agile project management guide
Guide

Everything You Need To Know About Agile Project Management

What is Agile project management all about? It sounds cool. It has its own vocabulary, and it’s loved by software, product, and design teams. But what exactly is it, and how do you know if it’s the right fit for you?

We’ve had all the same questions. As an asynchronous remote company, embracing Agile has had a significant impact on the quality of our work and how we collaborate.

If you’re here, you’re likely looking for a way to help your business become more competitive and pivot more quickly in a changing marketplace. Maybe you’ve heard that Agile methodology can help you work better together and grow faster.

Whatever brought you here, welcome. This guide will help you understand Agile better, see if you should use it, and show you how to manage projects the Agile way.

Let’s get started.

table of contents
At a Glance
Table of contents

Who uses Agile methodology?

Much like any successful way of working, Agile project management has caught on in a variety of industries. Long-standing companies such as GE, National Public Radio, and C.H. Robinson all use a form of Agile when managing projects.

That’s because most teams can benefit from Agile project management, regardless of their size or industry.

According to Digital.ai’s State of Agile 2020 report, Agile is used by teams working in industries such as:
  • Technology
  • Financial services
  • Professional services
  • Government
  • Insurance
  • Manufacturing
  • Telecommunications
  • Health care
  • Education
  • Retail
  • Entertainment
  • Transportation
  • Energy
  • Non-profit

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular use cases so you can see if it’s the right fit for you.

Remote companies

With team members working all over the world, it’s easy to lose track of who’s doing what. At the same time, it’s easy for project managers to become overloaded trying to keep up with ever-changing project schedules. By adopting the Agile framework and the right software, remote businesses can simplify their workflow, keep clear communication with team members across the globe, and optimize how they work together.

E-commerce

Working with an online business can get hectic, but using Agile could help to keep your ongoing and ever-changing work all in one place. Organizing orders, keeping track of new products coming down the line, and hiring people to help expand your business are a big part of e-commerce success. With Agile, all of your essential business information can be stored in one place, allowing each team member to know what is going on and what they’re responsible for at any time.

Software development

Agile was invented for software development. So, naturally, Agile is still a software developer’s best friend. Ensuring that you’re on track to meet deadlines and having access to the right people on your team is key to getting your work done at a high level while still going through the proper channels.

Designers

With so many different iterations and versioning for projects, it’s easy for design teams to get buried in their work. By using Agile, a team of designers can stay updated with projects and check in with their people as they need to, helping to eliminate back-and-forth with updates and design revisions.

Marketing agencies

It’s not uncommon for an agency to have several campaigns happening all at once. Agile can keep agencies on top of where they are and update clients on their progress, making sure to get higher-priority work done sooner and avoiding bottlenecks.

Startups

When you’re building a startup company, it can be easy to let things get lost in the day-to-day mayhem. An Agile framework can make sure that everyone in your startup has a line of sight to the work that needs to get done and easily organize and prioritize potential future projects. Plus, with Agile software like Hubstaff Tasks, it’s easy to communicate with your team and integrate all your current work.

Products and services

Agile could be a great way to organize incoming, ongoing, and completed jobs for smaller companies that provide a service like a local printing shop or an exterminator. By breaking out each customer request into a single Kanban board task, you can easily organize the work that needs to get done and delegate tasks to the right people at the right time.

Construction

As construction projects advance, the cost of changes increases significantly, which is why Agile might not seem like the right approach at first. However, adopting Agile principles into construction project management can lead to better team integration, identification of potential issues, delays, and roadblocks earlier in the process, and better outcomes at the time of delivery due to a focus on quality instead of simply providing what was prepared in the initial plans.

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When did Agile project management start?

Agile originated where many great ideas do: From a frustrated group who yearned for a better way.

Traditional project management relied on long-drawn-out deadlines and convoluted processes. These development cycles kept users waiting a long time, with their issues unresolved. Other times, the problem the product was supposed to solve changed before the product was released.

Teams were abandoning work or wasting effort on delivering an outdated product. Investing time in something that never saw the light of day was a big-time morale-killer, and unfortunately, a common symptom of corporate bureaucracy.

These complaints piled up.

