When you’re trying to get something done at work that requires various teams, goals, resources, and demands, everyone has to get on the same page — not only about what needs to get done, but how it should get done. This is where project management methodologies come in.
One of the most common project management frameworks in 2024 is Agile methodology. Agile is an iterative, collaborative, and continuous approach to project development that teams use across industries, from construction management to software engineering. If you’re interested in landing a job in technology, manufacturing, or business operations, knowing Agile processes can show you’re a collaborative and prepared member of the workforce. Here’s everything you need to know.
Agile Methodology Definition
What is Agile methodology? Agile methodology, in simple terms, is a way of getting work done through small, continuous, interactive, and collaborative steps. These steps are often called sprints.
Step into the role of a product manager at BCG and organize a sprint to plan for a new feature.
Avg. Time: 3-4 hours
Skills you’ll build: Project planning, project management, prioritization, brainstorming
Agile Development Process
For example, let’s say your team is working on a new mobile app. The Agile development process could look something like:
- Product backlog: The team prioritizes all of the app features and tasks they need to do. This list is flexible and can change over time as priorities, requirements, and resources change.
- Sprint planning: The team decides what features and tasks from this list they’ll work on in the next sprint, a time-boxed period of usually two to four weeks.
- Sprint backlog: The team moves the features and tasks they’ve selected into the sprint backlog and then breaks these into smaller tasks. The team reviews how much time, effort, and resources they need to complete them.
- Development: The team starts working on the features and tasks.
- Daily standups: The team meets regularly to discuss progress and navigate any roadblocks. This process is collaborative and ensures they address any issues quickly.
- Review: Once the sprint ends, the team reviews their work and shows it to stakeholders, who give feedback.
- Retrospective: The team reflects on the sprint, discusses what went well and what didn’t, and makes adjustments for the next sprint.
- Repeat: The team repeats steps 2-7. The product backlog gets updated regularly based on feedback, priorities, and new requirements.
You’ll notice that each part of the process focuses on iterating and continually developing new features. The process is also entirely collaborative; team members constantly communicate with one another.
Four Pillars of Agile
Agile methodology came to life at the beginning of the 2000s when the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was published. This Manifesto laid out key pillars and principles of Agile methodology that are the basis of how teams use this framework today.
The four pillars of Agile are the central values of this process. According to the Manifesto, Agile values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools: Collaboration is crucial to Agile methodology. Team members are constantly in communication, working together to solve problems rather than independently working in silos.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation: Delivering software is of the utmost importance. Agile teams focus on developing software rather than writing down everything someone needs to know about it.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: Involve the customer within the development process, be open to their ideas and feedback, and adjust based on their needs.
- Responding to change over following a plan: Agile is about quick, flexible, and responsive delivery. Teams should be able to make adjustments quickly when needed.
Because of these values, Agile methodology is collaborative, focused on output, flexible, and adaptable.
12 Agile Principles
Besides the central values of Agile, the Manifesto also laid out 12 Agile principles. These are guiding rules to help teams implement the core values of Agile.
- The main priority is to satisfy customers by delivering software early and often.
- Be open to changing requirements, even late in the process.
- Deliver software frequently.
- Collaborate often and include both business people and developers in conversation.
- Uplift motivated workers by trusting your team and giving them the support they need.
- The best way to share information with a development team is face-to-face communication.
- The best way to measure progress is by how much working software you’ve delivered.
- Promote a sustainable development pace.
- Always focus on technical excellence and good design, as it’ll help the team move quicker and better in the future.
- Keep it simple.
- Proactive, self-organizing teams produce the best results.
- Reflect often on how to become more effective, then make the changes needed to do so.
Benefits of Agile vs. Other Methods
Agile is just one project management framework, but it’s the most popular; according to Digital.ai’s State of Agile report, 80% of teams use Agile versus other project management methods. Why do companies choose to use it over others? Here’s a look at what makes Agile different:
|Critical chain project management
|Delivering software continuously and iteratively
|Delivering in a sequential, linear process
|Delivering timely and cost-effective products
|Types of Projects
|Small and medium-scale
|Large-scale and complex
|Changes can be made quickly and oftenCan accurately predict costs and deadlineMore room for experimentationFaster return on investment
|Clear client expectations, but little need for client inputEasy to measure progressExtensive documentation
|Speeds up completion process, often completing ahead of deadlineHelps manage risks ahead of timeReduces resource waste
|Requires extensive customer involvementLimited documentation
|Difficult to make changesPlanning process is more extensiveHard to foresee problems
|Harder to make changesNot adequate for smaller projects
Leigh Ann Gunther, vice president of education at Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Delaware Valley Chapter, says an organization chooses a methodology based on goals, dependencies, and requirements.
“Various factors can affect the decision, including the maturity of business or stakeholder requirements, risk tolerance, timelines, the size of the team, the skill sets needed, and the resources available,” she says. “Agile may be their best choice if flexibility, collaboration, and continuous iterative delivery are important to organizations. Teams that use Agile methodologies communicate constantly and receive feedback from one another, allowing them to adapt to changing requirements and customer needs. This approach can be particularly beneficial in complex projects, where requirements may evolve or continuous customer input is critical to success.”
