The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Agile Project Management in 2021

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Agile Project Management in 2021

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Agile Project Management in 2021

History of agile project management

Imagine if you had to wait years for a resolution to the key problems your professional faces. Thirty years ago, wait time for years was the normal. We can trace resolution of the problem at the earliest in the history of Agile.

Before Agile development teams (particularly those in the software, aerospace and defence industries) would identify problems and plan a solution. They would work to develop solution and bring it to market in its total. 

Most teams used the Waterfall approach and following are set of path for all teams that used to follow:

  1. Gather project requirements and the scope 
  2. Design a product based on those requirements gathered 
  3. Build the product 
  4. Test the product 
  5. Fix any problems discovered during testing 
  6. Launch product

In 1990s, many software development projects were failing or were taking too long to complete. Industry leaders realized that they require a new, innovative approach. Business leaders in the IT and software development felt that tools considered previously were slow and didn’t allow the kind of response that was required for quickly shift strategies as priorities vary for different projects. In 2001, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was created and signed by representatives. Agile’ s popularity has continuously grown, and It is now integrated into all areas of project management. There are five agile project management phases i.e. Envision, Speculate, Explore, Adapt and close.

Before introduction of agile methodology, the nature of the problem would often change (but the project requirements would not), interpreting the planned solution would then become out of date by the time it finally reached the market. On the customer side, delay in implementation of product would mean that critical problems would go unsolved. On the developer side, the struggle of implementing the solution and bringing new products to market after years would no longer hold strong in the market. In many cases, it would lead to a development graveyard of unfinished products. Teams would simply abandon the work and would rather than deliver an outdated product. As a result of these challenges, Waterfall methodology turned to be the enemy in the history of product development methodology.

Agile was generally to be used in IT and software development industry. It was originally invented as an alternative to Software Development project lifecycle. It offers an alternate solution for traditional software project lifecycle methodology and has iterative approach to software delivery. Agile although was created to help IT business, the basic framework is now applicable across every industry.

Agile software is built incrementally from the start of the project rather than attempting to deliver the product all at end. Each project cycle is broken down into smaller, bite-sized chunks. They are prioritized and are continuously worked on and delivered over within two-week span called as iterations.

Traditional vs agile project management

Traditional project management takes a linear approach, often referred to as a “waterfall approach”, to project development process implementation. All the phases of a project are completed in a sequential order i.e. one phase being finished before you can move on to the next process.

In the conventional project management approach, each project follows the same lifecycle. The phases of a project follow processes like initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closure.

Each phase of a project’s cycle in the traditional project management i.e. in Waterfall model approach has planned checklist of tasks that need to be completed before the project can flow into the next phase.

Waterfall model follows linear sequence of project life cycle. Whole process of software development is divided into separate phases. In this model, typically, the outcome of one phase acts as the input for the next phase. The disadvantage of waterfall model is project development team can only move to next phase of development or testing if the previous step is completed.

Agile methodology in software development lifecycle is a practice of continuous and concurrent iteration of development and testing. This methodology reduces risk in the development process as client and team will have all the information of what is complete and what is not.

In recent years, Agile methodology has become popular within many development teams owing to the increased efficiency that it brings with its optimum processes. Few companies were unable to design and create desired products within optimum time due to their use of traditional waterfall project management methodology. By adopting agile they were able to transform their processes and change the way their development teams view project management. agile methodology, projects are divided into smaller tasks with a continuous delivery and feedback to keep the customer satisfied involved in the whole process of development.

The table below shows the major differences of traditional and agile project methodology.

