The mere mention of phases in an Agile conversation tends to cause a few cringes, especially among people who wish to keep agile as close to its lofty ideals as possible. In the eyes of many, trying to divvy up any kind of an Agile collaboration into phases belittles the whole point of becoming agile.
On the other hand, there are the pragmatists and those who are trying to be agile while handling projects, requirements, managers, clients and other factors which may not be as wide-eyed about agile as they are.
The 5 agile project management model phases came as an acknowledgement of such a reality where traditional structures and opinions need to be eased into agile and where the hint of the old order can help agile teams enjoy the type of freedom and understanding that they require.
The person behind these 5 agile project management model phases is Jim Highsmith, one of the original signatories of the Agile Manifesto and a prolific author in the field. Those of you familiar with traditional project management will recognize these phases as mirroring the Initiate, Plan, Manage, Control, Close phases.
As you will see, these phases simply provide a rough framework for other agile practices and are more descriptive than prescriptive.
So, let’s start.
Phase one: Envision
This phase is designed to help create a vision for the project itself. The vision should focus on the customers themselves, as well as the people involved in the project. Simply put, it should cover what, who and how when getting the project off the ground is concerned.
As an example, the first step is to envision "what" to deliver, which consists of a vision that focuses on the product and the scope of the project. The next step is to envision "who" should be involved in the project. Stakeholders, project managers, team members, as well as the community of customers all have something to contribute to the project. Finally, the last step is to envision "how" the project team members are planning on working together.
Introducing a vision before the project has begun vastly increases its chances of success.
Phase two: Speculate
Speculation might indicate reckless thinking that involves a lot of risk taking. However, in this phase, speculation comes with a different meaning. As a matter of fact, it encourages brainstorming and collaboration based on creative thinking that will allow team members to envision, as well as explore possibilities of how the project should progress.
These ideas are tested against the reality of what's possible to achieve and what's out of your reach. In other words, it's planning for the future while also allowing enough flexibility to change the course of action if necessary. Simply put, it's the adaptive approach of Agile compared to the predictive approach of traditional methods. In this phase, team members focus on a few important activities, such as:
- Obtaining the preliminary broad requirements for the product
- Determining the amount of workload, including the list of product features
- Planning for delivery, which includes release dates (agile release management anyone?), milestones, iterations, as well as resource and schedule allocations for each product feature
- Planning for risk mitigation
- Estimating product costs and obtaining additional financial and administrative information.
Phase three: Explore
The explore phase focuses on delivering project features. From the project management point of view, there are three crucial steps included in this phase.
Step one - manage the workload and use the proper technical practices, as well as risk mitigation strategies to deliver planned product features.
Step two - create a community that's self-organizing and collaborative and that shares responsibility but the responsibility is, therefore, facilitated by the project manager.
Step three - manage how team members interact with other parties, such as customers, product managers, stakeholders, etc.
Phase four: Adapt
The adapt phase focuses on modifications, changes and corrections in the product's lifecycle. The fact of the matter is that speculate, explore and adapt phases are regularly revisited in order to improve the product itself with each and every iteration.
However, the adapt phase is designed to analyze the results for various perspectives ranging from customers to technical staff. In essence, analyzing results comes down do reviewing actual results versus planned results. More importantly, it comes down to reviewing actual versus revised results. In other words, the adapt phase considers the improvements required, which are integrated into the re-planning approach for the next iteration.
Phase five: Close
Every project should have its beginning and its end. Failing to determine the project's endpoint can result in perception issues among the customers. Therefore, bring a project to an end and celebrate its success. But before you end it, make sure you analyze all the key findings and knowledge gathered from the project and pass it along to the next team so they can benefit from your information as well.
Things to consider
Agile, applied to project management is designed to provide a more adaptable alternative to traditional project management and these 5 phases attest to that thanks to the unique modifications to traditional pm phases. That being said, they are far more than some sort of an agile project management checklist. They provide a framework which accommodates for other agile ideas, concepts and practices.
As such, they should never be allowed to deteriorate into a serialized structure where the phases are visibly and concretely separated from one another and occur strictly one after the other. They should overlap and be revisited when the new information is unearthed.
In the end, that is what agile should be about.