A project manager’s guide to Agile workflows

The complete guide to agile project management

The constant business hype surrounding Agile workflows can feel a bit like a buzzy food trend on your feed (avocado toast or matcha lattes, anyone?). You get that people love it, but you may not fully get why or if it’s worth trying for yourself.

Unlike the latest foodie fads, though, we can confidently tell you that Agile project management is here to stay—and the most successful PMs will be the ones who get on board with it. 

While the Agile method is nothing new, the global pandemic and supply chain shortages put a massive spotlight on it as a way to stay flexible, productive, and profitable amid unforeseen business challenges. In fact, Digital.ai’s 15th State of Agile Report found that the use of Agile workflows more than doubled across “non-IT lines of business”—including Operations, Marketing, HR, and Sales—from 2020 to 2021 alone. 

Even now, companies are clamoring for PMs to use Agile project management to deliver greater business value. As McKinsey notes, Agile transformations offer serious #gains, from 30% boosts in customer satisfaction and employee engagement to 5 to 10 times greater productivity.

The sooner you hone your understanding of what Agile project management is (and isn’t) and the different ways you can apply it, the sooner you’ll take your iron triangle balancing act to the next level and wow clients and executives alike.

The fundamentals of Agile project management

Agile project management is an approach rooted in, surprise, agility—or, more specifically, the ability to quickly adapt to changing variables throughout a project life cycle. This method is designed to help you pivot as needed for faster, more frequent deliverables and employs a continuous feedback loop, ultimately resulting in stronger end products and happier clients.

The Agile method was created in 2001 by a group of 17 software developers who published a set of agreed-upon values and principles (the Agile Manifesto) that drove success in their development process.

4 core values of the Agile method

Although the manifesto was originally focused on Agile development in tech, these four preference points remain the foundation of all things Agile:

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

In Agile project management, people are considered the most important factor in project success. You can have the fanciest tech in the world, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the right people in place working together. Continuous communication and collaboration are prioritized to ensure all stakeholders are on the same page and feel supported. Additionally, thoughtful resource allocation helps employees hone their desired skills and prevents burnout.

2. Working software over comprehensive documentation

In traditional project management, team members can’t get started on a project until there’s a robust, granular plan in place laying out every piece of the project puzzle. This emphasis on project perfection, however, causes issues with project completion.

With an Agile approach, projects are based on a more general scope of work, which is then broken down into iterative chunks called “sprints.” Specific tasks are executed in 2- to 4-week sprints instead of months, with each deliverable then submitted to the client for review and internal adjustments. This segmented approach keeps the project steadily progressing toward the deadline.

3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Agile teams keep clients in the loop throughout the entire project life cycle instead of just at the start. With an Agile mindset, clients are considered to be external team members whose job is to keep feedback coming so deliverables are in tip-top shape. Because your client is an active participant in shaping the project direction throughout, you minimize the risk of the client rejecting an end product that your team spent a ton of blood, sweat, and tears on.

4. Responding to change over following a plan

Traditional project management is very anti-change, viewing change only through the lens of costing timelines and budgets. In an Agile workflow, however, change is seen as inevitable and something you can prepare for. The iterative nature of sprints gives team members a natural buffer to implement adjustments without having to compromise on deadlines or budgets.

12 principles of the Agile method

The 12 practical directives from the developers’ manifesto bring the core values of Agile to life. Even if you’re not a technical PM, these Agile principles will still work for guiding your unique end products—just replace “software” with “deliverables.”

Easy peasy.

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for a shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12.  At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
12 principles of the Agile method

The 12 Principles of the Agile Method. Source: Agile Alliance.

6 phases of Agile workflows

While not part of the official Agile Manifesto, these six steps are generally acknowledged as the key phases of most Agile workflows:

1. Project scoping

You meet with your client to outline the general project requirements, goals, timeline, and budgets. Using these insights, you start to rough out a project roadmap and product backlog, which is a project to-do list organized by order of importance.

2. Assigning team members and internal coordination

Now comes the “Avengers, assemble” stage—the part where you build your all-star team lineup. You evaluate your team members’ capacity, skill sets, and career goals to find the best fit for the job, and then sync with them on the project overview and share any related resources or tools they need. The team then starts to outline a proposed version of their expected deliverables, which are sent to stakeholders to green light.

3. Sprint planning and sprinting

You use your product backlog to come up with your sprint backlog, which is a list of items for sprint team members to complete throughout the sprint. Each sprint item addresses a certain “user story,” or end goal, that ultimately supports the client’s larger vision for the end product. Then, your team gets to work completing all the items in the current sprint. 

