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Agile project management

Monday, January 26th, 2015 by Servage

iterationYou have probably heard about various project management methods. Maybe you are even using project management actively. However, many hobby projects and smaller projects in organizations and businesses are not using any real project management, and are just developed as needed with some more or less vague schedule and feature plan. No matter  what the intention in a project is, it can always benefit from proper project management. The details and implementation can be adapted to the given scenario, but some kind of planning will definitely help improve the process – both for amateur hobby developers and serious business investments in IT projects.

Agile is modern

The agile project management method has gained high popularity among IT developers and startups because of its high flexibility making it very suitable for such environments. Agile does not really dictate strict processes and workflows, but provides an overall set of principles and iterations to follow. It is more a concept than a plan, thus making it highly adaptable to your needs.

Agile projects are divided into different phases, which provide a strong framework for your project thinking. This is especially useful for small teams, but also benefits individuals or larger ones. However, especially larger teams may choose to break into several smaller agile teams. Individuals can skip the collaboration parts, while sticking to the conceptual iterations and planning principles.

Vision, roadmap and release planning

It is important that you have a clear vision for your project, so you know where you want to be going. Think of the vision as the thing you want to accomplish in the long run. Where do you see the project in some years from now?

The roadmap is your draft of ideas, marking up the longer term path you wish to follow in order to achieve the vision over time. Hence the roadmap consists of concrete features you want to develop.

Releases are planned as groups of features from the roadmap, which make sense to be released together. Releases also mark an important milestone for strategic and marketing purposes, making it sometimes crucial to be able to perform a release at a specific point in time.

Notice how all three elements are fluent and constantly evolving as you move ahead with your project. You will probably never reach the end goal of your vision, because you will change it as you move closer to it. The roadmaps and release plans will simply follow to constantly provide long and medium term schedules to follow the ever evolving vision.

Sprints and stories

Releases consist of product features you want to publish to your users. In order to get them built, you work in so called sprints. The sprints are a given timeframe suitable for your team (for example one or two weeks) in which you develop specific small parts of the release. Those small parts are called stories, and should resemble a little compartmentalized block of the feature. E.g. “The user should be able to request a new password when the old is forgotten” is a story that triggers the development of a couple of closely related functions. This one and a series of other stories are then placed in the same sprint, where developers focus on these small and comprehensible parts.

The advantage of small stories in short-term sprints is that developers can focus on what is pertinent right now, while the release plan and roadmap keep the entire project on track in the longer term.

The advantage of sprints is that you mark preset time-lengths in which you can place development tasks (the stories) and make estimates for completion. Over time you will increase your precision for estimates, and by pre-planning stories, sprints and releases, you will get a fairly good medium term development plan – which satisfies managers. At the same time the agile method allows for late changes of stories and their allocation in the sprints, so you maintain a high flexibility for late decisions and new or changed ideas.

References & more reading


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