How Agile Project Management Can Benefit Small Businesses
The agile methodology is most commonly associated with software development, but industries of all types have discovered its powerful and practical applications which can be adapted to fit most situations. For that reason, small business owners have taken up the agile mantle in an effort to tackle huge projects in the shortest possible time.
The basic premise of agile is to achieve as much as you can within a strict time limit. By working quickly and efficiently toward smaller goals, you can knock out large projects in less time. Because you’ll work in short bursts, you can quickly pivot and change directions whenever necessary. The end result is less waste—of time, money, talent, and supplies—and more completed tasks.
So, how can you adapt the agile methodology to your small business? Here are nine simple tips:
1. Rethink Your Structure
Neatly defined roles don’t fit within the agile PM methodology. You’ll need to be prepared to break down those walls and share responsibilities with everyone. The idea of eliminating job titles and having everyone get their hands dirty may not appeal to every team member, but it’s a fundamental component of such a flexible strategy.
Of course, you don’t want people to waste time on tasks that fall outside their comfort zone, but you can encourage learning in small doses. For best results, make sure most time is spent on tasks your employees can complete quickly, without additional instruction.
2. Conduct Regular Tests
Testing is crucial for software development, but the process won’t work quite the same for your small business. You will need to test your business plan, marketing strategies, customer service, and products or services as frequently as possible. Challenge everything, even the tactics that seem to be working. There’s always a better way to do something, but you won’t find it if you settle for “good enough.”
In order to reinforce this behavior, try setting up automatic reminders or scheduling testing days, using project management software.
3. Use the 80/20 Phenomenon
One of the most popular sayings in software development is that 80 percent of your results will come from 20 percent of your effort. And if you know where to focus that effort, you’ll realize even better results. First, determine which aspects of your small business return the most traffic, revenue, or publicity. Then invest your energy there instead of spinning your wheels on things that won’t affect your bottom line.
4. Deliver Often
You’ll be working in short bursts on various projects, so make sure you have something to show for it at the end of each cycle. Whether it’s a new product or service for your customers, or a new technique for your employees, you should be able to put something out there for consumption.
If this kind of rapid release schedule is fundamentally at odds with your company structure, you may want to reevaluate whether the agile methodology is right for you.
5. Keep Documentation
You want to know what works and what doesn’t, so make sure you keep notes and data from your sprints. Even if something you attempt fails, you can try again during your next cycle. The only way to get better is to document every step so you don’t make the same mistakes twice.
Remember, there’s no need to keep full-sized manuals about each sprint. The lighter and tighter you keep your notes and metrics, the better you’ll be.
6. Finish One Before Starting Another
You can’t start a new sprint if you haven’t reached the finish line on your first one. Make sure you have something to show for your hard work before you move on to something new. If that means slowing down your progress in order to get everything right, then that’s what you need to do.
If you end up continually having to push back the end date for your agile sprints though, it might be due to overly ambitious goals. One of the points of agile is to keep the tasks short enough to accomplish in bursts. If you end up pushing back more than one sprint, talk to your team about breaking their work apart into smaller, more realistic goals.
7. Allow Staff to Choose Tasks
Rather than set assignments, allow your staff to choose the tasks they want to take on. This will give everyone a chance to learn something new and perhaps find a place where they can succeed. Yes, you may experience a few failures as your employees discover what they can and can’t do, but you’ll also see greater passion as everyone finds new ways to contribute. Some may even surprise themselves by discovering new talents.
8. Allow Periods of Rest
A sprint means a quick, short burst and then the race is over. Take time after the sprint to rest and recharge. If you jump right back into another race, everyone will be exhausted, make mistakes, and eventually decrease your productivity.
Resting periods may seem as though they’ll steal valuable time, but instead, they’ll help give everyone fresh perspective and energy to attack the next race. You can use the rest periods to go over the notes and data collected, and evaluate what worked best about the previous sprint. Then figure out how to incorporate these changes into the next cycle, before you start.
9. Give Collective Ownership
Even if you’re the owner of your company, that doesn’t mean you necessarily own everything that comes out of it. When your team experiences successes, make sure they feel as though they’re truly the owner of that victory. The same must be said for the failures. If everyone accounts for wins and losses, self-motivation kicks into overdrive. In order to make agile work, your team needs to be functioning as a single unit. Regularly taking the time to make sure everyone is onboard with company decisions is a great way to find that consensus.
This isn’t an easy methodology to put into practice, mainly because you must be willing to accept failure in every sprint. However, as long as you can learn from each mistake and use every new project to improve upon your successes, agile project management can deliver great results, and fast ROI.
Have you ever tried to implement an agile methodology? Did you learn anything from the experience? Share your insight with us in the comments!
Jacel Egan is a media relations coordinator at TechnologyAdvice. She covers gamification, business intelligence, project management, and other emerging technology. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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