Sr No


Traditional approach

Agile approach







Large scale

Small or Medium



Defined before execution

Phase wise iterative requirements enhancements


Clients interaction




Development Model

Life cycle

Evolutionary Model


Preference of Models

Anticipation Model

Adaption Model


Manage Escalation

Customers are involved at the end of the project life cycle

Customers are involved at early stages of the execution of the project


Test Documentation

Tests are planned after completion of one sprint at a time

Comprehensive test planning


Estimation (ETA)

Project manager provides estimates

Scrum master provides estimates

.    10

Reviews, feedback and approvals

Reviews and approvals on completion of each phase

Reviews and approvals on each iteration

Waterfall vs Agile project management

Sr No



Detailed and long-term project plans with single and continues implementation and milestone

Shorter and iterative project plan with multiple and sprint wise delivery


Definitive and inflexible project management team composition

Flexible, cross-functional agile project management team composition


Changes in deliverables are not possible. It can also be costly

Changes in deliverables are expected. It causes less impact on cost


Fully completed product delivered at the end

Product delivered in different sprints or stages


Contract-based approach to scope and requirements

Collaborative and interactive approach to requirements


Customer is involved at the beginning and end of a project

Customer is involved throughout the sprints

Linear-phased approach creates dependencies

Concurrent approach seeks to reduce dependencies

What is Agile project management

Agile software development refers to software development methodologies dwelling around the idea of iterative development, where requirements and implementation of solution evolve through partnership between self-organizing cross-functional teams.

Agile methods or Agile processes generally promote a well-organized project management process that encourages frequent examination and a leadership philosophy that encourages team collaboration, self-organization and responsibility, a set of engineering best practices intended to allow for quick delivery of high-quality software, and a commercial approach that aligns development with customer needs and business goals.

Agile is a project methodology that is derived using Lean thinking. Agile applies “Lean” concepts in the IT environment. 

Agile encourages the following key concepts:

  1. Frequent inspection and revisions 
  2. A leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork and accountability 
  3. Implement best practices that allow rapid delivery of high-quality projects 
  4. Business approach that brings into line the project development with customer satisfaction and needs

Some of the foundations of agile include the following:

  1. Empiricism – Ability to perform, and improve step-by-step process in efforts to increase productivity 
  2. Prioritization – Deliver work grounded on value to the business 
  3. Self-Organization – The team delivers the work based on the resources and constraints 
  4. Time-Boxing – The team is required to complete the assigned tasks within timelines. 
  5. Collaboration – The team commits to deliver the final products within the timelines, which will encourage cross-team collaboration.


  1. Minimum viable product vision: Articulates the goals for the product. 
  2. Minimum viable product roadmap: High level requirements to achieve the product vision.
  3. Minimum viable product backlog: Product backlog list are ordered by priority and should be completed to make your project successful.
  4. Product Release plan: Milestones and estimations for the release of a working product. 
  5. Minimum viable product sprint backlog: The user stories (requirements), goals, and tasks associated to the current sprint. 
  6. Increment: The product functionality that is presented to the stakeholders at the end of the sprint.

Agile software development life cycle

Six Stages involved in the agile software development life cycle (SDLC) to determine whether this process will fit your agile team needs:
  1. Scope out and prioritize small and medium sized projects 
  2. Plan and gather requirements for the initial sprint 
  3. Construction/iteration 
  4. Release the iteration (sprints) into production every 2-3 weeks
  5. Production and ongoing support for the software release 
  6. Closing of sprints or release
Agile software development life cycle
Agile software development life cycle


Release planning is where the team gets together with their sponsor or product owner and identifies exactly what are the requirements. Whole team will discuss how this will be made possible by building the backlog at the story level.

A good way to define stories is how the end-user might describe the feature or product. A story should include the type of user, what they need from the product and why and how it will be helpful to customer.

The business opportunity in a wider context should be considered and will impact how viable the project is in a functional and economic sense.

Estimate the risks and develop milestones with an initial release plan. Planning is complete when product backlog is complete, and backlogs should be prioritized on the basis of business value and need.

2-Project Initiation:

The first stage in the project life cycle of agile software development. Initial stage is about discussing the project vision and the ROI justification. It is a high-level discussion and does not explore into specific details.

During this process, identify team members and determine the time and resources that are required to complete the project. Resources are crucial to determine economic feasibility for project approval.


Requirements once defined based on feedback from the product owners and stakeholders, the actual execution of the product begins. Agile product development delivers high quality working products in iterative phases or sprints.

Developers start building the first sprint of the product with an aim of having a working and usable product at the end. Development process will undergo several revisions so it should only include least functionality. This functionality can be expanded on in future iterations of the Agile lifecycle.

