Agile Project Management: Challenges, Benefits, and Implementation

Project management is a discipline critical for companies' success across various industries, such as computation, construction, and manufacturing. It involves planning and organizing a company's resources, such as personnel, finances, technology, and intellectual property, for completing a specific task, event, or duty.

Traditional Project Management strategies follow a linear approach and involve advanced planning of every stage (initiation, design, execution, control, and closing), taking every possible scenario into account. But, often, by the time the project is completed, circumstances have changed: the business goal has changed, the target market has shifted, etc. Agile methodology is based on an iterative approach that promotes flexibility, velocity, and adaptability. Here, projects are broken up into several stages with an interactive input system of continuous delivery and improvement and constant collaboration with stakeholders. 

Managing all these activities is certainly an arduous task requiring immense expertise. So, many companies want their managers to acquire skills to organize and control various aspects of agile with project management training, particularly while transitioning from the traditional PM.

GoodFirms interviewed 30+ project managers worldwide to determine the benefits of using agile methodologies, challenges an organization can encounter while its implementation, and how businesses can facilitate a smooth transition to agile from traditional project management methods.

Agile Project Management Vs. Traditional Project Management

Traditional project management is built upon pre-planning and then executing. Therefore, it gives outstanding results when things go as planned. However, things rarely go exactly as expected while running a business. And when that happens, managers either have to improvise on the spot, go outside the plan, or go back and adjust the whole plan to the new circumstances.

"Businesses are complex. Traditional project management has focused on writing down a procedure for each possible scenario that can come up during each business activity. As a result, massive and endless manuals have been written to give support to employees who carry them out," says Matias Cubero, Operations Manager/Team Lead at Moove-it.

He believes that this notion of having a place where every situation is described and handled has given companies a feeling that they have everything figured out, which is not the case. So, Matias says, "In actuality, this is a false feeling of certainty. New and unprecedented challenges might arise every day in these complex environments, making this traditional approach hard to handle and implement. This is the reason why agile methodologies were born."

Matias points out that if a company is in a hard-to-predict environment and facing different challenges every day, agile project management might be the methodology that gives better outcomes. He says, "They embrace complexity and the fact that new situations come up every day - which are not threats but opportunities. In this world, where technology is pushing down barriers and making things move much faster than before, agile project management has encountered its place in time."

What is the difference between traditional and agile project management?

What is Agile Project Management?

Agile PM represents an iterative approach to managing projects, especially in software and product development. It is also a philosophy that prioritizes delivery over paperwork. Here, the process is split into multiple explicit versions or iterations to adjust, refine, and review the development processes at every stage. The focus is on creating opportunities for constant evaluation and improvement and delivering value as fast as possible in increments. Continuous collaboration with the customer ensures faster feedback, which helps produce higher quality products and services that they envisioned.

17 software developers published the Agile Manifesto, a "formal proclamation of 4 key values and 12 principles to provide an iterative and people-centric approach to software development," in 2001. The methodology was originally designed for the software industry, but many businesses use agile because of its highly collaborative and efficient nature. 

Explaining what is at the very heart of the agile methodology, Freddie Kemp, Founder & Creative Director of Top Rated Home Stuff says, "Here the project has been broken down into several stages or sprints. Agile does not work on the principles of delivering work after work. Agile works based on sections of the work into a mini-project.

What is agile methodology?

The agile methodology consists of several development cycles or sprints. At the end of each stage, we get a mini-project. You have to understand the process of this before you know the answer to why your business should implement agile project management.

  • There is a product backlog that explains the new features, changes to existing features, and several other improvements in the project. 
  • Then we have a sprint backlog that shows the tasks that are to be completed during each sprint. 
  • The sprint consists of the planning, designing, execution, testing, and deployment stage, and at the end of each sprint, a mini project is delivered. Here new features are added to the product, which significantly increases overall project growth. 
  • After all the sprints and early validation of a product's development, the final deliverable has fewer chances of failure."

How to Implement Agile Project Management into Workflow?

The current crisis has illustrated the importance of the ability to adapt quickly. Larger companies like Netflix and Spotify were born agile and have become more so as they have grown. Amazon, with a pervasive customer-obsessed mindset from top management to sales and marketing, has made the perfect transition from traditional hierarchies to more-agile enterprises.

