October 9, 2014

6 Essential Software Features for Agile Project Management

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What happens when one team finishes working on their part of a project? Do they pivot to other tasks, seek out additional work on the same project, or call it a day and take some PTO? What’s the answer when a large project runs over budget?

These are questions that the Agile approach to project management seeks to answer.

Agile grew out of a number of studies in the 1990s and early 2000s that showcased significant flaws with how large IT projects were being managed. These studies showed that the traditionally-managed IT projects usually went over-budget, over-schedule, and had trouble adapting to changing requirements throughout the development process.

Unlike traditional project management, Agile uses an iterative process that allows teams to test each version of a program, and make changes accordingly. This allow for greater flexibility, and more efficient resource use.

While Agile was designed for software development, organizations such as digital content firms and media organizations can benefit from implementing elements of this methodology.

Tools for Agile Teams

If you’re looking to get started with Agile, you’ll need the right project management tools. Certain software does lend itself to this methodology, but Agile by nature isn’t rigid, so features from a number of PM products could be used for Agile teams.

Let’s look at six essential software features.

1. Progress Visualization

Overlapping with the Kanban methodology, having progress represented visually makes it much easier to see where each member of the team is with their individual projects. Visual progress tools are common in many project management products, and make it easier to identify bottlenecks.

Be sure to vet this feature carefully. It needs to be versatile so your team isn’t limited by the structure of the software’s visualization, such as a Gantt chart.

2. Issue Tracking

Working in combination with progress visualization, issue tracking allows team to easily tell which parts of the project require immediate attention, and which parts have been completed. Issue tracking will be used more by software development teams than by non-IT teams, but can be helpful for managing any type of revision-related work.

3. Collaboration

Depending on the nature of your team and project, you’ll want to look for different types of collaborative tools. Team wikis serve as a great tool for quickly centralizing any documents attached to specific projects on the board. This eliminates the redundancy of email chains and makes it easier to find relevant information.

Strong collaboration tools should be a hallmark of any Agile-specific software. One of the main focuses of the Agile manifesto is putting “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”

In order to stay agile (yes, puns), you’ll need to eliminate barriers to the information your team needs. Employee collaboration is often used in other PM methodologies, but is particularly vital in Agile.

4. Estimation

In order to set accurate requirements and control scope creep, project managers need to use estimation tools to calculate how long each iteration (or sprint if you’re utilizing Scrum) will take. Gathering accurate estimations helps PMs create a base of historical data from which to forecast future projects.

Estimation tools also help in an immediate sense too. Reacting to change is a central tenet of Agile, so by updating estimates after every release or sprint, PMs can stay on top of deadlines and adjust accordingly.

5. Customer portal

How can development teams receive feedback on their development if customers can’t access the software?

Having a customer development portal allows project managers to conduct software walkthroughs, and helps customers provide more detailed feedback that can be translated directly into actionable tasks.

Instead of waiting to receive feedback after weeks of development, teams can ask for feedback as soon as possible. While Agile is flexible enough to accommodate last-minute requirements changes, it’s always better to adjust priorities as soon as possible.

6. Project Portfolio

Agile’s focus on team collaboration and individual contribution means it can be difficult to scale. It can become cumbersome to respond to change quickly as the amount of moving parts and interdependent skill sets grows. It can also be hard to prioritize individuals over tools as the very nature of scaling requires organizations to adopt tools that replace individual interactions.

By having quick access to your entire portfolio of projects, PMs will be better able to jump between projects and ensure estimates are still accurate.

Agile seeks to eliminate many of the redundant processes that too often imbed themselves in project workflows. It’s not the right solution for every team, or industry, but can result in higher ROI, and faster time-to-market when implemented correctly.

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