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What is Agile methodology and how does it work?

July 20, 2022 - 19 min read

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What is the Agile methodology?

Agile methodology's 4 main values

The 12 guiding principles of Agile methodology

Benefits of the Agile methodology

What is Agile project management?

Choosing the right Agile approach

Most organizations talk about needing to be more agile. Whether it’s staying competitive in an expanding market, adjusting for stakeholder priorities, or remaining up-to-date with technology, agility is in constant demand.

The Agile methodology goes deeper than keeping teams and organizations adaptable, though. Agile project management has been shown to help teams make continuous improvements, respond to changing business needs, and increase efficiency. 

We’re here to show you what the Agile methodology is and how you can use it to improve project management for your team.

We will dig further into the background of the Agile methodology, what agile project management looks like, and ways to be more agile. But first, let’s get the basics out of the way by answering the surprisingly complex question: what is the Agile methodology?

What is the Agile methodology?

The Agile methodology is an iterative approach to project management and software development that uses feedback loops and test-driven development to solve problems. It’s not a single method but a collection of best practices that involve constant collaboration

Agile methods focus on the ability of a team to be flexible, encouraging team members to identify uncertainties in their projects and adapt to challenges.

The Agile methodology is most associated with software development projects. However, you can apply it to any industry, project, or position. Agile techniques can give greater control to team members and increase their responsiveness and efficiency to projects.

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Where did the Agile methodology come from?

The Agile methodology was developed in response to older software development methodologies that failed to meet the increasing demands of the software industry.

At the turn of the millennium, outdated processes couldn’t keep up with the speed of technological advancement or the needs of clients and end-users. Because of this, a group of industry leaders came together to rethink the principles of the industry.  

They shared a vision of a process and strategic planning that prioritized results over structure. Eventually, this led to the establishment of the Agile manifesto, which outlined the core values and principles of the Agile methodology.

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Agile methodology’s 4 main values

Though the values outlined in the Agile manifesto were initially geared toward software development, you can apply them to a variety of industries. These four pillars are at the core of any agile team, regardless of their department:


  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

Agile’s creators envisioned a more open, collaborative process where plans didn’t have to be set in stone. They sought to dissolve the strict boundaries between customers and software developers, remove bureaucratic obstacles, and allow for more iterative product design.

12 principles of Agile methodology

The 12 principles of Agile expand on the core values. They give developers (and individuals from other industries) solid guidelines to use when facing professional dilemmas. 

  1. Customer satisfaction through early and continuous software delivery 
  2. Accommodation of changing requirements throughout the development process
  3. Frequent delivery of a working product
  4. Collaboration between the business stakeholders and developers throughout the project
  5. Support, trust, and motivation for the people involved
  6. Face-to-face interactions
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress
  8. Agile processes to support a consistent development pace
  9. Attention to technical detail and design enhances agility
  10. Simplicity
  11. Self-organizing teams that encourage great architecture, requirements, and designs
  12. Regular reflections on how to become more effective

These 12 principles function together to increase collaboration and transparency between clients and developers. This tactical decision turned out to be an incredibly effective one.

It gave developers access to crucial feedback, helping to ensure their product was high-quality. It also allowed clients to play a more active role in developing and delivering their products.

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Benefits of the Agile methodology

According to a 2014 study into the efficacy of Agile methods, the Agile process has a positive impact on project success. By prioritizing tasks and properly distributing the amount of work required to complete deliverables, teams become more effective

Here are a few more benefits of the Agile methodology: 

1. Increased efficiency

The Agile methodology’s success shows us that paperwork and protocol should not be the driving forces behind the creative process. It’s quite the opposite — interaction, evaluation, and fluidity foster more motivating and exciting working conditions within cross-functional teams. 

2. Satisfied customers

The values and principles of Agile bring the product development cycle back to its roots. It reminds us that products should be designed by people, for people. And, it reminds us that we got to where we are now by adapting and improvising based on customer needs. 

3. Improved product quality

Our creative potential flourishes when we have the space to collaborate, think outside the box, iterate, and reshuffle priorities. As a result, you actually get better products in shorter time frames. 

4. Greater flexibility 

In an increasingly fast-paced and results-driven world, it no longer makes sense to rigidly define a target. The chances are that by the time you’ve taken your shot, the target will have moved or become something else entirely.

When to avoid using the Agile methodology 

There are clearly many benefits to using the Agile approach. However, that’s not to say it’s the best project management system, for every single team and project. There are some situations where you may want to avoid the Agile methodology. 

Here are some scenarios where it’s better to not use Agile: 

  • If your customer, client, or management is rigid and requires approvals at every stage of development, say no to Agile. Since Agile is about adapting quickly to change, it wouldn’t work where these approvals would slow things down. 
  • If your project is simple or has a quick turnaround, Agile isn’t needed. It’s better in this situation to use the waterfall methodology, which focuses on a linear, beginning-to-end approach and is appropriate for short-term projects. 
  •  If you simply can’t get your team or management on board, listen to them. Agile can be a complex system to utilize and understand, and you need your entire team to do it right. If there’s a lack of agreement, it’s better to try other methods. 

What is Agile project management?

The Agile methodology is basically the same thing as Agile project management — it just refers to a specific approach. If a team decides to use Agile project management, that means they will focus more on teamwork, flexibility, and collaboration over a linear, checklist-style approach. Agile project management is iterative and typically occurs in short sprints. 

6 steps to Agile project management

Based on the Agile methodology, six critical project management stages were established as a framework for success. These deliverables aim to provide team members with crystal-clear priorities and an understanding of the various layers of the project. They also provide a centralized overview of the journey between concept and product.

