Agile project management: there’s no escaping it in the workplace these days. “Put it in the backlog.” “We’ll work on it during the next sprint.” “Talk to the Scrum Master.” The buzzwords of Agile project management are ubiquitous, and love it or hate it, you’ll benefit from being familiar with its principles.

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll tell you what Agile project management and Scrum are all about. Use this handy little table of contents to jump to the section that interests you most:

What is Agile project management?
In 2001, 17 software developers got together at the Snowbird resort in Utah to ski, drink hot cocoa, and chat about unshackling themselves from the heavy restraints of traditional software development. Jeff Sutherland—now considered the godfather of Agile project management—and his buddies together penned the now legendary Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

While the jargon of Agile project management may sound intimidating, you don’t need to be a software developer to easily grasp what it’s all about. Let’s back up a second and see how Merriam-Webster defines the word “agile.”

1. marked by the ready ability to move with quick and easy grace.

For example: “Like an agile peacock! Like a chicken with the face of a monkey…I fly!” —Duke of Weselton, Frozen

2. having a quick, resourceful, and adaptable character.

For example: “There is nothing to winning, really. That is, if you happen to be blessed with a keen eye, an agile mind, and no scruples whatsoever.” —Alfred Hitchcock

(Side note: How do you pronounce agile? Most dignified Brits say, “aj-aisle,” but many freedom-loving Americans say, “aj-il.”)

Traditional project management methodologies such as Waterfall, PMI’s PMBOK, and PRINCE2 are all rigid and highly controlled. They outline distinct stages for project planning from start to finish, and assume that you have all the requirements and information you need upfront.

Agile rejects these traditional project management methodologies as cumbersome, restrictive, and unsuitable for the new era of speed. Teams need to stay fast and flexible, even as they grow.

Agile project management accepts uncertainty as a given, and values responding to change over having a plan. Rather than assuming you can “do it once, and do it right,” Agile planning encourages you to work on something small, execute it quickly, get feedback, evaluate what’s working and what’s not, and adapt your plan from there. This process of small, fast, and repeated cycles is known as “iterative.”

Jim Highsmith, one of the original manifesto signatories, explained:

“In order to succeed in the new economy, to move aggressively into the era of e-business, e-commerce, and the web, companies have to rid themselves of their Dilbert manifestations of make-work and arcane policies.”

For what it’s worth, Dilbert didn’t take this insult lying down. Here’s some shade he throws back at Agile project management:
The principles of Agile project management
The core value at the heart of Agile project management is the concept of “inspect and adapt,” which means that last minute changes are welcome at any stage of the project cycle. The Manifesto for Agile Software Development outlines twelve principles:

Customer satisfaction is the highest priority, which you can ensure by delivering them valuable software early and continuously.
You welcome changing requirements, even late in development, for the customer’s competitive advantage.
You deliver working software frequently, as in every few weeks rather than months.
You must have close, daily collaboration between business people and the developers.
You build projects around motivated individuals, who deserve support and trust to get the job done.
Face-to-face conversation is the most efficient and effective form of communication.
Working software is the primary measure of progress.
Development should be sustainable. You should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
You must give continuous attention to technical excellence and good design.
Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
Regularly, the team should reflect on how to become more effective, and adjust their accordingly.
Explore how can help you to implement agile project management

Why use Agile project management?
There are some pretty impressive statistics that speak to the success of companies adopting Agile project management. According to the Project Management Institute,

75% of highly agile organizations met their goals and business intent
65% finished projects on time
67% finished projects within budget
These results are higher than what organizations with low agility achieve. The same research shows that agile organizations grow revenue 37% faster and earn 30% higher profits than non-agile companies.

Agile project management is popular because it’s well suited for what happens to people in real life. Business move quickly, things change all the time, and teams need to be able to adapt to these changes. Retrospection—the 12th principle outlined in the Manifesto—helps teams understand what worked, what didn’t, and to adjust their workflow accordingly. This empowers teams to constantly improve.

Other benefits of Agile project management include:

Since you test early and often, you quickly detect and resolve issues, bugs, and defects before they become critical
You improve customer satisfaction, since you loop them into the process every step of the way and incorporate their feedback
You virtually eliminate the possibility that your project will completely fail, because you always have a tangible and working product
What is Agile project management with Scrum?
Here’s the thing: Agile isn’t considered a methodology, but is rather an overarching philosophy or a belief system. There are many different methodologies with which you can actually implement Agile’s principles.

Think of it this way: Christianity is a large umbrella term that reflects a general set of beliefs and principles. There are many different ways to actually practice this set of beliefs on a daily basis: Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodox, and so on. All these denominations share a lot of core similarities, but they’re also different in their interpretations and practice.

Agile and its methodologies are similar, except that they’re not a religion, at least for most people :). Some methodologies with which you can implement the Agile philosophy include kanban, extreme programming (XP), crystal, and dynamic systems development method (DSDM). One of the most popular Agile methodologies, and the one we’ll explore here, is Scrum.

The same guys who wrote the Agile Manifesto are the ones who collaborated together to invent Scrum in the early 2000s. You can now take courses to become Scrum-certified through the Scrum Alliance or, but you certainly don’t have to. Almost all of our teams here at use some interpretation of Scrum to manage their day-to-day work. Weird name aside, we think Scrum is an easy, intuitive, and fun way to focus on what you need to get done from one week to the next.