Agile project management software is accepted by more organizations in a variety of industries than anytime before.
The Agile PM has become very popular not only for the project management practice in the software industry but also for business management and entrepreneurship as well.
The other day I was reading an article in which the author argues, in order for the government agencies to become more efficient, they need to transition to the Agile method!
Do you get this? For government agencies to get efficient, they need to embrace Agile project management principles.
If there are benefits for the huge government agencies to go Agile, then you need to take notice and to check out Agile for your own business.
What is Agile? A very short and simplified answer is Agile is a method to keep work small and absolutely defined!
Agile has been the mainstay of software development for many decades now. It has been proven invaluable in speeding up development and improving productivity.
For a detailed history of Agile check this article in Wikiversity.
To really understand Agile development read Agile manifesto by Kent Beck, Mike Beedle, and others.
The alternatives to the Agile project management method are the Waterfall and Hybrid methods.
To get an understanding of Waterfall project management read Tutorial of waterfall project management.
To get an understanding of the Hybrid project management method read the introduction to Hybrid project management and Hybrid project management manifesto.
Agile Project Management software
Congratulations, you have got the Agile religion and ready to jump in and manage projects using the Agile project management method.
To manage projects using the Agile PM method, you need the right Agile project management software to plan and manage your work.
One thing you need to know, Agile is a generic name used for many methods grouped together under Agile.
Below I have a list of several methods that fall under Agile methodology.
1- Scrum (by far the most widely used. Could be used by non-software projects too)
2- BSDM (Dynamic System Development method)
3- Extreme programming (only applies to software projects)
4- Adaptive Software development
5- Feature-Driven development
7- Lean development
8- Pragmatic Programming
9- Feature-driven development
We use Scrum and Kanban for our software development. For a good explanation of Extreme programming check the link here.
Most other methods listed above only apply to software development and are not a proper fit in other disciplines. For this reason, I will not cover them in this paper.
Now that you have decided to go Agile, you need to find the right tools to help you get there.
In the following paragraphs, I go over what you need to look for in project management software to enable Agile development.
Agile by nature is a collaborative and bottom-up enterprise. For this reason, the traditional project management tools like MS project are not sufficient.
In Agile the user is at the center of everything, therefore user involvement is imperative.
The team has the power to make decisions, unlike the Waterfall method in which the decisions are made by higher-ups.
I agile the development time is fixed, but features are flexible. This is the opposite of the waterfall method where features are fixed, but time to market is negotiable.
Robust task manager
Like any good project management application, an Agile PM tool needs to have a robust task management tool.
To be effective, the task manager should support tasks, subtasks, milestones, recurring tasks, and dependencies.
It helps if the user can add descriptions and attach files to a task too.
In addition, the user should be able to select the start date, due date, and duration.
I like to add tags to tasks since it makes it easier to categorize them and search for them in case of projects with hundreds of tasks.
Adding custom fields to tasks also enhances how tasks are grouped together and expanded based on the user’s requirements.
Not all tasks require a day or more to complete, therefore the task manager should support hours as well as days.
Having a Backlog section
In any type of Agile method, having a backlog to record tasks that be done later is essential.
The tasks in the backlog could be moved from the backlog to each iteration or sprint so the team can work on them when needed.
The reason backlog is important is that it captures the project’s tasks in their entirety. If new issues arise during the project, they could be added as new tasks in the backlog.
Flexible Kanban Board
I love Kanban boards. The make tracking tasks easy and updating their status even easier.
Combine the kanban board with adding categories to tasks, and you have a very flexible way of organizing your projects.
The beauty of designing your kanban boards is that they let you plan and manage your work the way you want.
Assume your job is to plan attending conferences for your team.
You create a board for finding conferences. Another for booking conferences. Another one for Paying for them etc.
This way of working lets you work the way you think, not the way others have decided for you.
Another cool tool you need when using Agile project management software is the progress chart.
A progress bar shows the status of your project in real-time. It is a great way to show what is progressing as planned and what is falling behind.
The project progress chart/report should be available to every member of your team and any stakeholder in the project.
The project progress reports are in addition to the standard Gantt charts which are useful for project tracking.
Burndown charts are an integral part of Agile project management software.
The Burndown chart shows graphically if your project is on target or it is falling behind.
The Burndown graph is a very simple graph that shows your project’s status versus the project plan.
This information invaluable since it shows the actual work compare to what you did plan for your project.
Burndown chart brings accountability and visibility to project planning and tracking.
So far all the tools we have discussed here are meant to plan and track your projects.
But as I said before, without meaningful and real-time collaboration you can’t be Agile.
So, your Agile project management software should have features that make collaboration and communication effortless.
A simple addition for robust collaboration is to enable users to add comments on tasks, files and project status.
Another communication tool that is really needed is a real-time messaging tool that lets users communicate on different topics about the project.
Some applications integrate with a third-party messaging board. W have decided a native message board is crucial for effective collaboration.
Other tools that are needed to enhance communication among the team members are the real-time chat tool and interactive whiteboard.
A versatile group chat tool helps two or more team members brainstorm on ideas if not all in the same location.
An interactive whiteboard plus video/audio conferencing and screen sharing apps could be all combined to give the virtual teams a lifelike interaction.
There is no question that Agile is a valuable tool for any project manager who would manage complex and customer-centric projects.
We are enhancing our tools to support not only Agile but other project management methods in use today.
Granted not all projects fits the Agile model, but a larger segment of projects in high tech, product research, marketing, and manufacturing are perfect for the Agile method.
I love to hear your thoughts about this subject. Leave a comment below and I will get back to you in no time.