Technology is a double-edged sword when it comes to business. On one hand, it offers business owners unparalleled power and control over every stage and step of their business. It offers the opportunity for small- and medium-sized businesses to actually compete against major corporations.
Technology also raises customer’s expectations in every conceivable way. 66% of consumers and 80% of business buyers expect a company to interact with them in real-time, for instance. They’re more than happy to take their business elsewhere if a company doesn’t live up to their expectations.
73% of consumers report a positive customer experience being integral to retaining their brand loyalty. Business owners, project managers, and product developers have had to get creative to meet these accelerating demands.
The agile methodology is one of the most popular – and useful – techniques to keep up with these accelerating demands. It allows you to get products on the market as quickly as possible and for updates to be rolled out efficiently.
We’re going to take a deep dive into the agile methodology, showing you what it is, where it came from, and how it can help your business keep up with anything that comes you way.
Guide To Agile Methodology
If you read many business manuals, especially geared towards those regarding doing business in the 21st Century, you’re likely to come across the phrase ‘post-Fordism.’ This is in reference to the systems developed and put into place by Henry Ford, which were some of the most prevalent innovations of the 20th Century. Henry Ford and his assembly line method defined not only the way that business was conducted in the 1900s but even the way we thought about business.
Some aspects of Henry Ford’s revolution remain in place, like the rise of standardized parts for instance. Even a brief examination of the assembly line method reveals some potential shortcomings, however. What’s the person at the end of the assembly line supposed to do while they’re waiting for parts to come down the line?
This problem illustrates why the agile methodology was developed in the first place and some of the issues it was made to tackle.
What Is Agile Methodology?
The agile methodology refers to a series of business processes that revolve around the concept of iterative development. These processes are implemented via independent teams that are self-organized and self-contained. Each independent team performs their respective tasks working towards a larger goal.
Project management is an important part of the agile methodology as someone needs to keep track of all of the moving pieces of each independent team. When done correctly, the agile methodology delivers products more quickly to market as well as increasing the predictability and quality. This is largely to do with agile’s flexibility and adaptability.
Productivity is just one of the benefits of adopting agile, as well. It encourages both teamwork and independence, as each independent team works towards the larger goal. Even better, results are tested and measured far more frequently in agile, meaning that potential mistakes and inefficiencies are caught more quickly.
It also facilitates personal responsibility and accountability, as every team member knows precisely what they need to be doing. It also keeps the rest of the team members informed on what everybody’s working on. This also facilitates a sense of cooperation and camaraderie.
Agile is more of a way of thinking about and organizing business than a concrete product or service. It’s similar to Henry Ford’s system thinking in that way.
A variety of methodologies and frameworks can be employed to put agile processes in place. We’re going to take a look at some of the more popular methods. But first, we’re going to take a look at how agile evolved in the first place.
Agile takes its name from the Agile Manifesto from which its principals are derived. Let’s take a look at the history of agile to help understood where it came from and why it was developed, to give some context as to why it’s become so popular, and so necessary, for today’s business world.
The History Of Agile
The roots of the agile methodology began in the early 1990s. This is when the speed of technical demands started to hugely outpace the industry’s ability to meet those demands. This was sometimes referred to as “the application development crisis” or “application delivery lag.”
The average time for a software application to reach the market at that time was around three years. That was far, far too slow even in the early ’90s. Whole industries may have arisen and fallen away in that time. Software and operating systems could evolved past the point where the emerging tech could be implemented. This meant that many projects could end up abandoned before they were completed.
The ones that were completed often didn’t meet the demands that had arisen since the project began.
Agile methodologies are predominantly used in software development, but they can be employed in any industry you can think of. In other industries, such as aerospace or defense, a project could take as long as 20 years until it was safe to be implemented. Clearly, something needed to shift in the way that business processes were thought about and implemented.
In the ’90s, