Adopt Agile Project Planning to Deliver Value and Stay on Track

By Kate Eby | July 12, 2016 (updated December 31, 2023)

Agile approaches prioritize customer needs. Learn the foundations of Agile project planning and best practices from the experts. Also, get tools, templates, and tips to help your team deliver real business value that satisfies customers and teams.

In this article, you’ll learn the steps in the Agile project planning process and variations such as hybrid practice. Experts explain how Agile differs from other project planning methods and share best practices. You’ll also view a project plan example that shows how Agile works. Download an Agile project planning starter kit.

What Is Agile Planning?

Agile planning is a phased, continuous improvement method to control projects. Agile’s built-in flexibility accommodates changes during project development. This type of planning produces results faster than traditional practices such as Waterfall. 

Agile is a project planning and management philosophy formally launched in 2001. Seventeen technologists drafted the Agile Manifesto to speed up software development times and quickly bring new products to market. Agile project planning applies to various business environments because the methodology is a guide to developing a nimble mindset and problem-solving behaviors. Almost all disciplines can benefit from teams who build in quality, with less waste, at every project step, which is the goal of Agile. 

Alison Braun

Alison Braun, Agile Coach, Scrum Professional, and Solutions Architect, finds that although most of her career has involved software projects, “Agile planning is valuable in non-software projects, too. For example, I’ve consulted on internal HR and training projects, including how to train people to interview and act as mentors for a talent administration firm. We used a Kanban system instead of a Scrum team in this situation. Kanban works well in the talent acquisition and HR space where you're limiting your work in progress and moving through the system in time increments – doable chunks – that make sense for the project. For example, there might be a diversity training segment or training around legal issues broken down into work packages that show success and a pattern of teaching information.”

Alan Zucker

Alan Zucker, author and Principal of Project Management Essentials, LLC, has used Agile's project management philosophy to drive financial services and non-software development large-scale projects. “Agile values apply: deliver value early and often, adaptation, customer collaboration, and putting people first makes sense for most projects, particularly change management and enterprise-wide initiatives. In a recent financial services project, converting legacy data out of an old system into a new one, we were simultaneously developing workflows, screens, communications, and other efforts, and the project involved hundreds of people. Agile and the breakdown into user stories and smaller teams was invaluable in bringing the project to a successful completion.”

Agile planning works well within marketing project management contexts and has its own Agile Marketing Manifesto, formalized in 2012. The Manifesto contains elements to apply Agile methodology to marketing products and services. The Manifesto highlights seven values and 10 principles to better plan and execute the delivery of valuable products and services.

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What Is Agile Project Planning?

Agile project planning aims to deliver business value early. The goal is to improve the project’s product and process continuously. Agile emphasizes scope flexibility, team input, and delivery of a well-tested product that reflects customer needs.

In contrast to working from a comprehensive plan at the project outset, which is typically product related, Agile makes allowances for requirement changes and banks on regular feedback from end users. Agile planning and project management are the software development standard because they are more successful than the traditional Waterfall approach. The 2020 Standish Group Chaos Study found that Agile projects are three times more likely to succeed than Waterfall projects. Breaking projects down into increments, checking for problems, and making timely adaptations and corrections reduce the risk of failure. Read this article on Agile project management to learn more about the methodology and practice. 

Sprints are at the center of the Agile project planning methodology. During sprints, teams work on user stories or goals. Sprints repeat until the project or product is complete. After sprints, team members are responsible for checking what’s working and what isn’t, adapting and making changes, or starting to improve the project or product.

Roles in Agile

Agile governance relies on specific roles for each team member. The roles in an Agile team aren’t jobs or positions. Instead, they define a set of responsibilities that one or more people take. In some cases, one person might fill multiple roles and switch between them. Every role works to achieve common goals and respond to changing client and business needs and any emerging issues. 

