Everything You Need to Know About Agile Project Management

By Kate Eby | September 23, 2016 (updated June 26, 2023)

Interested in working Agile? Welcome to our complete, one-stop resource for understanding and implementing the Agile method of project management. In this article, you’ll find an overview of Agile project management, explore Agile derivative methodologies, and find a comprehensive list of Agile resources for project managers, from e-books and articles to certifications and professional networks.

What Is Agile Project Management?

Agile project management is a flexible, iterative approach to software design and development. In Agile development, small, self-organized teams with cross-functional skills work closely together to produce incremental, value-driven pieces of software that are shipped at regular intervals.

Additionally, rapid feedback at the end of each iteration provides a built-in opportunity for continuous improvement. The Agile approach is defined by value and adaptability: teams prioritize work that provides the most value to the customer. Rather than resisting change, Agile welcomes it—this adaptability is fundamental to providing the highest valuable product to customers and stakeholders. In this section, we’ll dive deeper into the history of Agile philosophy and the leading values that drive the methodology.

The foundation of Agile project management was laid in 1986 in an article published in Harvard Business Review. In it, authors Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka observed that some prominent manufacturing companies in Japan and the U.S. were deviating from the traditional sequential, hand-off approach of product development in favor of more continual product evaluation and improvement through close team collaboration. They likened this approach to a rugby team passing the ball back and forth down the field, and expanded on this observation to offer a more flexible alternative to project management.

The technology boom of the early 1990s resulted in many new approaches to managing software development projects. The traditional Waterfall, step-by-step method was not well suited to the rapid pace of technological advancements, and many projects were canceled as the requested software often became outdated long before the final product was actually delivered.

In 2001, the Agile Manifesto was published by a group of 17 software developers, and Agile project management as we know it today was born. The Agile Manifesto outlined the foundational values and principles for rapidly delivering high-quality, value-driven software, listed below:

Four Foundational Values 

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The authors also note that “while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

12 Principles of Agile Project Management

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Five years later, the authors wrote the Declaration of Interdependence, which extended the original Manifesto beyond software development. The addendum focused on value-added development, shared ownership, iterative work, group accountability, and shared responsibility, and encouraged non-software teams to embrace the methodology as well. The tenets of the Declaration of Interdependence are as follows:

  • We increase return on investment by making continuous flow of value our focus.
  • We deliver reliable results by engaging customers in frequent interactions and shared ownership. 
  • We expect uncertainty and manage it through iterations, anticipation, and adaptation. 
  • We unleash creativity and innovation by recognizing that individuals are the ultimate source of value, and creating an environment where they can make a difference. 
  • We boost performance through group accountability for results and shared responsibility for team effectiveness. 
  • We improve effectiveness and reliability through situationally specific strategies, processes, and practices.

Of course, these principles are meant as a guide rather than hard-set rules. Ultimately, Agile philosophy values experimentation, and teams that communicate often and maintain flexible workflows will be the most successful. Click here to read a comprehensive guide to the Agile Manifesto.

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The Agile Process and Lifecycle

Agile is a continuous, cyclical process that encourages experimentation and adaptability. The six phases of Agile (requirements, plan, design, develop, release, and monitor) are flexible and evolving, and often overlap one another so multiple projects are in process simultaneously.

Although Agile teams may label and organize these phases differently - one variation would be concept, conception, iteration/construction, release, product, and retirement - the overall sequence should remain the same. 

Agile methodology stands in comparison with the traditional Waterfall approach, which follows a lengthy, step-by-step process. In Waterfall, each step must be completed before the next one begins, and upfront planning requires comprehensive documentation and a formal contract negotiation with the customer. While waterfall can be effective for some projects, it can be cumbersome for software development or other products with rapidly changing technology.  


Agile philosophy also values a non-hierarchical distribution of work. While Agile projects will still have a project manager (called a Product Owner), all team members’ ideas are equally valued in decision making. This collaborative nature of work is at odds with a more traditional, stratified division of work, but a strong team leader is still an important part of any Agile project. Here is a list of responsibilities commonly held by Product Owners:

  • Liaison between customer and Agile team
  • Defines product vision
  • Identifies in-demand features and prioritizes releases based on customer’s needs
  • Constructs product roadmap (time & effort estimates)
  • Prioritizes task backlog (most urgent or highest-value items first)

However, the product owner works with the team to outline the quantifiable, relevant, and detailed requirements based on how end-users will be using the product. Additionally, all team members work together to draft a release plan of the prioritized backlog. Once the release plan is complete, the iteration phases can begin. 

