APM - Agile Project Management
Developed by Jackie Li
Agile project management (APM) first appeared in 1991 in the form of agile manufacturing. However it was not until 2001, when the Agile Manifesto was developed, that the agile approach became increasingly popular. The Agile Manifesto originated in the software industry, where it quickly became widespread due to Man’s entrance into the computer age.
In general, agile project management can be of great use in projects where the solution is not obvious, where the surroundings are ever changing and where the project plan itself can risk being changed due to unforeseen circumstances. Additionally, the customer’s demands on the product might change as well as the project manager’s access to resources and personnel. All these uncertain parameters give rise to new requirements to the manager’s qualifications in order to maneuver through the project landscape. The APM theory gives the project manager a set of new tool to deal with these challenges, as the essence of APM is to be able to adapt and work efficiently in an ever-changing environment. It can be summarized in the Agile Manifesto below: 
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
One of the cornerstones in the agile approach is the ability to adapt to any given situation, embrace changes and make the best out of them. The following principles of APM should therefore only act as a general guideline to draw inspiration from. Depending on the situation, various tools within the APM framework may be drawn out for usage. The overall theme of the 7 principles  is to focus on value creating activities for the sake of the customers/users, who are paying for the project, and to minimize any nuisances or disturbances in the project like bureaucracy or incompetent team members. It also advises the project manager to make use of direct forms of communication in regards to both the developers and the consumers to draw mutual inspiration and insight from one another. Finally it urges the project leader to optimize the use of all available resources and empower the project team as much as possible in order to have a smooth and fast running project.
Regarding the Product
1. Value & Quality – End product has to add value to the customer and be of excellent quality, thereby positioning both the company and the customer in a more favorable position than prior to the project.
2. Timeliness – The delivery and commissioning of the products must be in accordance to the customer’s needs. Whenever and whereever. Regarding the process:
Regarding the Process
3. Direction and Vision – The vision of the project must continuously guide the directing of the project. New circumstances or discoveries may change the vision and thus the direction must change accordingly.
4. Communication and collaboration – The end users/consumers must continuously be a part of the work process. Getting a steady stream of feedback and elaborations on wishes and demands make for a better product. Keeping in mind who the product is for and collaborating with them is crucial for the success of the project.
5. Flow and pace – The projects must deliver fast and often, thus the project should ideally consist of many small iterations (milestones). If the project at some point gets too complicated and complex, it has to be restructured and simplified. The idea is to create a workflow of high intensity and continuity.
6. Competent and empowered team – The project team must ideally consist of competent people who have been empowered to make as many decisions as possible. This allows for fast decision-making and keeps up the workflow. However, it requires a high level of trust from the executive management level.
7. Simplify – It is essential to simplify all work and decision processes and consequently avoiding all non-value creating activities. Additionally, any sort of communication should be simple and direct be it face-to-face conversations, telephone conferences or short meetings. Finally all project specifications, results, plans and status must be simple, up to date and visible for all project members.
In order to help the project manager uphold the principles of APM, many tools have been developed. This section will describe some of the most commonly used tools and techniques currently used in APM. The techniques in focus are the Daily Standup Meetings (SCRUM meetings), Consensus Building and Timeboxing. Other tools such as backlogging, velocity measurements and story points have not been included in this article. However, further inquiry into APM tools can be found in “PMI: Agile Certified Practitioner”.
Daily Standup Meeting: This tool is positively the easiest and most commonly used tool in APM. The Daily Standup Meeting is a brief 15 minutes status report meeting at the beginning of each day. The framework of the meeting is very simple. Every single project team member answers the same 3 questions:
- What did I do yesterday?
- What will I do today?
- Are there any obstacles in my way and what do I need in order to overcome these obstacles?
Consensus building: Coming to an agreement when making decisions is important throughout the project. In other words, aligning expectations and including all project members in this continuous process. The result is a more committed, engaging and hardworking team, because they feel a sense of ownership. However, consensus building must not over shadow the principle on “flow and pace”. There are countless tools that the project manager can make use of to teach the team to quicker and better decisions. The book “Coaching Agile Teams” explores many of these tools and techniques.
Timeboxing: The practice of timeboxing is a tool for the project team to divide the work of the whole project into smaller boxes with a fixed length. Each box/iteration normally takes 3-4 weeks to complete depending on the type of project. It is important that timeboxing is done correctly in order for the project to run at a steady pace, because any unfinished work in one iteration will automatically be stacked on top of the next iteration, thus causing unnecessary stress. However, there are also benefits from using this approach. Due to the limited time frames of each iteration, it causes an increase in productivity and gives the team a sense of completion after each iteration, consequently making the whole project seem more manageable.
The APM model is designed to optimize execution and delivery for any given project. There are various APM models depending on the branch of APM and the type of project in focus. The following is a generalized model that consists of 5 project phases: Vision, Back-logging, Development, Adaptation and Finishing. Even though the figure does not show Vision in a loop, it is indeed advised to continuously revise the Vision following the third principle of APM on “Direction and Vision”  .
Vision phase: In this phase the project team focuses their energy on discussing and establishing the overall vision for the end product, followed by a rough sketch on who needs to be involved, group dynamics and deliverables.
Back-logging phase: This phase focuses on defining the content of the back-log, which in essence is the work that needs to be done. Hereafter, it divides the work into small parts of equal workload and establishes a sprint plan.
Development phase: This phase kicks off the project for the entire project team. Responsibilities are delegated in order to create a self-organizing team consisting of active, responsible and empowered workers, who are able to perform optimally. It is also in this phases that the project manager has to continuously manage all the stakeholders, which includes both the executive managers as well as customers, legislation and all other important stakeholders surrounding the project. In order to complete a successful project, it is crucial to constantly align expectation, especially with the executive management level.
Adaptation phase: The results from the exploration phase are revised and analyzed from various angles. Adjustments may occur as a result of the analysis and will be implemented in the next speculation phase. This loop consisting of speculation, development and adaptation will continuously improve the scope and the quality of the product.
Finishing phase: When all the building blocks from each iteration/sprint are done, the final product can be put together and delivered to the customer. It is also in this phase that reflections on the project are made in order to continuously improve the process for future projects.
An implementation of APM is possible in almost any type of project or in any business branch due to the flexible nature of the methodology. The essence of agile project management is much like a stream of crystal clear water running effortlessly through the landscape. The stream does not try to force its way over high hills or deep mountains. It flows around obstacles in its path, constantly adapting to its surroundings. It’s a force of nature. Nothing can stop it from reaching its destination.
Even though APM can be applied almost anywhere, it might not always be beneficial. For projects with high complexity and high level of uncertainty it does indeed make sense to implement the APM approach. However, for low complexity and low uncertainty project, like type house building or franchising projects, a traditional project management approach is most likely to have an equally successful outcome. Figure 2 depicts the results from a worldwide survey conducted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The graph shows 856 participating companies, who all use APM, divided into 17 industry sectors. The software industry is topping the list with almost 170 companies. On the other hand the food production industry is at the bottom of the list with merely 10 companies using APM. This leads to an important conclusion that can be drawn from the survey. It shows that industries with higher degrees of creativity and freedom are more prone to implement APM, while companies with lots of manual labor or who are restricted by heavy legislation rely more on the traditional project management methods.
Successful Case: Mobile Pay
An example of a successful implementation of agile project management is the Danish app called Mobile Pay, which is an application for mobile payments produced by Danske Bank in 2013. The project that ultimately led to the application was started merely 6 months prior to its release date. It happened as a result of Danske Bank’s exit from the sector wide collaboration on a mobile payment app, because Danske Bank believed that they could make a much better product by themself. This was unheard of because it was an unwritten rule for the industry to collaborate on all infrastructural projects – mobile payment being under that category.
As previously stated, the project team had only 6 short months to make a brand new, functioning mobile payment application. Reason being that they wanted to launch Mobile Pay before the industry launched their product, thus giving Danske Bank a head start.
The project manager on Mobile Pay, Rasmus Søren Korsgaard, applied the agile approach on the project and thereby got all the benefits from APM. However, the standard agile approach alone was not enough to ensure the success of the project. When asked about it Korsgaard mentioned the 3 principles that he lived by, to have a chance at making it in time for the extremely short deadline.
Do it today: Do not wait and do not let other people wait. Time was of the essence so everything had to happen double time. Instead of doing the meeting tomorrow, it should be done right there on the spot whether it was in the coffee machine, the parking lot or the men’s room.
Empowerment and trust: On high profile projects with short running time, it is crucial to demand empowerment from the top level of the organization. Otherwise too much time will be spent bureaucratic and non-value creating activities. Furthermore, the project manager should empower the team member enabling them to make decisions on the spot if necessary. Trust is what it is all about.
Optimistic sprints: If the project manager sets up optimistic, but not impossible, deadlines then he/she discreetly urges the team to try harder, because it does not seem out of reach to finish the sprints in times.
The results for Mobile Pay speak for themselves. Presently, there are more than 1.3 million registered users of the application in Denmark with more than 700.000 not being customers of Danske Bank. In other words, they have somewhat captured almost three quarters of a million customers from their competitors. Another benefit from exiting the industry wide collaboration is that Mobile Pay is owned solely by Danske Bank. This is that the application can easily be launched in any country, where Danske Bank is present.
This incredible outcome is not all thanks an intelligent project manager or APM for that matter. It is a result of the next stage of agile project management. Even if it was only for a brief moment in time, Danske Bank ascended into being an agile organization that can adapt to its surroundings and make the most of any situation and where empowerment and trust is given it its employers.
For further information about Mobile Pay please read “Case Study of Mobile Pay” from the DTU directory.
- ↑ Fowler, Highsmith et. al. The Agile Manifesto. Software Development, 2001.
- ↑ Riis & Ove 2008 – Adræt projektledelse
- ↑ Beedle & Schwaber. Agile Software Development with Scrum 1. Edition
- ↑ Beedle & Schwaber. Agile Software Development with Scrum 1. Edition
- ↑ Conforto et. Rebentisch. The Building Blocks of Agility as a Team Competence. 2014