Typical team member roles and responsibilities in Agile include:

  • Product Owner: The person in this role defines the product vision and manages stakeholders. They can make critical decisions and ensure the team works on the correct items. The product owner needs to understand what customers want and make adjustments accordingly, so effective communication with stakeholders is essential.  
  • Stakeholders: Anyone with an interest in the project. Internal stakeholders work for the organization developing the product, and they can be employees, managers, and senior leaders. External stakeholders can include customers, investors, partners, and suppliers.
  • Scrum Master (in Scrum): Scrum masters act as coaches to the rest of the team. They lead daily standup meetings and watch over sprint planning meetings to keep the team on track and to guard against scope creep. They manage sprint reviews, compile feedback, and remove productivity roadblocks. Learn what it takes to become a Scrum Master.
  • Team Leaders (in Kanban): In Kanban Agile projects, team leaders ensure the use of Agile and facilitate effective team communication.
  • Team Members: Usually a cross-functional group of 10 or fewer people with the skills to define, build, test, and deliver value to the customer.
  • Integrator (Larger or Long-Term Projects): Integrators are tasked with larger projects that have multiple separate teams and sections, as well as integrating these different aspects into a cohesive unit. Typically, this Agile team role is only necessary for larger groups creating complex systems or multiple teams collaborating on a more substantial project.

Key Elements of Agile Planning

Agile planning elements revolve around empiricism, lifecycle, mindset, and the framework. All of these aspects focus on placing customer needs first and applying that to every decision, functionality, and problem.

As you work on Agile project plans, keep these vital elements in mind:

  • Agile Lifecycle: A product goes through a series of stages called the Agile software development lifecycle. The six stages of Agile are concept, inception, iteration, release, maintenance, and retirement. Learn more about the Agile software development lifecycle.
  • Agile Empiricism: Agile project planning and management makes decisions based on the project realities everyone on the team observes. 
    • Transparency: Everyone on the team and stakeholders present the facts as they are in their interactions. Trust is essential, and all involved share the bad and good news. Everyone collaborates for the common organizational objective with no hidden agendas.
    • Inspection: Inspection is the responsibility of everyone on the team. Inspections apply to the product, processes, people aspects, practices, and continuous improvements. 
    • Adaptation: Adaptation supports continuous improvement, meaning adaptation based on inspection results. Use Agile values to increase ROI, make faster time to market, and create less waste. For example, achieving a faster time to market increases return on investment through value-based delivery, which reduces the total cost of ownership and improves customer and employee satisfaction.
  • Agile Mindset: A set of attitudes a team should have toward their work.
    • Respect: You must have respect for the product, for customers, and for colleagues at every level of the business or organization. It’s also important to  respect all team members.
    • Collaboration: Facilitating collaboration through tools, environmental surroundings, and behavioral norms can improve team discussions. 
    • Improvement: There is always a way to improve processes and products. Building on knowledge is fundamental to Agile philosophy.
    • Learning: Individuals share what they know and are encouraged to take risks – even if they fail. These activities increase the group’s knowledge throughout a project’s progress.
    • Pride in Ownership: Everyone owns success in Agile. Team members should take pride in what they deliver collectively and strive to provide the highest quality of work.
    • Delivering Value: The goal of Agile teams is to deliver value to the customer. The team focuses on what is the greatest value at the time and works with the knowledge that others in the organization will help remove roadblocks.
    • Adapt to Change: If the customer calls a few hours following a meeting and demands changes, the team accommodates them.
  • Agile Value Framework: The Agile Manifesto informs Agile project planning, and these are the key principles:
    • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
    • Working software over comprehensive documentation.
    • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
    • Responding to change over following a plan.
  • Agile Terminology: Agile practice has a unique language to describe stages and techniques in the planning process. Newcomers to Agile need to familiarize themselves with the full array of project management terms for effective communication.

Steps in the Agile Project Planning Process

Steps in the Agile project planning process can be broken down into three sections: preparation, sprint, and execution. Preparation includes forming a vision, building a roadmap, and release planning. The sprint phase is the core of the planning process with its daily Scrum meetings and sprint reviews. Execution phase is when the release and sprint retrospective occur. 

