What is Agile project management?

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
April 25, 2024
An Agile team standup meeting
What is Agile project management?
Written by 
Bryan Kitch
April 25, 2024

If you work in the software development sphere, you’ve almost certainly heard the term “agile” thrown around. Agile has been the go-to methodology for software development and innovation since the early 2000s, and there are plenty of stories to prove that it works. Agile is spreading beyond the tech world and becoming standard practice across several industries. 

But what's Agile methodology, and how can it help you with collaborative project managementIn this guide, we break down Agile across the following topics:

What is Agile methodology?

Agile methodology is an iterative process that gives teams the power to deliver high value to their customers in smaller pieces, without the cumbersome elements of a full-blown launch. 

That is, rather than waiting months (or years) to deliver a full suite of software products, an Agile team delivers work in smaller chunks. This enables teams to collaborate closely with their customers to evaluate a product plan and strategy in real time, making adjustments as needs shift.

The Agile concept originated from “The Agile Manifesto,” a 68-word credo created by 17 software engineers (called the “Snowbird 17”) in 2001. The authors behind the manifesto were frustrated by the software development industry, particularly its long lead times between releases, excessive documentation, and failure to consider the customer’s needs. Their publication made shockwaves through the industry, resulting in many developers abandoning the old development practices (known as “Waterfall”) and adopting this new system. 

The simplest definition of Agile is: “A project management approach that enables software developers (and other professionals) to respond to customer feedback and release new iterations more quickly.” The Agile process breaks down a project into small, manageable increments led by a collaborative and self-organizing team.

The best way to understand Agile is to look at the values and principles outlined by those original developers. 

The Agile values 

People over processes and tools

When the Snowbird 17 were developing Agile, the software development industry was hyper-focused on processes. The belief seemed that the right tools and techniques would lead to successful software, no matter who was doing the work. The Snowbird 17 rejected this concept, suggesting that the right team was essential for success.

Project managers can implement this value into their work by considering their team before starting a new project. The right combination of personalities, talents, and experience can significantly impact your success. 

Working prototypes over excessive documentation

We can all agree that documentation is essential. Every project needs clear documentation to keep track of changes, manage timelines and workflows, and everything else that goes into successful deliverables. However, working in Agile means making the deliverables the top priority.

This methodology prioritizes promptly providing the customer with finished software (or other projects) and documenting the project development to suit those timelines. Streamlining documentation is crucial and gives team members only the information they need to complete their project phase.   

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

This value speaks to the adaptive nature of Agile. Agile project managers nurture a feedback loop between the development team and the customer. This customer collaboration enables the team to adjust their project plan throughout the development process and improves their chances of achieving customer satisfaction.

Responding to change by following a plan

In the early 2000s, updating software was considered an excess expense. Therefore, development teams had to create detailed plans before writing a single line of code — and they were expected to stick to the plan. 

Of course, anyone who works in project management knows that isn’t always possible. Projects run into backlogs, bottlenecks, and countless other issues that can veer the team off the original roadmap. Agile practices encourage teams to embrace the uncertainty of project development by assessing the project after each phase and adjusting priorities as necessary. This adaptive process ensures that the development team always addresses customer needs first and foremost.

The 12 principles of Agile

In addition to the Agile values we discussed, the Snowbird 17 also developed 12 Agile principles. These principles help guide Agile teams as they move through each development cycle in their project. 

The 12 Agile principles are as follows:

1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software. 

Agile project managers know that a happy customer receives regular deliverables rather than making clients wait extended periods between software releases, project updates, or other deliverables. 

2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. 

Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. There's time for feedback and changes baked into the Agile framework, so development teams can more easily accommodate changing priorities and meet their client’s business needs.

3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for a shorter timescale. 

“Working software” is the top priority in Agile software development. Agile developers work in iterations rather than creating a one-time finished product. Creating a product (or meeting project goals) satisfies the customer, and the Agile approach still allows for changes down the road.

4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. 

It's essential that project managers, teams, and clients align their goals and priorities. Therefore, the feedback look (Agile value 3) is crucial during development.

5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to do the job. 

Agile value 1 emphasizes the need for talented team members. This principle pushes this notion further, asserting that the right team will accomplish its goals without micromanagement. Project managers must give their teams the support they need to engage with their work.

6. A face-to-face conversation is the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team. 

We’ll admit this principle is a product of its time. The early 2000s weren't equipped for remote work the way we are today, and now it’s much easier to practice Agile with a hybrid or remote team. However, this principle highlights the need for regular team communication, and we fully agree.

