Agile Project Management: What Is It and When to Use It

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Read about the history of Agile project management, its benefits, potential challenges, principles, and methodologies to learn how to become an Agile project manager.

[Featured Image]:  Agile Project Manager, wearing a plaid shirt, is analyzing information with members of the team.

Agile project management is a methodology that focuses on collaboration and constantly improving a product or service. It's often used in software development. Although this methodology was used as early as the 1950s, it wasn’t until 2001 that a group of software developers published the Agile Manifesto, which established the 12 principles and four values of Agile. 

Agile isn’t only for software developers, though; it applies to other fields such as marketing, HR, and finance. The Project Management Institute reports a median US salary of $80,000 for a project manager with less than three years of experience, $110,000 for one with 5 to 10 years of experience, and $150,000 for one with 20 or more years of experience [1].

What is Agile project management?

Agile is a project management approach that uses short cycles, often called sprints or iterations, to develop a product or service. In Agile, the team plays a large role. The project’s tasks or conditions often change, and the project team produces more frequent deliverables. The Agile method moves more fluidly and quickly than other approaches to project management. 

Learn more about some of the benefits of Agile from a technical program manager at Google:

Agile project management principles and values

The Agile Manifesto outlines 12 principles that emphasize customer satisfaction through early and frequent software delivery. It values adaptability and collaboration, welcoming changes, and working closely with customers and developers throughout the project.

Agile teams prioritize working software, face-to-face communication, and sustainable development practices. They focus on technical excellence and simplicity while empowering self-organizing teams to deliver the best results.

These principles align with four core Agile values:

  1. Individuals and interaction over processes and tools,

  2. Working software over documentation,

  3. Customer collaboration over contracts, and

  4. Responding to change over following a plan.

Read more: Project Management Terms: A to Z Glossary

Who is part of an Agile project management team?

The team's roles depend on the methodology used, which includes Scrum, Kanban, Crystal, XP, Lean, and others. The project or program manager is a key figure on an Agile project management team. Scrum roles include Scrum Master, product owner (or product manager), and development team, for example. 

The Agile method emphasizes face-to-face communication, so many teams work in one location, though some organizations have a remote workplace with team members in various locations. Agile teams should contain motivated individuals with the resources needed to fulfill their roles. The roles within the team depend on which Agile methodology an organization uses.

Read more: What Is a Development Team?

Common Agile project management methodologies

Agile teams benefit from using one workflow. Some Agile teams use Scrum, while others prefer Kanban, Lean, or other methods. Some teams combine Agile with the Waterfall approach, which means they may use a traditional workflow for stakeholders, but the team uses a Scrum approach for its work. 

Agile vs. Waterfall

Waterfall is a traditional project management methodology best suited for projects with well-defined requirements and a stable environment. Tasks are planned out linearly and sequentially, and a team must complete one before moving on to the next one.

Agile is well-suited for projects with uncertain requirements or a need for rapid adaptation. The team creates a high-level roadmap of tasks but then creates detailed plans for each sprint, which can be adjusted as needed.

Learn more: Types of Project Management: Methodologies, Industries, and More



Scrum is a framework for developing, delivering, and sustaining complex projects. Scrum, which got its name from rugby teams in training, emphasizes cross-functional teams that are self-organizing and open-minded. Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland developed Scrum in the 1990s and wrote the Scrum Guide to help others use this project management framework. 

The theory behind Scrum is leanness and empiricism: the idea that true knowledge comes from actual, lived experience. The five values of Scrum are commitment to achieving goals, courage, focus, openness, and respect.

Scrum requires the roles of Scrum Master, product owner, and the development team. A Scrum Master is the person on the team who helps everyone understand and implement Scrum, and the person is responsible for the Scrum team’s effectiveness. The Scrum Master: 

  • Coaches the team on self-management

  • Helps the organization implement Scrum

  • Helps team members remove impediments

  • Facilitates communication with stakeholders

  • Makes sure meetings are productive and positive

  • Supports the product owner in efficiently maintaining the product backlog

  • Helps teams focus on completing high-quality project outcomes

The product owner maintains the product backlog, a living document that contains a prioritized list of features for the product or service. It lists the value, order, description, and estimate of effort for each item. The product owner refines the backlog regularly so that the Scrum team can work effectively.


Kanban is another framework used in Agile and DevOps software development. Kanban emphasizes transparent visual feedback, real-time communication, and maximized efficiency. Work tasks are shown on a Kanban board, which is created using project management software such as Jira. Each column on the Kanban board represents the phases or steps tasks must pass through from to-do to completion. Each task or item on a Kanban board is represented on its own card, which shows its critical information, including possible screenshots. Kanban templates allow users to customize their dashboards and have views such as a flow diagram, charts, and other reports. 

