It was apparent in the early days of IT development that working on large-scale projects without a dedicated project management model was difficult and repetitive.
Many organizations developed their native implementations that led to the creation and adaptation of traditional models such as the Waterfall, Spiral, Iterative, V-shaped, etc.
Though, they all met the needs of early development projects. However, with the advancement of computing technology, the dot-com boom, and the growing demand for software, these models struggled to adapt to the changing environment both during and after the development lifecycle of the product.
Consequently, many organizations suffered decreased shelf life of products and failed to meet customer requirements before delivery.
And then, something revolutionary happened – The Agile manifesto.
The manifesto helps to address the project management issues based on the core principles.
Today, companies can use different variations of agile models delivered by a number of tools backed by those principles.
Firstly, we recommend you go through the 12 core principles behind the agile manifesto. And then, we’ll explore the five best agile tools and methodologies that are commonly used by organizations.
1. ClickUp: New favorite project management and productivity tool
ClickUp is a cloud-based project management app made for all types and sizes of businesses. It offers every tool and feature to manage projects for clients, assign tasks and collaborate with the team in a visible way.
With ClickUp, working on agile methodologies becomes easier and more flexible. Thanks to its high customization capabilities and ease of use!
It might be a fresh tool for project managers but is quite intuitive with its design and functionalities. You can make any type of adjustments to the workspace with the available themes, colors, and drag and drop features in a few clicks.
Its main purpose is to increase employee productivity to a certain degree. Whether you’re a small business or an emerging brand, ClickUp can live up to your expectations.
- Its customizability lets agile development teams create Scrum/Kanban dashboards and use them to manage sprints, bug tracking, and view the progress of the product.
- With workflow automation, it allows developers to automate the sprint system, reduce mundane tasks and efficiently allocate resources.
- Easy for developers to integrate with tools like Github, and Bitbucket as well as sync with the communication apps such as Zoom, Slack, etc.
- ClickUp offers a wide array of features that are available only in paid plans or other tools. Therefore, it reduces the dependencies of using add-ons or other task management software.
2. Jira: Most popular agile tool among project managers
Atlassian’s Jira is undoubtedly one of the most used project management software in the IT industry. For the last two decades, Jira has been the top priority for issue tracking solutions.
And with the advent of agile methodologies, Jira has extended its functionalities beyond development teams such as HR operations, marketing, legalities, sales, etc.
HR managers can use Jira to improve their internal workflows and ease the hiring process. Sales personnel can keep track of the customer’s journey and bring effective selling strategies. Marketing teams can use it to bridge the gap between the teams, identify high-value projects and work coherently.
- Jira’s core components are bug tracking and issue management that help developers to locate the bugs and address them accordingly.
- Agile reporting helps to get real-time insights on a team’s performance with the help of sprint reports, burndown charts, version reports, cumulative flow diagrams, etc.
- Intuitive drag and drop feature to reorder the components on the backlog, for example, bugs, user stories, etc.
- Rich integration feature to boost the software’s functionality with the availability of over 3000 third-party apps.
3. Teamwork: Best agile software for individuals or small team
Teamwork was previously known as Digital Crew which was a customized web development and intranet service provider. But with the advent of team collaboration systems in the market, it expanded to agile development. And right from the beginning, it focused on offering adaptable project management solutions, especially for small groups.
Its key offerings include in-built messaging, version control, file sharing, time tracking, task management, and project budgeting. It also features capacity management that keeps track of the resources required to cater to the business needs in a cost-effective manner.
Teamwork’s intuitive UI makes it a good fit for small businesses just like how Jira’s UI fits well for large companies.
With the Kanban board, teams can plan and build products without forcing a process on anyone. Rather, it helps you create multiple boards within the project for different teams such that you can track the workflow in every team.
The best part is the bird’s-eye view that efficiently helps you use a time-tracking system to see how much time team members spent on the project.
Teamwork is undoubtedly the best affordable agile tool, especially for a very small team and even if you’re a freelancer.
- Teamwork’s dashboard design is concise and much less confusing. It uses simple terminologies for each feature.
- A clean UI that facilitates shorter paths for actions around tasks.
- You can have all your tasks and subtasks in a single project view where you can drag and drop items with ease and hide those that don’t matter.
- The time tracking feature helps the small team to deal with a large number of projects.
- Triggers let you automate the workflow such as in the case of assigning tasks to each developer or generating subtasks once the main task is done.
4. Forecast: Best AI-powered automation feature for agile projects
Forecast is yet another agile project management tool that is specifically built to automate and simplify monotonous tasks. Powered by natively-built AI, Forecast can automate project planning and scheduling and save your time on repetitive manual tasks.