However, agile is not universal; not all products, companies, and teams can work effectively within agile frameworks. When an organization has a very detailed and well-defined specification that they need to comply with, and changes to the scope are unlikely, it’s better to use a traditional approach.

5 - Step Solution 

Once the management team decides that they would like to approach the project with agile methodology, they need to start setting their vision.

Bethan Vincent, Marketing Director at Netsells, says, "There is a 5 - step solution to implementing Agile:

  1. Pitch the idea to senior stakeholders, explain the benefits, and answer any questions they have.
  2. Start with one small project, work on incremental progress, and gain feedback from both internal and external participants.
  3. Motivate and explain the benefits of agile to internal staff. If your project team is not on-board with the benefits agile can have, the transition runs the risk of failing.
  4. Choose a framework (and stick with it). For example, if you choose to implement Scrum, ensure that daily meetings are held as a priority.
  5. Revise and adjust. Although it's important to pick a proven methodology, one of agile's key advantages is the flexibility it can bring. Find out what worked for staff and what didn't, molding the process to your business where appropriate."

How to implement agile project management?

Ease The Transition From Waterfall To Agile

The transition from traditional PM to Agile requires organized discipline. By understanding the characteristics of both the approaches, teams can facilitate a successful shift to agile operations with little difficulty. 

"During the implementation, we need to closely track the performance and be extremely supportive to mentor and guide the colleagues. The goal is to minimize possible efficiency decrease and to speed up the familiarisation and to get back to speed the process," says Kristina Kushner, Project Manager & Consultant at Crizper.com

She says, "There are few ways to do this...

A. rigid change of direction

B. iterative update (preferable)

A good approach would be to offer options to choose from. Meaning, the teams/clients should be able to define what would be best for the project: Waterfall, Agile, or Hybrid. Without mentioning, the active projects should not be impacted by the update.

Basically, this is going to be an internal automation project and would require a PM to be assigned. We could allocate the following transition stages or milestones: research/proof of concept/implementation.

Research: Firstly, it is important to describe the new desirable project delivery workflow using agile and map it on the current one to define the areas to be changed/improved.

It is important to analyze the environment and define whether the current task tracking and project management tools are suitable for the new workflow implementation. If not, you need to specify whether the workflow could be adjusted within the tool or it is necessary to implement a new one.

Proof of concept: Based on the defined improvement areas to build a plan for adjustments.

Once the skeleton is ready, you need a rabbit to try it. That could be a low-profile internal project. It is important to test the new workflow in action and find the weak spots to fix them.

Implementation: This is when we transfer the tested workflow to other teams and teach them how to use it.

It could include study materials, presentations, training, guidelines, mutual support, and assistance on first projects using a new methodology."

Establish A Productive Environment For Future Collaboration

Agile projects can only be successful when foundations are established for better team collaboration. And the customer/product owner accompanies the development in iterations together with the team and participates in making decisions.

"Agile and its methodologies allow you to create a perfect working mechanism that fits your team. Remember that you can always refuse from any meeting or task if you don't see any benefit from it," says Andrei Vorobjov, Quality Assurance Lead at bambooagile.eu.

He advises, "While working with a client, first of all, you need to initiate a conversation, preliminarily preparing the scenario for a basic workflow: sprint duration, project backlog implementation, sprint backlog, planning, demo, etc. The client may already have his workflow developed within a company; then you won't lose anything; when not - you'll have to have something to start with to establish a productive environment for your future collaboration.

  • Don't be afraid to experiment with practices;
  • Don't drown in processes;
  • Talk to the client and your team.

Each of these points is described in the principles of the Agile Manifesto, and thoughtful utilization of them, as we believe, helps reach success."

Support Two-way Communication with a Client

Andrei Vorobjov recommends supporting two-way communication with a client, discussing the roadmap, and making any updates together with all the stakeholders. He reasons, "It allows every participant to understand the importance and value of the implemented processes, as well as the risks that may be caused by their neglection.

I'll give you an example from my practice. At once, we encountered the absence of proper project planning. The project I worked on was a startup with a strictly determined roadmap.