7. Working software is the primary measure of progress. 

In many cases, your client doesn’t care about your team’s metrics or goals‌ — ‌they just want the product in their hands. The Agile approach keeps this in mind and prioritizes deliverables, which help satisfy your clients.

8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. 

The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. Meeting regular delivery goals requires consistency. This is why Agile asks teams to set an achievable, repeatable timeline for their work.

9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility. 

While much of Agile for business focuses on project development and management, it's also important to remember that the work should exhibit excellence, whether you’re designing software or doing any other project.

10. Simplicity‌ — ‌the art of maximizing the amount of work not done‌ — ‌is essential. 

Agile’s iterative approach allows developers to focus on meeting their primary goals and delivering the work on time. Small changes or updates can always be a part of the next iteration.

11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. 

Similar to principle 5, this principle asserts that teams are most effective when they take ownership of a project. Allowing teams to self-organize gives them power over the project, leading to more diligent work.

12. The team regularly reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly. 

This final principle reflects how vital continuous improvement is in Agile. Not only are Agile teams constantly improving their deliverables with each iteration, but they’re constantly learning how to improve themselves.

Traditional project management vs. Agile project management

The focus on customer satisfaction, communication, and regular improvement makes Agile very attractive to project managers — but how does it compare to the old Waterfall method? 

Let’s take a look:


  • Start with a specific target
  • Rigid planning process
  • One development cycle
  • Test once development is complete
  • Minimal client involvement


  • Start with an overall vision
  • Adaptable planning and evolution
  • Multiple development cycles
  • Test throughout the process
  • Consistent client involvement

There are some cases in which Waterfall is the ideal project management approach. Small, simple projects are better suited to Waterfall, as well as projects from clients who don’t want to offer feedback. But if your project is more extensive, complex, and has changing priorities throughout development, Agile is the best way to manage things.

Benefits of Agile project management

Agile management yields several benefits, which is why it’s become so popular in the IT industry and beyond. Some of the benefits of practicing Agile include the following:  

  • More adaptability. When you have the freedom to adapt your project as you go, you can more closely align with your customer’s priorities and deliver products that meet their needs.
  • Greater customer satisfaction. Agile not only helps you align with your client’s needs, but it streamlines the time between planning and delivery. This makes your client much happier and improves your business’s reputation.
  • More efficient teams. Agile’s focus on people over processes and continuous improvement makes team development a priority. This method helps your team become stronger and more efficient with every deliverable.

Types of Agile methodologies

Agile is an umbrella term for several more specific management approaches. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, but Scrum, Kanban, and Lean are the most popular.


Scrum is a framework designed specifically for keeping complex product development and project management on track. Primarily used for agile software development, but applicable to any activity requiring teamwork, the Scrum framework guides cross-functional teams to communicate, hold each other accountable, and iterate to deliver results.

Like a rugby team (where ‘scrum’ gets its name) trying to take possession of the ball, Scrum encourages teams to work together and learn from their experiences to improve. Essentially, it's a set of tools, resources, and well-defined roles that help teams manage their work.

The Agile Scrum framework is structured around roles, events, and artifacts.


  • Product owner
  • Scrum master
  • Scrum development team members



  • Product backlog
  • Sprint backlog
  • Increment

The Agile Scrum process is very simple. You can think of the Scrum Master as the glue that holds the team together. A Scrum Master’s main job is to nurture an environment where teams can develop micro-alignment within Agile.

The Product Owner looks over the Product backlog and orders the work to be done. The Scrum Development Team then turns part of that work into an increment of value (or goal) during a sprint planning session (e.g., in two weeks, we'll complete the build-out of the onboarding application).

The Scrum team and its stakeholders then analyze the results and make any adjustments for the next Sprint. And they iterate the process until the project is complete.


Another popular Agile framework is Kanban. Similar to Scrum, Kanban is a model designed to help teams work more effectively together. Whereas short, structured work timeframes (i.e., Sprints) and well-defined roles are the heart and soul of Scrum, Kanban offers a more fluid and continuous workflow.

Kanban is all about helping teams visualize their work and maximize efficiency. Kanban teams aim to reduce the time it takes to complete a project, and they do this by constantly considering how to improve their flow of work. Using Kanban boards, teams create their own columns to organize how projects flow through the necessary stages.

A marketing team might, for example, take a blog article from Backlog, to Prioritized, to Outlines Ready, to Drafting, to Editing, to Designing, to Published. Looking at their Kanban board, the team can then determine that it takes one week to create a piece of content and determine where they can remove bottlenecks to become more efficient.

