The adoption of Agile project management techniques has been a key driver of improved new product development (NPD) productivity in tech and software companies (along with Moore’s law and industry adoption of technical standards). Here are ten ways Agile project management differs from traditional gantt-based management.
1. Think long-term, act short-term – The agile approach posits that the best long-term outcome is achieved by identifying and executing the highest priority short-term tasks, during each project cycle (e.g. weekly or bi-weekly). Long-term product risk analysis (e.g. challenging components and processes) and project risk analysis (e.g. lead time and vendor capability) are inputs to short-term prioritization. Agile presumes that despite long-lead tasks, the project timeline is ultimately limited by capacity.
2. Forced and explicit prioritization of each cycle’s tasks, limited to capacity – The sum total of high-priority tasks for each cycle are limited by team’s capacity for that cycle. No one should sign up for more effort than she or he has available.
3. High frequency plan/do/assess/re-plan cycles – With a re-plan no more than a cycle away, inadvertent prioritization errors can be corrected in the next cycle.
4. The more granular the better – We demand high levels of detail in specifications, FMEA’s, drawings, manufacturing instructions and other design documents, to ensure accuracy. Agile requires a high level of task granularity to accurately estimate effort, to ensure tasks can generally be completed within a single cycle, and to facilitate divide-and-conquer execution.
5. Project meetings are plan management meetings – Project meetings review the execution of the last cycle’s tasks, and prioritize and assign new tasks. Action items either get added to the plan (if they are not already accounted for in the plan) or they provide additional detail for tasks already in the plan.
6. Quantifies project scope and scope changes – total effort to perform all tasks required for project
7. Quantifies progress – metric: percent of total project effort completed, versus planned project effort completed
8. Quantifies timeline-risk mitigation activities – Agile automatically recognizes that additional work to mitigate risk takes extra effort and thus is extra scope
9. Enables identification of resource and skillset needs – If each task is assigned a skill type (e.g. EE, ME, SE, Mfg, QE, tech), capacity requirements by skill can be easily determined and compared with available resources.
10. Elevates planning and task management to its proper place as a critical step in NPD.