Simply adopting an Agile methodology will not solve all current project roadblocks. Before beginning your project, it’s important to understand what Agile is not, so you can take advantage of the pros without falling victim to the challenges. You can read more about the Agile process and lifecycle in our complete Agile lifecycle guide.

  • Agile is not a manager. Agile manages projects, not people. The product owner is still responsible for prioritizing the product backlog, but the team decides which features to include in a sprint, sets delivery dates, and assigns tasks based on appropriate knowledge and skills.
  • Agile is not a specific timetable for achieving goals. Goals and delivery dates are established by the team during the sprint planning session.
  • Agile is not a babysitter. The success of Agile project management depends largely on team ownership and responsibility.
  • Agile is not Iterative project management. Agile work is completed in iterations, but where the Iterative method completes project analysis and design before sending to coding and testing, Agile continues to improve on all aspects, including design, throughout the project lifecycle. 

Here are some advantages of working Agile:

  • Agile encourages changes in order to provide the highest and most relevant product value to the customer.
  • Agile development can accommodate end goals that are not clearly defined at project onset. 
  • Agile results in the delivery of faster, high-quality products by breaking down projects into smaller, more manageable components.
  • Daily standup meetings facilitate open communication on project status and roadblocks.
  • Live demonstrations at the end of each sprint allow for immediate customer and stakeholder feedback.
  • Agile allows for more accurate estimation of both timelines and costs through its emphasis on product prioritization, adaptability, and rapid feedback.
  • Most importantly, project managers are able to deliver a high-quality product to customers on time and on budget.

Of course, there are also some tradeoffs in working Agile. Make sure you’re well versed in the potential challenges of Agile before beginning your project: 

  • Because Agile encourages flexibility, deadlines can often be extended or delayed multiple times.
  • Agile teams are cross-functional and require a high level of commitment, involvement, and collaboration throughout the project’s duration. This may require some adjustment on the part of the team.
  • The Agile team depends more strongly on team planning and collaboration than on extensive documentation, which can be difficult for projects requiring audits or external checks.

Overall, Agile can help teams increase flexibility and collaboration, and ultimately lead to more successful projects. Next, we’ll take a look at other methodologies that have grown out of the initial Agile philosophy.

Agile Derivative Methodologies

Agile derivative methodologies are modified Agile models used for specialized industries or project management styles. The three most common are Scrum, Kanban, and Scrumban. Each derivative methodology has unique strengths specific to the niche in which they are used.

Other Agile methodologies include Adaptive Software Development, Agile Modeling, Extreme Programming (XP), Dynamic Systems Development (DSDM), Feature Driven Development, and Lean Software Development. Read our detailed comparison of Agile project management and software development methodologies to gain a deeper understanding of the various approaches.

Best Practices for Agile Project Managers

Shifting your team from Waterfall to an Agile methodology can seem daunting, but there are several best planning practices to help smooth the transition process. These include strong communication, breaking tasks into simple steps, ongoing feedback, and trust in your team’s ability.

To learn more, read our guide to the best practices for transitioning to Agile or learn some of the keys to the successful adoption of Agile modeling.

Is Agile Project Management Scalable?

Agile project management provides a consistent, repeatable blueprint for managing projects, no matter the size or scope. Agile can be scaled to multiple projects operating in tandem and works for both on-site and remote teams, or a hybrid of both.

While an individual team typically comprises five to nine members, Agile can be applied to large-scale projects involving multiple Scrum teams as well. Agile project management can also be applied at the enterprise level using the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®)—a scalable, modular approach for implementing Agile in a way that best meets the needs of the organization. (However, some of the founders of Agile have expressed concern that implementing Agile methodologies on such a large scale may compromise the adaptability and best practices of Agile software development.) 

While Agile has become associated primarily with software development, an Agile approach can be applied to any type of project where high-quality and rapid delivery are paramount. Marketing, graphic design, startups, advertising, newsrooms, and entrepreneurship can all benefit from the Agile process. In fact, many people use Agile’s more fluid Kanban methodology to manage projects outside of the workplace, such as wedding planning, home improvement, and vacations. (Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry elaborate on this use of Kanban in their book Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life.)

How to Select the Right Agile Tool

Deciding which Agile tools are the best for your organization can be challenging. The first step is determining which tools will most effectively support the particular Agile methodology that you have in place or plan to use. 

Since the early 2000s, Agile has become the number one project management approach for managing software development. Along with Agile’s rise in popularity, software companies have released numerous Agile-specific tools.

