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Agile for Dummies: Making Sense of it All

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Ronda Bowen • updated: 5/27/2011

As a project manager, you may hear the term Agile Management or Agile Methodology, but what is it? If you’ve never heard of the Agile process in project management, this article includes information on Agile for dummies along with some handy advice.

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    What Is Agile Project Management?

    Perhaps you’re new to project management and you’ve been hearing words like Scrum, Lean, and Six Sigma but now there’s a new word, agile project management. Through the grapevine you’ve learned, “we’re going to use the agile approach on this upcoming project." If you’re confused, don’t be. Essentially, agile project management simply means using the best process through empowered teams, customer involvement, and the ability to analyze and quickly control changes to the project scope at inception and throughout the project for optimal successes.

    So, if you’re handed a project intended for an agile process, where do you begin, what resources do you need, and how does it all pull together?

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    Agile Made Simple

    First, think of Agile this way keeping in mind the theory behind using agile is to complete a project in the most efficient way without bottlenecks.

    • Project – You have identified the goal of the project and if you’re smart, you have utilized the client or stakeholder help you write the project scope.
    • Client – You will need to have constant client involvement and short-term deliverables in case of requested changes. Frequent client input is important in the agile process. If a client identifies something they want changed at any point in the project, your teams will have the power to make those changes, and quickly.
    • Empowered Teams – The individuals who make up your teams must be empowered to make decisions and implement them on their own.
    • IterationsIterations are simply small steps in the project assigned to empowered teams with short-term outcomes. These will need to be identified and delegated to the appropriate team(s) with directed timeframes.
    • Monitor – As the project manager, you will need to keep clear lines of communication open and be able to accept and explain changes made by your teams.
    • Wasted Review – In Agile, through constant observation and communication of iterations performed, redesigned, and completed, projects run faster, smoother, and with more accuracy. Don’t waste too much time on reviewing everything. Using the agile project management methodology is a way to get it done by addressing changes immediately, implementing client requests through frequent communication, and empowered teams who work toward a common goal.
    • Communication – When using agile, even though you are monitoring the project, you are part of the project and so are your teams. Your teams must be allowed to communicate with clients directly, even bypassing you. For example, if a team finds a problem or has a question about the iteration they are assigned to, by using Agile, the team can go directly to the client or stakeholder, get an answer or direction and quickly make the change.
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    Agile for Dummies – A Very Simple Example

    Let’s use a very simple example of a vehicle owner who takes his car in for repair to a dealership. Most dealerships operate in this fashion:

    1. Owner/Service Writer – The vehicle owner first meets a service writer and speaks with them about desired repairs or problems with the vehicle. The service writer creates a work order and the customer leaves the vehicle.
    2. Service Writer/Technician – The service writer will assign the repairs to a technician who diagnoses the problem and reports to the service writer before repairs are made.
    3. Service Writer/Owner – The service writer calls the owner and informs him about needed repairs and the estimated cost of those repairs.
    4. Owner Questions/Service Writer – Say at this point the owner has a question the service writer doesn’t know such as, “what was causing the transmission failure?"
    5. Service Writer/Technician – The service writer must hang up with the owner and speak to the technician to answer any questions the owner may have posed.
    6. Service Writer/Owner – The owner is called again by the service writer to answer posed questions. At this point the owner is angry and wants to know why the repairs are so much and what exactly is being done because the service writer (who is not a technician) is having a hard time explaining the repairs. Now the owner wants to speak to the service manager.
    7. Service Writer/Service Manager – Prior to the service manager calling the owner, the service writer must inform the service manager of all the details regarding this owner’s repairs.
    8. Service Manager/Technician – Prior to calling the owner, the service manager also speaks with the technician before calling the owner to gain full knowledge of the needed repairs.
    9. Service Manager/Owner – Once the service manager has all the information, the owner is called and given a more detailed explanation on what repairs are being done and the reason for the cost of those repairs.
    10. Service Manager/Service Writer – The service manager tells the service writer to complete the required repairs per the owner.
    11. Service Writer/Technician – The service writer tell the technician to complete the repairs.
    12. Owner/Cashier – The owner picks up the vehicle and pays the cashier for repairs made.

    Whew! What a process, but since we are discussing agile for dummies, how could this example of a project with a goal be shortened or completed more efficiently?

    1. Owner/Service Writer – The owner brings in the vehicle for repairs and the service writer asks if the owner can attend a pre-repair test drive with the technician who will be completing the repairs.
    2. Owner/Technician – Through the pre-test drive, the technician explains their thoughts on what is needed and immediately can answer any questions the owner may have. The owner gives a go ahead for all the repairs.
    3. Technician/Service Writer – The technician informs the service writer of what repairs will need to go on the repair order and then makes the repairs.
    4. Owner/Cashier – The happy owner picks up his vehicle and pays the cashier.

    By using Agile to complete this project of repairing an owner’s vehicle, we have cut 12 steps down to 4. The owner is happy, the repair facility made money, the technician will get paid, and the service manager has empowered his team to get the job done.

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    Final Thoughts on Agile for Dummies

    While our example here is very simple, it can be applied to almost every project when utilizing agile project management. To gain more knowledge on how to implement Agile, read the following articles right here on Bright Hub:

    Project Management Methodology: Employing Agile Development by Sheryl R.

    Project Management Methodology - A Look at Agile Management by Sheryl R.

    Agile Sprint Cycles: The 30-Day Sprint by Rupen Sharma, PMP

    You should also read or re-read a Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), especially as it relates to agile processes and how to implement them for a successful outcome. Anyone can use agile project management methodology, if they take the time to understand it, ask for assistance, follow a mentor, or simply do some research before project initiation.

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