The creators made this possible by training the software with 50,000 projects that allow the tool to make estimates and suggest the number of hours it should take for similar tasks. It’s easy for Admins to set permission levels for different team members and organize the backlogs of tasks.
Overall, Forecast is a fresh take on agile project management and a recommended tool for managers wanting to get more done in less time.
- Forecast’s business intelligence feature applies machine learning and is claimed to be 94% accurate when it comes to task prediction and completion time.
- Admins can set permission levels for each member of the team whether they’re developers, collaborators, or stakeholders.
- Agile teams can choose from Scrum, Kanban boards, or Extreme Programming methods that come with flexible drag and drop functionalities.
- Its native real-time reporting feature and automated learning algorithm work hand in hand to provide necessary stats that help to figure out the issues.
5. Monday.com: Best beginner-friendly agile software
Monday.com is one of those versatile tools that work equally well with individuals, organizations, and everything in between.
If you’re new to agile project management and want to get started with very basic agile methodologies, Monday.com is your go-to software.
Within a single workspace, you can easily plan your project, assign it to the teams, track the progress and collaborate with the other teams. It also features the automated transfer of jobs to the new boards saving time instead of waiting for someone to reassign them.
The intuitive and customizable interface makes it a versatile tool and extends beyond usability in the IT business.
- Easy to include Kanban, Gantt chart, calendar views, and timeline to visualize the workflow based on your preference.
- At no extra cost, Monday offers a time tracking feature that helps to identify time-consuming tasks.
- With dashboard reporting and natively-built capacity planning, managers can view real-time capacity updates that help them to allocate resources effectively.
- It’s easy to set up project boards and group them by workspace that eases navigation across multiple projects and associated teams.
Agile Project Management Techniques You Should Know
Agile project management is based on several iterative and incremental approaches. Unlike the waterfall/traditional method, agile doesn’t follow a linear path and is adaptable to any situation. Imagine two different games – Archery and Football.
Archery is a linear game with a pre-defined goal whereas football is dynamic that adapts to situations as the player proceeds toward the goal (except for the penalty kick).
Although agile is dynamic in nature, there is no one way for managers to adopt this technique. Let’s figure out the industry-best agile project management techniques one by one:
1. Kanban: A versatile agile methodology
Kanban is one of the popular agile frameworks in the IT industry. Though this technique was introduced in 2004 by David J. Anderson specifically for IT and development, it was originally created by Japanese car engineer Taiichi Ohno.
Back in the early 1940s, Ohno came up with the Just-in-time (JIT) principle to increase the car manufacturing process. He used paper cards to place into the columns for scheduling and tracking the workflow. With this technique, he found a noticeable change in managing the stocks and meeting manufacturing demands. And so the name gained popularity which means a “Signboard” in Japanese.
There is nothing different between IT and development. In the Kanban system, you can display the items as cards on the column ranging from New to Complete. You can assign tasks from the backlog, keep track of the progress, and maintain a steady workflow.
To make sure each task is being completed in time, the system imposes limits on the order of adding a number of items. These are called Work in Progress (WIP) limits.
Whenever you try imposing tasks beyond limits, the system sets interrupts so that you can finish the remaining tasks and then add items from the backlog. WIP limits also save time by avoiding too many task switching and focusing on high-priority tasks.
Kanban board is a great place to collaborate. The visual presentation of the workflow lets teams work along with agile principles and help them feel engaged, informed, and accountable.
Kanban also works well with Scrum. On one hand, Kanban allows the team to stay on track with the daily workflow with the least overhead and blocking issues. On the other, Scrum helps in sprints, managing feedback, continuous flow approach, and minimizing the chaos.
Overall, the Kanban method isn’t limited to a single-type industry and can also be used along with other agile techniques.
2. Scrum: The best technique for product development
In 1993, Jeff Sutherland, John Scumniotales, and Jeff McKenna officially introduced the Scrum method at a software development firm. However, the idea behind Scrum was inspired by an article published in 1986 by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka.
The article made an interesting analogy of product development with the game of Rugby which focuses on short passes and a fast-paced approach for better performance.
In today’s competitive marketplace, Scrum is a widely used agile methodology besides Kanban.
At its core, Scrum is all about sprints. It’s similar to the short pass approach in rugby. Managers can use the technique to break a bigger task into small parts that help the teams to work on each task within a short timeframe. Structuring the product in sprints helps them to finish the task and avoid unnecessary confusion or delay.
So how does Scrum actually work?