Reading online reviews may help you eliminate certain tools right away and allow you to identify others that offer the specific functionalities you need to meet your business objectives. Once you have narrowed your search down to a handful of tools, you may want to set up a matrix of your required functionalities and compare the tools against one another to help you finalize your choice. And, while your requirements may dictate the need for specific features or functionality, there are some essential capabilities and requirements that an effective Agile software tool should include. At the very least, your tool should serve as a complete resource for managing all Agile functions including tracking tasks, holding discussions, and storing searchable data. 

Read more about selecting the right Agile tool for your company here.

Agile Resources for Project Managers

Below is a comprehensive list of resources, from books and templates to educational and professional Agile opportunities. Take some time navigating the various tools and get started working Agile. 

Articles and E-books

  • Agile Project Management 101: A Beginner’s Guide for Non-Project Managers (E-book):This e-book can provide you with valuable insight into how to manage your Agile projects efficiently and increase production amidst ever-changing requirements. In it, you’ll find an overview of Agile project management, comparisons of the top Agile methodologies, and outlined steps for getting started implementing Agile project management within your organization.
  • The Ultimate Agile Dictionary: This easy-to-navigate, online reference to Agile terminology is an indispensable tool for Agile project managers. Use this comprehensive collection of Agile terms and processes to build or refresh your understanding and knowledge of the Agile project management process.

Online Templates

  • Agile Project Management Excel Templates: This article provides eight Excel templates that correspond with each phase and aspect of the Agile process, including templates for developing project, release, and test plans, and prioritizing product and sprint backlogs. Templates for laying out a product roadmap, creating a project charter, and organizing user stories are included as well. 
  • Agile Project Management Smartsheet Templates
    Smartsheet, a spreadsheet-inspired task and project management tool, includes a series of templates specifically designed to help Agile project managers, product owners, and teams to plan, develop, and launch high-quality, high-value products that meet customers’ needs.

Agile Project Management Professional Organizations

Professional organizations offer networking, educational, and growth opportunities for their members. 

  • Agile Alliance: The Agile Alliance is a non-profit global community dedicated to advancing Agile principles and practices for software development. Onsite and virtual conferences, articles, blogs, research papers, and access to international user groups are just a few of the resources that the Agile Alliance has to offer.
  • Scrum Alliance: The Scrum Alliance is a non-profit organization for Scrum professionals and is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of Scrum methodology. The Alliance offers a series of professional courses and certifications, as well webinars, a job board, and other resources for building your career as a Scrum professional.
  • Scrum Foundation: The Scrum Foundation provides certified Scrum training and consulting around the world. Their website offers resources for new and experienced Scrum masters, as well as access to certifications and ongoing learning opportunities.

Agile Project Management Educational Opportunities

Although advanced education may not be required for managing an Agile team or serving in an Agile role, many courses and certifications can provide you with a solid knowledge base that you can build on throughout your career as an Agile professional. This section includes a wide variety of Agile and Scrum certification programs offered by various professional organizations.

  • PMI-ACP®: The Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) provides formal certification for project management professionals who already have real-world experience managing agile projects, including Scrum, Kanban, Lean, extreme programming (XP) and test-driven development (TDD). Provided by the Project Management Institute (PMI).
  • Scrum Certifications: The Scrum Alliance offers eight professional certification programs: Certified scrum master (CSM), Certified  (CSPO), Certified Scrum Developer (CSD), Certified Scrum Professional (CSP), Certified Scrum Trainer (CST), Certified Agile Leadership (CAL), Certified Team Coach (CTC), and Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC). 
  • APMG International: APMG International offers certificate programs for Agile project and program managers, as well as a certificate program for business analysts who work in an Agile environment.
  • International Consortium for AgileTM: (ICAgile). This independent accrediting agency offers professional, expert, and master certifications covering all disciplines of Agile, including Leadership, Team Coaching and Facilitation, Enterprise Coaching, Delivery Management, Value Management, Development, and Testing.
  • Scaled Agile Academy: The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) implements Agile development at the enterprise level. The Scaled Agile Academy offers several certification programs for those who are seeking knowledge and expertise in implementing SAFe within large software companies.

Books by Top Leaders in Agile

We’ve compiled a list of books by some of Agile’s top leaders, including Jim Highsmith, Alistair Cockburn, Jefferey Sutherland, and more. These books include detailed overviews and instructions to help you implement various Agile processes and make them your own.

Other Agile Resources (non-book)

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