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With the demand for certified project management skyrocketing (and good talent hard to come by), it’s time to talk about an important part of project management; Agile.

While the Agile methodology is no newcomer in the IT world, it’s only now that it’s been officially incorporated into the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam. For all those hoping to join the ranks of the PMP-certified, understanding Agile is a part of your ticket in.

Without further ado, here’s the what, why, and how of Agile project management along with other changes to the PMP exam you need to know to pass with flying colors.

What is Agile Project Management?

Agile Project MethodologyThe Agile movement focuses on building and responding effectively to a changing environment. It was originally created by software developers in search of “continuous delivery”, or the ability to address a variety of changes, while sustainably delivering products to customers.

In the early 1990’s, software infrastructure lagged behind big business’ needs by an estimated three years. On top of that, customer needs and market demands changed so rapidly that many projects were canceled because they could not keep up—even if the project achieved its original goals. The system was a lose-lose for everyone.

All that started to change in 2001 when the Agile Manifesto was published. It formally introduced its 12 key principles to take on infrastructure challenges. Jim Highsmith, co-founder of the Agile Alliance and co-author of the Agile Manifesto, explains Agile this way.

“[It’s] about delivering good products to customers by operating in an environment that does more than talk about ‘people as our most important asset’ but actually ‘acts’ as if people were the most important and lose the word ‘asset’.”

-Jim Highsmith

Why Do We Need Agile Project Management?

A traditional element of project management is to gather the entire project team to discuss the full project goals and all changes throughout each phase. This can be extremely time-consuming.

To save time, Agile Project Management uses focused groups that meet more frequently and discuss very specific project goals. This facilitates rapid change implementation, ensuring teams can meet customer demands.

As Highsmith puts it, “Agile organizations view change as an opportunity, not a threat.” This is because change does not derail Agile projects, just refocuses, to meet customer needs.

Other advantages of Agile:

  • Improved teamwork and feedback
  • Emphasis on specific customer needs
  • Reduces waste by minimizing resource consumption
  • Rapid defect detection

Let’s use the plot of Disney’s, A Bug’s Life as an example. An ant colony has the annual project of collecting food for themselves and their neighbors, a group of tyrannical grasshoppers. The ants divided their island into sections and distributed the work. The project was near completion when Flik, an overzealous inventor, decided to use one of his gadgets to speed up the process.

Pictured: The face of project management gone very, very wrong.

Unfortunately for Flik and his colony, his attempt backfires and inadvertently sabotages the whole project. The angry grasshoppers demanded double the food by threatening their annihilation. While the rest of the colony regroups and formally re-starts the project, Flik gathers a smaller, specialized team of circus misfits who collaborate and creatively overcome the obstacles!

Although modern project teams do not work under such life-threatening (or grasshopper-heavy) situations, this analogy highlights what an Agile way of thinking can bring to the table. In this scenario, the ant colony is comprised of a leader (project manager), the worker ants (project team members), and an accident which delays the project (unforeseen environmental factors).

Flik is an example of an internal factor—a team member’s mistake delaying a project. The lack of food on the island is an external factor based on raw resources and our pesky grasshoppers are an example of market demand changes.

  • Project ManagementElements of Traditional Project Management in A Bug’s Life
    • Project Manager: Sole leader
      • I.e. Queen Ant
    • Project Team Members: Individuals involved in project
      • I.e. Worker Ants
    • Unforeseen Environmental Factor: A problem in the current environment that causes a delay in a project
      • I.e. Flik knocking over/destroying the food stores with his invention
        • Internal Factor: A problem with the project management group that causes a delay in the group
          • I.e. Flik
        • External Factor: A problem coming from outside the project management group that causes delays
          • I.e. Lack of food on the island
    • Market Demand Changes: A change within a project that is necessitated by changes within the market
      • I.e. Grasshoppers demanding food from the ants

Pictured: An amazing Agile project management team!

Where Agile comes in is through the circus bugs in the movie. Unlike the longer, more formal project where one person has defined a plan and goals, the smaller, more specialized team tries a number of ideas through the sprint method of plan, design, build, test, and review.

For example, let’s take the idea of defeating the grasshoppers (the clear goal of all of these projects) by constructing a giant, fake bird. It’s worth noting that this idea is quickly put into production after the previous idea of, “pretending the circus bugs are fierce warriors,” fails. That will happen sometimes in project management and that’s okay!

  • Elements of Agile Project Management in A Bug’s Life
    • Plan: We need to raise enough food to survive the winter and get the grasshoppers off our back. Let’s build a giant bird.
    • Design: Flik and a small group of others create blueprints, schematics, and design ideas for how to make the bird look, sound, and act real.
    • Build: Other groups gather materials and create individual parts of bird (wings, voice, etc.).
    • Test: The grasshoppers come and the ants swoop down upon them with their giant, fake bird.
    • Review: Long-story short, the head grasshopper gets eaten by a real bird thereby eliminating the need for gathering extra food. What success!

 

The smaller, more specialized team was able to meet the overall goal of protecting the colony’s food in a time-sensitive, effective way. Agile thinking helps teams resolve project issues through sprint sessions and focused thinking rather than regrouping the whole team.

It is important to note that Agile is not an all-or-nothing approach. Many teams have found a mix of Agile and traditional processes to work best for their teams—what matters overall is project successes.

Agile in Action: Saving Money and Time

Worldwide surveys reflect Agile’s staggering success. This is what practitioners are saying:

  • 98% of respondents have seen success through Agile projects
  • 88% deem the ability to manage changing priorities as a significant benefit to Agile
  • 81% cited project delivery time as their main reason incorporate Agile practices
  • 74% of respondent’s state that Agile methods reduce project risk

The numbers speak for themselves, but agile management is not a fit for every project. With its less formal structure, Agile may not be suited for more traditional organizations with less flexible stakeholders. The other drawback is that, throughout the development process, Agile favors project teams, customer needs, and developers, but can neglect the end-user experience.

Practitioners Have Spoken

Agile has officially shown up in the PMBOK Guide, a globally recognized standard that provides a roadmap for the project management profession. The guide continuously evolves as practitioners’ steer and direct its content towards best practices, tools, and techniques to enhance project efficiency.

PMP Agile Exam Guide

Agile’s integration into project management is not new, but its techniques had not been incorporated into key knowledge areas until now. Changes include:

  1. Each knowledge area will feature new sections, detailing:
    1. Agile and Iterative Adaptive Environments
    2. Tailoring Considerations
    3. Trends and Emerging Practice
    4. Key Concepts
  2. Knowledge areas have been renamed:
    1. Schedule Management (previously Time Management)
    2. Resource Management (previously Human Resource Management)
  3. A new chapter on the role of a PM with emphasis on effective leadership

PMI also states that the PMP exam will be changed to compliment the new standards of the PMBOK Guide. That means:

  • Exam topics and percentage will remain the same
  • There will be no edits to the PMP exam content outline
  • Anyone taking the exam prior to March 26, 2018, will be tested using the old standards

Prepare for the PMP Exam with an Expert

Agile Project Management & PMP Exam PrepFrom this overview, it’s clear that knowing a little background on Agile will help you as you dive into your prep class and study for the exam. If you’re interested in getting a certification that’s in high-demand and adds a lot to an organization, the PMP certification can get you there.

Looking to increase your chances of success with PMP? LeaderQuest can help. With our classes available online or on campus and during the day or night, we’re able to fit your schedule and help you get the training you need to pass the PMP exam and certification process.

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