A Complete Guide to Agile Project Management

If you're interested in learning more about Agile — how it works or ways to implement it at your business — we've built this guide for you.

A Guide to Agile

Organizing and running your team is no small task. There are numerous jobs to be done and objectives to be considered, all while leading and instructing a growing team.
Finding a simple and effective way to manage your work isn’t easy, but that’s what Agile is here for.
Maybe you’re the owner of a small company or a project manager looking for better ways to structure the workflow of your team. You’ve heard about Agile, but have no idea what it means or how it could benefit you and your team.
You’ve come to the right place. In this guide we will break down what Agile is and how it can help make work faster, easier, and more seamless at your company.

What is Agile and where did it start?

At its most basic, Agile is a set of beliefs and approaches to creating and managing software development projects.
But where did it all begin?
Like many novel ideas, it started with great minds coming together and pursuing something better. In February of 2001, a group of 17 developers wanted to change the way software was being built. After years of working in the industry, they saw firsthand how projects couldn’t keep up with unrealistic timelines and older work had a harder time keeping up with new technology. They decided it was time to find a more streamlined way to get the job done.

The Agile Manifesto

Inspired after the 17 creators took a trip to the Utah mountains.
We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to 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
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
Essentially, the manifesto explains that there are four values that differentiate an Agile company from a regular one: Focusing on people, developing better software, listening to customers, and constantly looking for ways to improve.
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The Agile Manifesto
This manifesto, inspired and developed by 17 developers in the mountains of Utah, is what every Agile company is designed to follow. The manifesto states that Agile companies should value all of these things — especially those on the left:
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan
Boiled down, these four values state that an Agile company should:
Focus on people, develop better software, listen to customers, and look for ways to improve. To learn more about Agile and project management, check out our guide to Agile at Hubstaff.com

Agile project management

What is Agile project management and how is it different from other ways of managing projects?
The best way to explore that is by comparing it to a more traditional style: waterfall project management.

Waterfall vs. Agile

Waterfall is a traditional approach that many companies and businesses follow. It’s a simple style of breaking out projects into a linear process, building work, and handing it over before you start the next project.
Think of it like a speeding train: while it gets you from point A to B quickly, it makes it very hard to go back and change something that’s already been completed since you’re now so far removed from it.
Agile approach is different in that it builds into its process the ability to go back and make adjustments where necessary, allowing your projects to grow over time and not become stagnant.

Why use Waterfall then?

The Waterfall project management style has its place. There are several projects or instances where Waterfall can be effective:

One-offs

Maybe you’re working on a quick one-time project for a client, or your new project has a pre-fixed set of requirements and budget. You might need to just knock out the project and move on to other priorities. In this case, Waterfall makes plenty of sense for getting it done.

It’s your area of expertise

From time to time, you might have a project come across your desk that you know you can knock out quickly because you’ve done something similar 100 other times. Again, it makes more sense to get it done by taking a Waterfall approach.

Tight timeline or hard due dates

If your project has an extremely tight schedule with a hard due date and you don’t have the time for multiple iterations, using a Waterfall approach would make sense since, unfortunately, you just don’t have many other options.

Benefits of Agile project management

Agile is an extremely intuitive project management style, which is why it has
a large number of benefits.

It puts the customer first

Agile is all about putting the customer or consumer first. Because the product owner (we’ll explain who that is soon) is involved in every step of a project, they’re able to give feedback and request changes with the consumer in mind.

It’s about constant and consistent growth

Agile builds routine check-ins and reviews, so the work being done is always growing, changing, and evolving the process itself. This lets team members be aware of any possible issues that need to be resolved and for the product owners to have a line of sight to all the ongoing work being done.

It’s built to avoid disasters

Because there are so many review periods and consistent updates, it helps to identify problems before they start. Instead of one person cranking out the work and sending it on its way, an entire team of people work together to create, iterate, and update their ongoing projects in tandem.

