How to Learn Agile Project Management
In the past, good project management was seen as something of an innate quality, wherein no formal training was required. For some, it was simply a matter of overseeing people and meeting deadlines. Over the years, however, it’s become clear that project management takes more than just “winging” it. For a project to be successful, discipline is essential. This is where management frameworks come into play. The most popular one is agile.
Before we go into agile, it’s important to clarify what a framework means. A framework is an approach that’s applied to all the projects under a single organization. This way, the team has a solid and clear understanding of the processes and practices necessary to meet project goals.
One that has gained significant attention through the years is agile. In this article, Career Karma will guide you through the agile manifesto and the methodologies that fall under it. We’ll also provide you with the information you’d need to become a certified agile project manager.
What Is Agile Project Management?
Agile is an iterative and incremental approach initially designed to deliver software development projects. It recognizes that uncertainties and changes abound in a project life cycle. To account for these, the project is broken down into simpler and more manageable tasks.
Much like carving a sculpture, a basic framework of the software is created and refined in a sequence of iterations. Increments of features are then delivered to the product owner at regular intervals.
This allows for the testing of features and opens the floor for feedback. These features and increments are then improved upon until the last increment is delivered. In this sense, adaptability takes precedence over rigid planning. Thus the name ‘agile’.
What Are the 12 Principles of Agile?
Agile projects are based on 12 principles listed in the agile manifesto . These are:
Principle 1: Customer satisfaction is the highest priority
Satisfy the customer through the continuous and early delivery of valuable software. Releasing results at regular intervals signals the progress of a project.
Principle 2: Be receptive to change
Welcome and accommodate changes no matter the stage in the development cycle. Change is good if it contributes to the software’s improvement.
Principle 3: Deliver software frequently
The team must frequently have incremental software to show. The earlier you deliver, the faster you receive necessary feedback about changes that need to be made.
Principle 4: Collaborate with both the business and technical teams
Work with business stakeholders and developers daily. This guarantees that the end product meets the end user’s expectations.
Principle 5: Build projects around motivated individuals
Agile projects should encourage teamwork and self-organization. Micromanagement is a big no-no.
Principle 6: Nothing beats face-to-face communication
Normalize face-to-face conversations. This limits any risk of misunderstanding and increases efficiency. If teams aren’t co-located, practice virtual communication regularly.
Principle 7: Working software is the primary measure of progress
The delivery of working software at regular intervals is the team’s goal. This guarantees that the project keeps moving forward. It also ensures that the teams don’t lose sight of the goals.
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Principle 8: Maintain a consistent pace to promote sustainable development
Having a consistent level of activity makes it easier to forecast a project’s completion. It also ensures that team members are not overworked.
Principle 9: Strive for technical and design excellence
Consistent attention should be given not just to a product’s design but also to its functionality. The product must also be updatable.
Principle 10: Simplicity is key
Focus on what is enough for now. Avoid features that don’t guarantee an increase in value. In other words, cut out whatever doesn’t improve your product.
Principle 11: The best requirements, architectures, and designs come from self-organizing teams
Teams that show initiative and accountability, and are open to ideas and feedback have higher chances of delivering successful projects.
Principle 12: Reflect on the wins and losses for effectiveness
After every sprint, the team should reflect on what needs to be improved and adjust accordingly. This allows the team to spot and correct any inefficiencies before they impact the project significantly.
Types of Agile Methodologies
Choosing to adopt the agile framework is only the beginning. After identifying a model, one must choose which methodology to use based on the demands of the project.
Currently, there are over 50 agile methodologies out there. In this section, we’ve picked out the most common ones, complete with their uses in software development.
Scrum is the most widely-used method for agile management. This is perhaps why ‘agile’ and ‘Scrum’ are often used interchangeably.
The main thrust of the Scrum methodology is the sprints. These are development stages that last for one to four weeks. This segmentation ensures that a team produces deliverables quickly and efficiently.
