Agility is more than just a nice-to-have trait in contemporary project development.

Sequential models can’t always meet expectations for speed and transparency. That’s why teams turn to agile processes for superior communication, flexibility, and efficiency.

Although agile workflows are already mainstream in multiple sectors, implementing these strategies isn't always straightforward, especially for teams already using linear structures. But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Learning the ins and outs of agile workflows gives you and your team the framework you need to make the switch and understand how the philosophy can benefit you.

What is an agile workflow?

Initially a software engineering strategy, the agile workflow is a project development style that uses short, cyclical work procedures for constant improvement. Rather than sending a fully fleshed-out deliverable — like a linear schedule would — this framework breaks the delivery process into smaller chunks and engages clients at every stage in a project’s journey.

The meaning of an agile environment is a direct update to earlier workflow models, particularly the waterfall method. In waterfall, you follow a linear sequence of dependent stages and only show off the final product. But this team workflow process doesn’t incorporate stakeholder feedback, and you need to go through the entire sequence step-by-step every time you need to tweak something.

In contrast, agile workflows often focus on iterative processes and short-term work sequences — called sprints — to constantly improve and address change requests on the fly. This leads to the best possible product on a faster timeline.

Why use agile workflow development?

Agile development emphasizes efficiency, but the benefits of incorporating this methodology go far beyond revving up a team's productivity engine. It also offers advantages like increased adaptability, a client-centric focus, and robust communication with clients:

  • Consumer-oriented and collaborative: Agile methodologies involve team members and stakeholders at every stage of a product's lifecycle. This constant back-and-forth improves transparency and ensures everyone is on the same page.
  • Lower odds of project failure: Another upside of agile's insistence on collaboration is a reduced risk of setbacks. Since stakeholders send constant feedback, team members identify and address issues in real time before integrating a new feature. And because each sprint is part of a whole, one subpar delivery won't destroy the entire project.
  • Focuses on process rather than due dates: You can't escape deadlines, but agile makes deliverable due dates less dreadful. By concentrating on iterative cycles and collaboration, agile models help you focus on building high-quality products instead of hitting an arbitrary deadline.
  • Flexible design: Agile frameworks bend to changing circumstances, feedback requests, and resource constraints. There's no one-size-fits-all model for agile strategies, and you're free to mix and match agile styles like Scrum, Kanban, and Crystal, depending on a project's specifications.

How does an agile workflow work?

Each project manager has a different way of structuring an agile workflow. But agile development teams often use a few standard stages to conceptualize, build, and refine their user stories:

1. Conception

The first stage is to create a coherent vision for a project's scope and list the core objectives. Although agile project plans aren’t set in stone, documenting your original goals gives team members an essential reference point throughout the project. It’s also a good idea to share this with clients to clarify scope parameters and incorporate feedback before pressing play.

2. Inception

Once all stakeholders clearly understand a project's goals and scope, you’ll turn your attention to planning sprints and assigning tasks. Agile teams often use techniques like story points in this early stage to account for the risks and complexities of various assignments and determine how much work each step will take.

By the end of the inception stage, team members should know what their expectations and deadlines are. You should also review resource allocation to ensure each task has enough time, funds, and equipment for successful sprint sessions. And for high-impact projects, a risk register helps avoid roadblocks.

3. Iteration

After defining, grading, and assigning tasks, it’s time to start implementing the project. Also known as the execution stage, iteration is when team members build and test their first deliverables. Techniques like daily standup meetings and software applications like roadmaps and Gantt charts help track the process.

As your team makes progress on sprint achievements, try to hold retrospective meetings and go through what went right and wrong. This is the time to assess speed and efficiency, address potential concerns, and adjust future sprints according to feedback.

4. Release

When your team completes the sprint schedule and feels comfortable with their first iteration, they present a product or service for review. If there are any issues with this deliverable, you’ll collect feedback with details for further improvement. Team members and quality assurance agents continue the iterative process until all the client's issues reach a resolution and the product is ready for live integration.

5. Retirement

Retirement serves as the closure stage in an agile project's lifecycle. Although teams no longer work on a project following its formal retirement, it’s still important to review documentation, hold retrospective meetings, and analyze data points to gain insights into its strengths and weaknesses. Any information you gather during retirement helps you smooth out pain points and improve workflows.

5 types of agile workflow models

As you explore agile methodologies, you'll see there's more than one way to streamline this iterative strategy. Here are the basic features of major agile models to help you experiment and choose which ones work for your team:

1. Scrum

For many teams, Scrum is synonymous with agile workflows. In this widely-used project management tool, lightweight teams work in time-boxed sprints — typically no longer than one month — and iterate backlog tasks for client review.

Scrum uses a hierarchical structure, with product owners and scrum masters at the top to guide the team. They’ll hold routine ceremonies such as daily standup meetings, sprint planning sessions, and retrospectives. Scrum's clear work structure and exceptional flexibility make it a highly efficient, adaptable, and popular method.

2. Extreme programming (XP) 

Introduced around the same time as the Agile Manifesto, XP has a long history in software development, and it served as a springboard for newer methods. Although the goals of XP — including an emphasis on customer feedback and constant iterations — are similar to Scrum, it doesn't assign specific leadership roles or use as many ceremonies. Instead, XP emphasizes constant communication with stakeholders and collaboration throughout planning, iteration, and implementation.

3. Crystal

Similar to XP, the Crystal technique shares many of Scrum’s core tenets, but it rejects formal ceremonies and the hierarchical leadership model. Crystal instead encourages transparency and personalized work schedules that suit each team's unique circumstances. To highlight flexibility, there are multiple variants — including Crystal Clear, Yellow, and Diamond — that fit teams of different sizes.

4. Kanban

The Kanban methodology usually accompanies a larger one like Scrum or XP. It’s a visual framework that uses color-coded backlog boxes to show which tasks are at what stage of completion — building, testing, or reviewing, to name a few. Since Kanban boards are simple to share and interpret, they make it easy for managers to visualize team velocity, forecast deliverables, and spot potential bottlenecks.

5. Feature-driven development (FDD)

In the FDD model, teams plan and iterate features similarly to Scrum sprints. But FDD places a greater emphasis on documentation as the primary communication method. Although team collaboration is critical in FDD, you won’t schedule as much time for in-person meetings. Instead, you’ll focus on feature objectives, well-defined work frameworks, and documentation.

Enhance your agile project management with Tempo

Stay up to speed on your team's sprints in Jira with Tempo's streamlined software suite. From roadmapping with Roadmunk to time-tracking with Timesheets, Tempo has the tools to monitor, analyze, and optimize agile workflows in project management. Plus, with Tempo's Custom Charts, you can display and share data and diagrams from project conception through retirement.