Teams can deliver by:
  • Ensuring Partnership with their team and stakeholders. 
  • Maintaining quality by following coding conventions and guidelines. 
  • Adhering to priorities set by stakeholders. 
  • Delivering working products at the end of every cycle. 
  • Testing all the time!

In Agile lifecycle, product development would have gone through several iterations and hopefully conducted testing after each cycle. This is always not the case and hence it should be allowed for Final Testing.


Your product has now been deployed and is being used by final end-users. It is important to monitor early stages bugs or defects missed in testing. The production phase typically ends when the product is ready to be retired.


The final stage of the Agile lifecycle. The product is now at the ‘end of life’ stage and will be pulled from production and withdrawn. Customers are notified and informed about migration to newer releases or alternative options.

Agile project management methodology

One word that anthropomorphizes the Agile methodology is ‘versatility’. It is a customer-centric approach and the priorities could get varied continuously. If changes are suggested all members of the agile team will get updates quickly, hence chances of miscommunications are reduced significantly.

There are 12 agile project management principles mentioned in the agile manifesto, the most important agile project management principles are as follows:

  1. Customer satisfaction should be on high priority through continuous and on time delivery of products.
  2. Requirements for change in product features should be welcomed. 
  3. Delivery of products should be frequent i.e. biweekly or short periods of time. 
  4. Business and agile team must work together daily throughout the project. 
  5. Efficient way of information exchange is face to face conversations.
  6. Delivery of working products on time and customer satisfaction should be the primary metric of success. 
  7. At regular intervals, the teams should showcase on how to become more efficient.

*Scrum, Kanban, Lean (LN), Dynamic System Development Model, (DSDM), Extreme Programming (XP), Crystal, Adaptive software development (ASD) etc. are few examples of agile project management methodologies.

Agile project management planning

Agile project management techniques are project planning method that estimates work using units called iterations or sprints. Sprints are designed usually for periods of 1-3 weeks.

Following are Agile project management planning techniques that will ensure to deliver reliable products and within short period of time

  1. Agile project plan is divided into releases and sprints
  2. Project planning is based on user stories 
  3. Project planning is iterative and incremental
  4. Estimation is done by team members. Scrum master Ensures good relationship between the team and product owner and outsiders of the team.

Agile project management roles:

There are several roles, which have different names depending on the methodology being followed


Scrum Master. This role, called "Scrum Master" in Scrum or team coach or project lead in other methods.  He is responsible for facilitating the team, obtaining resources for it, and protecting it from problems.


Team member. This role, sometimes referred to as developer or programmer, is responsible for the creation and delivery of a system.


Product owner. The product owner represents as the stakeholders. This is the one person responsible on a team (or sub-team for large projects) who prioritizes work item list (called a product backlog in Scrum), for making decisions in a timely manner


Stakeholder. A stakeholder who funds the project, support (help desk) staff member, auditors, your program/portfolio manager, developers working on other systems.

Agile project management roles
Agile project management roles

Agile project management tools

The key to success in agile development is to enable flexibility and the best way to do this is to deploy a set of good tools that can track the project and team's progress. They merely make it easier for the developers to self-manage and converge on their goals.

There are dozens of software products designed to help managers set priorities and developers write code to create. Some of these tools are designed to track different forms of development and are flexible enough to be used for agile development.

The tools support the by helping the team to identify the requirements and split them into several smaller tasks/iterations. The process is split up into short cycles which results ease to develop and have the final product result. Keeping the cycle short and including developers’ feedback in the planning lets the team adjust and focus.

A common feature of all these agile tools is a graphic dashboard that reports how the team is progressing and meeting the project goals. Currently most popular and best software tools for is agile project management Jira. Here are the top tools that form the foundation of teams that rely upon to ship code on time or even ahead of schedule.

Agile project management advantages and disadvantages

Agile project management advantages

Following are the advantages of Agile methodology:
  1. Agile is suited for projects where requirements are not very clear. 
  2. Customers are satisfied as their feedbacks and changes are embraced. 
  3. Early deliverables are made visible to the end-use and this reduces risk factors. 
  4. Exhaustive planning is not required at the beginning of the project development life cycle. 
  5. Incremental builds/deliveries lead to more focus on the quality of the product.

