Being a lean mean agile machine
How we use two-week sprints to keep results coming
Elliott Dillon, project manager at Free Partners, talks of how he uses agile project management to effectively manage and run client work.
The agile methodology was originally developed to improve software development processes, though its core principles can be applied to all forms of project management and we have found it to be particularly effective for creative projects. At a top level, agile project management is an iterative process that involves short-term planning and long-term forecasting.
The method therefore requires the project manager to break each project into small increments, minimising the up-front planning. Each iteration (what we refer to as blocks) is never any more than two weeks of work. At the end of each block, we present the work to our clients for a collaborative review before undertaking any amendments.
In short, the main advantage of agile project management is creating better work more efficiently. This is achieved through regular intervals and iterations, which offer the opportunity to:
- Ensure the work is matching the brief set by the client
- Change the brief when necessary
- Restructure the team and resources when appropriate
- Learn and grow after every iteration.
What does agile mean for you as the client?
In following the agile methodology, all of our projects are broken down into discreet component parts that are to be completed in no more than 2 weeks. However, by reviewing our work at the end of each block, each project is an iterative one – adjust this, try that, pivot there; the agile methodology offers us regular intervals to reflect on how to become more effective, then tuning and adjusting our behaviour accordingly.
The agile methodology’s iterative nature creates a more thorough yet efficient process of working than the waterfall methodology. In working together with our clients, we review the work through regular feedback loops to ensure we remain concentrated on the agreed brief and business goals. These reviews reduce the risk of creating work that doesn’t meet the brief, thereby reducing time wasted, while also offering, if necessary, the opportunity to change the brief if circumstances change. These feedback loops also enable us to evaluate the project retrospectively, offering learning opportunities by highlighting both the positive and negative experiences associated with each project.
How did the agile method come about?
Traditionally, project management used the Waterfall methodology, meaning all the thinking and planning for a project is done up front, before listing out a phase-by-phase path to project completion. It’s a sequential, linear methodology, meaning each phase begins as the previous was completed and suits industries such as manufacturing. However, the rigid nature of Waterfall means the project can’t adapt to unforeseen changes.
Through the 1990s, numerous lightweight software development methodologies evolved in reaction to the prevailing heavyweight methods that critics described as overly regulated, planned, and micro-managed. However, the development of the methodology we have come to know as agile really came to prominence in 2001, when 17 software developers met at a resort in Utah to discuss these lightweight development methods. Together they published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.
The manifesto states that the agile methodology depends on four key values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software (product) over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan