What to look for in an Agile Project Management tool

In a world, where everything is changing more rapidly than at any time in history, projects need to be flexible, responsive, and tolerant of change. This is why Agile Project Management approaches are increasing in popularity.

Agile Project management methodologies turn traditional project management approaches on their head. Where traditional projects build tolerance into the project’s time and budget, Agile projects build tolerance and flexibility into the project’s scope. This is done by prioritising the deliverables in the project, so there is clarity upfront about what the project must deliver in order to be considered a success. Tolerance is then built into the scope of the project instead of the time and budget through this prioritisation process.

There are perceptions that Agile projects have less control and accountability. I have even heard Agile projects described as a free-for-all. A well run Agile project, using a structured methodology like the Agile Business Consortium‘s AgilePM® are dependant on trust, transparency and communication. I always argue that when done right, Agile projects are more accountable and have finer levels of control than traditional projects.

Agile projects allow for greater flexibility and can proceed faster than traditional projects. Agile teams collaborate and communicate easily and frequently to ensure that the project stays on track. Agile projects rely on constant feedback within the team, including the customer who participates in the development the evolving product. Agile teams clearly understand their goals, and are empowered to define their roadmap for aachieving these.
Advantages of Agile for Project Management.

Agile project allow for and encourage part deployment of the evolving solution, and this allows customers to realise value sooner. Incremental development and testing practices, again with collaboration and customer participation, helps teams to detect issues and defects faster, reduce waste and respond rapidly to changes.

When we consider all of the above, any tools used to support Agile projects and their management must support the values and culture of Agile.

When considering a project management tool to support Agile projects, my advice is to look for a tool that supports:

  • Collaboration
    In an Agile project environment collaboration and communication are essential. In 2020, as a result of the SARS-COV-2 pandemic, many Agile teams are unable to work in the same physical space, which has always been a strong recommendation for Agile teams. It is essential then, that Agile teams use effective communication and collaboration tools, if these features are part of your project management tool even better.
  • Task Management
    Projects, Agile or traditional, are built around planning and following through on tasks. Agile projects rely heavily on visibility. Task assignment, bottlenecks and progress should be clearly visible to the team members, team leaders and project manager at all times. An important feature of any Agile project management tool is that it supports Kanban boards, team boards, or scrum boards. A tool that provides you with workflow automation can assist greatly with both task and backlog management.
  • Backlog management
    Hand-in-hand with task management is backlog management, a good tool will provide features for capturing, labelling, prioritising and reprioritising, and assigning user stories. A top-quality project management tool will add user story mapping and estimation functionality to these basic backlog management features. Together with managing the backlog, can your tool help you to consider dependencies and critical paths?
  • Dashboards
    Critical to the success of Agile projects is transparency and visibility. Choose a tool that at a minimum supports common charts like a burndown chart or velocity chart to help you track progress. Financial reporting, performance evaluation and progress reports are features that make visibility and the management of Agile projects easier. Gantt charts, important in traditional approaches can be useful in Agile approaches too.
  • Scalability
    Every project is unique, and you want a tool that can be used for every project, so a tool that can adapt to the size, nature and complexity of different projects is important.
  • Integration
    A feature that I look for in all tools, whether for project management or anything else, is integration. Does the tool integrate with any other tools that you already use for reporting, communication or charting?

Many of the tools marketed for Agile Project Management are specifically designed for Agile Software Development projects. If you are using Agile methodologies for other projects be sure to be aware of this when shopping around for project management tools. If you have been using a well respected project management tool for many years for your traditional / waterfall projects, many of these have had facelifts or complete overhauls and the latest versions may well have features that support Agile projects, so there may be no need to re-invent the wheel.

For information on our accredited AgilePM training courses take a look here.

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