Each sprint culminates with a sprint review. During these reviews, developments are coded and tested and team performance is evaluated. The team also identifies product backlogs—what needs completing and how long it could take.
Kanban is a Japanese word that means “signboard.” In project management, Kanban advances a signal and response system. To put it into context, the Kanban method utilizes a board that shows the software development workflow.
This board promotes transparency in the development team, particularly regarding which tasks have been completed, and which are under testing or in progress. These tasks contain the expected date of delivery as well as the actual deadline.
When a task is completed before the deadline, it’s immediately replaced by the next task. The Kanban method allows the team to review their progress immediately. It also lets them assess the pace at which the tasks are being completed.
Extreme Programming (XP)
This methodology takes the first principle of the agile manifesto to heart: customer satisfaction is the highest priority. As the name suggests, XP takes everything to the extreme—an extreme focus on collaboration, adjustments, and client interaction.
Under the XP methodology, the development team interacts a lot with the client so constant feedback is expected. This leads to continuous changes to the software, even if the request arrives late into the development cycle.
Because of how the XP method is structured, teamwork is crucial. All hands are on deck whenever adjustments are necessary.
Adapted from Toyota and applied to software development, Lean focuses on just that: creating a lean workflow. This means eliminating whatever is unnecessary or redundant and reducing wastage.
Lean development revolves around getting rid of unnecessary features, gold plating, underutilized tools, defects, and limitations to productivity. Following the Lean methodology allows the company to cut back on time, effort, and expenses.
How is Agile Different from Waterfall?
Agile deviates from the traditional framework known as “Waterfall.” While agile prioritizes adaptability, Waterfall operates on predictability. With the latter, having a fixed plan is necessary to complete a project.
Let’s illustrate this with an example. Say a team has to work on software development. Following the Waterfall framework, the project is divided into distinct and sequential stages that don’t allow room for change. In other words, the team cannot move to the next stage until it completes the current one. The approach, then, becomes linear.
Compared to agile, it takes more time to develop software using Waterfall. Sometimes, a project may last up to a year or more. While Waterfall has its merits, it can be quite problematic when the requirements of a project are likely to change a lot.
This could be the case when the client is trying to compete with similar software. In that year of development, the competition will have come up with new features to adjust to changing trends. Additionally, if the customer asks for changes during the testing phase, implementing such could be difficult. On the other hand, agile is all about awareness, flexibility, and speedy turnover.
Note that while agile and Waterfall were created for software development, both have been adopted by industries other than IT.
Learning Agile: A Step-by-Step Guide
Agile is something that takes time to learn. It can’t be fully grasped by only reading a few articles. Yes, even this article. To make it up to you, we’ve listed a step-by-step guide that you can follow to master agile.
Step 1: Begin your project management education
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics , a project manager must have at least a bachelor’s degree. The concentration may vary. It could be project management (of course), business administration, computer science, or construction management, to name a few. Most agile project managers also hold a master’s degree in project management, although it isn’t required.
However, having a post-secondary degree isn’t a universal rule. One may actually become a project manager with a high school diploma or the equivalent. This may be achieved through in-house training provided by companies, online courses, or professional certifications. The last one is also a great option for post-secondary-degree holders as this helps demonstrate one’s knowledge.
Step 2: Learn the tools of the trade
While this may be considered a part of the preceding step, the tools used in agile management are ever-changing. Back your training by familiarizing yourself with the software tools you’d need to lead an agile team.
Equipped with sleek and clean features, ClickUp is a game-changer in agile. Everything in ClickUp is drag and drop, allowing users to easily and quickly move tasks through the workflow and push them forward.
It also gives users the option to assign status, members, time estimates, notes, and deadlines to each task. This makes the organization simpler and communication across the team much faster. For instance, any user can see which tasks are open, pending, in progress, completed, and awaiting review.