Agile project management disadvantages

Following are the disadvantages of Agile methodology
  1. Agile is highly customer-centric, so it can pose a problem when the customer does not have a clear understanding of the product and process.
  2. Lack of detailed planning and formal Business documentation leads to a very high dependency on individuals for training and other tasks.
  3. For complex projects, the resource requirement and efforts are difficult to estimate. 
  4. Ever-evolving features in the projects can always have a risk of the ever-lasting project.

Agile project management certifications

Transitioning into an agile project management role, there are couple choices i.e. Scrum Master or agile project manager. Since the Scrum Master and the agile project manager are essentially the same role, it's up to each person whether he or she wants to become certified as a Scrum Master or an agile project manager.

There are three choices for certifications for these roles, and the exams are very similar:

  1. The Scrum Master role (CSM) certified by the Scrum Alliance.
  2. The Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) certified by the Project Management Institute (PMI). 
  3. The Certified Agile Project Manager (Cert.APM) certified by the Project Management Association of Canada (PMAC).

There are many courses on agile project manager available online. Users can train themselves and appear for these certifications once they fulfil the criteria for agile management certifications.

Agile project management job description

The Agile Project Manager (APM) is responsible for planning, leading, organizing, and motivating agile project teams. The goals are to:

  1. Achieve a better performance and quality 
  2. Deliver agile projects that will provide business value to users

Job Requirements:



Planning and Management

Define project scope, schedule while focusing on regular and short period delivery to keep customers satisfied.

Team Management

Assist in team development and holding teams accountable for their commitments. Mentoring and developing team members to complete their tasks within deadlines.

Product Owner

Support the Product Owner in managing customer expectations for project deliverables.

Process Management and Improvement

Define and manage a well-defined project management process and implement best practices for Agile Project Management.

Agile project management salary

The average Scrum Master, Agile Project Manager salary in the United States is $138,687 as of April 27, 2020, but the salary range typically falls between $124,709 and $154,063. Salary ranges can vary depending on education, certifications, additional skills and the number of years you have spent in your profession.

Books on agile project management

Ten mentions below books can be good bet to learn agile project management
  • A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge by Project Management Institute 
  • Essential Scrum by Kenny Rubin 
  • Agile Project Management for Dummies by Mark C. Layton 
  • Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins 
  • Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland 
  • Agile Retrospectives by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen 
  • Agile Project Management with Scrum” by Ken Schwaber
  • Agile Project Management by Jim Highsmith
  • The Project Manager’s Guide to Mastering Agile by Charles G. Cobb 
  • The Software Project Manager’s Bridge to Agility by Michele Sliger and Stacia Broderick

Agile project management in construction

As Scrum is considered as a ‘management tool’ it can be easily used beyond information systems Agile methodologies is been used in organisational development and infrastructure projects and even in construction (Stapleton and Consortium, 2003). It’s unlikely that we can apply a agile approach in a construction project but implementation of hybrid approach can be a good option. 

  1. There are three primary things to consider: 
  2. The level of uncertainty in the project 
  3. The contractual or collaborative relationship with the customer 
  4. The level of training and complexity of the project team

The above three things could determine the appropriate combination of Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices.

Iterative and incremental Agile Construction methods help manage the design and build efficient, low-risk processes and activities. This means that each time a process is repeated some changes are made to improve the process.

The eight Agile Construction principles as follows:

  1. Agile Construction Project Management
  2. Agile Construction Labour productivity measurement and labour productivity improvement 
  3. Agile Construction Job scheduling and planning 
  4. Agile Construction Procurement and material management 
  5. Agile Construction Externalizing Work, through Prefabrication (components or parts pre-assembled off-site by suppliers or in a prefab shop to, reduce time, risk and complexity) 
  6. Agile Construction Labour management and labour composite rate reduction (the average cost of a job crew member to the company per unit of time)
  7. Agile Construction Estimation accuracy and improvement 
  8. Agile Construction Project financial management

Agile project management with Kanban

Kanban is a Japanese term that can mean visual board. When applied in the context of Lean practices, Kanban is a visual tool for managing the flow of information or effort items. Kanban process are compatible with Agile methods.