Firstly, the manager creates a product backlog (using the client’s ideas) in the form of the prioritized number of tasks. And the items within the task are called user stories. The teams create the sprint which iterates between one to four weeks. Then they divide the user stories into small sections and pull the user stories with higher priorities from backlog to the sprints.
Throughout the product life cycle, teams conduct sprint planning where they have short communication and figure out the bottlenecks that prevent them from achieving the sprint goals.
Once all the sprints are accomplished, the client is invited for the sprint review where the teams get feedback which is then added to the product backlog as a new user story.
The teams then conduct sprint retrospectives where they discuss what went well and what didn’t.
Now they pick the next priority from the backlog for the next sprint cycle while taking the previous feedback into account and focusing on improved product development.
Furthermore, the team creates a “Definition of Ready” which is basically a checklist that helps them define whether a user story is ready to be worked on in a sprint or not.
And then, they create a “Definition of Done” to be used at the end of the sprint cycle.
This can help them to have a shared understanding of what it needs for work to be completed.
With Scrum, many organizations experienced benefits such as higher productivity, better team dynamics, faster innovation, better product quality, faster time to market, and eventually, peace of mind for everyone associated with the product.
3. Crystal methodology: A flexible and user-centric agile framework
Not all Agile frameworks are meant to be strictly designed to follow a certain step-by-step process. Crystal methodology is one such framework that promotes an adaptive work approach, less documentation or reporting, and focuses more on people and collaboration.
The Crystal Method is the brainchild of American computer scientist Alister Cockburn who developed this framework for IBM in 1991. And the idea behind the methodology is to have a safe and human-centric work ecosystem that can be changed to suit the team’s specific needs.
Therefore, he introduced a flexible set of rules to categorize the tasks as per the risk to human life. Each category of task is broken into color groups (crystal family) so that the complexity of product development can be controllable with team growth.
In each crystal family, the main focus is on the team size, then the criticality of the task, and lastly the priority of the development cycle. As the team size grows, the policies and practices change accordingly. And so does the intensity of work, team communication, and updates.
Now let’s know about each category of the crystal family and their developmental approaches:
1. Crystal clear
- It is designed for teams of 6 people or less.
- This group is the most lightweight form of the crystal process.
- It is used in small projects with non-negotiation pricing.
- Teams don’t need to produce many artifacts or rely heavily on the processes.
- Require some documentation.
- The focus is more on project safety.
2. Crystal yellow
- It is made up of small mid-ranged teams of 7-20 people.
- Here, a clear code of ownership is defined which means that the people who own the code are the only ones who make changes.
- Feedback is collected from direct communication with real users.
- Mission statements are well defined and verified with the customers.
- Automated testing is conducted and improvement plans are set.
3. Crystal orange
- It is for medium-level projects with teams of 20-50 people.
- Here, projects are expected to last 1-2 years.
- Due to the size, teams are split up into functional skill groups.
- The release is required every 3-4 months known as increment.
Note: There is a separate version of Crystal orange for the web-based customers known as “Orange-web”. It focuses on the continuously evolving code being used by the general public and aims for the least number of defects. Though the basic ideology remains indifferent from the Crystal orange.
4. Crystal red
- It is for medium to large-scale projects with a team size of 40-80 people.
- Teams are divided up or formed as the work requires and follows a more traditional software development process.
5. Crystal maroon
- It is similar to the Crystal red but made for a team size of 80-200 people.
- It is used only for big projects.
- Methods are designed as per the needs of software and use traditional development methods.
6. Diamond and Sapphire
They are only used for large-scale projects with high criticality that involve potential risk to human life (in heavy engineering industries).
4. Extreme programming: Reliable technique to handle critical situations
In short, extreme programming (XP) means handling complex problems with extreme workflow speed. But there are underlying risks as well. So why do companies rely on such a methodology?
Before we understand the process, let’s learn about its purpose.
XP methodology was pioneered by American software engineer Kent Beck in 1996. He’s not just the creator of the XP method but also an original signer of the Agile manifesto.
During his days as an engineer, he wanted to resolve some of the flaws due to the traditional/ waterfall approach of project management. He wanted to shorten the feedback loops, bring flexibility, and adaptability to the work approach, involve all participants under a single roof, and take the humanity of the people into account.
Also, the fact that the 1990s saw the breakthrough of the internet and the credibility of object-oriented programming languages (C++, Java, Python) over procedural programming languages (C, FORTRAN, BASIC) triggered the idea of a shorter development life-cycle and were often incompatible with the traditional methods.
Consequently, this heavily influenced the companies to adopt faster development techniques to stay on par with the competition.
XP’s approach is quite fluid. You can’t predict the project requirements right from the beginning. Instead, XP has a flexible ecosystem where you can make changes as the project moves ahead on the development track.