In the early 2000s, a group of 17 software developers that were fed up with these issues came together in the Wasatch mountains and created the Agile manifesto. This self-titled group of organizational anarchists found common ground to create values based on trust and collaboration.

This group became the Agile Alliance, and together they drafted four core values and twelve principles of Agile project management. (We’ll cover those next.) This non-profit organization provides information and resources to teams that are looking to adopt Agile methodologies.

Agile has become the most popular approach to project management today, with 97% of companies stating that their teams use Agile development methods.

Agile values and principles

It’s essential to understand why Agile exists in order to implement it properly. Agile is based on four core values as described in its manifesto:

Agile values

In addition to the manifesto, Agile software abides by twelve principles.

The twelve principles of Agile software

1. "Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software."

According to Agile, the best way to ensure stakeholders and users are happy is to ship the product early and listen to feedback continuously.

Agile teams strive to develop a minimum viable product (MVP) as soon as possible and then get feedback from real users.

This is different from traditional product development, which is notorious for hoarding products until they’re perfect and fully formed.

2. "Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage."

Agile teams understand that change is inevitable and aim to adapt to changing requirements instead of moving forward without them.

Working this way makes everyone more responsive to changing customer needs, market demands, and competitive landscape. Agile teams change course when there’s an advantage to doing so.

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3. "Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale."

Here, the emphasis is on breaking a product into smaller components and then delivering those components frequently (sometimes using Epics). This speeds up the overall development of the product.

Apart from helping you deliver a product faster, this approach also provides more opportunities to validate ideas and strategies.

4. "Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project."

This principle emphasizes the importance of daily communication between stakeholders and the team.

In order to create a successful product, insight is needed from both the technical and the business side of an organization.

The benefits? Better alignment, building trust, and improving transparency.

5. "Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done."

Agile empowers individuals by providing trust and autonomy. It doesn’t support micromanagement or excessive hand-holding.

This means that you have to be more careful when building an Agile team to ensure it has all the right people and skills needed to complete a project.

6. "The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation."

It’s crucial to discuss the project in real-time, either in person or over a video call. This eliminates misunderstandings that can occur when communicating via email or instant messaging apps.

Transparency is also key to successful remote communication.

7. "Working software is the primary measure of progress."

Agile focuses on developing a minimum viable product (MVP) as soon as possible. Agile teams don’t allow themselves to get sidetracked by chasing perfection.

They have a “fail fast” mentality that enables them to test ideas quickly.

8. "Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely."

A rapid release schedule can be stressful. Agile emphasizes the importance of setting realistic expectations in order to keep morale high and prevent burnout.

9. "Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility."

When using Agile project management, you need to be careful about technical debt and its implications on new features. The team needs to work with stakeholders to understand when technical debt is acceptable.

10. "The goal here is to focus on doing things that have the most impact. This requires smart prioritization and validating ideas through experiments before spending time on development."

The goal here is to focus on doing things that have the most impact. This requires smart prioritization and validating ideas through experiments before spending time on development.

11. "The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams."

In traditional teams, management makes all the key decisions. Agile teams are self-organizing and utilize a flat structure where everyone makes decisions as a group.

12. "At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly."

Change is inevitable. Constantly fine-tune your processes and look for more effective ways of doing things.

Agile priciniples

Agile frameworks

If Agile is a set of values and principles, a framework is how to implement that thinking with the right tactics and events.

The two most popular frameworks are Scrum and Kanban. Both methods have their pros and cons, as well as suggested use cases. However, for any approach that is based on Agile principles, you can expect the following benefits:

  • Puts the customer first
  • Promotes constant and consistent growth
  • Built to avoid disasters
  • Brings everyone together

The framework you choose will have its own benefits and potential pitfalls, so it’s important to consider what your team values most as you evaluate options.

Scrum

The most fun-to-say framework, Scrum, uses iterative and incremental processes for managing projects. This allows you to stay flexible and respond to change more quickly.

Scrum originated in the 1990s and is based on rugby, where the team tries to advance together. The main guiding principles are:

  • Transparency – Everyone needs to have visibility into important aspects of the project.
  • Inspection – Check project progress regularly to ensure you’re on track to meet Sprint goals.
  • Adaptation – Adjust processes as soon as possible to avoid future issues and delays.

