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Agile project management and certification

By on 06 Dec 2018

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Agile project management is becoming a key skill within the software industry. As more businesses adopt agile, they are seeking dedicated agile project management methods to help them. Individuals with agile project management certifications can therefore command a premium in the jobs market.

Read on to find out more about agile project management and professional certification.

management levels in a project

Agile delivery methods

The term ‘agile’ means a lot of different things to different people. Agile methods originated in the software industry, not as project management methods, but as project delivery methods.

A project delivery method is a system used … for organizing and financing design, construction, operations, and maintenance services … by entering into legal agreements with one or more entities or parties
Wikipedia [1]

Projects deliver outputs

The above definition covers both “construction” and “operations and maintenance”. Construction refers to any activities required to design and build a product or service and these take place as part of a project. Projects which are temporary in nature deliver outputs (products or services).

Business as usual

Operations and maintenance, however, are what are normally referred to as “business as usual” (BAU) i.e. the ongoing, everyday activities which take place in an organization. It’s usually projects which deliver products at the end of the projects, and these are often maintained by staff who work in BAU.

For example, on an IT project in a large organization, it is often the IT department which operates and maintains the IT system after it’s been delivered by the project.

Agile Manifesto

Agile is now an umbrella term underneath which lots of different agile delivery methods, concepts, behaviours and techniques are placed. The closest definition of what agile is can be found in the Agile Manifesto created in 2001 by a group of leading agile thinkers. This is what the Agile Manifesto says:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

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

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Agile Manifesto [2]

Agile was a response to project problems

Agile delivery methods were developed to overcome many of the problems which often plagued software projects. These problems often meant projects were late, over budget and beset with quality problems.

Agile has moved beyond the software industry

Although agile started in the software industry and a lot of its terminology is directly related to I.T., there is now an acknowledgement that agile delivery methods, behaviours, principles and techniques can be used on any type of project. Some people even replace the word ‘software’ found in the Agile Manifesto with words such as ‘product’ or ‘service’.

Agile delivery methods are for teams

One common feature of almost all agile delivery methods is that they tend to focus at the team level e.g. how to make teams more efficient and better able to deliver what the customer needs on time using a variety of agile techniques. Agile delivery methods do not focus on project management because they were not designed for that purpose.

Must understand ‘why?’

However, on any project there is a need to understand why the project is required. This is the most important question of all. A lack of clarity here could mean a lot of time and money is wasted developing products which are not required by the business. This question is answered usually on a project by its business sponsor often known as a project sponsor or executive.

Historically, project management has focused on the top 2 levels shown in the diagram above, whilst leaving the methods to be used at the bottom for the teams themselves to specify.

Ensuring the project gives value for money

Project management methodologies such as PRINCE2 are clear about the business sponsor role. It is to ensure that the project gives value for money, that it fits in with corporate strategies and that it can be funded. It is also to ensure that the project delivers a product which in turn, will achieve the forecasted benefits i.e. the positive things which will result as a return for the investment.

Directing a project

Often projects have steering committees or project boards which bring together the major business, user and supplier stakeholders, so that there is unified direction given to the project. The people on these boards are, by their very nature, senior people. They commit the necessary resources and approve plans.

Managing a project

Sitting in between the teams and a project board is a project manager. The project manager’s traditional role is to manage the project day to day. This involves agreeing work with teams, managing issues and risks, creating and updating plans and reporting progress to the project board.

Delivering products

The teams on a project are responsible for delivering in a timely manner those products which the customer needs. Agile teams now have a variety of agile delivery methods to choose from: Extreme Programming, Kanban, DSDM, Lean Startup and Scrum – the latter being the most well-known. These agile delivery methods are able to maximize the productivity of their team members by applying the principles defined in the Agile Manifesto.

Agile versus waterfall

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Waterfall methods

Before agile delivery methods began to dominate the software industry, the delivery methods employed on projects were often referred to as “waterfall methods”. These typically relied on lots of documentation to be produced, had predefined sequential phases to go through (requirements analysis, design, build, test, deployment) and each phase required signoff before proceeding to the next. These methods found it difficult to respond to customers’ changes.

Waterfall projects often failed

Research conducted by the Standish Group of projects conducted between 2002 and 2010 reported that: “Software applications developed through the agile process have three times the success rate of the traditional waterfall method and a much lower percentage of time and cost overruns” [3]. Success in the report was defined as on time, on budget, and with all planned features.

Little ‘design up front’

One of the features of agile delivery methods is the lack of focus on “design up front” when compared with waterfall approaches. The latter utilizes a design phase in which software architectures and high-level designs are produced. The construction of the software proceeds after the design phase has been signed off.

Agile enables fast delivery

Agile methods work in a series of iterations, each iteration producing a workable and incremental piece of software. During these iterations, design (and re-design) is done bit by bit, not all at once as in waterfall.

Agile is therefore a good choice for projects which need to quickly bring software to market e.g. a website or web-based tool or service.

Hybrid methods enable more robust systems

It is less good at producing long-lasting and well-engineered systems. Can you imagine the control software for a nuclear power station being developed with no up-front design?

This problem was highlighted in the 2014 CRASH Report [3], which showed that enterprise software built using a mixture of agile and waterfall methods – with an up-front emphasis on architectural quality and design – will result in more robust and secure applications than those built using either agile or waterfall methods alone.

Agile project management

Agile methods don’t define a ‘project manager’ role

Even if your project is using agile delivery methods you still need project management. That’s because agile delivery methods were never designed as project management methodologies. The fact is that none of the different agile approaches define a ‘project manager’ role.

Project management strengths

One of the strengths of project management methodologies such as PRINCE2 is that they have developed over a long time. They have been written and developed by experienced project managers managing many different types of projects over many years and as such are based upon best practices.

Combining agile and project management

So, what is agile project management? It’s about combining the best of project management with the best of agile.

The strengths of project management methodologies such as PRINCE2 lie in their focus on giving direction and management on a project. PRINCE2 and other project management standards or methodologies do not, however, provide any focus in the area of product delivery.

Agile delivery methods focus almost entirely at the product delivery level, and do not concern themselves with the project direction or management. So, agile project management is a way of providing project management and direction to a project which uses agile methods at the team level.

Agile project management, however, is more than just a marriage between project management methodologies and agile delivery methods. It’s also about applying agile principles to both the project management and delivery methods.

Agile project management certification

Boost your career

If you work either as a project manager, or work as part of an agile team using something like Scrum or XP, you can boost your career by gaining professional agile project management certification. That’s because having professional certification shows employers that you have the knowledge to complement and boost your experience in the field.

Most popular certification

In the UK the most popular agile project management certification is AgilePM® - offered by the APMG. Announced in 2010, this qualification scheme was developed in conjunction with the Agile Business Consortium (formerly the DSDM Consortium).

The syllabus for the certification is based upon DSDM, which was the world’s first agile project management methodology when it launched in 1995. The DSDM Consortium was a signatory to the original Agile Manifesto in 2001.

The latest version – the DSDM Agile Project Framework (AgilePF) – was launched in 2014 and is documented in the Agile Project Management Handbook v2.0.

AgilePM® certification

AgilePM® certification is available at two levels – Foundation and Practitioner. You can obtain these certifications by studying either 3 or 4 days of agile project management training.

These courses were designed to help students develop both the knowledge and skills required to work on an agile project and develop the understanding to apply the guidance on an agile project.

Growth of AgilePM® certification

Since its launch, more than 90,000 AgilePM examinations have been sat (until end of Q2 2018). The figures in the table below show estimations for the remainder of 2018.

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 (Q1-Q2) Total
AgilePM Foundation 612 1,677 3,032 6,481 8,986 12,104 16,851 22,000 71,743
AgilePM Practitioner 540 1,308 2,114 3,791 4,864 6,130 7,850 10,000 36,597
Total 1,152 2,985 5,146 10,272 13,850 18,234 24,701 32,000 108,340
% year on year increase n/a 159% 72% 100% 35% 32% 35% 30% n/a

* estimation based on first half of 2018

The graph shows that in 8 years over 70,000 AgilePM Foundation exams and over 36,000 AgilePM Practitioner exams will have been sat worldwide (*estimation – see above note). As more and more professionals learn about the new qualifications scheme, these numbers are set to rise.

In 2017, approximately 45% of all exams taken worldwide were sat in the UK. Of these 38% of Foundation exams and 58% of Practitioner exams were sat in the UK.

Conclusion

If you either work on projects developing products or manage projects which use an agile approach you will find using a dedicated agile project management approach extremely useful.

Agile project management combines the flexibility of agile with the control of project management. It enables rapid delivery and fast response to customer’s changing requirements by using agile principles, whilst at the same time providing an understanding of why the project is required and how it fits in with organisational strategies.

Gaining professional certification can set you apart from many competitors in the jobs market because the qualifications are relatively new and therefore haven’t yet reached the saturation levels which some other professional certifications have.

Gaining agile project management certification is therefore a sensible choice for professionals in 2019.

References

[1] Wikipedia. (2018). Project delivery method. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_delivery_method. Last accessed: 26 Nov 2018.

[2] Mike Beedle et al. (2001). Manifesto for Agile Software Development. http://www.agilemanifesto.org/. Last accessed: 26 Nov 2018.

[3] The Standish Group. 2011. The CHAOS Report, page 25. https://www.standishgroup.com/

[4] CAST Software Inc. (2017). The CRASH Report 2017. https://www.castsoftware.com/research-labs/crash-reports. Last accessed: 26 Nov 2018.

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PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner

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