Toyota began using the Kanban method in the 1930s in its car factories, and today it can be applied to any industry. Software teams use the same principles to match the work in progress (WIP) to the team’s capacity. 


Lean is a collection of tools that help teams improve their processes. In Lean, the goal is to cut out waste and inefficiency. According to the Project Management Institute, the difference between Lean and Agile is that Lean has more structure: “Lean’s focus on continuous process improvement, based on an analytical systems and process analysis of performance adds significant value to the generally more informal, single project focused intuitive approach of Agile” [2].

Additional Agile methodologies include:

  • eXtreme Programming (XP)

  • Crystal

  • Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

  • Feature-driven development (FDD)

  • Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)

  • Adaptive Project Framework (ADF)

5 stages of the Agile project management lifecycle

Agile project management typically involves five key phases, often referred to as the Agile lifecycle. These phases are designed to ensure continuous improvement, flexibility, and collaboration throughout the project. The type of Agile methodology used will dictate the details of each phase, but in general, the lifecycle involves [3]:

1. Preplanning: Define project vision, objective, high-level requirements, stakeholders, and project feasibility.

2. Planning: Plan the first iteration (sprint) in detail, as well as the release of subsequent iterations, creating a backlog, user stories, tasks, and iteration goals.

3. Release planning: Once the first iteration is completed or the product backlog is created, review the results to gain insights for continuous improvement via subsequent iterations.

4. Iteration planning: After each iteration completion, plan the next iteration by adding or removing features necessary for optimal product functionality.

5. Product backlog management: Reassess the project timeline after each iteration based on the product backlog and customer feedback. The cycle can continue until a satisfactory product is produced.

Benefits of Agile project management

Agile is useful because it applies to nearly every industry. Agile helps organizations work more efficiently by streamlining processes. Using Agile project management methodologies has many benefits.

Pros and cons

Agile project management allows for continuous improvement, and the process is flexible and adaptive. Incorporating feedback throughout the process means software customers, for example, won’t have to wait until the end of a project to see the results—reducing the likelihood they won’t like the features. Agile also helps reduce waste and inefficiencies and problems are often caught early.

One downside to Agile project management is that if team members such as the Scrum Master don’t effectively perform their roles, the project could veer off track, causing delays or other risks. In all Agile project management methodologies, it’s crucial for teams to work together without conflicts. Mistakes like being too aggressive with the workload, resisting compromise, not connecting emotionally with team members, or making assumptions are also threats to the Agile team.

How to become an Agile project manager 

You can become an Agile project manager through various paths. These include obtaining a bachelor’s degree, gaining professional experience at a workplace, completing a master’s degree, or pursuing certifications.

Earn a bachelor’s degree.

Many Agile project management jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher. While some universities have specialized degrees in project management, many students choose to study business or fields such as construction management, software engineering, information technology, marketing, health care administration, and other specialized fields.

Gain professional experience. 

Another way to get your foot in the door is to work as part of an Agile project management development team, whether through an internship or entry-level job. Exploring various work environments through internships lets you see which fields you want to enter in the future.

Consider earning a master’s degree.

A Master of Science in Agile Project Management (MS/APM) helps position you for leadership roles in the future. It can also help you stand out in the job candidate field. Another option for a related degree is an MBA. An MBA program prepares you for the Project Management Professional (PMP) and Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA) exams. Master’s programs in the fields you want to work in are also beneficial, whether that’s marketing, health care, or any other industry.

Get Agile project management certifications. 

Organizations like the Project Management Institute (PMI), APMG International, the International Consortium for Agile, and Scaled Agile Academy offer certifications and credentials for Agile project management.

To learn more about specific credentials you can earn to boost your Agile project management skills, read 6 Popular Agile Certifications.

Agile AI skills for product and project management

The AI product development life cycle can differ from the standard. Building AI skills can be an excellent way to set yourself apart from other candidates and stay current with the evolving tech landscape. With IBM's AI Product Manager Professional Certificate, you can learn to apply your project management skills to the AI product management lifecycle. You'll examine real-world case studies of successful AI integration and develop or strengthen your knowledge of Agile concepts and methodologies. By the end, you'll have earned a Professional Certificate from an industry leader in technology.

Next steps

Ready to become an Agile project manager? Start with one of the paths listed above. As you do, explore the many courses, Guided Projects, Professional Certificates, Specializations, and other products on Agile on Coursera.

For example, the Google Project Management Professional Certificate can help lay the foundation for a successful career in Agile project management. It contains six courses, including Agile Project Management. 

Article sources


Project Management Institute. "Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey—Thirteenth Edition (2022)," Accessed June 30, 2024.

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