Scrum teams consist of a Scrum Master, a Product Owner, and individual contributors.

  • The Scrum Master coaches team members, removes roadblocks, and helps the team create high-value increments.
  • The Product Owner creates, prioritizes, and communicates backlog items. Finally, the individual contributors work on completing individual items and tasks from the backlog.

In Scrum, you’ll likely work in Sprints, which are short cycles that last between one to four weeks. The goal is to agree to a set amount of work and then complete it within that Sprint.

You’ll take advantage of Agile artifacts such as the product backlog, the Sprint backlog, and the product increment to complete projects more effectively. Scrum teams also hold Sprint planning, Sprint review, and Sprint retrospective meetings, which we’ll cover later.

Agile scrum project management

One benefit is delivering quicker and more frequent releases thanks to the Sprint structure. The stakeholders provide feedback on the release after every Sprint, ensuring the product is on track and of high quality.

ProsCons
  • Quick and frequent releases
  • Regular feedback ensures quality
  • Promotes collaboration and communication
  • Somewhat rigid rules
  • A lot of time is spent in meetings (Stand-ups)

Kanban

Kanban is an Agile framework that gives you a highly visual way to manage your workflow. It’s based on using a Kanban board, which has three columns at its most basic level:

  • To-Do – Tasks that need to be completed
  • Doing – Tasks currently in progress
  • Done – Completed tasks

You can also create custom columns that represent steps in their workflow.

You can add tasks to the board in the form of cards. Each card contains all relevant details, including the team member assigned to complete it, the time it should take to complete, links and documents, checklists, and any other necessary information.

Team members then pull items from a backlog and complete them when needed. Once a task is ready for the next step in the workflow, it moves to the appropriate column on the board.

You can also set a work-in-progress limit, which represents the maximum number of tasks that can be in progress at any given time.

Kanban is a great option for projects that need flexibility and don’t need to adhere to hard deadlines.

ProsCons
  • Highly flexible
  • Transparent work environment
  • Easy way to reprioritize tasks and rebalance workload
  • It can be difficult to understand when tasks will get done
  • Tasks need to be manageable amounts of work so that they don’t get held up in the “doing” phase forever

Scrumban

As its name implies, Scrumban is a framework that combines the Scrum and Kanban project management methodologies.

Scrumban combines Scrum’s structure with Kanban’s flexibility. It takes Sprints, prioritization, story point estimates, and daily Stand-ups from Scrum while using a Kanban board with work-in-progress limits.

Scrumban gets rid of Scrum\’s planning, review, and retrospective meetings. Instead, it uses on-demand planning based on buckets:

  • One-year bucket – Reserved for long-term goals.
  • Six-month bucket – Includes plans approved by management that include specific requirements.
  • Three-month bucket – Plans from the six-month bucket organized into specific tasks.
ProsCons
  • Doesn’t need a Scrum Master or a Product Owner (Scrumban teams are self-organizing).
  • Saves time by eliminating a lot of meetings associated with Scrum.
  • Lack of best practices might force teams to create their own, which might not be optimal.

Agile team roles

And now, an essential part of the Agile project management model: the people who make it all possible.

Because Agile is all about collaboration during any given project, each person on a team plays a crucial role in making sure that the ship stays afloat. Let’s take a look at each Agile project role and the associated responsibilities.

Product owner

The product owner is the voice and representative of all the stakeholders. They have an in-depth understanding of the long-term vision for the business and communicate product requirements to the development team.

Responsibilities of the product owner include setting the product’s direction, prioritizing backlog items, and managing release cycle planning.

This person manages the backlog, releases, and the needs of stakeholders. They are also responsible for identifying bottlenecks and finding solutions to them.

Team lead

Also called the Scrum Master, the team lead helps coordinate roles, conducts meetings, and coaches team members. Their job is to make sure the team completes tasks to the organization’s standards.

The team lead will check in with team members regularly, making sure they have everything they need to do their job.

Development team

The development team is composed of individual contributors. Those contributors might include product designers, front-end and back-end developers, quality assurance engineers, and user experience specialists.

