The worst way to plan and manage a project is to have every little detailed determined upfront before work actually begins. That's a waste of time and money because unforeseen events always occur.
The faster you start building and creating, the faster you can get feedback from both customers and project collaborators in order to make the project more relevant, meaningful, productive, and ultimately successful.
Agile project management is the practice of breaking work down into smaller, iterative chunks so that can get started on the work more quickly and adapt the project plan as you go.
In this guide, we dive into agile project management steps, list out the best tools for managing projects using an agile methodology, and showcase a few useful templates.
What is agile project management?
Agile project management is a flexible, iterative design process that seeks to begin a project rapidly and then continuously update the roadmap and requirements, rather than to plan everything up front. Essentially, an agile project management methodology accepts the fact that mistakes, issues, and unforeseen circumstances occur. Rather than try to frontload every detail of project management, a manager will instead build in time and processes for handling issues and changes as they arise.
The history of agile project management dates back to 2000, and today, most modern, customer-centric, and digital-first companies are using this method.
What are the benefits of agile project management?
When working in an agile way, teams are more likely to:
Save money by not wasting time satisfying outdated or irrelevant requirements
Save time and launch products and projects faster
Reduce friction and frustration amongst collaborators
Build products that customers actually want, due to a tighter feedback loop
How is it different from other types of project management?
Agile project management differs from waterfall project management in that it breaks projects down into smaller sprints. Project managers will still work with stakeholders to define requirements and create the project scope before diving into the work. What's different is that instead of defining the project as a whole, PMs will define one piece at a time, see that through to completion and then move on to the next piece.
The standard project management processes are still in tact—they just move swifter because work is broken down into chunks. This way, teams can get started faster and collect feedback faster, from both customers and collaborators.
What types of businesses and projects use agile project management?
Agile project management is very common amongst consumer tech companies, B2B SaaS companies, ecommerce companies, and other digital-first businesses. However, because the methodology has been in circulation for over 20 years, it's now becoming more popular amongst more traditional businesses as well.
A Google Trends comparison report shows that "agile project management" has been searched 10X more times than "waterfall project management" over the past 5 years.
Clearly, the agile method is now the prevailing form of project management in the US.
6 agile project management steps
Agile project management contains 5 main steps, with the sixth step being a prompt to start step 1 all over again. Remember: agile project management is all about breaking work down into small chunks, so you'll repeat the main steps for every sprint.
1. Define a sprint
The first step is to define the sprint. This should include the sprint's purpose, goals, and end result. For example, let's say that you're building a SaaS product for interior designers. The first sprint might be to create a mood board tool with very basic functionality: the ability to upload pictures and arrange them on the mood board. The second sprint might be for resizing and flipping the images. And the third sprint might be for saving uploaded images to the user's product library.
Of course, at this step you should only define the first sprint, but it can help to have a rough estimate of the first few sprints so that you know where to draw the line.
For software product teams, each sprint should be centered around a user story (something that a user wants to accomplish).
2. Craft the sprint plan
The next step is to get more detailed and build a sprint plan. What are the deliverables? What is the timeline? The project scope should also include any tools or other resources that you will need to complete these deliverables and launch them. You might also want to define collaboration roles and criteria around how the sprint will be approved.
Make sure to also include the sprint communication plan. Will you have a daily stand-up? What tools will you use to communicate? How quickly are collaborators expected to respond? How will you share progress with stakeholders?
3. Develop the sprint deliverables
Next, you'll develop the sprint. Depending on the type of project, that might mean coding, designing, writing, event planning, or any other type of work. During this phase, the project manager should serve as the point of contact for all collaborators and continue to update their resource planning and timelines based on actual progress.
4. Deploy or release the sprint
Now it's time to launch the sprint. This could mean releasing a new feature to a small subset of users, setting a landing page live, hosting a live webinar, implementing a new HR software, starting a new operational procedure, or any other sort of launch.
5. Evaluate the sprint
The final step in any sprint is to evaluate the progress and results.
Be sure to track and report on:
Whether or not the sprint met its pre-defined goals
Project budget relative to planned budget
Project timeline relative to expected timeline
Any issues that were encountered and how they were overcome
Any available results for the project (such as feature adoption rates or website conversion rates)
Qualitative feedback from customers, collaborators, and/or stakeholders
Lessons learned and how they will affect the next sprint
6. Start step 1 over again for a new sprint
Repeat steps 1-5 for each new sprint. Continue to clearly document the project scope, delegate tasks, track progress, and report on learnings and results.
