COVID’s Impact on Agile Project Management

Since the Agile Manifesto was published in 2001 to radically change the way software was developed and delivered, its methodologies have spread beyond the software world into other managed projects with a specialist-client structure. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the way all of us work changed dramatically, Agile has transformed traditional project management with its focus on iterant, concrete deliverables and frequent communication about challenges and scope changes. Read on to learn more about how COVID has impacted Agile project management practices and how they continue to spread and evolve in new industries.

More on the History of Agile: The Agile Manifesto

What’s Changing in Agile Project Management?

Virtual Meetings Over Onsite Visits

Agile and the Agile Manifesto traditionally prize face-to-face meetings for brainstorming and determining the next iterations in an Agile project. The face-to-face approach is still preferred, but the interface has gotten an upgrade, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic when in-person meetings became near-impossible. 

Some of the changes we saw that are likely to stick around:

  • More regularly scheduled brainstorming and update meetings among project managers and their developer staff will happen over Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms.
  • Although some clients will always prefer onsite visits for the discovery stage, planning, and delivery of project points, many others will prefer to conduct these update meetings and feedback sessions over virtual platforms, due to the flexibility of format and time.
  • More screen sharing, video demonstrations, and virtual libraries will be used to communicate what’s happening at each stage of software development.

The switch to more virtual meetings came as an emergency measure in 2020, but many organizations have quickly discovered the benefits of a flexible meeting format. Because they can work from home and travel less, many team members on both sides of a transaction are more willing to collaborate with each other after traditional business hours. This opens up the opportunity for employees and customers from different areas of the world to collaborate on a project, working with teams of experts that best serve their needs.
More on the Future of Teleworking: The Post-COVID Future of IT Remote Work

Points to Consider as You Move to a Virtual Meeting Format

The virtual move for Agile project management meetings has benefited many teams, but before your own team takes on a client with this approach, there are a few things that both teams need to consider:

  • Your customers need to receive basic information about the Agile methodology from the outset. They need to know what to expect from you on deliverables, how each team can cross-plan and collaborate, and what you expect of them as a contributor at each stage of development. Setting these expectations upfront ensures that nothing gets lost in translation over future virtual meetings or email communications.
  • Virtual etiquette should be very similar to in-person etiquette with a client. Both teams should respect each other’s time by arriving at virtual meetings on time with an understanding of the set agenda. Regular deliverable iterations cannot succeed if both teams are not fully aware of what’s happening.
  • Without in-person communication, you’ll need a strong project management platform to act as your Agile backbone. There are many tools that use Agile approaches, such as scrum or kanban, to help you manage roles, responsibilities, project scope(s), and deadlines across both teams. Outside of regular virtual meetings, this is the main space where both teams should communicate about an Agile project, that way no team members are left out of the loop on priorities that should involve them.

Stronger Data Management Practices

Although Agile project management is all about delivering a major project in smaller iterations along the way, many practitioners of Agile have discovered the value of gathering and organizing all of their client’s relevant data at the start of the project. Especially when in-person discovery sessions weren’t possible during COVID lockdowns, it became even more important that Agile project managers ask the right data questions and that Agile clients know how to retrieve and deliver the needed data for the project.

These data management best practices are becoming increasingly common in Agile project management, helping both the vendor and the client to reach deliverables along the way by informing early goals with accurate data:

  • Using data annotation tools to prepare for AI/ML builds
  • Creating data models, often with data modeling software, to clean client data before analyzing it and working on project scope
  • Building data visualizations for clients at different stages of iterative development so that they can visually understand and provide their feedback, regardless of its technical  complexity at a given project stage

Growing Involvement in Change Management

The Agile philosophy is based on regular, segmented delivery of product features to the client, so several iterations of project development are necessary. But with so many companies simply working to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic and likely during the aftermath, several Agile clients want and need direction on change management strategies too. 

Agile already encourages flexibility, feedback, and collaboration at every stage, so the PM style naturally fits with and assists with change management needs. Project leaders are now expected to work beyond the parameters of the project and assist their clients with bigger picture thinking and business intelligence, so that their projects can be sustained in a supporting business infrastructure. 

As businesses continue to recover and figure out how they can support their operations post-pandemic, Agile project managers should consider acting as their clients’ guide for network security software and AIOps tools that can help them to maintain the complex tools that are being built for them.

Moving Agile Beyond the Software World

The Agile philosophy originated in and is mostly applied to software development, but it’s increasingly becoming a staple in other areas of project management, especially as COVID necessitated a more flexible approach with more reliable deliverables. 

A traditional project involves features like a task list, milestones, Gantt charts, resource leveling (who’s doing what and when), dependencies, a forward schedule, and a backward schedule. Looking at a project with all of these variables can become overwhelming, and especially since traditional project management is firm on sticking to the original scope and deadlines, it can be difficult for both teams to determine if they’ve budgeted the proper finances, time, and team members to any given task. Especially in times of chaos and change, an original scope may not fit the organization’s goals or needs in a year or even a month.

But when you apply an Agile methodology to a major project like this, you can suddenly break a long-haul task into iterations that allow the project to change and evolve as you go. For example, you can get 20% of a client’s ERP software set up by completing the testing of the manufacturing line. When you deliver that particular segment to the client, they have the opportunity to not only concretely see the project, but also to give approval and feedback before your team moves on to the next section. 

With an Agile approach to project management, both teams can achieve new efficiencies through transparent communication and collaboration efforts. In all likelihood, this collaborative piece of Agile methodology will stick around long after pandemic doubts and fears fade.

Read Next: Three Key Advances in ERP for 2021

Shelby Hiter
Shelby Hiter
Shelby Hiter is a writer with more than five years of experience in writing and editing, focusing on healthcare, technology, data, enterprise IT, and technology marketing. She currently writes for four different digital publications in the technology industry: Datamation, Enterprise Networking Planet, CIO Insight, and Webopedia. When she’s not writing, Shelby loves finding group trivia events with friends, cross stitching decorations for her home, reading too many novels, and turning her puppy into a social media influencer.

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