Related: Scrum vs Kanban Board: Which to use?

Lean Development

As the name suggests, Lean development aims to be as lean as possible throughout the project. They eliminate all non-essential activities, shorten the development life cycle, and focus on big-picture changes rather than the details.

Types of Agile ceremonies and meetings

Meetings or “Ceremonies” are the key to making your Agile machine run smoothly. While we discuss many of the Agile ceremonies below in the context of Scrum, they can be applied to other forms of Agile, such as Kanban or Lean.

Let’s take a look at some of the most crucial Agile ceremonies and how they empower teams to innovate with Agile principles.

Sprint planning‍

Sprint planning happens at the beginning of each Sprint. The purpose is to set up the team for success. Before the meeting, the Product Owner will look at the Product backlog and come up with a list of priorities to bring to the development team. The team discusses each item together and collectively determines how much effort is involved in each one. From here, the team creates a forecast outlining what work they expect to complete during the Sprint. This outline becomes the Sprint backlog.‍

Daily scrum (aka daily standup)‍

These short meetings (no more than 15 minutes) are designed to quickly brief everyone on the team’s progress.

This high-level meeting should be informative, but without pulling everyone into the weeds. Typically, each team member answers three questions:

  • What did I complete yesterday?
  • What will I work on today?
  • Am I feeling stuck on anything?

A simple, straightforward agenda, along with the built-in accountability, ensures success for daily stand-ups.

Learn more: Expert tips to make daily stand-ups more effective

Sprint review‍

Sprint Reviews happen at the end of a Sprint or when a team hits an important milestone. These Agile ceremonies are a time for teams to showcase their work, celebrate wins, and get feedback from stakeholders. It can help to have some simple guidelines for work to be ready to be shared during Sprint Review. To share your work, it must be complete and up to quality standards, for instance.

Sprint retrospective‍

Because Agile is all about getting rapid feedback and using that feedback to make the product or development process better, retrospectives are another significant element. Sprint Retrospectives help teams understand what went well and what could be improved.

However, Product Owners should emphasize that these Agile ceremonies aren't simply a time to complain or air grievances. Teams need retrospectives to figure out how to build on what’s working and find creative solutions for what’s not working. Remember, continuous improvement drives development within agile teams. The most successful teams take their retrospectives seriously.

Scaling Agile: A look at the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

Now, you may be thinking all of this sounds great for small teams. When you consider implementing Agile principles involving only a product owner, a Scrum leader, and a small development team, you can see how a tight-knit team like this could move quickly, make adjustments, and course-correct. But you might be wondering how it'd work with multiple teams across a large organization.

No doubt, real challenges arise with scaled Agile. The good news is that there’s a framework for this too. The scaled Agile framework (aka SAFe® Agile) is a set of guidelines and workflow patterns for implementing Agile at scale.

SAFe® encourages leaders to focus on a set of five core values and how best to promote these values across the organization:

  • Alignment
  • Built-in quality
  • Transparency
  • Program execution
  • Leadership

The principles within the SAFe framework will improve the whole organization‌ by replacing traditional “waterfall” thinking with design thinking. Cooperation across functional and organizational boundaries will improve as well as efficiency and productivity.

Now if the idea of bringing together multiple agile teams is intimidating, PI Planning is here to help. PI Planning stands for Program Increment Planning. These sessions are events scheduled at regular intervals throughout the year where cross-functional groups of 50-125 people, called an Agile Release Train (ART) working on the same project meet to talk about the bigger picture.

Here's a brief description of what these sessions look like:

  • Teams meet face-to-face for two full days every 8–12 weeks.
  • Teams plan and define the work that needs to be done.
  • Teams review backlogs, discuss what features will add value, and update the product roadmap.
  • Teams identify risks and dependencies.
Learn more: The complete PI planning guide for hybrid and remote teams

Unlock the power of Agile with your teams

Whichever Agile approach you use, remember that the goal is the same: to provide the maximum value to your customers. The best thing about Agile is that it’s flexible enough to implement in any team environment. If you aren’t yet using Agile to unite your cross-functional teams, get started and witness the transformation.

Mural makes it possible for enterprises to implement and scale Agile methodologies in a visual, collaborative way. Contact our Sales team to learn more about how Mural powers enterprise collaboration.

Looking for a framework to start with common Agile ceremonies? Mural's Agile templates help you easily run retrospectives, sprint reviews, and much more!

About the authors

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.