What Is Agile? And When to Use It

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

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

[Featured image] Two project managers review a document together in an office space.

What is Agile?

Agile is an approach to project management that centres around incremental and iterative steps to completing projects. The incremental parts of a project are carried out in short-term development cycles. The approach prioritises 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 for team members to adjust to challenges as they arise and for stakeholders an opportunity to communicate consistently. Though originally created for software development, the Agile approach is now widely used to execute many different types of projects and run organisations.

Contrast this with more traditional forms of project management. Traditional project management generally progresses linearly. Moving from planning, designing, implementation and closing stages happen after the previous stage is complete. 

What is Agile methodology?

Agile is technical, not a methodology by itself, and is better thought of as a mindset in approaching how projects get done. It's not considered a methodology because Agile doesn't specify which exact 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, though there are plenty more.

Agile pros and cons

Though Agile is gaining 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 prioritiesOrganisations can resist change in adoption
Increased project visibilityTeams may use inconsistent practises
Improved business/IT alignmentNeeds support of leadership and management
Delivery speed/time to marketOrganisational culture can be at odds with agile values
Project risk reduction & 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 explicit 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 in place 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 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 —amongst many others. 

Using both Agile methods and Waterfall methods

Not all projects fit neatly into one category or the other. For the 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.

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 by far 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 [1].

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

Scaling methods

Agile scaling methods are used to implement Agile practices across multiple teams or entire organisations. 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 12 principles. These values and principles are rooted in the Agile Manifesto, which was created in 2001 by 17 managers of software development [2]. 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 prioritises 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: Agile aims to maintain contact with them throughout the creation process instead of siloing stakeholders off from the project.

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 12 principles define early and frequent delivery, simplicity, constant feedback, collaboration of interested parties, and individual support, amongst other principles, as the pillars of Agile project management [2].

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 

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)

Getting started with Agile

Incorporating Agile into your workplace starts with getting to know the basics. With Google's Project Management Professional Certificate you'll learn in-demand PM skills, including the foundations of Agile Project Management.

Article sources


Digital.ai. "15th Annual State of Agile Report, https://info.digital.ai/rs/981-LQX-968/images/RE-SA-15th-Annual-State-Of-Agile-Report.pdf." Accessed February 28, 2022.

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