It is used in many industries such as manufacturing, R&D, supply chain, logistics management, and healthcare etc. Kanban, however, help in the management of projects by visualizing workflow, limiting work in process, creating and improving the flow. These principles help people to eliminate waste, amplify learning, and deliver as fast as possible.

What Is Kanban Project Management?

Kanban project management will help you envision your work, so you can acquire a better understanding of your workflow. We can hence organize and manage work more efficiently. It allows teams to keep track of every project and task with ease. It can be applied in different ways depending on the hierarchy level of an organization.

Kanban Board Basics

Kanban has three basic elements: Board, list and card.

Kanban Board: A board that encapsulates a project or workflow; a traditional project management tool calls as "workspace".

Kanban List or Lane: A list or lane contains a set of linked cards. In the traditional project management tool this titled column of Kanban board will be called as "to-do list" or "task list".

Kanban Card: A card houses an item related to your board and list, A task to be completed or a product to be made on a board; a traditional project management tool will call this a "to-do" or "task".

Eight most common features you'll find in Kanban board. The names and specifics of these features vary across apps—but their core functionality remains the same.

The 8 Most Important Kanban Board Features

  1. Move Cards Between Lists and Boards 
  2. Invite Individuals to Kanban Boards and then Assign and subscribe to Kanban Cards 
  3. Add Notes and Hold Discussions on Card Backs 
  4. Attach Checklists or Tasks to Cards 
  5. Include Work in Progress Limits
  6. Label Kanban Cards 
  7. Put Due Dates on Kanban Cards 
  8. View Kanban Cards on a Calendar

When to Use Kanban

Kanban is used for intangible goods work, such as software development. Depending on your project requirements, Kanban could be the right project management methodology to implement existing processes.

We consider the following factors when assessing whether Kanban is the right method for your team:

  1. You need a system that is flexible to add or remove items 
  2. Estimation isn’t necessary 
  3. No hard deadlines
  4. Continuous improvement is already emphasized 
  5. Ability to release project builds at any time 
  6. Team doesn’t respond to big changes on a project 
  7. The system should be easy to understand 
  8. Improve delivery flow

Elements of a Kanban board

Kanban boards can be broken down into five components: Visual signals, columns, work-in-progress limits, a commitment point, and a delivery point.

Visual Signals —Kanban board are the visual cards i.e. stickies, tickets etc. Kanban teams write all their projects and work items onto cards, usually one per card. In agile each card could sum up one user story. Once added on the board, these visual signals help teams and stakeholders to quickly understand what the team is working on.

Columns —Kanban board are the columns. Each column represents a specific activity that together compose a “workflow”. Workflows can be as simple as “To Do,” “In Progress,” “Complete,” or can be more complex.

Work in Progress — Work in Progress limits are the maximum number of cards that can be in one column at any given time. A column cannot have more than three cards in it. When the column is “maxed-out” the team needs to swarm on those cards and move them forward before new cards can move into that stage of the workflow. Work in Progress limits an early warning sign that you committed too much work.

Commitment point — Kanban teams often have a backlog for their board. Teams put ideas for projects that the team can pick up when they are ready. The commitment is when an idea is picked up by the team and work gets started on the project.

Delivery point — The delivery point is the end of a Kanban team’s workflow. For most teams, the delivery point is when the product or service is in the hands of the customer. The team’s goal is to take cards from the commitment point to the delivery point as fast as possible. The elapsed time between the two is the called Lead Time. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Kanban

The visual nature of Kanban provides unique value to teams have its project management methodology. Here are some additional advantages and disadvantages of choosing Kanban to manage projects:


  1. flexibility: Having no set phase durations, Kanban manages to be voted as a fluid model where priorities are re-evaluated when new details arise.
  2. Reduce waste: Kanban focuses on reducing waste by ensuring that teams don’t spend time doing redundant work.
  3. Easy to get started: The visual nature of Kanban makes it intuitive and easy to understand, so teams don’t have to learn Kanban new project methodology. 
  4. Improve flow: Kanban focuses on the just-in-time approach and delivering work on a regular duration. 
  5. Minimize cycle time: In Kanban, the entire team is focused on reducing bottlenecks to ensure that work moves rapidly through the project management process.