It’s about the whole team

Agile is all about working as a team. No one person is more vital than any other on the team and so no one person is praised more than another. This helps build team morale and fosters collaboration between team members — two excellent factors to have on your side.
These benefits not only help keep the work uniform, but it also gives employees more opportunities to learn from what they’re working on, build more projects, and adjust their working style based on what they’ve learned. Malgorzata Jezierska, who works for X-Team, a software development team, explains how Agile made their workflow more visible:
An increased transparency resulted in higher quality and better communication between the agile team and the stakeholders.

How Agile project management works

If you’re sold on using Agile for your business, the next step is figuring out how it works. Let’s take a look at how Agile functions, its processes, and how each person involved plays an important role in making it all go well.

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. Think of it as a timeline for getting future work done (with a few modifications).
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.

Roles in Agile projects

This brings us to an essential part of the Agile project management model: the people who make it all possible. Because Agile is all about conversations at different intervals 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.

Stakeholder

This role is a little loose in its description, but still a vital part of an Agile team. A stakeholder can be anyone in a company who has “stake” or interest in a given project. They could be anyone, from a developer to an end-user. Stakeholders are there to make sure projects move along to create something better for the end-user — the ultimate goal of Agile.

Product owners

The product owner is the voice and representative of all the stakeholders. They are solely responsible for prioritizing work on a team, establishing the backlog of work, and for making significant, timely, and intuitive decisions to get jobs done.

Team lead

Also called a Scrum Master, the Team Lead is responsible for their team. This means they help them work towards goals by gathering resources, leading them in the right direction, and protecting them from possible problems happening in other departments.

Team members

This one is the most obvious. Team members, sometimes called the Development Team, are the people designated to specific groups to complete projects. Typically, teams can vary in size but include team members with similar skill sets.

The Agile workflow

When all these people come together, they work in what’s called a workflow. It’s an Agile process that each project sticks by to ensure everything is accounted for and keeping everyone’s eyes to be on the work.

Standups

Standups are a daily meeting for each team lead and member to discuss ongoing projects. They generally start with going over completed work from the previous day, explaining the plan for the current day, and taking time for any questions. Standups allow everyone on the team to stay up to date with the group’s ongoing work and help leaders know if there are changes needed to the roadmap.

Sprints

Projects for an Agile team are broken into Sprints. They are short periods during which the project aims to be completed — everything from planning and development to reviews and handoffs.

Check-ins

Agile teams usually manage themselves, always aiming to hit broad deadlines independently. But it’s pretty standard to build check-ins into the roadmap to make sure the work is heading in the right direction. Check-ins give the product owners a chance to get their eyes on the work. This lets the team get the necessary feedback quickly and ask follow up questions in real time.

Handoff

After the work is completed on the team’s part, it’s then handed off to the next team in the workflow. Usually the Team Lead owns this transition, making sure that all handoffs stick to the workflow and that no stone is left unturned.

Review

The Scrum Master will handoff work to each Stakeholder on that given project, collect feedback, and return to their team with any changes. After being completed, the project is reviewed later to check performance and see where any future updates might need to be made.

Epics and Stories

Sometimes big projects get introduced and the first thought on everyone’s mind is “how will we going to get all of this done?” Epics and Stories are a method of managing extensive projects that help you get each minute detail done on time.
Think of Epics and Stories like a series of books. When a new book in the series comes out, that new addition is called a story. It’s one tale with its unique twists and turns, and makes up one part of a bigger epic.
For an Agile team, the whole of the project would be the Epic while each task inside would be a Story. This method helps to prioritize tasks, monitor the timeline to completion and see where there might be potential delays in the roadmap.

