do you start? There are over 50 frameworks to choose from.
Well, to help you narrow that field down a bit, we’ve selected six of the most popular. All of them prioritize people, teams, and team collaboration over processes. They also focus on results rather than delivering specific outcomes, products, or services.
This framework is the oldest, going back almost 500 years. The name is a combination of two words, “Kan” 看 meaning sign, and “Ban” 板 meaning a board. As streets in Japan got more crowded, shopkeepers used “KanBans” to draw attention and advertise their services.
That idea evolved into Toyota’s lean production system, which allowed every worker to chip in with product or process improvements. This dynamism appealed to the software development world, and it was quickly adopted and adapted.
Today, Kanban boards are electronic. They have columns to represent the stages of work, cards for current tasks, and swimlanes for different process step owners. Cards move through various stages in parallel with the process they’re controlling, and they gather data along the way.
That collected data informs tweaks or improvements to processes. It also records observations for later investigation. Interestingly, other frameworks have implemented Agile boards similar to that used in Kanban.
By far, the most popular Agile framework is Scrum. It’s based on the idea of breaking down complex projects into much smaller, far more manageable chunks and then working on each of them one at a time.
The power of this framework is that it allows Scrum teams to focus on one set of tasks at a time and makes sure that each task is completed before moving on to the next one. Different teams could be working on different tasks at the same time, with the deliverables combined in the following task.
In short, Scrum is a very useful way to improve productivity. It encourages team collaboration, communication, and focus on the most important tasks. It also allows Agile teams to monitor their progress and helps with project tracking, which helps team members meet their deadlines.
By using Scrum, your project team members and even remote teams can work together more efficiently and effectively, and the real bonus is that they can get more done in less time.
As the name suggests, Scrumban is a hybrid framework that combines certain key features of Kanban and Scrum. For example, there is no provision for a team leader. Instead, the entire team collaborates to organize their individual roles. Members can also pull in new tasks to tackle as they finish those in their pipeline.
Even though the tasks are tackled in sprints, Scrumban projects don't need to have a deadline. Also, Agile teams who use this framework meet on an as-needed basis rather than following a strict meeting schedule and project timeline. The Agile Alliance has a more comprehensive description of Scrumban if you’d like more detail.
The word “programming” in the name of this framework will clue you in that it’s used mostly in software development. It’s built around the idea that software developers and their customers should be closely involved in the process throughout.
And each has a role to play. Customers must inspire additional development by highlighting what they see as useful features. For their part, developers must base every set of software updates on that feedback while testing new features every few weeks.
XP, as this framework is also known, works best for small software teams with experienced developers. It also works well with remote teams because it offers simplicity, uniformity, endurance, communication, team collaboration, and feedback.
This framework was developed by American computer scientist and Agile pioneer, Alistair Cockburn, when he was working at IBM in the early 1990s. He was asked to study software development teams and processes and formulate a single Agile methodology to govern future projects.
What he ended up with wasn’t one framework but four, each focused on a different-sized team. He chose to distinguish them using colors:
- Crystal clear - less than 8 people
- Crystal yellow - 10 to 20 people
- Crystal orange - 20 to 50 people
- Crystal red - 50 to 100 people
What sets the Crystal framework apart is that it focuses on talent, community, people, skills, communication, and team collaboration. By doing this, Cockburn reasoned, the best possible software products could be delivered.
Dynamic Systems Development Method
This sixth framework was created out of necessity. In the early 1990s, software vendors realized that they needed to deliver their products faster. So, they jointly set up the DSDM Consortium to develop and promote an independent rapid application development framework from their own best-practice experiences.
In a way, DSDM is a hybrid of Scrum because it uses sprints, but it also borrows from Vilfredo Federico Pareto's 80/20 rule. The idea being that 80% of an application is often delivered in the same amount of time that the last 20% would be.
So, DSDM uses an iterative approach and focuses on getting the 80% done and leaves the 20% to be delivered as part of the maintenance cycle later.
Managing metrics on Agile projects
Peter Drucker is famous for saying, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” And while he never used those words, the idea remains sound. This is especially true with the Agile approach, where documentation is limited and Agile reports, usually charts, are a must.
A burndown chart offers a graphical representation of work left to do versus time. The work still to be done is charted on the vertical axis and with time along the horizontal. It’s a very useful tool for predicting when all of the current body of work will be done.
Burn up charts
Where burndown charts look for what’s left to do in the project, burn up charts focus on what’s already been accomplished. In a way, it positions the total work to be completed in your project as a target and then charts your progress towards that goal.
Cumulative flow charts
Sometimes, you have a project with multiple tasks being tackled by different teams. That’s when you’ll want to see the accumulation of work over time, with each task represented in a different color. And it’s where a cumulative flow chart comes in very handy.
One thing about projects is that different tasks take different times to complete, and even within a task, different elements will take longer to finish than others. Used mostly in Scrum, a velocity chart shows the average amount of work a team does during each sprint and tracks forecasted and completed work over several sprints.
Velocity charts are useful for predicting how quickly your team will work through the backlog,
Lead time charts
The resource management aspect of projects can be tricky, and one of the areas that lead time charts can help you. If you can accurately estimate how long a particular task will take your team, you’re in a stronger position to efficiently manage resource scheduling. And that can make a big difference when you have to use rare or expensive resources.
Popular Agile tools
As a business owner, you’re familiar with the challenges of managing client projects, especially when there's a lot of them going on at the same time. Juggling people and other resources while staying on time and within budget would test the resilience of a saint. But there is help at hand.
What to look for
The answer to your prayers lies in one of the many Agile project management software apps available these days. But what should you be looking for? Well, we know that planning and monitoring in real-time are two of the most important activities for Agile project managers. Both can be very time-consuming.
So, your ideal project management app would allow you to automate as much as possible and also include the predictive capabilities that come with built-in artificial intelligence (AI).
As it happens, we’ve explored the field and considered likely business and project objectives, key features, usability, and pricing. We’ve analyzed eight of the best tools available, what they are, and how to choose the right one to suit your particular needs.
Maybe that’s too much
Sometimes, you just don’t need all the bells and whistles that come with a full-featured project management app. And all you want is help in simplifying things. Well, one class of Agile tools caters to those who want just that.
Yes, you want improved team collaboration, faster delivery, and increased productivity. But you don’t want to have to dive neck-deep into project management methodologies and theory. And we have you covered with an analysis of the seven best tools for you to simplify your projects.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a software developer, Agile project manager, Scrum master, or anyone else. These seven tools are just what you need to streamline your workflow and stay on top of complex projects.
Choosing the right tool for you
Using the right tools for your Agile project saves you time. And time is money. So, it serves you well to understand just how much time and money you could save by using Agile project management software like Motion. Try our ROI calculator to find out.
What makes Motion different is the AI-driven intelligent calendar, auto-scheduling, built-in meeting scheduler, and robust reporting. You can even view the same project on a Kanban board, in a simple list, or in various other ways.
The future of Agile project management software is AI-driven. So don’t settle for the old ways of managing your projects. Try Motion today.