What Is Agile? And When to Use It

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Agile is an approach to project management that leans heavily on short time frames, adaptability, and iteration.

[Featured Image] An Agile coach presents a graph to a team.

What is Agile?

Agile is an approach to project management that centers around incremental and iterative steps to completing projects. The incremental parts of a project are carried out in short-term development cycles. The approach prioritizes quick delivery, adapting to change, and collaboration rather than top-down management and following a set plan.

In Agile processes, there is constant feedback, allowing team members to adjust to challenges as they arise and stakeholders an opportunity to communicate consistently. Though originally created for software development, the Agile approach is now widely used in executing many different types of projects and in running organizations.

Contrast this with more traditional forms of project management. Traditional project management generally progresses linearly through planning, designing, implementation, and closing stages. One stage must be completed before moving to the next one.   

So what’s Agile methodology?

Agile is technically not a methodology by itself, but rather a mindset for approaching how projects get done. It's not considered a methodology because Agile doesn't specify which tools and processes should be used.

Agile is, however, the umbrella term for many types of management methodologies. Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming (XP) are each considered different Agile methodologies.


Agile pros and cons

Though Agile is gaining in popularity and has a host of advantages, it’s not without its challenges. Below are some of the benefits and drawbacks agile users faced, according to Digital.ai’s 2021 State of Agile Survey [1].

Agile benefitsAgile challenges
Ability to manage changing prioritiesOrganizations can resist change in adoption
Increased project visibilityTeams may use inconsistent practices
Improved business/IT alignmentNeeds support of leadership and management
Delivery speed/time to marketOrganizational culture can be at odds with agile values
Project risk reduction
Project predictability

When should you use Agile project management?

The tenets of Agile—adaptability, iteration, continuous delivery, and short time frames, among others—make it a project management style that’s better suited for ongoing projects and projects where certain details aren’t known from the outset. That means if a project doesn’t have clear constraints, timelines, or available resources, it’s a good candidate for an Agile approach.

For example, designing and launching a new product might push a team against several unforeseen challenges. Having an Agile approach can mean the project already has the methodology to test products as often as needed, iterate quickly, and communicate changes with stakeholders.

Traditional project management approaches like Waterfall can be easier to plan out and progress easier to measure. This can make projects with clearly demarcated constraints (like a strict budget or timeline), or projects where teams are expected to work independently of stakeholders better suited for traditional approaches.

Industries that use Agile methods

Agile grew from the minds of a group of software development project managers. Since then, it has continued to be popular in software development, but has expanded to many other industries as well. These include finance, IT, business, fashion, biotechnology, and even construction—among many others.

Using both Agile methods and Waterfall methods

Not all projects fit neatly into one category or the other. For projects that might benefit from elements of both a traditional approach and iterative approach, an Agile-Waterfall hybrid approach can make sense. This could mean, for example, that planning and design are done in Waterfall, but development is carried out in short development cycles, Agile-style.

Read more: 12 Project Management Methodologies: Your Guide

Agile methodologies and frameworks

There are several Agile methodologies and frameworks, each with its own pros and cons. Some are hybrids of multiple methodologies. Scrum is the most commonly used Agile methodology. Digital.ai found that 66 percent of Agile adopters used Scrum, with the next most-used methodology being ScrumBan, at 9 percent [2].

Popular Agile methodologies include:

  • Scrum

  • Kanban

  • Lean

  • Crystal

  • Extreme Programming (XP)

  • Feature-Driven Development (FDD)

  • Domain-Driven Design (DDD)

  • Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)

  • ScrumBan

  • Agile-Waterfall/Hybrid Agile

  • Scrum XP Hybrid

Read more: Agile vs. Scrum: Which Should You Use, and Why?

Scaling methods

Agile scaling methods are used to implement Agile practices across multiple teams, or entire organizations. There are several scaling methods, including the following:

  • Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

  • Scrum of Scrums

  • Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)

  • Large Scale Scrum (LSS or LeSS)

  • Enterprise Scrum

  • Lean Management

  • Agile Portfolio Management (APM)

  • Nexus

Agile values and principles

Agile project management was established on four values and twelve principles. These values and principles are rooted in the Agile Manifesto, which was created in 2001 by seventeen managers of software development [3]. Much of the philosophy that underpins the Agile Manifesto came about in reaction to what people perceived as the bottlenecks of software development processes at the time.

Agile Values

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools: While tools and processes are important, the Agile Manifesto prioritizes the people behind them. Having the right people in place and empowering them to interact smoothly with each other can lead to successes that tools by themselves won’t be able to.

Working software over comprehensive documentation: The creators of Agile believed that it was more important to get stuff done than get bogged down in the planning and documentation stages.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: Instead of siloing stakeholders off from the project, Agile aims to maintain contact with them throughout the creation process.

Responding to change over following a plan: Following a plan that doesn’t make sense to follow anymore can be counterproductive. Adaptation is central to the Agile philosophy.

The twelve principles define early and frequent delivery, simplicity, constant feedback, the collaboration of interested parties, and individual support, among other principles, as the pillars of Agile project management [4].

Agile certifications

Certifications in Agile project management can verify your knowledge of Agile as a whole, or in specific Agile methodologies. Think about what skills you’ll likely use in your workplace and career before deciding on which certification to get.

Common Agile certifications include:

  • PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)

  • ICAgile Certified Professional (ICP)

  • AgilePM Foundation - APMG

Read more: 6 Popular Agile Certifications

You can also consider a certification in a specific framework. Scrum is the most commonly used Agile method, so a Scrum certification could be a good place to start. These include:

  • Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

  • Professional Scrum Master (PSM)

  • Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)

Read more: 7 In-Demand Scrum Master Certifications

Getting started with Agile

Incorporating Agile into your workplace starts with getting to know the basics. There are several courses on Coursera to help you get on started.



Agile Project Management

This is the fifth course in the Google Project Management Certificate program. This course will explore the history, approach, and philosophy of Agile ...


(8,115 ratings)

253,196 already enrolled


Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Coaching, Influencing, Agile Management, Problem Solving, Scrum



Agile Development

Drive to Value with Agile Methods . Master an adaptive approach to product development


(2,731 ratings)

32,034 already enrolled


Average time: 4 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

hypothesis-driven development, Design Thinking, User Experience (UX), agile, Lean Startup, agile user stories, User Experience Design (UXD), Agile Software Development, Product Management, Software Development, Usability Testing, Continuous Delivery, agile product management, backlog management, Kanban, XP



Agile Leadership

Develop Agile Leadership Skills. Develop agile leadership skills by implementing change management, social psychology, and Agile principles and philosophy in business.


(805 ratings)

12,560 already enrolled


Average time: 5 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Agile Leadership, Agile Management, Scrum (Software Development), Change Management, Project Management



Software Processes and Agile Practices

This course delves into a variety of processes to structure software development. It also covers the foundations of core Agile practices, such as Extreme ...


(5,122 ratings)

101,291 already enrolled

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Lean Software Development, Agile Software Development, Software Development Process, Scrum (Software Development)

Article sources


Digital.ai. "15th Annual State of Agile Survey, https://stateofagile.com/#." Accessed April 29, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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