Agile Methodology Examples
Agile methodology is a set of principles and ideas that guide the execution of a project; however, there are multiple ways to apply this methodology. Here are a few common ways companies use Agile in the workplace.
Agile Scrum Methodology
According to Digital.ai, Scrum is the most popular application of Agile — 87% of teams who use Agile use Scrum. Scrum is a method that focuses on breaking tasks down and completing them in sprints.
A team that uses Scrum will have a Scrum leader and product owner who lead the process of breaking tasks down and sprint planning. Developers then work on the tasks the leaders have laid out in a short, iterative, collaborative timeframe (the sprint).
Agile Kanban Methodology
Kanban is the second most popular Agile methodology framework. This method is about visualizing tasks and where they fit into the development process. Kanban projects typically use a Kanban board, which categorizes tasks into three categories: to do, doing, and done (or some variation).
This management method helps create transparency and visibility on progress. Kanban reflects Agile principles of incremental development, focusing on customer expectations and feedback, and working collaboratively.
Extreme Programming (XP)
Extreme Programming (XP) focuses on delivering high-quality software that meets client expectations. Like the Agile Manifesto, this specific approach has different values and principles.
The five values of XP are courage, respect, feedback, communication, and simplicity.
Then, there are 12 core practices that focus specifically on software development:
- Pair programming
- Planning game
- Test-driven development
- Whole team
- Continuous integration
- Design improvement
- Small releases
- Coding standard
- Collective code ownership
- Simple design
- System metaphor
- Sustainable pace
These different core practices give teams tangible ways to implement the five values. For example, pair programming, or when two developers work on programming together, promotes communication and feedback.
Adaptive Project Framework (APF)
The adaptive project framework (APF) focuses on the Agile value of responding to change. In this style, teams break projects down into small cycles. The team first plans out the project, then builds, and then assesses their work. With smaller builds and more frequent reviews, the team can quickly adapt the product to ensure client satisfaction.
Feature-Driven Development (FDD)
Feature-driven development (FDD), like XP, is specific to software development. In this methodology, teams develop and design models for every feature. The process is:
- Develop a model
- Build a list of features
- Make a plan for each feature
- Design each feature
- Build each feature
Unlike XP, there’s much more documentation in this process than face-to-face communication; teams with more planning and design capabilities typically use FDD over XP.
How to Learn Agile
Agile methodology is an essential skill if you’re entering fields like software engineering, information technology, product management, or project management. So, how can you learn Agile?
Use Online Resources
Many online resources can help you learn about Agile methodology — including this article you’re reading right now! Gunther also recommends online resources from the Project Management Institute (PMI). If you become a PMI member, you’ll get access to webinars, workshops, and even support and mentorship from other members.
If you want hands-on learning, a Forage job simulation is the best place to start.
Forage job simulations teach you job skills for free in a real-life work context. For example, in the Agile job simulation from JPMorgan Chase, you learn what Agile methodology the team uses, build and refine a product backlog, learn about daily standups, and conduct both a sprint review and retrospective.
Build experience in Agile methodology that you can put on your resume by learning what it's like to work on JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s software development team.
Avg. Time: 4-5 hours
Skills you’ll build: Product backlog, backlog refinement, Scrum roles, sprints, daily standups
Apply Principles in Your Daily Life
Who says you need to be on a software development team to practice Agile principles? Valerio Zanini, certified Scrum trainer and product innovation trainer, says the best way to get experience is to apply Agile methodology to something you’re already working on. For example, it could be a class project if you’re at school.
“Do [the project] in weekly increments, running one-week sprints with your team (or even on your own), and practice doing all the Scrum events each week,” he says.
Zanini even recommends trying to implement this workflow in your personal life.
“At home, you could use Agile to plan, prioritize, and execute chores,” he says. “Plan your sprint on Sunday, decide the chores you will do for the upcoming week (sprint), and create your sprint backlog. Then, at the end of the week, review what you have accomplished, get feedback from your stakeholders (other people in the house), and do a retrospective to decide how you could improve for the next sprint.”
Rather than specific degrees, many Agile and project management professionals have certifications that distinguish them as experts in the field. While some of these certifications require experience, there are more junior certifications for those just getting started.
“If you have little or no work experience and want to demonstrate your passion for learning and commitment to the profession, I recommend the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) exam,” Gunther says. “The CAPM coursework and certification exam are designed to impart the basics of project management, including Agile methodologies. If you are interested in developing a deep knowledge of Agile methodologies, values, and principles, the educational materials provided for those preparing to take the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) certification exam are a wealth of top-notch materials.”
Agile Methodology: The Bottom Line
Agile methodology is a popular project management framework focused on collaborative, continuous, and iterative development. Many industries — from software development and information technology — use Agile methodologies to get work done, using various frameworks, from Scrum to FDD.
If you’re interested in working in an industry or at a company that uses Agile, you can learn the basics without work experience. The first step is research (which you’re already doing!). Next is using the framework through online programs like Forage job simulations or applying principles to your next school project.
Practice using Agile methodology principles in a real-world work environment with Cognizant’s Ready, Set, Agile! virtual job simulation.
Image credit: Canva