Outside of product development, the “development team” might include anyone with a specific skill in your organization, such as a designer, writer, SEO specialist, and so on.

Individual contributors’ primary responsibilities are to complete tasks that move the project forward. They also need to attend regular meetings where they discuss progress and mention potential roadblocks.

Stakeholders

Stakeholders for a project might include business executives, investors, and end-users. They provide input that helps direct the project and aligns development with business goals and can be anyone with a “stake” in the project.

Stakeholders are there to make sure projects move along to create something better for the end-user — the ultimate goal of Agile.

Nine Agile artifacts and ceremonies to know

Artifacts are tools that help teams complete projects successfully. In other words, they’re terms you should know so that you can explain them to your team.

Pro tip: You can always bookmark our Agile glossary when you need a refresher.

  • Product backlog (Icebox) – A list of everything the team needs to complete to deliver the product. The product owner manages the backlog and updates it based on feedback and project changes. The product backlog consists of three types of items:
    • Tasks – Any tasks the team needs to complete
    • User stories – High-level descriptions of a product feature
    • Bugs – Product problems that need to be fixed
  • Sprint backlog – This is how teams plan out future Sprints. The product owner helps the team create the backlog during Sprint planning meetings so tasks can be pulled into upcoming Sprints.
  • Product increment – Represents a working version of the final product, including all of the items completed during a Sprint. The product increment provides transparency for both the team and the stakeholders.
  • Epics — Epics and Stories are a method of managing extensive projects that help you get each detail done. For an Agile team, the whole project would be the Epic, while each task inside would be a Story. This method helps prioritize tasks, monitor the timeline to completion, and see where there might be potential delays in the Roadmap.
  • Roadmaps — An Agile project Roadmap is pretty self-explanatory. Roadmaps are used to outline how a project gets developed over a certain amount of time. Roadmaps don’t necessarily show when a project will be completed, as that’s not what Agile’s focus is. While it may show completed dates, those are fluid and can change when needed as the project develops.

    The real goal is to see where the project is headed, seeing what boxes need to be checked to make sure your team reaches its outlined goals and adapting any projects as each task gets completed along the way.

    The beauty of an Agile Roadmap is that everyone is involved, not just managers or developers. Everyone has to contribute to the common goal of completing and improving work.

Agile ceremonies are events that help to facilitate team communication and improve the feedback loop. The four main events used in Agile include:

  • Daily Stand-ups – Occur once a day and last for about 15 minutes. During daily Stand-ups, team members inform each other about the tasks they’ve completed and the tasks they plan to work on next.

    If they’ve encountered any roadblocks, they should also mention them during these meetings. It’s the responsibility of the team lead to clear roadblocks and ensure team members can complete their tasks.

    Remote teams often opt for automated, written Stand-ups instead of in-person meetings. If you’re somewhat meeting-averse, this is a great option as your team can still submit what they worked on, what’s next, and any roadblocks they have. You’ll get the recaps in your inbox, and everyone can keep working in their own time zone.

    Hubstaff Tasks daily stand-ups tool

  • Sprint planning meetings – These events are held at the beginning of each Sprint and usually last between one to two hours. They’re attended by the development team, the team lead, and the product owner.

    The team discusses the product backlog and decides on tasks that will be added to the Sprint backlog. Then, they add story point estimates for each task.

    Pro tip: Story points are one way to estimate tasks, but there are a ton of other Agile estimation techniques to try.

    Finally, the team sets a Sprint goal, which is the amount of work team members commit to completing during that time.
  • Sprint reviews – During reviews, the team showcases their work to stakeholders. The stakeholders then provide feedback that helps guide future Sprints.
  • Sprint retrospectives – The development team and the team lead hold a Sprint retrospective. During this meeting, the team discusses what went well during the Sprint and what went wrong.

    The team lead uses this time to gather feedback for improving team processes.

To get a deeper look at these events, check out this guide to Scrum ceremonies.

How to get started with Agile project management

Getting started with Agile can be intimidating — there’s a whole new language to learn. There are various online courses and tools out there that are supposed to help your business become Agile. Sometimes they’re pricey, other times they’re not too useful.

Hubstaff Tasks, on the other hand, is easy to use and doesn’t get in the way of getting your work done. It’s all about making Agile accessible so that your team can make the transition more easily and see the benefits faster.