Deliverables

When it comes to project management, deliverables are what most companies aim for, whether they’re Agile or not. For an Agile company, that looks a little different than, say, a waterfall business model.
For a more traditional organization, deliverables are the end goal. They’re measurable markers that are confined by pre-determined due dates and parameters. While there are deliverables in Agile, they look a little different than what you might be used to. Agile deliverables are more fluid. Since the quality of work and consistent improvement are deemed more important than rushing to a due date, this means that sometimes a roadmap or timeline may need to move around a bit in the interest of Agile.
This is why Agile isn’t just a way of working; it’s a philosophy that everyone on the team has to believe in for it to work.
Be sure to focus on adopting the Agile mindset within your team before bringing Agile practices into the equation. Although the latter is easier to test out, the former can actually help the practices take root in your team.
Monica Georgieff / Agile Sherpas

Agile methodologies and framework

There are two different methodologies for operating as an Agile team: Scrum or Kanban. Both have similar frameworks and functionalities, with a few qualities that make each unique.

What is Scrum?

While it may sound like something you’d find at the bottom of a lake, Scrum is a popular framework for using Agile. It’s often a big misconception that Agile and Scrum are one and the same, which is false. Scrum is just one of the many applications of Agile. Deriving from a Rugby term, Scrum refers to the action of learning from each moment, looking to hit future goals at a top-level, and always reflecting on the work you’ve done.
Scrum is different from other Agile methodologies in the way it organizes sprints, team roles, deliverables, and prioritization. Let’s take a look at what makes Scrum unique.

Sprints with Scrum

Sprints, which we previously explained, are specific periods of time in which projects get completed within the Agile framework.
Scrum sprints are unique in that each project’s sprint determines the timeline the team will work within to get the project done. While it might be a more loose timeline for other methodologies, Scrum sticks to their sprints to make sure work is on schedule and moving smoothly.
This is why Scrum is widely used in many companies using Agile for the first time as it’s a relatively smooth transition from more traditional, but widely-used, waterfall workflows.

Standups with Scrum

Because of the way Agile works, everyone on the team must wholeheartedly believe in the mission of the company and the principles of Agile for standups to be effective. This is even truer when looking at standups in the Scrum methodology.
Standups are daily meetings where the team talks about four things: what they worked on yesterday, what they plan to do today, and ask any questions they may have for their team or address any roadblocks in the workflow. When a team member doesn’t believe in Agile, these standups can often feel redundant or unnecessary. If everyone truly invests themselves, however, they can be a worthwhile tool.
Scrum standups function like a team huddle. Everyone has their tasks, everyone is up to speed on what they have to do, and then everyone gets after it on their own.
By pairing your team’s daily standups with an Agile project management tool like Hubstaff Tasks — where everyone’s sprints and jobs can be displayed readily, all in one place — Scrum Masters can have an easier time keeping everything in check.
Tools like this become even more beneficial when going through iterations and reviews. With Scrum, there are numerous check-ins to review ongoing work. By using Tasks, you can break out each project, set specific timelines for certain jobs within sprints, and build in review processes that are easy for each team member to follow along with. You can even set up automated standups to remove some of the hassles of scheduling meetings.

Scrum team roles

The roles in a Scrum team are similar to that of the Agile model. There are three leading roles to look at:
  • The product owner
  • The scrum master
  • The development team members
Many companies tend to adopt the Scrum model because of how simple it is. But it’s not uncommon for a team to get a little confused about what happens to their existing job titles when their team adopts Scrum. The good news is that titles don’t need to change. If you’re a project manager, you’re still a project manager. If you’re an art director… you’re still an art director!
What does change, is your project organization structure. Rather than being praised for your individual role you’re now being rewarded as one group of people, encouraging better teamwork and collaboration.
A key member on the team is the Scrum Master. This person is (surprise) master over the Scrum. They help to facilitate the entire team, delivering the team members the right information and materials to do their job while reporting back to the product owners with information. They’re the ones to update all the essential info on working programs, like Hubstaff Tasks, to help everyone stay on track with the right information. Think of them like the glue that holds the whole Scrum together.

The benefits of Scrum

Team building

Scrum is all about working as a team. Everyone has to stay in communication with each other, and everyone is working toward a common goal. There are no people on the team who are “the better developer” or “the better writer.” Everyone is equal.

Collaboration

Because of the structure of Scrum, a lot of collaboration happens naturally. Whether it’s with others in your team or those in a standup meeting, you’re looking to gather everyone’s unique skills and knowledge to collaborate on all your sprints.

