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The Evolution of Agile Project Management
Written by Charles Dearing

The software industry was facing a crisis at the turn of the century. Businesses were in need of software applications, but software application development as a whole was lagging. Development times were ballooning, simple applications taking years and years to complete.

Bloated development times cost too much

A slow and steady pace would have been acceptable in the past, but now business needs were accelerating. A business that enlisted a software development team to complete a project within a five-year time span was a different business by the end of year three. Inevitably, projects were abandoned, capital wasted, and talent frittered away.

A new way to approach software development was very badly needed. In those days, software development was done in a slow, methodical way. Software engineers and their collaborators crafted hundreds of pages of project requirements, securing vendors, checking timelines, and conducting thorough research. Then, once the plan was made, the team stuck to it -- at all costs, both literal and metaphorical.

Agile is created to address growing problems

Then a group of rebel programmers changed everything, and quite possibly, saved the software application development industry. A group of freethinking software professionals created the Agile Manifesto which flew in the face of everything software development stood for at the time. "We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it," the Agile Manifesto opens.

The Agile Manifesto called for an iterative, successive approach to software development. They eschewed extensive documentation and welcomed change even late in development. They stressed the importance of self-organized, self-motivated, self-directed teams. They pioneered the "constant delivery" framework, a framework that has not only survived but thrived in modern project management contexts.

Agile environments value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The agile methodology calls for constant and continuous delivery as the primary measure of project success and progress. Before the agile methodology took hold, simply following the rubric, the unchanging schedule laid out at the beginning of the project, was the measure of progress. The Agile Manifesto requires a results-based tracking system, a system that has forever changed project management.

Agile changes everything due to its success

Agile quickly became a go-to project management methodology for software professionals. There were some detractors and some slow to adopt, but ultimately, agile percolated into the tech sector.

Agile has become the defacto project management philosophy of the startup ecosystem. What's more impressive is that agile is seeing wider adoption outside of the tech industry. Agile principles have proven to be easy to apply to any and all project management environments.

As agile becomes a more accepted method of tracking project success, innovations within it begin to emerge. One notable offshoot of agile is Kanban, a method inspired by Japanese management styles. Doubtless, you've seen the now-cliched startup offices with weary whiteboards covered in sticky notes. This is a representation of a kind of "just-in-time" task management system where essential tasks are broken up into tiny ones and dealt with as they arise.

Sprints, scrum, and DevOps are other terms you've most likely encountered in your project management experience. These are terms that owe their existence to the agile philosophy. Sprints are essentially iterative project retrospectives.

These retrospectives are done every month or so and help the team correct course and adopt revisions (just as the Agile Manifesto recommends). Scrum is a project management framework built from agile that uses sprints to improve iterations. DevOps is a melding of operations and development, a type of collaborative culture ripped right out of the agile framework.

Conclusion

"By now most business leaders are familiar with agile innovation teams," Darrell K. Rigby, Jeff Sutherland, and Andy Noble write for the Harvard Business Review, noting the popularity of the project management method.

"These small, entrepreneurial groups are designed to stay close to customers and adapt quickly to changing conditions," the writers continue. "When implemented correctly, they almost always result in higher team productivity and morale, faster time to market, better quality, and lower risk than traditional approaches can achieve."

Agile project management has come quite a long way. When the Agile Manifesto was released, it called for common sense development environments. Little did the underwriters of the pamphlet know, their principles of iterative development and self-motivated, self-directed, and collaborative teams would apply to project management as a whole.

Agile project management will continue to evolve as new companies adopt the principles and adapt them to their own specific needs. Companies, large and small, will continue to change how we understand agile project management and how we can best apply agile principles.

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About the Author

Charles Dearing is a veteran tech and marketing journalist with over 15 years of experience using words to move people to act. He has written for various publications such as ProBlogger, Big Think, Apps World, to name a few.

Published Tuesday, October 09, 2018 7:19 AM by David Marshall
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