Preparation Phase

  1. Vision: The vision provides the overview and purpose of the project. It describes the market, customer segments, and end-user needs. The vision sets the boundaries and context for features, requirements, and other work.
  2. Project or Product Roadmap: A product roadmap is the action plan to show how the solution or product will progress over time. Download this product roadmap template to use as a framework to create a plan.
  3. User Stories: A user story is the term Agile uses for work requests. This brief, straightforward description is written from the customer’s perspective and stresses the client’s objectives and needs. The Agile team looks at the details in a user story to determine a realistic time frame to complete the project. Read this guide to user stories to see how to use them in Agile planning. 

Sprint Phase

  1. Release Planning: This plan is a dynamic document that covers how and when the organization will release a solution or product’s functionality and features. The plan incorporates prior iterations' feedback and the details of each release's scope, time, and resources. The team will use the plan to guide what they can deliver in each iteration and timeframe. Release plans are a way to communicate product status and progress with cross-functional teams, leaders, and stakeholders. 
  2. Sprint Planning: The Agile product owner, development team, and a Scrum master use a visual workboard to track status to plan project iterations. A whiteboard with sticky notes or a basic Kanban board can serve this purpose. The team assigns story points to each task through Agile planning sessions. When requests are added to a project, it creates outstanding stories or a backlog, which is a prioritized list of deliverables. Stories from the backlog move into the sprint for completion. Learn more about sprint planning and get tips for managing a product backlog.
  3. Standup or Daily Scrum: Every day, the team meets for 15 minutes or less to discuss the previous day’s completions, daily priorities, and roadblocks. These meetings assist the team in completing their work before the end of the sprint and discuss any needed changes. Learn how to set up a daily Scrum meeting
  4. Sprint Review: The sprint review evaluates and demonstrates the shippable and valuable functionality completed during the sprint. The product owner gathers feedback and revises the backlog. The sprint review is open to all interested parties who want to review the sprint’s accomplishments. 

Execution Phase

  1. Sprint Retrospective: The sprint retrospective meeting is an opportunity for the entire team to review the preceding sprint and explore ways to improve the next one. For example, they might want to improve upon the environment, collaboration, processes, practices, tools, and skill sets to improve morale, outcomes, work output, or velocity.
  2. Product Release: The solution or product is given to the customer. The release can be an initial release of a solution or product or adding features or changes to a previous release.

Agile Project Planning Starter Kit

Agile Project Planning Starter Kit

Download the Agile Project Planning Starter Kit

We’ve created this Agile project planning starter kit to help you plan and organize your projects. This kit includes customizable templates to create your own product roadmap, a Scrum meeting kickoff checklist, an Agile Manifesto cheat sheet, an Agile poker planning deck, and more. Download the kit as a whole, or each template individually based on your needs.

Included in this kit, you’ll find the following templates:

Agile Project Plan Example

This Agile project plan example is a repeatable framework you can customize and use for any future Agile project. See how the plans focus on sprints and releases. Decomposing releases results in iterations or sprints. Each sprint has a set time frame, and the team has a predefined list of items to work through in each sprint.  

Agile Project Plan with Gantt Example Template

Download the Agile Project Plan with Gantt Example Template for Excel

Agile Project Planning Best Practices

Agile project planning best practices aim to support the values and principles of the Agile manifesto. The goal is for a cohesive team to produce a successful project on time and on budget, and to deliver value to the customer.

Best practices for the preparation phase include:

  • Know Your Roles: Agile Coach Braun explains, “Not understanding roles in Agile results in what I call bad Agile – and it's pretty common. Many organizations think they are Agile, but in practice, they aren’t. It's essential that each role is defined and that everyone involved understands how they will participate and the realities of Agile.”
  • Whole Team Responsibility: Shared responsibility and working toward mutual success is a cornerstone of Agile that needs to be emphasized throughout the project. 
  • Think Small with User Stories: “The beauty of Agile is that by making the work small,  the faster you go through the project process, and the easier it is to validate the work,” shares Zucker. 

    Best practices for the sprint phase include:
  • Backlog Management and Timeboxed Meetings: Keeping meetings timeboxed ensures there is time to create the end product. A rule of thumb is that if you have a week-long sprint, meetings should last less than two hours and no more than four hours for a two-week sprint. “One of the keys to well-used Agile is managing the product backlog efficiently,” notes Zucker. “This is where to make trade-offs with requirements prioritized as high, medium, and low priority in meetings.” 
  • Progressive Elaboration: “Agile is about continuous improvements known as progressive elaboration, and it is the goal of mature Agile practice,” notes Zucker. The goal is to use more detailed and specific information to form more accurate estimates as the project progresses, so each iteration becomes more accurate and complete based on accumulated knowledge.
  • Play Planning Poker: In planning poker or Scrum poker, group members make estimates to complete user stories by playing numbered cards face-down instead of speaking them aloud. The turned-up cards reveal estimate times, and team members discuss the estimates and their reasons. It makes sense to use the Fibonacci sequence instead of doubling each subsequent value; simply doubling the effort of each subsequent task would result in overestimating timeframes.

    “Using the Fibonacci sequence to estimate the workload and break user stories down more accurately is invaluable in planning and backlog refinements and timeboxing,” stresses Zucker. The Fibonacci sequence is a mathematical sequence in which each subsequent number is determined by the sum of the two previous numbers, or 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21. The cards establish a scale or standard of comparison for estimating and increasing the accuracy of estimates. 
  • Be Flexible: The way to learn and improve the quality is to remain nimble and make some (fixable) mistakes. “Be flexible. Rigidity is the death of Agile,” warns Braun. 

Best practices for the execution phase include:

  • Don’t Skimp on the Retrospective: “An important best practice is to have retrospectives and take them seriously,” Braun notes. “Clients sometimes tell me, ‘Oh, there are too many meetings; why do you have so many?’ First, short meetings are an important part of Agile. Clients who don’t want retrospectives, I stress that you must take the time to reflect on the work and what people are doing so you can learn and improve. Have actionable things come out of a retrospective.”

The Importance of Agile Project Planning

Agile project planning has made achieving customer satisfaction easier because of its simplicity and flexibility. Project managers can use this methodology to deliver products faster, produce higher-quality goods, and continuously improve operations. 

“One of the promises of Agile is built-in quality and not cutting corners. Also, we don't goldplate,” shares Agile Coach Braun. “In old systems, you beef something up and keep working on it to build additional functionality that no one asked for because it seems like a good idea. We'll do this. We don't say, oh, we accept defects. No, the best state is to have the built-in quality, and you test and fix it and then push it out. This is also the reason why iteration, especially in software development, is so powerful — when you're putting out stuff in small batches, you can fix things that go wrong more quickly rather than having a system down. At the same time, you troubleshoot a monolithic release.” 

Agile project planning offers multiple key benefits, including:

  • Continuous Improvement: Continuous improvement, or Kaizen, grew out of the Agile model. It is a method for identifying opportunities for streamlining work and reducing waste. 
  • Faster Delivery: Agile project planning and management focuses on minimizing waste and providing incremental delivery to achieve higher revenue. This approach helps the project team move the product into the market faster than traditional project management.
  • Better Risk Management and Less Costly Failures: Earlier and more frequent opportunities, usually every few weeks, make it easier to detect failure and reduce the high costs related to it. The project management cycle can include several risks. If you use traditional project management, you could have problems identifying them before they affect the project. Agile management focuses on incremental releases and can bring such risks to bear during product development faster, and the project team can quickly respond. 
  • Quick Response to Changes and Challenges: It is difficult to respond to or incorporate changes under traditional project management. Thus, achieving optimal customer satisfaction is almost impossible. However, project managers don’t need extra time to implement such changes under Agile, so businesses can offer a more feasible product to the target clientele, putting the company in a better position among its major competitors.
  • Non-Productive Task Reduction: The number and length of meetings are limited. There are fewer presentations and much less process documentation (except in hybrid practice).  Using collaboration platforms and direct communication in daily standup meetings outweighs the use of email.
  • Better Communication: Agile promotes improved connection between consumers and the project team. It creates an avenue for sustained interaction with clients, thereby delivering feedback more efficiently and at a faster pace. New ideas can be adopted easily and at a quicker rate.
  • Improved Team Performance: The traditional project management method has a long development cycle. Long time frames and extended product release periods aren’t desirable in today’s fast-evolving marketplace.
  • Shorter Development Cycles: Agile project planning shortens the development cycle. Teams can now easily adopt product changes without using substantial resources, making it easier to alter a project’s scope quickly.

