Project managers use different management methods depending on the client’s needs, their preferred style and the type of project. At SIGMADESIGN, we find that using different management methods in combination often results in the most effective project outcomes. Ultimately, methods that allow us to work as a fast, flexible team is our goal. Our Project Managers recently completed Agile project management training sessions to better understand how to implement this tool effectively for a range of project and client types.
Agile project management, an innovative approach to organizing projects, is composed of ideas including “Scrum” and “Kanban”. It breaks a project down into smaller, more manageable chunks. While its origin is in the software industry, it has spread to other industries as it continues to increase speed to market, improve productivity and increase customer and employee satisfaction.
Agile gives innovative teams more freedom than traditional models. It is a structured process that uses self-governing teams to accelerate the creation of new products and processes via feedback and iterative design. The focus is on collaboration with the client and project team rather than comprehensive documentation. It’s also about responding to changes more than following a plan.
Scrum is a framework that emphasizes teamwork, accountability and iterative progress toward a well-defined goal. The word comes from Rugby; it’s a play where an ordered formation of players start with their arms interlocked and heads down. They push forward against the opposing team and when the ball is thrown into the scrum, players move to gain possession of the ball. In Agile, a culture of innovation and improvement focuses each person on the project to work in coordination to create customer defined value. The goal is to get more of the right things done in short, concentrated bursts of work known as sprints.
Using independent teams, the project becomes a series of tasks that are easy to accomplish with the final goal in mind. The team nimbly adjusts to changes during the project as they move through the development process which includes:
- Research and Development
- Prioritize Backlog
- Break Ideas into Modules
- Develop Plan and Set up Kanban Boards
- Further Break Down Tasks and Utilize Kanban Boards
- Team Discussion
Research and Development
The team develops a list of ideas. They estimate each idea’s value to the customer and the development requirements. At SIGMADESIGN, we’ve seen the value of including different disciplines on the team to fully discuss what it will take to get a project completed in the best way.
The idea list is ranked by its perceived value to the customer. By focusing on the opportunities with the highest value, the list visualizes the most efficient way to reach the solution.
Break Ideas into Modules
Team members break the highest ranked ideas down into smaller modules that they can complete within 1-4 weeks’ time. They also rank these smaller work cycles, referred to as sprints, by their perceived value.
Develop Plan and Set up Kanban Boards
Every team member must participate in the planning to determine what the team can deliver during the sprint increment. The team also determines how they will carry out the work beginning with the top-ranked items. Each sprint gets tracked using a Kanban board or other workflow system (such as Trello). A Kanban board helps visualize and optimize the flow of work (Kanban is the Japanese word for “visual signal”). Sticky notes containing items developed by the team are placed in a backlog column on the left side of the board. As team members complete tasks, they move the sticky notes/tasks across the board to the right until they land in the completed column.
Further Break Down Tasks and Utilize Kanban Boards
Everyone on the team focuses on the task at hand and as they complete a task, they move sticky notes from column to column on the board to show project progress. This allows team members to visualize their progress and make any necessary changes as they go.
With a Kanban framework, the project includes:
- Visualization of Work (tasks)
- Limited Work (no multi-tasking)
- Pull Work by Priority
- Project or Process (add value added steps)
A daily standup meeting, lasting 15 minutes, is essential to reviewing the results versus the plan and keep the sprint on track every day.
The goal of each sprint is to develop working pieces that can be completed and meet the team’s definition of a unit of work that is done and ready for testing. Having tangible outputs from each sprint means that a prototype can be tested before investing further.
At the conclusion of each sprint, team members discuss how the process went and what they can improve. Then the team is ready to advance to the next item on the project backlog and begin the sequence again.
The benefit of the Agile method is its emphasis on collaboration and communication. With the quick development of smaller sets of work, the team can succeed at staying on track, completing meaningful work, and adapting to changes in the project more efficiently.
Applying Agile Project Management Methods at SIGMADESIGN
At SIGMADESIGN, our product development project requirements are never the same, so we combine tools and/or management methods to arrive at the best solution. This combination structure loosely starts with a traditional approach, then switches to Agile once the project is more defined.
Early on in a project, trying to define tasks into smaller chunks doesn’t make sense; the project needs big picture thinking at that point. It’s too restrictive and time prohibitive to break down every detail. But once into the build phase, the Agile approach works well. Our team responded positively using Agile, noting they liked the visibility of the process.
Agile allows us flexibility and re-prioritization instantly. If a client needs an adjustment on the project, it’s easy to do. Additionally, collaboration and discussion at the front end of the project brings potential problems to the forefront rather than discovering them at the end of the project. The Agile approach allows us to scale our resources to build any project of any size. We use it at multiple levels of the organization to manage details in a well-controlled, flexible process. At SIGMADESIGN, we’ve used Agile effectively on a number of projects and it has become another tool to make our work more collaborative and efficient.