Problem: The planning process was stopped in a moment when the client insisted on the sprint extension for a week with the addition of several urgent tasks without new tasks' prioritization, which led to the formation of two versions of a global roadmap. The team worked on a new version since the schedule had been extended and suddenly found out that the client's side kept track of the project status considering the old roadmap.

Result: During one of our iterations, we presented only one product module without some part of the basic functionality. The module was considered deficient. Both sides were confused. Then, we had to make extra efforts to finalize the module for a client shortly and, finally, returned to the initial roadmap.

All in all, this is just a life situation, and few contractors can argue with the client's opinion, but this is a good example of how the absence of one single link in the chain can damage aligned processes in software development."

Agile-Waterfall Hybrid Model

The Agile-Waterfall Hybrid model aims to embrace the strengths of the Agile methodology while retaining the dependency tracking and clarity of Waterfall to provide the flexibility and transparency essential to adapt to fast-changing requirements.

"Don’t declare that you are implementing "Agile" with a capital A. As soon as you capitalize any name, you turn it into a Cargo Cult: it becomes a counterproductive formality," warns Sergei Brovkin from Collectiver Inc.

Suggesting a slight twist, he advises, "Just say that you want to make your business more efficient while staying lean, and that is achievable through more agile processes. Project management is one of those processes.

I suggest calling it Project Management 2.0, a version of the traditional project management to my clients. It allows its users – all project stakeholders – to introduce any changes that make the project management process more efficient, as long as those changes are communicated to and accepted by the organization."

Sergei asks, "Why not being accommodative and open to change more than what "project management as we know it" allows us to be?"

Giving reasons, he says, "The vast majority of real-life projects are somewhere in between those two extremes, hence the PM 2.0 – hybrid approach, a combination of all best practices I have accumulated over the decades of professional project management. All of those methodologies – extreme programming, Kanban, Scrum, Agile, Lean, Six Sigma – have good ideas that may be added to the traditional Waterfall."

Challenges in Implementing Agile Methodology

Although agile aims to deliver better products faster for software or marketing projects, turning this vision into a reality can be a herculean task with multiple challenges. Companies often struggle to identify which functions to reorganize into multidisciplinary agile teams. When agile cannot help some of the deep-rooted problems in the organization, then its implementation might lead to more frustration. Given below are the main practical challenges that constraints the use of agile methodology.

Arnold Chapman, CEO of ELDFocus.com, says, "The main challenges are:

a. Choosing the perfect agile strategy

Agile project management does not have a specific methodology. Picking the right method requires plenty of considerations, such as the characteristics of your organization, the nature of your business, and the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. You need to be careful when choosing the method to use to ensure that you can make the most out of it.

b. Collision with finance

Having a specific method will mean that you can define the cost and scope of your initiative. Since agile project management is continuously changing, it will be difficult for you to plan everything out. For you to implement agile practices right, make sure that everyone is on-board, especially your finance department.

c. Resistance to change

One of the biggest challenges in implementing agile practices is the transition. Getting everyone on board with your initiative will not happen overnight, especially if your company has years of tradition of doing things. It’s important that you focus on people and work culture when implementing the changes and as the leader, lead by example."

Challenges faced by Scrum Master while Agile Implementation

Scrum, one of the widely accepted agile project management frameworks, focuses on the use of an empirical process allowing teams to respond rapidly, effectively, and efficiently to change. 97 percent of organizations are practicing agile development methods, and 54 percent are into Scrum. The Scrum Master is responsible for guiding the team and product owner, helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values, ensuring all agile practices are followed. 

Explaining about Scrum Master's challenges with agile Implementation, Andrei Vorobjov says, "It isn't enough to announce the beginning of the agile era (for instance, by using Scrum methodology) in your Kingdom pointing out newly acquired artifacts. Be it Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, or new events like Sprint, Daily meetings, Planning, etc. The main challenge for a company would always be to control and follow all the mentioned novelties. I'll give you a couple of examples:

Example #1 - Sprint

  1. You need to determine optimal timelines for a team and a client and stick to them. The delays in a sprint schedule disrupt the client's global planning and, consequently, a product development roadmap. Open question: Who will be responsible for it and control the execution?
  2. You need to plan each sprint in accordance with the capacity and velocity of your team and the client's interest. Question: Who and how will do it?
  3. Undoubtedly, you need to estimate the tasks set within a sprint. Question: How would you evaluate the tasks, and who would control the sprint progress?