  1. Overcomplicated board: Kanban board should remain clear and easy to read. 
  2. Outdated board: Teams must emphasize the importance of keeping boards up to date, else they could run the risk of working on inaccurate information. 
  3. Lack of timing: Since columns are only labelled with phases (to do, in progress, complete), it can be difficult to see when things will be done.

Agile project management with scrum

What is Agile Scrum Management?

Scrum is an agile project management methodology or framework used primarily for software development projects with the goal of delivering software every 2-4 weeks. It is one of the approaches that influenced Agile Manifesto. Scrum is a set of values and principles to guide decisions on how to develop high quality software in short durations.

Who Uses Agile Scrum Project Methodology?

Scrum is widely used by software development teams. It is the most popular agile methodology. 70% of software teams use Scrum, However, Scrum has spread to other professions including IT and marketing where these projects move forward in the presence of complexity and ambiguity. 

Scrum in Relation to Agile Methodology?

Scrum is a sub-set of agile:

  • Agile is a set of values and principles that describe a group's day-to-day interactions and activities. 
  • The Scrum methodology follows the values and principles of agile

Scrum has become the preferred framework for agile project management. It is referred as Scrum project management or Scrum development.

Benefits from the Scrum Methodology?

Organizations that adopted agile Scrum have experienced:

  1. Higher productivity 
  2. Better-quality products 
  3. Reduced delivery time to market
  4. Improved customer and stakeholder satisfaction 
  5. Better team coordination 
  6. Happier employees

What Is Scrum?

Scrum is an agile process that allows us to focus on delivering the products in the shortest durations. It rapidly and repeatedly inspects actual working software. It emphasizes responsibility, teamwork, and iterative progress towards a well-defined goal of product development.

The Scrum Framework usually deals with the fact that the requirements are likely to change or most of the time not known at the start of the project.


Scrum is a simple and flexible Agile methodology for product development. The Scrum is not a procedure or a process but a modest framework to address complex hitches of a project and deliver a high-value product creatively. The major attributes of Scrum are as follows:


The development in Scrum is done in sprints, which are in length of 1, 2, and 3 weeks. The Scrum team consists of:

Product Owner: The major responsibility of the product owner is to maximize the value of the product and work of the development team.

Scrum Master: Scrum Master is responsible for arranging meetings, dealing with task challenges and bottlenecks. The Scrum Master interacts with Product Owner to ensure that the product backlog is ready for the next sprint.

Development Team: The Scrum Masters make sure that the Scrum team is abiding by the Scrum theory and its rules and regulations.


The Scrum methodology makes use of user stories to describe the functions needed to be developed. If a change needs to be made or add new user stories, in that case the team can adjust as early as on the next sprint starts. This allows the business development team to be flexible enough to adjust to those changes. The ability to accommodate change is a powerful attribute of the Scrum methodology.

3-Scrum Events


Sprint are time bounded and during which specific work should be completed and made ready for review. Sprints are usually 2-4 weeks long but can also be as short as one week.

Sprint Planning

Planning team meetings are time bounded events to determine which prioritized product backlog items will be delivered.


Daily scrum meetings

The Daily scrum meetings is a short communication meeting in which each team member quickly and transparently covers progress and any obstacles that may be blocking progress in the development of the product.


The Sprint Review

The Sprint Review is demonstration for the team to present the work completed during the sprint. The Product Owner checks the work against pre-defined acceptance criteria and either accepts or rejects the work.


The Retrospective

The Retrospective, or Retro, is the final team meeting in the Sprint to determine what went well, what didn't go well, and how the team can improve in the next Sprint.


4-Scrum Artifacts

Product Backlog

The product backlog outlines every requirement for a system, project or product. The product backlog can be a to-do list consisting of work items, each of which produces a deliverable with business value.


Sprint Backlog

A sprint backlog is the specific list of items taken from the product backlog which are to be completed in a sprint.



An Increment is the sum of all product backlog items that have been completed since the last software release.

Agile vs Scrum

Differences and Similarities Between Agile and Scrum

Agile vs Scrum
Agile vs Scrum

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