Company and market diversity

There’s a reason Scrum is such a popular workflow for many businesses. Because of its built-in adaptability, it fits well into a variety of companies outside of software development. From marketing agencies to growing local service businesses, anyone with a team of employees can benefit from the power of Scrum. Setting up sprints and standups for a smaller business makes it easier to see everything from the ground level, ensuring nothing gets missed.

Oneness

Working on a Scrum team is all about teamwork. There are no people on the team who are deemed higher than another. When a team succeeds, it’s never attributed to one person’s efforts over the hard work of the collective.

What is Kanban?

When talking about Agile methodologies, we also need to cover the second most popular method: Kanban. While it’s similar to Scrum, Kanban follows a few different rules and structures — giving teams more line of sight to work getting done and transparency to teams — that make it unique. To fully understand Kanban, you first have to start by understanding what a Kanban board is.

Kanban boards

Boards are the lifeblood of Kanban. They’re a project management tool used to organize “cards” and “columns” to maximize workflow, limit or reduce work-in-progress, and visualize on-going projects. They can be physically created using tape and a whiteboard or digitally using programs like Hubstaff Tasks.

Kanban columns

On a typical Kanban board, you’ll find several rows or columns demonstrating a workflow. Each column represents a different segment of that flow or step in the process. For example, you could have three separate columns in your Kanban board labeled “To-Do,” “In-progress,” and “Complete.” Columns, like all of Kanban, help everyone on a team visualize where projects are in the workflow, and make it easier to pinpoint where things are getting held up.

Kanban cards

For a Kanban board, each project is represented by a single cell called a card. Typically only representing one project at a time, cards are moved from column to column depending on the project’s current status.
If you recently finished a project and were ready to pass it along, you’d move it from your “In-progress” column to your “Complete” column. Easy as that.
The fluidity of cards is one of their benefits. You can easily move them all over your Kanban board, depending on their status, without messing up anyone else’s work.
This works well for businesses that consistently have lots of changes in workflows, allowing teams to move projects around as needed. Unlike Scrum, Kanban is an ongoing process. Kanban cards are ever-moving, and after a project is completed you still have metrics and data to learn from it.
Finally, if any team members or stakeholders need to see the status of any given project, they can always catch up just by looking at where the card sits in the pipeline of columns

The benefits of Kanban

Shorter time cycles

Kanban is in the business of efficiency, which is why it focuses on time cycles. Because Kanban tracks how long each card lives in a column, teams can predict how long any given project will take based on previous metrics, making it easier to do your work and predict long-term timelines.

Limit work in progress

Kanban boards are set up to limit the number of ongoing projects allowed to live in a single column at one time. If there’s a three-card limit in the “In-progress” column and the third card gets added the team now knows they need to focus on those three projects to keep the work flowing. This helps reduce bottlenecks and makes sure everyone is working on the right projects.

Visual workflow

Kanban is visually easy to follow — one of its strongest traits. By breaking out a company’s workflow this way, it’s easy for everyone to understand what’s happening at any given moment. Additionally, it reduces the need for someone like a Scrum Master to juggle information between stakeholders and team members.

Collective front

A unique feature of Kanban is how it eliminates hierarchy completely. Everyone on a Kanban-style team works on the same level and performs their job for the benefit of the group. While Scrum has its Scrum Master, Kanban simply has one team where each individual pulls their direction from the board.

Who is Agile for?

While Agile may have first been invented for software development, nowadays it has a much broader application to a variety of non-IT industries.

Remote teams

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 utilizing a program like Hubstaff Tasks, remote teams can simplify their workflow, keep clear communication with team members across the globe, and optimize how they work as a team.

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.

Software development

Agile was invented for software development. So, naturally, Agile is still a software developer’s best friend. Making sure 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.

Design teams

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 people on their team as they need to, helping to eliminate any “he said-she said” with updates and design revisions.

Marketing agencies

It’s not uncommon for an agency to have several moving projects all at once. Agile can keep agencies on top of where they are with ongoing work 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 an Agile software like Hubstaff Tasks, it’s easy to communicate with your team and integrate all your current work.