4. Testing or internal reviewing

After a team member feels their deliverable is almost done, it gets internally tested or reviewed one last time before it gets sent to the client. More eyes = fewer mistakes.

5. Incorporating client feedback

The client either accepts the deliverable as is or requests specific changes. If changes are requested, the team member makes the necessary adjustments and sends it back to the client with the goal of meeting an agreed-upon “definition of done.” You then cross those approved deliverables off your sprint and product backlogs and prep for the next sprint.

6. Sprint retrospectives 

After each sprint, you conduct a sprint review. This lets you be proactive about any issues that could impact your iron triangle. In the review, you identify what went well and what can be improved during the next round. For example, if you discover that one of your developers was at 90% utilization during the sprint, you may consider re-adjusting their workload next time to bring it down to a more manageable 70 to 80% range that limits the possibility of burnout.

Steps 3 to 6 are then repeated until the product backlog is cleared out, signaling the end of the project. 

Congrats, you did the Agile thing!

Waterfall workflows vs. Agile workflows 

If you’ve never been a member of #teamAgile, you’ve most likely been on #teamwaterfall. Unlike Agile, which uses cyclical loops and continuous customer feedback, waterfall projects follow a linear sequence and only get client input at the start and end of the project life cycle. 

The waterfall approach works when clients know exactly what they want out of their deliverables, but waterfall projects are also prone to falling apart with changes in the scope, client vision, or resource availability. Additionally, team members can also only start a new task when one has been finalized. Thanks to an inflexible timeline and this rigid structure, productivity is bound to suffer.  

The design competition reality show Project Runway is a great (albeit unexpected) example of using Agile elements to deliver a stronger end result. Designer mentor Christian Siriano gives contestants feedback on their in-progress ensembles before they debut on the catwalk. This gives them the opportunity to proactively modify their designs to be in better alignment with the judges’ expectations for the challenge. Without receiving or applying Siriano’s input, contestants face a greater likelihood of elimination.

The same risk is present across waterfall projects (runway and otherwise). Limited client feedback throughout the process can lead to deliverables clients aren’t happy with—and there’s nothing worse than hearing that you’ve wasted time, money, and talent on an end product that needs way more work.

Waterfall vs Agile project management methodology

Waterfall vs. Agile workflow.

The benefits of an Agile workflow process

We wouldn’t be writing a whole guide on Agile project management if it didn’t live up to the hype. By embracing the flexibility of Agile, you’ll be able to keep your PM iron triangle solid and well-balanced. Your team is poised to adapt to changes and be more productive because they’re using resources wisely, monitoring quality, and collaborating with each other. Because the client is involved along the way, satisfaction improves, both for customers and employees.


Because responsiveness to change is built into Agile’s DNA, Agile avoids the super-rigid, linear workflow of traditional project management. The ability to quickly reprioritize sprint backlog items to fit shifting client needs or any production or feedback delays keeps the project undeterred by unforeseen resource constraints.

Continuous productivity 

Since sprints don’t require one step to be fully complete before another one can begin, the project never stalls. While team members wait for feedback, they can easily pivot to address the remaining work items in their sprint backlog. This Agile workflow minimizes tension if client feedback is delayed—they aren’t completely derailing an employee’s personal productivity.

Optimal resource use

Planning work in smaller sprints makes it easier to avoid chronic overallocation or giving employees work above their current skill level. This is key for preventing burnout, a major player in the game of productivity and employee engagement. It’s also much less of a hassle to reassign work in a 2-week sprint than trying to find coverage for someone who was handling a project-long task.

Additionally, an Agile workflow process helps you get the most value out of client relationships because they provide continuous feedback. These conversations ensure your team’s time and budget are being used in the wisest manner possible, and it all but eliminates unnecessary scope creep. You’re far less likely to get to the end of the project without meeting client expectations.

Quality control

With continuous internal testing and review based on client feedback, your team can easily work out kinks ahead of time so your deliverable is as polished as can be. These proactive adjustments in each iteration are key for retaining clients and maintaining their trust. The last thing you want is to hype up your end product as top-notch, only for the client to discover technical bugs or other issues. 

Team collaboration

With so many moving parts in sprints, open communication among your team and clients is critical to project success. This heightened focus on teamwork builds stronger working relationships, which are especially beneficial for remote team members that may feel isolated from others. On the client side, collaboration helps them to feel more included—like they’re true partners on the project. The deeper the connections you can foster with clients, the more likely it is that they’ll stick around and keep contributing to your bottom line.

Employee and stakeholder satisfaction

When it comes to Agile workflows, everyone wins. Team members continuously learn and upskill faster, thanks to a steady stream of feedback. This input then results in final deliverables that are well aligned with the client’s vision and goals, making for good vibes all around.

