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Implementing Agile Project Management in Non-Profit Organisations 

By Christopher Oare Aneni 28 Jun 2024
Implementing Agile Project Management in Non-Profit Organisations 

Agile or Agile Project Management (APM) is an iterative approach to managing projects that emphasises flexibility, collaboration, and user-centricity. It aims to deliver value in increments, allowing for easy adaptation to changing requirements and realities. While it was primarily used in software development, it has become increasingly adopted across various industries for its benefits. Some of the Agile frameworks include Kanban, Scrum, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), etc. Agile relies on 4 central thoughts covered within the Agile Manifesto:  

  • Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools 
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation  
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation 
  • Responding to change over following a plan  

These values underscore the importance of iterative development, collaboration, quick development, flexibility, and continuous improvement, which define the Agile methodology. In comparison to the traditional project management methodologies, which are linear and sequential, with each planned phase being completed or implemented before the next, Agile utilises constant feedback loops and eventual adjustments or iterations, with unwieldy things like documentation or negotiations sometimes coming after the fact.  

Agile Project Management Illustration

What are Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs)?

As the name implies, Non-Profit Organisations do not operate for the sake of profit to the founders or shareholders. Proceeds made from the sale of their products or services or because of funds raised by willing contributors are channelled directly into the operational purse of the organisation and used to further their goals (humanitarian aid, environmental causes, education, etc.).  

Challenges Faced by Non-Profit Organisations

Limited Resources

Due to the organisation's nature, they usually face financial constraints, heavy reliance on volunteers rather than employed staff, and limited technological infrastructure.  

Diverse Stakeholders

Stakeholders are not just multiple but diverse, with just as many conflicting requirements. Stakeholders include donors and contributors, beneficiaries, volunteers and staff, and the owners of the entity.  


More stringent demands on accountability and transparency are placed on NPOs rather than for profit organisations. Impact and judicious application must be shown for every dollar. 

 "Agile methodologies have the potential to transform the way organisations operate by enhancing their ability to respond to change, collaborate more effectively, and deliver value incrementally." - Jeff Sutherland, Cocreator of Scrum  

Benefits of Agile for Non-Profits

Resource Optimisation

One key attribute of Agile is its ability to break complex goals into small, easily deployable tasks. Not only does this aid NPO workers to quickly deliver and adapt iteratively to changes, but it also allows them to commit all their limited resources into completion of small activities before moving on to the next. This is especially relevant as many non-profit organisations receive phased funding.  

Improved Collaboration and Communication

The culture emphasised within Agile communities is one of teamwork and regular communication. This is a vital requirement when dealing with multiple, diverse stakeholders, as is the case in non-profit organisations. By utilising this mindset, efforts and requirements among staff, volunteers, beneficiaries, and donors are easily coordinated. 

Improved Visibility

Agile tools such as Kanban boards, burnup or burndown charts, etc., make it easy to visualise the project's status, ensuring transparency and accountability. Stakeholders are kept informed as to current situations and gaps to fill, and transparency is maintained for all consumptions of the project. For example, a clear relationship can be shown between the items on the burnup and burndown chart, the funds released and pending, the resources utilised and required, etc.  

Flexibility and Adaptability

One challenge that dog non-profits face is uncertainty with funding or beneficiary needs. While traditional or waterfall approaches allow for contingency planning, they can often trap the project because of their linear flow. Agile allows the NPO to pivot quickly where circumstances change and maintain the speed of delivery.  

Stakeholder Focus

The customer-centric approach of Agile ensures the services or products provided are in alignment with the needs and expectations of the beneficiaries of the non-profit, and that the processes utilised are specific to the requirements of the internal stakeholders, donors, or owners. This methodology guarantees maximum utility.  

Implementing Agile in a Non-Profit

Due to the nature of the directorate of most non-profits, it is safe to assume that project management will be waterfall or traditional in nature. To successfully implement Agile in a non-profit requires careful planning and almost precise execution.  


The first step to implementing Agile Project Management methodologies in any organisation is training the anticipated practitioners or internal stakeholders on Agile principles and practices. In this case, the leadership, staff, and volunteers of the non-profit need to be educated on the key elements of Agile, frameworks and practices, expectations and roles, artefacts and tools, ceremonies, meetings, etc. 

Choosing the Right Framework

There are several Agile frameworks, such as Scrum and Kanban. Building the capacity of the internal stakeholders on the elements of Agile methodology puts them in a better place to determine the right framework that aligns with the organisation’s needs. The right framework is determined based on the project's complexity and reach, the expertise and experience of the team, the level of stakeholder engagement required, the range of flexibility and scalability needed, etc.  

Team Creation and Roles Definition

After determining the framework to be used, the next step is to define roles and assign responsibilities. Role's definition ensures that the teams work collaboratively and efficiently. Identifying roles such as Scrum master, Product Owner and Development Team members ensures everyone is aware of their responsibility towards achieving the goal of the organisation. Teams are made of cross-functional members with different functional expertise working towards a uniform goal.  

Implementation of Project Management Tools

Project Management tools such as Jira, Trello or Asana are required for facilitating agile project management. During the training period, team members need to be taught the importance of the tools and how to use them. Implementation is done as soon as the framework to be used has been determined and the teams have been defined.  

Pilot Scale

When implementing Agile for the first time, it is often advisable to carry out a pilot scale project to assess the team’s readiness to implement Agile processes and if successful, to demonstrate the value of the methodology. Doing a pilot project not only limits risk but also helps to generate important Lessons Learned and can be the convincer that enables leadership to accept Agile.  

Challenges to Agile Adoption

As with any change, there are often obstacles encountered when adopting Agile methodologies for the first time. Issues with cultural resistance from team members who are more familiar with traditional waterfall methods, failure in executive buy-in from the leadership team or even an inability to adapt the Agile practices to match the contextual requirements of the non-profit, can slow progress when adopting Agile.  

The key to overcoming these barriers lies in communication and tailoring.  


Resistance must be addressed early by demonstrating the benefits of Agile and involving the staff, volunteers, and leadership in the change process from the get-go. Commitment from leadership to provide resources and support for the change must be secured early and documented if possible. Constant engagement throughout the process must be adhered to, as well as communicating the incremental value delivery. Workshops that sensitise team members on the importance of Agile, in concert with success stories from pilot scale implementation, all work together to ensure no one is left behind in the implementation and can go a long way in securing executive buy-in.  


While Agile processes may be flexible and adaptable, these attributes are ineffective if they are not utilised. The practices must be tailored to match the organisation’s specific context. For example, Agile ceremonies such as daily standups might not fit with volunteer schedules at a non-profit organisation. This does not mean Agile failed, but it presents an opportunity to modify the meeting schedules to accommodate this context.  

Measure Results and Impact

Implementation of Agile Project Management within NPOs must be approached with the same focus as a typical project. As such, the results and impact must be measured to evaluate the implementation exercise's effectiveness. Clear metrics such as project delivery time, stakeholder satisfaction and operational efficiency must be tracked throughout the process. Accordingly, these metrics need not be set in stone, and can be modified based on organisational feedback and evolving targets. 

Lessons Learned

A key attribute of Agile Project Management is the lessons learned. It is important while implementing Agile for the first time in an organisation to document the lessons learned from the process. Lessons learned offer continuous improvement and a template for scaling or readoption.  


Implementing Agile in non-profit organisations can significantly enhance their ability to address unique challenges and deliver on their goals or mission. The emphasis on flexibility, collaboration and user centricity that is inherent in Agile aligns perfectly with the dynamic nature of the non-profit space. By breaking tasks and activities into smaller, manageable tasks, non-profits can optimise limited resources, adapt to changing needs and improve stakeholder engagement and satisfaction. Agile Project Management’s iterative approach is a powerful tool to increase efficiency, adaptability, and impact. By embracing Agile, non-profit organisations can better fulfill their missions and deliver greater value to their beneficiaries.