What is Agile Project Planning? An Introduction for Beginners

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While agile is relatively new, it has made a big splash in the work of project management. It started in software development, but has since been adopted by other industries that have seen the benefit of agile’s iterative approach.

Those that use an agile project management framework don’t like to consider it a methodology, though some argue it is. Agile is more of an approach, and could almost be defined as a philosophy. Today we’re going to sidestep the philosophical, though, and instead focus on agile planning in project management, and specifically, creating an agile project plan.

What Is Agile Project Management?

The agile methodology is iterative, adaptive approach to managing a project that has an emphasis on rapid change and flexibility. The reason for this flexibility is to deliver value to the customer faster. A team practicing agile works incrementally, continuously evaluates the requirements and results, and responds quickly to any changes that come up.

Agile also focuses on collaboration and keeping lines of communication open. There must be trust among the agile team, and an embrace of change. There is still a person who prioritizes tasks (usually known as the product owner), but the agile team themselves determine how to do the project planning and get the work done. Yes—agile has self-organizing teams that direct their own work!

This approach goes back to the development of the Agile Manifesto, which was written by seventeen software developers who found consensus around twelve principles. The length of interactions, or the size of teams, isn’t defined. It’s more about adhering to the stated values, which you can execute with scrum, hybrid methodology and more.

Related: Agile vs Waterfall and the Rise of Hybrid Projects

What is Agile Planning?

However you choose to implement the agile principles, there is one thing all approaches have in common: an agile plan. Agile work takes place during short periods of time that are called agile sprints. A sprint is usually between one and three weeks, and the team uses this time to complete deliverables.

A screenshot of the kanban board in ProjectManager

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There are certain characteristics of agile planning that deserve mention to get a full idea of what the agile planning process entails:

  • First, there is the release. This is the product that an agile team works on.
  • The release plan is broken down into sprints, with each sprint dictating a specific set of tasks to be completed.
  • These tasks are called user stories.
  • You then build a plan from these user stories, which describe the needs of the end-user.
  • Then, the team works together to figure out the best way to address these user stories.

The sprint is the building block of agile planning. Agile sprints to be the same length in duration and are repeated, ending with a working feature that can be rolled out to the end-user. Due to the iterative nature of a sprint, a team will, over time, be able to better estimate how long user stories will take.

Why Planning Still Matters in the Agile Methodology

Agile planning gives an agile team a clear picture of the goals of their project. This supports the collaborative nature of agile, because everyone is on the same page. Agile plans are not obsolete and anachronistic, they define the work and help the team make decisions based on facts.

Project plans are an organization technique, and agile requires organization—albeit, much less than a project planned in waterfall. This might be why some are quick to dismiss planning when working in an agile project management framework. But that’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Agile planning is based on sprints and user stories, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the big picture.

How to Make an Agile Project Plan

A team develops an agile project plan as the product owner describes the goals for the release, which are typically to improve the end-user experience and resolve problems. Once this has been defined, the next step is to get the team together and discuss desired features.

This leads to another discussion about the details for each of those features, and what might impact their delivery. The team also identifies any risk that might negatively impact the project, as well as task dependencies. The features that are riskiest and have the most value to the end-user are usually completed first.

Step-By-Step Guide to Creating an Agile Project Plan

Now you’re ready to create a plan:

  1. Begin with a retrospective meeting. A retrospective meeting is where you discuss the previous sprint to learn from what went right and what went wrong.
  2. Run a sprint planning meeting. A sprint planning meeting looks at the release and any updates that have occurred, such as changes to priority, new features, etc.
  3. Create user stories: Detail the user stories as much as possible so that they are well-defined.
  4. Create deliverables: Break the user story down into tasks that are usually not more than a day in duration.
  5. Delegate responsibility: Assign tasks to team members and assign ownership to make sure they’re committed to executing them.
  6. Create a workflow: Put the tasks on a board, either a card on a physical board or with project management software tools, such as kanban boards.
  7. Track progress: Use the board to track the progress of the sprint as the tasks move from one stage of the production cycle to the next.
  8. Use a burndown chart: Create a burndown chart to show the number of tasks or hours left.

Agile Project Planning Terms

Here are some important agile concepts that you’ll need to know to create and execute your agile project plan:

  • Product Backlog: In agile project management, a product backlog is a list of deliverables that derive from the product roadmap and its requirements. Things like new product features, bug fixes or any changes are backlog items that should be documented here.
  • Product owner: The product owner is the member of the agile team who’s responsible for defining user stories and prioritizing the product backlog.
  • User stories: It’s a small task within an agile plan. They’re called user stories because they’re product features described from the end-user perspective.
  • Burndown chart: A burndown chart is used to show the amount of work that has been completed in an agile sprint and the number of tasks or hours left.
  • Burn rate: In agile project management, the burn rate is a metric used to measure the efficiency of an agile team. It measures the relationship between the completion of user stories and the time spent on them.
  • Team velocity: The velocity is the broader performance metric that measures the amount of work a team can get done during a sprint.
  • Story point estimation: This is a method used to measure agile teams’ performance. A story point is a unit that is used to calculate the effort needed to complete a user story. Story points measure three factors, complexity, risk and repetition.

Now that you know the basics of agile planning, you’ll need a project management tool like ProjectManager to help you manage your agile projects.

How ProjectManager Helps With Agile Planning

To properly facilitate agile planning, you need the right tools. ProjectManager is a work management software that connects agile teams and helps them run better sprints and speed up releases.

Stay Notified on Task Changes

Connecting teams so they can collaborate on their sprints is a top priority. ProjectManager lets team members work together at the task level, giving them tools to attach files, leave comments and change task status. When a task’s status changes, a notification goes out by email as well as showing up as an in-app alert.

ProjectManager.com notifications

Create Workflows on Boards

Agile teams are self-organizing, and need a tool that gives them the autonomy to work the way they want. ProjectManager’s kanban board is designed to provide that flexibility. The board view acts as a digital organizer, with cards that move from one column to the next to represent the different stages of production.

A screenshot of ProjectManager's kanban board view, displaying an IT Project

Manage Your Resources in Real-Time

In addition, ProjectManager has resource management features, reporting tools and a real-time dashboard that provide high-level views of your sprints. Unlike other tools that make you configure the dashboard, ProjectManager’s dashboard automatically calculates data on metrics such as time, cost and more.

A screenshot of ProjectManager's dashboard, displaying an IT Project

ProjectManager is award-winning software that organizes your backlog, helps plan your sprints and monitors your progress—perfect for agile planning. See what ProjectManager can do when making your next agile project. Try it free today.

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