A person who could be responsible for all mentioned above is Scrum Master. But only partially. The Scrum Master helps the team fine-tune all the needed processes to achieve the main outcomes - doesn't execute it instead of the team members, but only assists. It means that Scrum Master, unlike an internal team member, can help several teams simultaneously. Therefore, the most they can do apart from help is to mediate a team and a client to align the processes.

Many companies neglect this role due to cost reduction. Sometimes this results in either a project manager assigned to these responsibilities or the responsibilities to be allocated between team members.

Example #2 - The retrospective (took as an example because this meeting is often considered to be useless). You need to decide -

  1. Who should hold this meeting and in which way (choosing the right person guarantees 60% of success)
  2. Who and on which media would record (shorthand) the retrospective (this point can be unnecessary sometimes, but it helps a lot in critical moments)
  3. Who will execute and control the points achieved during the retrospective (this is the rest 40% of success)

I would add that it's very wrong to consider the retrospective to be a meeting for complaints or praise. This meeting aims to find out about the issues and suggest their resolution that will be analyzed during the next meeting.

The most complex challenge is control - сontrol of each thing you decided to implement. If control is lost, at least for some time, the project may suffer, and you'll experience false disappointment with Agile. Thus, you need to introduce artifacts and meetings step by step for a more seamless control in a growing agile team."

Scrum Master’s Roles and Responsibilities in Agile Management

In addition to addressing all facets of the agile development process, the Scrum Master facilitates communication and collaboration between the business, product owner, team, and individuals. Development teams often need help in terms of facilitation to reach an agreement. When Scrum Masters work as effective facilitators, meetings can have productive outcomes. Otherwise, they might end in deadlocks too.

Being a Project Manager at bambooagile.eu, Yauheni Dzemyachenka considers facilitating conversations in an impartial way as an essential skill in Scrum Masters. He believes that the misuse of Agile rituals and their duration is one of the most significant challenges.

Yauheni says, "When Scrum Masters frequently engage the team in sync meetings, calls, retrospectives; engineers lack time to finalize the tasks on software development. Suddenly, the meeting itself can turn into a long-time detailed discussion that involves roughly 2-3 participants out of 10-15 team members. The rest of the team spends time listening (or pretending to listen).

Sometimes, when controversy arises, and a Scrum Master misses the moment to step in and can't resolve the issue, this controversy can easily turn into a conflict. Thus, facilitation is perhaps the most important competence for a Scrum Master."

Curiosity is often key when iterating on the process. Curious scrum masters can devise new ways to make the team more effective and help them understand the product owner's vision.

"A Scrum Master shouldn't be afraid of looking inquisitive. In my own practice, this is a very common situation when a developer doesn't clearly understand anything from the task being set or a bug description," says Yauheni Dzemyachenka.

He adds, "When reaching out to a business analyst, product owner, or any other person on the client's side, they receive the comments still not clearing things up. Then, confused, they stop working and wait unless a "miracle" happens. When you ask them: "Why didn't you clarify it again?", you will hear in response: "They claim that everything is very simple and obvious. They will think that I'm ignorant...".

Therefore, a Scrum Master should be able to play the role of this "curious guy" who needs five explanations. Usually, I act in the following way: I put a developer next to me, call a client and start our conversation with: "I'm calling you on this issue. Pete described it to me, but I got nothing. Could you please explain it once again to me so that I would understand it as well?"

When Is Agile Process Matured?

Mature agile teams, leaders, and organizations are strongly aligned with the agile principles and core practices. They attempt to create shared vision and capacity assumptions so that decision-making is effective and realistic.

"A thorough analysis and step-by-step conceptualizing of the agile team's cultivation in your company would allow each team member to understand why you need agile, and to enjoy all the advantages of this approach," says Andrei Vorobjov. He says, "Agile is mature when:

For a company:

  • everyone understands what he delivers and for whom;
  • everything is well-planned;
  • everyone is motivated to achieve results;
  • everyone knows who and what does in their team today/tomorrow;
  • everyone is able to contribute to changes in a Backlog when necessary, drawing on reliable estimation/experience/prioritization of tasks;
  • everyone is always in touch with a client, able to receive feedback on the job done;

For a client:

  • the client always knows what happens to the product (everything is transparent);
  • the client is able to build a roadmap based on the average speed of work (Global planning);
  • the client is always in touch with the development team."

