How important is your Agile project kickoff meeting? The acclaimed philosopher Plato once said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” And in his influential book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey encourages us to “begin with the end in mind”—it’s the second habit!
These guys probably would have been great project managers! Successful project management begins with how you set them up. This is equally true for Agile software development projects. Software developers should treat the beginning of any project as a crucial step 1 for laying the groundwork for success.
Agile development has been around for a few years now, so what’s the secret to getting the end goal right in today’s environment?
Why Is Agile Important?
Agile methodologies have certainly become huge in the past two decades. No matter the industry, this mindset is taking over a number of industries. Its versatility is equally useful for small or large businesses, whether for international or more locally focused audiences.
Why are the principles of Agile project management so important? An Agile approach can deliver invaluable benefits to the product owner and stakeholders. Some of its most important benefits include:
- Accelerating the production calendar
- Easier identification and management of priorities
- Deliver value and efficiency
- Alignment of development teams and business needs
- Improvement in software quality
- Increase in productivity and overall project success
There is also a strong suggestion that an Agile mindset helps organizations to be adaptable, resilient, and more proactive in their development. Technology moves fast, and the ability to respond quickly, and respond well, can be a huge competitive advantage.
From both a company and a third-party developer perspective, Agile helps you to stay inside the feedback loops and provides the opportunity for receiving knowledgeable reviews. This can help to ensure that you’re getting towards the sprint goals, because any changes can be made quickly and efficiently, rather than developers having to retool several steps. In other words, it can save you a lot of time and headaches.
How Agile Project Management Works
A key thing to understand about Agile project management is that it is geared toward continuous improvement. It uses short development cycles known as “sprints” to develop a product or service. During a sprint, the team is working to complete a segment of the project.
At Koombea, for example, those development cycles or sprints are usually around a week-long. In them, we review specific parts of a project with stakeholders. This process makes it easy to initiate changes as needed, detect any issues, and ensure that efforts are focused. This facilitates the QA process.
Within Agile, there are a number of popular methodologies. One of the most popular ones is called “Scrum”; this is very popular in the development world. During a sprint, developers use daily Scrum meetings so that the Scrum Master (project manager) can stay updated on progress, and ensure that priorities are being met.
Product Owners prioritize a backlog of work to be done; this helps prioritize the work associated with a specific software project. At the end of each sprint, the process starts over again until all work is complete. Agile teams follow 12 principles, which can be found in the Agile Manifesto.
To lay the foundation for a successful scrum project your team will need:
Product Owner and Backlog
The Product Owner is there to represent the best interests of the target customer’s needs. They have authority over the final product, and they are in charge of creating the backlog, which are the tasks or requirements for the final product.
Some key requirements of the backlog are:
- It is organized around a knowledgeable Project Owner who understands the project.
- An efficient place to organize tasks. For example, some people use digital tools like Trello, Jira, Miro, or other project management software.
The Scrum Master is a sort of “servant leader” who is there to ensure that things progress under the scrum framework. A key characteristic of these teams is that there are no egos, so the Scrum Master has the responsibility to lead from within the team, always keeping everyone’s best interest in mind.
The Development Team
The development team is involved in deciding how a sprint should play out and which tasks should be selected from the backlog. As a team, they decide who will be responsible for each task. Obviously, a successful project needs a strong team! It is possible to hire collaborative teams that integrate perfectly into your project through staff augmentation services.
Usually, you will need a kickoff meeting involving:
- The main sponsor of the project
- The product owner
- The project manager
- The scrum master
- Other members of the development team
These are the goals that a software kickoff meeting should accomplish:
- Align the team with the business objectives for the project so there is a firm foundation of understanding before moving forward
- Create team energy around the common goal and an understanding of how each team member fits
- Discuss any issues or misunderstandings regarding the project
Best Practices for Agile Product Development
Here are some best practices that Agile teams can follow:
Clear Communication and Processes
Good communication is at the heart of any successful project. This means between team members, between the team and the product owner, and between the product owner and project sponsor.
Clear documentation can be a huge help with this, and to that end, we’re sharing a couple of templates that we use:
- Project Status Report – This is filled out at the end of every sprint so that everyone is on the same page.
- Change Request Template – ALL change requests should be documented. Teams need to be able to assess how any changes will impact the overall timeline and/or cost, while Product Owners need to be able to prioritize the backlog.
You should also have your Agile process clearly documented. The most efficient processes are repeatable and able to be documented and shared.
Ability to Focus
An important part of Agile projects is that you need to be able to cut through any noise and focus only on essential work.
The tools that you use to set up your project can help with this. Team members should be working on documented tasks from the backlog—if it’s not on the list, then it either requires a change request, or it’s not important right now.
Although Scrum is simple and based on repetition, its disciplined daily implementation and practice aren’t necessarily easy. It takes time for team members to understand it and be able to use it fluently. One can only say that it is being implemented successfully after feedback loops are meticulously established.
Work in Small Iterations
Working from the product backlog, identify the highest priority pieces, elaborate on them, and work in small iterations. Repeat this until you achieve the desired goals.
The important thing between sprints is that teams take the opportunity to review. Is there anything that is a) working particularly well; b) could use improvement; or c) should be stopped immediately because it hinders progress?
A core part of the scrum project framework (and a huge part of its appeal), is the fact that there is a clear opportunity to review, make improvements, and iterate for the better. This leads to higher quality products and better team efficiency.
Be Realistic about Sprint Timing
A criticism of Agile has been that it can lead to rushed testing cycles. This can happen if teams are so focused on meeting a timeline, that they miss simple aspects of testing in the rush.
It is critical that time is managed well and managed realistically. Typical sprints tend to be between two weeks and one month. If you are rushing to complete a task for a sprint period, perhaps your sprint timing is too short, or the task needs to be further broken down into management chunks. Don’t neglect to test!
Agile development is increasingly popular across a broad range of industries. It allows for rapid deployment, flexibility, and strong communication between software developers and project owners.
At Koombea, we favor the Scrum framework of Agile methodology. Thanks to our experience developing 1000+ projects successfully, we have developed our own variation of the methodology. We find that it helps to streamline our processes and keep quality development as a focus. By their very nature, Agile projects are a collaborative endeavor, allowing for the best contributions from all involved.