Agile project management is a methodology born from the software industry as a fast and flexible method of development. Agile is characterized by a series of short, iterative and continuous improvements in a process or systems. It’s enjoyed adoption in an array of industries as organizations can innovate, manage, design and build new products or services.
“This way of thinking about projects and work is inclusive, focusing on the input of individuals, teams and customers to get constant feedback as projects are developed,” says Samantha Kaplan, Director of Quality & Continuous Improvement – Client Solutions and Program Management at Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College. “That means quicker reactions to change and faster delivery to customers. It’s modernizing project management to focus on the right things at the right time. There is an increased emphasis on efficiency, waste elimination, and a focus on the end users.”
Smart Business spoke with Kaplan about agile project management — what it is and how it helps organizations improve product and service development.
How does agile project management work?
Agile’s emphasis is on collaborative teams, which work on a project or initiative. Directives aren’t pushed from the top down in agile. Rather, teams work to iterate, relying heavily on individual feedback. There’s also an emphasis on cross functionality and stakeholder involvement, especially customers, which requires a sensitivity to feedback and rapid change.
This type of project management is common in the tech industry where it was born, but today it’s being used in education, construction, government, insurance, financial and professional services.
How is agile project management deployed at an organization?
To deploy agile project management, an organization has to be ready for change. The methodology represents a significant change in how an organization works and thinks, how projects are delivered and how an organization does business. Whether or not an organization is ready for change can be measured through a readiness assessment. The readiness assessment can give an organization a sense of the time and effort agile implementation could take, processes that may need to be in place, the resources and skill sets needed and the metrics to determine progress.
Deployment is usually done first through a single agile team that will eventually develop agile standards and templates, and introduce the methodology to subsequent teams throughout the organization. Its success requires the right composition, enough training so the pilot team understands the new process and leadership sponsorship.
Leadership must ensure the agile way of thinking becomes part of the culture. It also needs to be there to break early teams through road blocks, which means being supportive and ensuring regular communication.
What improvements should organizations expect after deploying agile?
With agile project management fully and successfully deployed, organizations can expect greater focus on customer needs and wants, which equates to a rise in customer satisfaction. Organizations post-agile tend to experience an increase in sales and revenue while also reducing waste. They’ll see an improvement in collaboration, organizational flexibility and adaptation to change, as well as more innovation. They can also expect improved morale, productivity and better quality products.
Team communication will improve, as does collaboration. Teams address defects sooner and have fewer project overruns. Risk might increase slightly with the faster pace, but the organization is better equipped to identify, deal with and mitigate those risks. The increased flexibility means teams can manage and change priorities more fluidly.
Organizations of all types are beginning to understand what it takes to keep pace in today’s economy, and that’s leading to a broad adoption of agile project management. Community colleges can be a resource for agile project management training and implementation. Whether the organization is new to the methodology or would like to see deeper adoption, community colleges can help with the instruction or certifications needed for agile initiatives to succeed.
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