Agile Project Management: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?
Written by Coursera • Updated on
Read about the history of Agile project management, its benefits, potential challenges, principles, and methodologies to learn how to become an Agile project manager.
Agile project management is often used in software development that focuses on collaboration and constantly improving a product or service. This methodology was used for software development as early as the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 2001 that a group of software developers published the Agile Manifesto, which established the 12 principles and four values of Agile.
Agile isn’t only meant for software developers, though; it applies in other fields such as marketing, HR, and finance. The Project Management Institute reports an increased demand for Agile project management across industries, with a median salary of $78,279 for a project manager with less than three years of experience and $138,000 with 20 or more years of experience. 
What is Agile project management?
Agile is a project management approach that uses short cycles, or sprints, to develop a product or service. In Agile, the team plays a large role. The project’s tasks or conditions often change, and the project team produces more frequent deliverables. The Agile method moves more fluidly and quickly than other approaches to project management.
Agile project management principles
Agile promotes 12 principles. These principles show the importance of customer collaboration and responsiveness to change, or agility :
1. “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
2. “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
3. “Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
4. “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. Build projects around motivated individuals.
5. “Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
6. “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
7. “Working software is the primary measure of progress.
8. “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
9. “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
10. “Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
11. “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
12. “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
Agile also has four values:
Emphasis on the importance of individuals and interactions rather than processes and tools
Valuing working software over documentation
Valuing collaboration with the customer instead of contract negotiations
Responding to change rather than sticking to a plan
Who is part of an Agile project management team?
The roles on the team depend on which methodology is used, which include Scrum, Kanban, Crystal, XP, Lean, and others. The project or program manager is a key figure on an Agile project management team. Scrum roles are Scrum Master, product owner (or product manager), and the development team, for example.
The Agile method emphasizes face-to-face communication, so many teams work in one location, though some organizations have a remote workplace with team members in various locations. Agile teams should contain motivated individuals with the resources needed to fulfill their roles. The roles within the team depend on which Agile methodology an organization uses.
Common Agile project management methodologies
Agile teams benefit from using one workflow. Some Agile teams use Scrum, while others prefer Kanban, Lean, or other methods. Some teams combine Agile with the Waterfall approach, which means they may use a traditional workflow for stakeholders, but the team uses a Scrum approach for its work.
Scrum is a framework for developing, delivering, and sustaining complex projects. Scrum, which got its name from rugby teams in training, emphasizes cross-functional teams who are self-organizing and open-minded. Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland developed Scrum in the 1990s and wrote the Scrum Guide to help others use this project management framework.
The theory behind Scrum is leanness and empiricism: the idea that true knowledge comes from actual, lived experience. The five values of Scrum are commitment to achieving goals, courage, focus, openness, and respect.
Scrum requires the roles of Scrum Master, product owner, and the development team. A Scrum Master is the person on the team who helps everyone understand and implement Scrum, and the person is responsible for the Scrum team’s effectiveness. The Scrum Master:
Coaches the team on self-management
Helps the organization implement Scrum
Helps team members remove impediments
Facilitates communication with stakeholders
Makes sure meetings are productive and positive
Supports the product owner in efficiently maintaining the product backlog
Helps teams focus on completing high-quality project outcomes
Read more: What Is a Scrum Master (and How Do I Become One)?
The product owner maintains the product backlog, which is the living document that contains a prioritized list of features for the product or service. It lists the value, order, description, and estimate of effort for each item. The product owner will refine the backlog regularly so that the Scrum team can work effectively.
Kanban is another framework used in Agile and DevOps software development. Kanban emphasizes transparent visual feedback, real-time communication, and maximized efficiency. Work tasks are shown on a Kanban board, which is created using project management software such as Jira. Each column on the Kanban board represents the phases or steps tasks must pass through from to-do to completion. Each task or item on a Kanban board is represented on its own card that shows its critical information, including possible screenshots. Kanban templates allow users to customize their dashboards and have views such as a flow diagram, charts, and other reports.
Toyota began using the Kanban method in the 1930s in its car factories, and today it can be applied to any industry. Software teams use the same principles to match the work in progress (WIP) to the team’s capacity.
Lean is a collection of tools that help teams improve their processes. In Lean, the goal is to cut out waste and inefficiency. According to the Project Management Institute, the difference between Lean and Agile is that Lean has more structure: “Lean’s focus on continuous process improvement, based on an analytical systems and process analysis of performance adds significant value to the generally more informal, single project focused intuitive approach of Agile” .
Benefits of Agile project management
Agile is useful because it applies to nearly every industry. Agile helps organizations work more efficiently by streamlining processes. There are many benefits to Agile project management methodologies.
Pros and cons
Agile project management allows for continuous improvement, and the process is flexible and adaptive. Incorporating feedback throughout the process means software customers, for example, won’t have to wait until the end of a project to see the results—reducing the likelihood they won’t like the features. Agile also helps reduce waste and inefficiencies and problems are often caught early.
One downside to Agile project management is that if team members such as the Scrum Master don’t effectively perform their roles, the project could veer off track, causing delays or other risks. It’s also crucial for teams to work together without conflicts in all Agile project management methodologies. Mistakes like being too aggressive with the workload, resisting compromise, not connecting emotionally with team members, or making assumptions are also threats to the Agile team.
Hear more about some of the benefits of Agile from a technical program manager at Google:
Agile gives you built in opportunities to make changes.
Agile Project Management
Course 5 of 6 in the Google Project Management Professional Certificate
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How to become an Agile project manager
You can become an Agile project manager through various paths. These include obtaining a bachelor’s degree, gaining professional experience at a workplace, completing a master’s degree, or pursuing certifications.
Earn a bachelor’s degree.
Many Agile project management jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher. While some universities have specialized degrees in project management, many students choose to study business or fields such as construction management, software engineering, information technology, marketing, health care administration, and other specialized fields.
Gain professional experience.
Another way to get your foot in the door is to work as part of an Agile project management development team, whether through an internship or entry-level job. Exploring various work environments through internships lets you see which fields you want to enter in the future.
Consider earning a master’s degree.
A Master of Science in Agile Project Management (MS/APM) helps position you for leadership roles in the future. It can also help you stand out in the job candidate field. Another option for a related degree is an MBA. An MBA program prepares you for the Project Management Professional (PMP) and Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA) exams. Master’s programs in the fields you want to work in are also beneficial, whether that’s marketing, health care, or any other industry.
Organizations like the Project Management Institute (PMI), APMG International, the International Consortium for Agile, and Scaled Agile Academy offer certifications and credentials for Agile project management. Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) is the certification program from the PMI.
Ready to become an Agile project manager? Start with one of the paths listed above. As you do, explore the many courses, Guided Projects, Professional Certificates, Specializations, and other products on Agile on Coursera.
For example, the Google Project Management Professional Certificate can help lay the foundation for a successful career in Agile project management. It contains six courses, including Agile Project Management.
Google Project Management:
Start your path to a career in project management. In this program, you’ll learn in-demand skills that will have you job-ready in less than six months. No degree or experience is required.
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Average time: 6 month(s)
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Skills you'll build:
Organizational Culture, Career Development, Strategic Thinking, Change Management, Project Management, Stakeholder Management, Business Writing, Project Charter, Project Planning, Risk Management, Task Estimation, Procurement, Quality Management, Project Execution, Coaching, Influencing, Agile Management, Problem Solving, Scrum, Effective Communication
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