Products and services

For smaller companies that provide a service, like a local printing shop or an exterminator, Agile could be a great way to organize incoming, ongoing, and completed jobs. By breaking out each customer request into a single sprint or card, 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.

How Hubstaff Tasks helps your business

Getting started with Agile can be intimidating. There are various online courses and programs out there that are supposed to help your business become Agile, but they’re not all helpful. We’ve designed a program that’s easy to use and doesn’t get in the way of getting your work done.

What is Hubstaff Tasks?

Hubstaff Tasks is an intuitive project management tool that takes the best parts of each Agile methodology — both Scrum and Kanban — and allows you to use them all in one place.
You can break out each of your projects into cards and move them through your workflow while still allowing each of your team members to work in a sprint style, helping them prioritize work and see what’s coming up for them next.

How to start using Agile at your business with Hubstaff Tasks

Step 1: Explain your objective with starting to use Agile

The key to having Agile work with your business starts with the people.
If your team members don’t believe in what Agile will accomplish it won’t be a success. Agile relies heavily on working for the common good, not for individual praise or recognition.
Take a look back at the Agile Manifesto and use that to explain why you think Agile will work for your business. Explain to everyone how the process works, step by step, and involve them in the process. When setting up your boards in Hubstaff Tasks, get your team’s feedback on names and section ideas.

Step 2: Make a plan and build a roadmap

A big first step starts with equally big thinking. To begin your first set of Agile projects, you need to think of your strategy. Why are you creating this product or project? What is your mission as a company as you set out to complete these projects?
Once you’ve got your strategy figured out, you need to build out a roadmap. Your roadmap is key to understanding the larger goals of your company.
Take a look at all the work you want to do every quarter and map out a loose timeline of when you’d like it done. Remember, Agile is all about working fluidly, and setting broad timelines is key to that. As you’re setting up your roadmap, this is an excellent time to break out your boards in Hubstaff Tasks, assigning them names that will help you map out, broadly, how long it might take to get certain things done.
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 timetables in Tasks.
In Hubstaff Tasks, your roadmap becomes a workflow for each project. One step of the process is one column on your project board. You can modify list settings, so that one click moves a task to the next column and assigns it to the right person.

Step 3: Get everyone set up on the platform

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. Set up a few projects to let people test it out, allowing them to visually familiarize themselves with how Agile will work for them.
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

Once you’re set up in Tasks, it’s time to start building out your sprints. This is where you’ll set the average time it takes for your team to get work done. It’s pretty standard to make sprints in 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 your new sprint cycle, build out your backlog of work with all the projects you’ve already added in the previous step. Then, move them around in the Tasks sprints according to how long it will take for you to complete the assigned jobs.
Next, just start using the Agile system. As someone completes a task, move their ongoing job across columns as they move their sprints according to their workload. Over time, your team will visually start to see how long it takes to complete certain things and get a better feel for the Agile mindset.
Check out this more in-depth tutorial on how to use Hubstaff Tasks

Step 5: Start using standups

Once you’ve got a better feel for how to use Agile in Hubstaff Tasks, consider adding daily standups. Remember, standups are used to discuss three key things: What you did yesterday, what you’re working on today, and ask any questions you may have.
Agile standups are a great way to not only walk through your boards and sprints as a team but also to help make sure that everyone is on the same page as more and more work starts to get developed.
Once you’ve completed a sprint, standups are a great time to let people know how it went and ask them for feedback whenever they find a free moment in their day. Getting feedback from the team is a massive part of Agile and shouldn’t be ignored. It’s how you get better, after all.

Step 6: Learn from where you’ve been

Like we said in step 4, learning through feedback is extremely important. It’s also crucial for developing future sprints.
Take the time to sit down and think about what worked, what didn’t work, and what you think could improve in future work. Knowing where your strengths and weaknesses lie will help you plan effectively for future projects.

See the difference Agile can make for your business with Hubstaff Tasks.

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