Reasons Why More & More Companies Are Adopting Agile PM

Agile project management offers plenty of potential benefits when implemented correctly, making the managers' job easier and allowing them to have greater control over their projects. It focuses on delivering quality and value to the customer and completing the project within the given constraints. Here are the primary reasons why top companies are adopting Agile for managing their projects:

1. Agile Teams have more Autonomy and Authority

Now and then, teams are confused about collaborating with other teams to deliver the required results; then, there is a hierarchy that gets in the middle of problem-solving. Agile makes the ideas of autonomy and purpose transparent to everyone.

"Companies that are right to use Agile Project Management will see many benefits in doing so. It allows for a much more horizontal organizational structure, where all members play an equally important role," says María Paz Cuturi, Software Developer at Moove-It.

"Agile teams have more autonomy and authority, which means they don't need to ask for instructions and approvals constantly. This avoids unnecessary hierarchies that inevitably introduce bureaucratic delays. Besides, I have noticed that agile teams are usually much more motivated since their members feel empowered to carry out the project."

2. Greater Return on Investment

Brack Nelson, Marketing Manager at Incrementors SEO Services, says, "Using agile project management methods results in a lot of advantages and a greater return on investment (ROI) for the client. This guarantees client satisfaction with the services provided by the company, appearing in better client retention."

3. More Business Possibilities in the Market

Brack Nelson says, "Agile helps acquire new business opportunities and new projects for the client. It also catalyzes future business opportunities with some client’s trading partners. The benefits of agile are so visible and measured, leading to improved profits and market share. This also assures better business possibilities in the market, resulting from an excellent reputation for the performing organization."

4. Faster Deployment Of Solutions

"Agile's iterative and incremental project nature allows companies to focus on the important things over the minutiae. And also reminds about the product or services they are looking to launch while allowing development teams to be fluid in their approach as they go," says Jerome Brustlein, COO of Fenton.

"Generally, two-to-four week sprints sharply contrast with the lengthy timescales of traditional project management where projects could run into months and even years. This often ends up with an outdated or even obsolete product or service by the time it is ready. For instance, at Fenton, each team member has short sprints with SMART goals to achieve for each that we use in each touchpoint."

5. Better Collaboration With Remote Teams

Eric McGee, Senior Network Engineer at TRGDatacenters, says, "Through Agile Project Management, businesses can better collaborate with remote teams, contract workers and freelancers. Especially during the pandemic, as employees around the world are working remotely, it's essential for everyone to collaborate and connect to manage work better."

6. Improved Development Process with Risk Mitigation

Eric McGee says, "Agile Project Management helps businesses maintain a central workplace to avoid issues like misplaced documents, inconsistent communication, and lack of delegation. Without Agile Project Management, companies take a longer time to complete tasks and suffer in terms of resources and time.

Eric McGee says, "Businesses need tools more sophisticated than email and spreadsheets to keep track of their projects to save time and work better across all fronts. Agile Project Management provides flexibility as well as eliminates human error risks allowing for visibility across multiple teams."

Conclusion 

Agile emerged as a response to rapid and massive change, growing complexity, and the shift in power from the producer to the consumer. Traditional project management started making way for a bold new approach that enabled continuous improvement with disciplined execution.

Before diving in, the first step for small businesses and large corporations is getting familiar with the basics and figuring out if agile indeed is the needed course of action. The major challenge lies in implementing the methodology with minimum friction, which requires finding a way to empower the team to navigate and adapt to the fast-evolving landscape of development. Another consideration is the customer organization's ability to support and successfully collaborate with the development team. When agile is implemented right, companies can have rapid delivery of business value and quality products. Here, project success is measured by completing the scope of work to time, cost, and quality and also by the performance of the project's outputs and impacts.

Discover the apt management consultancy with strong knowledge of project management processes from GoodFirms' list to ensure your initiatives are completed within scope, budget, and schedule.

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