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10 Principles of Agile Project Management

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Project Time Management is one of the nine knowledge areas of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). It deals with the definition of activities (what are we going to do), the sequencing of the activities (in what order are we going to do them), and the development and control of the schedule (when are we going to perform those activities).

Agile Time Management
Over the past couple of weeks I have been trying to find out what the main principles of time management are in the case of agile software development. I was able to distinguish 10 principles so far, and I will present them here for your convenience. With each principle I also include a reference to an online article that (as far as I can tell) nicely describes the ideas behind it. If you don't agree with my list, or if you know some better reference material, feel free to add your thoughts!

1. Use a Definition of "Done"
How? Define what "Done" means and only count the activities that are Done.
Why? Prevent the build-up of hidden tasks ("technical debt") that cost a lot of time to fix down the road.
See: The Definition of "Done"

2. Use Timeboxes to Manage Work
How? Set a start- and end date for a collection of activities, and don't allow changes to those dates.
Why? Timeboxes keep people focused on what's most important. Don't lose time to perfectionism.
See: Time Boxing is an Effective Getting Things Done Strategy

3. Don't Add Slack to Task Estimates
How? Don't use scheduling and buffering of tasks. Add one buffer to the end of the timebox/project.
Why? All safety margins for tasks will be used ("Parkinson's Law" and "Student's Syndrom'").
See: Critical Chain Scheduling and Buffer Management

4. Defer Decisions
How? Make decisions only at the latest responsible time. "No Decision" is also a decision.
Why? The environment may change, making earlier decisions a waste of time.
See: Real Options Underlie Agile Practices

5. Reduce Cycle Time
How? Iterative cycles should be as short as possible.
Why? Speed up the learning feedback loop, and decrease the time-to-market.
See: Lean Software Development: Why reduce cycle-time?

6. Keep the Pipeline Short and Thin
How? Limit the amount of work-in-progress, and the number of people working in sequence.
Why? Improve response times, speed up throughput.
See: Managing the Pipeline

7. Keep the Discipline
How? Prevent expensive rework by doing some processes well, right from the start
Why? Solving problems late in a project is more expensive than following proper rules early.
See: The Power of Process

8. Limit Task Switching
How? Prevent unnecessary task switching between projects, and prevent interruptions.
Why? Tasks get completed faster on average, and the human brain is bad at task switching.
See: Human Task Switches Considered Harmful

9. Prevent Sustained Overtime
How? Disregard (sustained) overtime as a way to accellerate progress.
Why? Lost productivity, poor quality and bad motivation among team members.
See: The Case Against Overtime

10. Separate Urgency from Importance
How? Urgent tasks and important tasks should not be done at the same time.
Why? The important stuff will usually not get done, costing you more time in the long run.
See: A 10 Second Guide to Smoother Projects: Urgent vs. Important

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Jurgen Appelo. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Ash Mughal replied on Thu, 2012/01/26 - 2:51am

An interesting and well written article. I can understand your points and some of them are excellent such as limit task switching and separate urgent from important. I am not so sure about a couple of the others. Based on my experience in the software industry and now as a time management coach I am not convinced about "don't add a buffer to time estimates" and "defer decisions". I have found my clients (and my previously staff) are very bad at estimating how long task will take and they always under estimate, so a buffer was important in managing expectations. Also, deferring decision falls in to the area of procrastination and can lead to people avoiding making decisions. I'd be interested in other thoughts on this.

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Shane Green replied on Sat, 2013/04/20 - 9:06pm

Awesome, thank you.  It's interesting, I read an article like this and I learn so much that tomorrow I would go to work and do things differently, if tomorrow I kept the things I learned today in mind, rather than falling back into my old habits and patterns.  

This article is so concise it's easily converted into a checklist, and perhaps that's the difference between a brilliant article that affects change, versus one that does not.  Now if only the "print" button hadn't been removed from every site in creation.  

Thanks for the excellent article.  


Shane Green

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