Understanding the Difference Between Agile and Other Methodologies and Techniques

There are common misconceptions about what Agile is and isn’t. For example, Agile is not Scrum, but Scrum is always part of an Agile project plan. 

Various project planning and management practices and frameworks live under the umbrella of Agile. They each have their place in Agile project planning and execution. The most commonly used are Scrum, which breaks work down into short cycles; Kanban, which visualizes workflow; and Hybrid, which combines Agile and Waterfall.


Agile Compared to Other Project Planning Methodologies and Techniques






What It Is

Philosophy that guides the approach to work

Framework within Agile based on iterative and incremental processes

Framework within Agile that visualizes tasks

Methodology that has each step set linearly, with each step dependent on its predecessor

Methodology with high-level phases using Waterfall and executing tasks with Agile

How It Works

Change driven


Workflow transparency

Plan driven and sequential

Agile within overall Waterfall structure

Work Style

Flexible, collaborative, and team orientation

Collaborative, breakdown into sprints with clearly defined roles

Team members assigned tasks

Highly structured and hierarchical

Structured yet nimble

Project Fit

Variety of projects with active client participation

Urgent or complex projects with quick deliverables

Short time frame for deliverables with a small team or solo

Simple projects with deep documentation

Well-defined concept with room for exploration

Key Practices



Workflow visualization board

Linear progression through phases with stages complete and validated before next phase

Combination of different methodologies based on specific project or organization


Generates change

Generates change

Limits work in progress

Clearly defined at the outset

Definition of scope and requirements upfront, development and testing in sprints


Strong leadership for members from cross-functional teams

Clearly defined roles within a horizontal structure

Tasks assigned to team members

Hierarchical, clearly defined roles

Project manager with overall responsibility, scrum masters, and collaborative team







Agile Planning vs. Scrum Planning

Agile project management philosophy employs a basic set of values or principles that focuses on continuous iteration. Scrum is an Agile framework that teams use to facilitate a project and deliver value in the shortest time frame. 

Leadership plays a vital role in the Agile process in collaborations and face-to-face interactions between cross-functional teams. Within the Scrum framework, teams are self-organizing and cooperative, thanks to daily standup meetings.

Agile Project Planning vs. Traditional Waterfall Project Planning

Agile project management is a 21st-century philosophy reliant on smaller groups and interactive releases throughout a project. Unlike Waterfall project planning, which is rigid and paces through defined phases, Agile leverages team collaboration, outside feedback, and flexibility to be successful.

“In Agile, the shared responsibility and self-management are simple, elegant, and hard for people to grasp,” notes Agile coach Braun. “In my practice, I must keep overcoming the cognitive dissonance between vertical and horizontal project planning – people are so used to being told what to do. The information is moving horizontally across teams instead of vertically. People are comfortable with the command and control in top-down Waterfall practice, so it takes training and guidance to unlearn.”

Long-Term Agile Project Planning

While it may seem contradictory, long-term Agile project planning is possible. Projects decomposed into smaller work packages make sense in short and long time-framed projects.  Agile planning is about generating ultimate value based on company strategy.

“The roadmap is key,” says Project Management Essentials’ Zucker. “Planning for many years as you work incrementally for interim goals and releases is possible. When working on projects with a long time horizon, review periodically to ensure you are still on the right track based on conditions.”

Long-term Agile planning makes sense because its frameworks and tools can deal with a future that will be different. Zucker comments, “Despite Agile’s ability to cope with more frequent and dynamic changes, long time frames offer quality time to invest in a true strategic conversation. Group desired outcomes into similar buckets, and map outcomes that will match overall success metrics in alignment with the organization's goals.”

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