But the XP method can’t always be applied to every other agile-based project. The method is entirely focused on the dynamic requirements of the clients – especially to meet rapidly changing needs and mitigate critical risks.
Overall, XP has a record of improving the project’s efficiency as it pushes the limits of the development lifecycle and increases the intensity of the industry’s best practices.
Therefore, project managers while applying XP methodology consider some important practices:
- Onboarding 2-12 persons: Smaller team means less time for brainstorming, and communication.
- In-house workforce: The team should be available on-site as XP may not be suitable for remote work.
- Setting adaptable yet strict time limitations: Without any deadlines, development can be slower or less efficient.
- Working on critical situations or projects with stricter deadlines: Risks can be reduced by involving all the participants and getting frequent feedback.
In extreme programming, feedback works at different levels. Keep in mind that planning is a temporary entity and you’ll need to recreate them as frequently as you receive fresh client insights.
Here, you can see there are different levels of feedback loops in a project’s development lifecycle and each of them changes at a certain period of time. And each level defines the core principle of XP methodology.
Don’t build up piles of unreleased codes that may otherwise require too much regression and integration efforts. Instead, release value to the clients and get feedback as frequently and as early as possible.
Identify the issues continue to reduce the inefficiency by refactoring the code and maintaining the standards.
Before the team code anything, create automated client acceptance and unit tests. Then write enough code, run it and refactor as long as it shows an error. Therefore, before you claim a successful project, keep testing your finished product.
Try using analogies while explaining the project goals (say, this development process is like a game) that can easily relate to everyone’s experience and understanding. Such meetings can spur the teams on for productive discussions.
Any member of the team can be open to tinkering with another’s code by taking responsibility, ownership, and accountability into consideration. Both the developers become confident in each other’s skills which improves the quality of the code.
More tests mean more chances to identify any issues. Unit tests are done in shorter iterative cycles to ensure the section of apps meets the design requirements.
It is a practice where two people, one with a strategic and another with a tactical mindset, work together. One is the navigator and another is the driver to ensure the quality of development standards are well maintained and easily understood by all participants.
Coding is not just a way to create solutions but also to discuss problems. Following the coding standards, easy naming conventions, collaboration, and consistency are the ways to maintain development efficiency.
5. DSDM Methodology: Best for Dynamic and fast-paced project development
As the name says, DSDM is a dynamic approach to project delivery in software development. This method is an evolved version of Rapid Application Development (RAD) that came around 1994.
RAD method was basically based on iterations and user feedback but had a rigid structure. Also due to advancements in computer technologies where GUI was replacing old green screens, RAD needed improvement to suit the development practices.
The development methods were free-form where an independent working style ruled out the risks of resource depletion.
But the inception of DSDM’s first version enabled rapid prototyping, iterative measures, and better communication. It takes time and budget into consideration during the development life cycle.
Later in 2007, the newer version was renamed “Atern” out of a bird (Arctic Tern) known for its highly collaborative nature and long-distance flight abilities. But the metaphor was detained as people felt it confusing.
But the major advancements in DSDM came in the mid-2010s when the DSDM-based software was able to operate alongside other agile frameworks.
And with a number of further releases, DSDM now is capable of being used beyond software-specific businesses. Today, many non-IT projects are embracing agile methodologies and DSDM is no such exception.
But what makes it different?
The DSDM method works on the philosophy of the Pareto principle or 80-20 rule i.e to accomplish 80% of the development life cycle in 20% of the time.
It is a vendor-independent technique that understands the reason why many projects end up unsuccessful – due to people’s problems rather than the strategy or use of technology.
And also three core techniques that lay the foundation of the DSDM process. They’re as follows:
- MoSCoW: An acronym or a technique to prioritize project requirements. It expands as – Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have.
- Timeboxing: A systematic approach to commit your available time and break the task into smaller parts so as to avoid the last-hour hustle. Also if there is a shortage of time and budget, the requirements with the least priority are rejected.
- Productive workshop: To conduct topic-wise and shorter brainstorming sessions for a better understanding of the objectives, risks, knowledge sharing, and collaboration.
All in all, the agile project management tools mentioned above deliver unique ways to implement different agile methodologies.
Though the agile manifesto was introduced in 2001, that really helped to assemble all the adaptive development practices (launched early or later) and tools that outlined the overarching philosophy behind it.
Organizations created their own processes that addressed and accepted changes instead of trying to suppress them by making models that were interactive, incremental, communication-driven, and customer-centric.
While identifying many similarities among related iterative ideologies that sprung up to meet modern software challenges, many groups of software developers set out to create different frameworks that changed the course of project management.