Let’s walk through each piece that makes up Agile project management:

  1. Product vision statement: A concise declaration of the project’s aims — what the team hopes to achieve with the product.
  2. Product roadmap: An overarching outline of the product’s central goals, direction, methods, and priorities.
  3. Product backlog: A prioritized list of tasks yet to be achieved. The highest priority tasks appear at the top and then descend according to the level of urgency. 
  4. Release plan: A timeline that outlines short-term release goals. Release plans are generally focused on small releases of functional product features and do not span longer than a handful of months. 
  5. Sprint backlog: Unlike the product backlog, a sprint backlog is an identifiable set of micro-tasks relating to a specific goal within the product roadmap. These are usually identified and tackled by the Scrum team (explained in more detail below).
  6. Increment: An actionable step that improves product functionality and takes the team closer to their eventual goal. Each increment must make sense in the larger context of the project. They must also act in congruence with prior increments and contribute to the overall usability of the product.

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Choosing the right Agile approach 

Agile project management can be broken down further into a few approaches that have different purposes. These include Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, and Extreme Programming (XP). 

Depending on the set goals, project managers decide which Agile approach is most suited to the development process. The team then uses this approach as a framework for their progress. 

The Scrum and Kanban approaches are the most widely used. Let's take a closer look at each one.

Kanban

The Kanban approach depends on visualization. It focuses on developing a graphic representation of the development process using a Kanban board. Tasks are displayed based on their completion status. 

This development method helps predict and resolve bottlenecks before they have too much of an impact on progress. Kanban seeks to optimize workflow by grouping tasks and removing obstacles. 

If your team has unique requests coming from teams all over the company, Kanban can help. As project requests are made, you can visualize them on the Kanban board, prioritize them, and then have all the tasks presented in one place for everyone to see. This is helpful so that each person can be aware of the status of their request.

Scrum

In contrast, Scrum requires the team to have more control over the scope of their work. You would structure your workflow and assign team members specific roles so that you can complete projects in specific time frames. Tasks that aren’t assigned to that time frame or “sprint” are ignored until the team meets to prioritize tasks for the next sprint. 

Scrum emphasizes Agile values while providing clear guidelines for understanding the development process. It’s one of the most popular types of Agile project management, so let’s dive in a little deeper. 

Agile’s Scrum methodology

The Scrum methodology has three major defining characteristics. 

Unlike other Agile frameworks, Scrum emphasizes the roles and responsibilities of the development team. It also focuses on the events that make up the development process and the artifacts that track progress and organize tasks. 

Several tech giants have successfully used Scrum, including Google, Spotify, Apple, and Airbnb. Scrum draws on the values and principles of the Agile process to put together a framework that guides and supports all team members. 

It pays specific attention to the management of: 

  • Tasks 
  • Timelines 
  • Personnel 

It creates a workflow that facilitates feedback and regular check-ins around goals. The end product is developed through several iterations. With Scrum, all team members learn from their mistakes, maximizing efficiency.

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The roles involved in the Agile or Scrum methodology 

In Agile methodology, especially in the Scrum approach, there are three key roles: 

  • Product owner 
  • Development team 
  • Scrum master 

Together, these are known as the Scrum Team. Let's take a look at the responsibilities of each role.

1. Product owner

The product owner is responsible for the overarching vision of the product. They represent the customer’s interests and give insight into the conceptual understanding of the product.

Product owners should communicate regularly with the rest of the Scrum team about how best to implement their vision. 

2. Development team

The development team is the group responsible for putting the product together. This team usually consists of: 

  • Designers 
  • Engineers 
  • Other practical professionals 

These employees are capable of executing the vision on a technical level.

3. Scrum master

The Scrum master coordinates the development team by making sure they adhere to Agile methodology. They keep team members focused by helping to get rid of persistent obstacles. They also: 

  • Eliminate distractions 
  • Organize priorities
  • Provide general support 
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The stages of Agile’s Scrum approach 

The Agile Scrum framework includes several time-specific events, called timeboxes. These events provide structure, regular check-ins, and help organize the actual Scrum process. 

But who attends what event in Scrum and what happens in each event? Let's take a look.

1. Sprint

A sprint is a defined period wherein the team sets and achieves a short-term goal. A sprint does not typically run for more than a month and two weeks to support rapid and focused progress. 

2. Sprint planning

This session includes everyone involved in the Scrum process. In this session, the details of a sprint are discussed and finalized. This happens every time a new sprint begins, and it ensures that there is proper planning and consensus.

3. Daily scrum

Daily scrums are small, quick meetings that include key Scrum team members. The team discusses progress from the day before and agrees on goals for the following day. These meetings happen at the same time every day and usually run between 10-20 minutes.

These meetings are sometimes referred to as the “Daily Standup.” In these cases, participants stand for the whole meeting to remind them that it should be short and efficient.

4. Sprint review

The sprint review is the counterpart to the sprint planning session, and it happens at the end of each sprint.

Sprint reviews give the developers a chance to present their progress to the client and other invested parties. These stakeholders then provide feedback which is used to plan the next sprint. 

5. Sprint retrospective (or retro)

Once the previous sprint is completed, the Scrum team comes together to discuss the highs and lows of the process. This is not about the project metrics but instead about how effectively they worked as a team. Then, they try to carry over these insights into the next sprint.

Ready to use the Agile methodology yourself? 

Older project management methods are products of their respective times. They worked up to a point. Nowadays, product development needs to remain adaptable according to the client’s evolving needs. Modern businesses need a framework that allows for a more flexible and iterative workflow.

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Published July 20, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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