Agile Project Management

How agile methodologies can work for your software team

What is agile project management?

Software teams have been embracing agile project management methodologies for nearly a decade, increasing their speed, collaboration, and ability to respond to market trends.

But what is it, and can it help your software team? Here is everything you need to know to get started or refine, your agile project management practices.

Sprint Planning

A team planning meeting that determines what to complete in the coming sprint.

Sprint Demo

A sharing meeting where the team shows what they’ve shipped in that sprint.

Daily Standup

Also known as a stand-up, a 15-minute mini-meeting for the software team to sync.

Retrospective

A review of what did and didn’t go well with actions to make the next sprint better.

What's so special about scrum?

With Scrum, the product is built in a series of fixed-length iterations called sprints that give teams a framework for shipping software on a regular cadence. Milestones–i.e., the end of a sprint–come frequently, bringing with them a feeling of tangible progress with each cycle that focuses and energizes everyone. (“Continuous inspiration” for the win!) Short iterations also reinforce the importance of good estimation and fast feedback from tests–both recurring struggles in waterfall projects.

Scrum calls for four ceremonies that bring structure to each sprint:

  • Sprint planning: A team planning meeting that determines what to complete in the coming sprint.
  • Daily stand-up: Also known as a daily scrum, a 15-minute mini-meeting for the software team to sync.
  • Sprint demo: A sharing meeting where the team shows what they’ve shipped in that sprint.
  • Sprint retrospective: A review of what did and didn’t go well with actions to make the next sprint better.

During a sprint, visual artifacts like task boards and burndown charts, visible to the team and spectators alike, are powerful motivators. They drive a spirit of “we’re doing this!” Having the opportunity to show off new work at the sprint demo is equally motivating, and the consistent, incremental feedback the team gets from stakeholders at each demo creates a powerful way to develop products.

Scrum done well–which is to say, not “waterfall with stand-ups”–can be a massive catalyst for improving team productivity and morale, and the product development process as a whole.

How kanban works

Kanban is a framework for agile project management that matches the work to the team’s capacity. It’s focused on getting things done as fast as possible, giving teams the ability to react to change even faster than scrum.

Unlike scrum, kanban has no backlogs (usually). Instead, work sits in the To Do column. This enables kanban teams to focus on continuous releases, which can be done at any time. All work is visible, scoped, and ready to execute on so that when something is completed, the team immediately moves on to the next. The amount of work is matched to the team’s capacity through WIP limits, which is a predefined limit of work that can be in a single column at one time (except the To Do column). The kanban framework includes the following four components:

The four components of kanban

List of work, or stories, are defined as issues or tasks that need to get done.

Used on a kanban board to distinguish tasks from different workstreams, users, projects, etc.

A rule to limit the amount of work to be done based on the team’s capacity.

The team works on the amount of stories within the WIP limit and can release at anytime.

Agile project estimating

Project estimating is an extremely important aspect of both kanban and scrum project management. For kanban, many teams set their WIP limit for each state based on their previous experiences and team size. Scrum teams use project estimating to identify how much work can be done in a particular sprint. Many agile teams adopt unique estimating techniques like planning poker, ideal hours, or story points to determine a numeric value for the task at hand. This gives agile teams a point of reference to refer back to during sprint retrospectives, to see how their team performed. Jira Software can be customized to capture your teams’ unique project estimations.

Agile reporting

Project estimations come into play at the beginning and end of each sprint. They help teams determine what they can get done at the beginning of the sprint, but also show how accurate those initial estimates were at the end. Agile reports, such as Burndown charts, show how many “story points” are completed during the sprint. Jira Software offers dozens of out-of-the-box reports with real-time, actionable insights into how your teams are performing. Having data to support your retrospectives is an invaluable way for agile teams to improve.

The kanban board

A kanban board is used to visualize all the work that’s being done. It’s also used for planning resources allowing project managers to see the work and develop timelines accordingly. A kanban board is structured into columns and lanes that stories pass through on their way to completion. Stories sit in the To Do column until the WIP limit allows for the next task to be worked on. The list of work should be split into relatively small issues and organized by priority. As you can see in this example, lanes can help keep the higher priority items separated from “everything else.”