How to develop an agile project management plan
Before you follow the basic steps of the agile project management methodology, you should create a plan that will guide your decisions.
This is where you plan the project as a whole (not just the sprints).
An agile project management plan should include:
Desired project timeline
High-level breakdown of sprints
Project software and other resources needed
Project success metrics
Collaboration and communication methods
This should provide a birds' eye view of the project and your plan for making it a success. You won't need to drill down into deliverables and tasks, because you'll handle that in the sprint steps described above.
You can document your plan using a project management software or template. Below, we've included the top tools and templates to try.
Top 10 agile project management tools
Check out the top agile project management software:
Scoro is an advanced project management software that lets you create Gantt charts, track real-time progress, delegate tasks, note dependencies, and manage events and meetings. You can log hours, track delays, and update a project plan in order to address changes in your team's current capacity. You can even calculate profitably and budget usage and forecast costs and results.
With Monday.com, you can manage marketing projects, software development, ongoing operations, HR tasks, and so much more. Some of the top features include Kanban boards, Gantt charts, project dashboards, workflow automation and integrations, project documentation, and file management.
ProductBoard is a product management software that includes plenty of features designed exclusively for product managers (who are managing a software, mobile app, or large website product). You can use ProductBoard to build product roadmaps, prioritize features based on customer demand, validate ideas, and integrate your product management processes with the rest of your tech stack. Direct integrations include Slack, Microsoft Teams, Salesforce, Zendesk, Intercom, Zapier, Loom, Gong, FullStory, Amplitude, Gainsight, and Mixpanel.
ProductPlan is another tool that is designed for digital product managers, however it's core focus is on building product roadmaps. For any roadmap you create in ProductPlan, you can pivot between timeline, list, and table layout. You can also integrate ProductPlan with Jira for more accurate planning and management. And if you want to share your roadmaps with different audiences (such as sales, marketing, and engineering) you can create custom views that filter out overly complex information and simplify the roadmaps.
Like Monday.com, ClickUp is a powerhouse project management software that offers multiple ways to view project boards, alongside advanced features like documentation and file management. ClickUp also offers project chat, meaning you can ditch Slack and just use their chat feature. For any project board, you can switch between these views: List, Board, Box, Gantt, Workload, Mind Map, and Activity. This makes it easy to visualize every aspect of project management, from resource availability to progress to task briefing and more.
Asana has been around since 2008. But their product team didn't release exciting new features for quite some time, which is why Monday.com and ClickUp were able to disrupt the project management scene. However, Asana has been working hard to catchup with their new competitors. You can now switch between different views in Asana as well: List Board, Timeline, Calendar, and Dashboard. Many users love it for the Kanban charts, subtasks, and task card templates.
Craft.io is a tool for product teams, but it can also be used by marketing and other departments. The top features include roadmapping, a spec editor, feature and task prioritization, capacity planning, a customer feedback portal, and integrations with other popular tools. You can also document your project strategy, share it with your team, and connect every task back to your ideation and planning process.
With Roadmunk, you can manage team roadmaps, capture customer feedback, prioritize what to build next, and create high-level roadmaps that are great for communicating a project strategy to executive leaders. The tool integrates with both Jira and Azure DevOps, plus it offers an API so that can synch Roadmunk with any tool your team uses to plan and deploy products. The company also has advanced cybersecurity features in place and has achieved their SOC 3.
Airfocus is a project management software that offers roadmap planning, feature prioritization, release management, and customer feedback and product insights. Plus, the platform integrates with Jira, Azure DevOps, and Intercom so you can manage the full agile lifecycle, from customer chats all the way to continuous deployment.
Workfront is Adobe's work management platform. Part of the Adobe Experience Cloud, Workfront is a robust, enterprise-ready software. You can strategize projects, plan resources and delegate tasks, track progress and execution, and review mockups and wireframes, and manage release schedules.
3 agile project management templates
Try these templates for documenting and managing your work. You can use these templates to help you define project and sprint scope before delegating tasks with your software. These templates are also useful for communicating project plans with stakeholders.
1. Smartsheet's agile project plan templateDownload the template here.
This template includes task names and statuses and a Gantt chat.
2. Agile product backlog template from Project Management DocsDownload the template here.
This template can be used to listing the product backlog in a user story format. The task IDs should match your project management system.
3. Office Timeline's agile project planDownload the template here.
With this Powerpoint template, you can easily showcase your sprints, their timelines, and any scheduled stakeholder reviews and meetings.
In today's fast-paced and competitive world, agile projects are essential for building products that customers will love.
DevSquad is a software development firm that offers expert product management. Check out DevSquad's services.