What is Hubstaff Tasks?

Hubstaff Tasks is an intuitive Agile project management tool that takes the best parts of Scrum and Kanban and allows you to use them all in one place.

You can use Hubstaff Tasks to plan Sprints, create and organize tasks into Epics and Roadmaps, get updates on tasks and projects, and more.

Implement Agile project management using Hubstaff Tasks

Ready to start using Agile project management with the help of Hubstaff Tasks? Here’s how you can get up and running today.

Step 1: Explain the benefits of Agile to your team

Your organization needs to believe in an Agile mindset. This way of thinking relies heavily on working for the common good, not for individual praise or recognition.

Take a look back at the twelve principles of Agile and use them to explain why you think Agile will work for your team. You can even download our handy poster as a way to remind yourself and others what Agile is all about. Explain to everyone involved how Agile works, step-by-step, and involve them in the transition process.

Step 2: Make a plan and create your project boards

A big first step starts with equally big thinking. To begin your first set of Agile projects, you need a Roadmap that lays out where you plan to go as a company over the next six months, one year, or longer. We use our own Roadmap tool to help us accomplish this.

Here at Hubstaff, our Roadmap drives the initiatives we take on every quarter. Many software teams work from a Product Roadmap, and agencies like to do annual planning, so you might have this already.

The goal is to help your team see where they should spend their time and energy. The visual Roadmap in Hubstaff Tasks clarifies what your focus will be in the coming months and year.

Once you’ve got your Roadmap figured out, you can plan a release schedule for your work. Map out the dates that you’d like to have projects completed so that you can start building matching Timelines in Tasks.

Step 3: Set up your team in Hubstaff Tasks

Explaining how something works is one thing — allowing everyone to get their hands dirty with it is another. Set up your Hubstaff Tasks account and let each of your team members have a look around.

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Create a few projects to let people test it out, allowing them to visually familiarize themselves with how Agile works.

This would also be a great time to establish each person’s role in the Agile team.

Start adding in a few of the projects you’ve laid out in your Roadmap and putting them in their correct columns. You’ll start to see how the entire process starts to come together visually.

Step 4: Break out your Sprints

Sprint management in Hubstaff Tasks

It’s time to start building out your Sprints with the tasks you created.

This is where, as a team, you’ll commit to a set amount of work for that timeframe. It’s pretty standard to make Sprints last about one to four weeks, but that is ultimately up to you and how long, on average, it takes your team to complete work.

To start a new Sprint, build out your backlog of work with all the tasks you’ve already added in the previous step.

Then, add a reasonable number of tasks to each Sprint. Over time, you’ll get a better feel of how many tasks people can complete during the course of a Sprint.

After the first three Sprints, take the average number of tasks or story points and use that as your benchmark for future planning.

Get a more in-depth tutorial on how to use Hubstaff Tasks.

Step 5: Start using Stand-ups

start using stand-ups

Not sure what everyone is working on each day? Daily Stand-up tool to the rescue. These automated reminders help team members recap three key things:

  • What they did today
  • What they’re working on tomorrow
  • Any questions or roadblocks they may have

By having your team use the Stand-ups feature in Hubstaff Tasks, you’ll make sure everyone is on the same page and can help clear roadblocks before they derail your project.

Step 6: Review your Sprints

After each Sprint, take the time to sit down and think about what worked, what didn’t work, and what you think could improve in future Sprints. This will help you plan future Sprints more effectively.

If you only do one thing today

Download and print out the Agile principles. Hang it up in your workspace, and share it with your team.

If you’re planning to transition to Agile, make sure your team understands the purpose and the framework you’re going to use.

Then, be flexible. Embracing change is a key part of Agile, so figuring it out together is part of the journey.

Ready to take it further? Start your free trial of Hubstaff Tasks and complete these steps:

  1. Create your first project board and add tasks to it
  2. Fill in task details to give everyone the info they need to complete a task
  3. Invite your team and add them as followers and assignees so they can try it out

And that’s how to get set up with Agile in one day. Try it out, and let us know what you think. Then come back once your team is on board and tell us how much everyone loves it.

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