A favorite in project management, Jira is an agile-based software that supports all agile methodologies. To demonstrate, Jira users may create either Scrum or Kanban boards to map out tasks and time estimates for each. Much like ClickUp, Jira advances a drag-and-drop feature, making it easier for users to organize backlog and highlight specific issues or notes.
Pivotal Tracker is a project management tool that works best for the agile framework, especially the Scrum method. Pivotal Tracker has easy-to-use, no-frills features including a tracker story, velocity and emergent iterations, and release and scope management.
For Scrum teams, this tool may prove useful when it comes to escalating and de-escalating priorities in sprints. This allows users to have an overall understanding of the workflow.
Step 3: Solidify your skills and knowledge by getting certified
A good rule of thumb to follow after earning your credentials for any profession is to take it further. For project management, a good way to do so is by earning a certification.
There are several certifications to choose from for aspiring agile managers. Do note that these certifications have different prerequisites. Eligibility may depend on your education credentials, training hours, practical experience, and years worked.
Step 4: Prepare for your certification exam
Once you’ve pinned down a certification, it’s time to check the requirements. There are several continuing education classes that you can take to earn the hours you’d need before sitting the exam.
And while you may have bulked up on agile knowledge through the training you’ve taken, you can never go wrong with a review. Usually, the organizations that award the certifications provide review classes for the exams. Online education platforms are also filled with courses designed to get you ready for the exams.
Step 5: Maintain your certification
There are a lot of things you can do with a certification. Sitting on your laurels, however, isn’t one of them. Certifications awarded by professional organizations generally have an expiration date. To keep them valid, you need to earn professional development units of continuing education for every specified number of years. The expiration date and the number of credit hours you’ll need will vary depending on the certification.
PDUs may be earned through online or in-person courses or voluntary programs by certain organizations. This requirement ensures that you keep yourself abreast of whatever innovation the industry undergoes.
The Best Agile Project Management Courses and Training
As mentioned, one can become an agile project manager without a bachelor’s degree. Needless to say, a degree will prove invaluable, especially during the job-search process. Check out our guide here to see the best universities that offer online project management degree programs.
The Best Online Agile Courses
Now that you’ve earned your credentials and chosen to adopt an agile approach, what’s next? Pair your education with some training with any of these online courses and sharpen your agile skills.
With approximately four months’ worth of instructional content, this course applies an evidence-based approach to agile management. The course is divided into four modules: Agile and Design Thinking, Hypothesis-Driven Development, Agile Analytics, and Managing an Agile Team.
Students also gain hands-on training where they apply agile practices to a project of their choice or as provided. Those who complete the course may earn professional development units required to maintain certifications.
This is a one-day web-based course designed to teach you the foundations, fundamentals, and methodologies of agile. These include understanding which projects are suitable for agile practices, managing product backlog, increasing customer interaction, and delivering a consistent value stream.
The course includes six-month access to PMA’s online training materials. Completion of the course is equivalent to eight professional development units.
This is a recent offering from Purdue University created to prepare participants in applying agile principles and practices in the workplace. The course is self-paced, lasts five weeks, and has no experience prerequisites.
The lessons covered are tailored against the standards of the Project Management Institute, one of the leading associations in project management. This prepares course takers for the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner Exam and PMI’s Project Management Professional exam.
Apart from certification, PMI also offers a comprehensive course that seeks to demonstrate the breadth of agile practices. This course is aligned with the objectives of PMI’s Agile Certified Practitioner exam and is equivalent to 17.5 professional development units.
The topics covered in the course include:
- Agile management essentials
- Overview of agile methodologies
- Agile planning (from initiating a project to doing estimates and completing the release plan)
- Leading an agile team
This five-month long program teaches the mechanics of Scrum, Lean, and Kanban methods. It highlights the merits of agile over traditional practices and the trade-offs of this approach.
Students also learn how to apply agile practices in any industry, such as software, aerospace, finance, and construction. Completion of the course is equivalent to 50 development units which are recognized by the PMI and can be used to maintain certifications.