AvatarJamie Colarossi

“Resource Guru has significantly improved our visibility, boosting project ownership and forecasting ability.”

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Resource Manager

The top 3 Agile frameworks

The Agile methodology unites project managers under a set of core values and principles, but there are a bunch of different ways that you can apply those concepts. These differing methods of execution are known as Agile frameworks, with each one offering a unique approach to embodying the Agile Manifesto throughout project life cycles. 

1. Scrum

Scrum focuses on continuous improvement in deliverables as well as team growth. It’s objectively the most popular Agile framework, which is further reinforced by how it has continually crushed all other frameworks in Digital.ai’s annual State of Agile reports. In 2021, 66% of respondents said they were using Scrum—the closest runner-up (ScrumBan) accounted for a measly 9%.

How Scrum works

Scrum employs the six Agile phases we previously discussed: project scoping, assigning team members and internal coordination, sprint planning and sprinting, testing or internal reviewing, incorporating client feedback, and sprint retrospectives. However, there’s one key addition: daily Scrum meetings where PMs meet with their teams to discuss progress and go over workloads.

What is the key tool(s) for success in Scrum?

  • Digital Scrum boards that track items in your Scrum backlog and product backlog 
  • Agile project management software that lets you assign workloads and monitor project progress in one single source of truth
  • Video conferencing software like Google Meet for daily Scrum meetings

Advantages of Scrum

  • Fosters communication and collaboration
  • Expedites deliverables that align with the client’s vision
  • Provides visibility into project details
  • Encourages team members to embrace a growth mindset

Disadvantages of Scrum

  • Only suited for projects that don’t need a predictable, clearly defined plan
  • Only includes specific details within singular sprints, not within the overall project plan 
  • Requires highly experienced team members

2. Kanban

Like Scrum, the Kanban framework emphasizes progressive improvement, but it supports this goal through the clear visualization of tasks and their progress. Its simplicity makes it the third most popular framework in the 2021 Digital.ai report, with 6% of global respondents using it. 

How Kanban works

With this framework, project managers employ a visual tool called a Kanban board, which shows tasks under different stages like “not started,” “in progress,” “revising,” and “completed.” PMs decide on a set maximum for how many tasks can be in the “in progress” stage at once, with the goal of minimizing review bottlenecks as well as context switching. Unlike Scrum, which employs daily standup meetings, Kanban only requires meetings when in-progress work dips below a certain point.

What is the key tool(s) for success in Kanban?

  • Digital Kanban boards like Trello, that clearly depict which “bucket” different tasks fall under, make it easy to move items to new stages and add task information, and allow you to tag different team members

Advantages of Kanban

  • Breaks complex components down into simple visual parts
  • Minimizes overallocation
  • Ensures fewer check-in meetings
  • Team members function autonomously

Disadvantages of Kanban

  • Difficult to identify where specific bottlenecks stem from
  • Requires continuous manual oversight to ensure the accuracy of boards
  • Not suited for large projects (Kanban boards can quickly become cluttered, outdated, and confusing)
  • Increases likelihood of miscommunication 

3. ScrumBan

Say hello to ScrumBan, the child of Scrum and Kanban! This hybrid framework combines Scrum’s sprint-based model with Kanban’s focus on process visualization. Unsurprisingly, it took second in Digital.ai’s 2021 survey, with 9% of respondents employing it. 

How ScrumBan works

In ScrumBan, Scrum sprints are shorter—usually a maximum of two weeks. This gives project managers greater control over the amount of work in progress. Then Kanban boards are used to monitor tasks, and there are no defined roles on the team. People pick up work when and where they have the bandwidth and expertise.

What is the key tool(s) for success in ScrumBan?

  • Agile project management software that lets you assign workloads and monitor project progress in one single source of truth
  • Digital Kanban boards that offer clear visibility into who is working on what and when, make it easy to move items to new stages and add task information, and allow you to tag different team members

Advantages of ScrumBan

  • Minimizes scope creep and overallocation
  • Creates transparency across the team
  • Combines both structure and flexibility

Disadvantages of ScrumBan

  • Takes more effort to monitor individual progress 
  • Reliant on team members’ ability to execute
  • Minimally defined best practices

Agile project management requires equally agile software 

Like introducing any new process, successfully implementing the Agile method on your team requires time to adjust to the change and smooth out any kinks. But that upfront investment of focused effort will pay off big time—your team will leap over project obstacles like ninjas and deliver work that consistently satisfies clients.

To ensure you stay on top of all the moving parts in Agile workflows, you need a project management tool that gives you visibility into and control over team workloads and the project timeline. Try our free 30-day trial to check out how our resource management software helps companies like Accenture and NASA live their best Agile life.

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