Agile Project Management Certifications
Now that you’ve earned your credentials, it’s time to boost your profile by getting certified in agile. Here are some great options that will help you become an effective agile project manager and scale your career to new heights.
Cost: $435 to $495
The PMI-ACP is a great way to demonstrate how deep your agile knowledge goes. This certification covers the different methodologies in the agile workflow, including Scrum, Kanban, Lean, and XP.
The certification exam consists of 120 multiple-choice questions that must be answered in three hours. Applicants must have the following:
- A high school diploma
- Twenty-one contact hours of training in agile practices
- Twelve months of general project experience within the last five years
- Eight months of agile project experience within the last three years
Keep in mind that a PMI-ACP certification is only valid for three years. To keep it current, you need to earn 30 professional development units.
Cost: $1,555 to $1,860
There are two levels under AXELOS’ PRINCE2 certifications. There’s the Foundation certification and the Practitioner certification . Generally, both certifications are designed to help professionals navigate an agile environment.
Individually, the Foundation certification helps you to gain a broad understanding of agile concepts and techniques. Because it focuses on the agile basics, anyone without pre-existing knowledge of PRINCE2 agile may sit the exam. One may either take an AXELOS-accredited training course or self-study before taking the exam.
The Practitioner certification, meanwhile, must be taken by professionals within a project environment. Only those with certain project management certifications, including the PRINCE2 Agile Foundation, may sit the exam. The certification must be renewed every three years by retaking the exam or by earning continuing professional development points.
Cost: Depends on the training provider
ICAgile’s certification offers knowledge on the fundamentals of agile such as adaptive planning, customer collaboration, and dynamic value-driven delivery. The certification is awarded after a three-day course that covers 21 hours of instructional activities that hone one’s agile skills and mindset.
Although there are no prerequisites for the program, this certification is ideal for those with agile experience in a leadership role. The ICP-ACC has lifetime eligibility. This means that no renewal is necessary, unlike other certificates.
Cost: Approximately $715
This is for professionals equipped with the foundations of agile project management. While experience in project management offers a degree of advantage, it’s not necessary for interested candidates.
Candidates simply have to master IAPM’s Agile Project Management Guide 2.0, which contains the hard and soft factors of agile. These include the rules and roles within agile methods, such as Scrum, Kanban, and XP. Exam takers that surpass the 65% passing rate will receive the IAPM certification via email in a matter of days.
Cost: $1,000 and up
The SSM is designed to provide agile professionals with the fundamentals of team-level Scrum. Takers of the certification exam must attend the SAFe Scrum Master course . This is a two-day training program that teaches participants how to apply Scrum throughout the enterprise and build high-performing agile teams.
Career Outlook for Agile Project Managers
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a specific record on agile project managers. However, it does have data on computer and information managers. According to BLS, the role racks up a median salary of $146,360 with an 11 percent projected growth by 2028. This is a strong indication that the outlook for agile management roles is promising.
Not enough to convince you? A Harvard Business Review article highlighted the growing prevalence of agile methodologies across a broad range of industries. It also highlighted agile’s ability to “accelerate profitable growth” and “help to create a new generation of skilled general managers.”
If you’re still on the fence, perhaps these figures may convince you. Here is a look at some specific agile roles and their corresponding salaries:
- Agile Coach — $136,000
- Senior Agile Project Manager — $125,000
- Project Manager/ Scrum Master — $120,000
- Scrum Master — $100,000
- Agile Project Manager — $92,139
- Software Developer — $110,000
Should You Learn Agile?
If the agile framework seems like something that would work for you, then you should consider it. The job outlook and salaries are great for something that takes relatively short training.
Keep in mind that agile works best in a more collaborative environment. So, if that sounds like your style, then it may be time to look into agile courses and certifications. Even if you end up not taking a role in agile management, you’d still benefit from knowing such a modality.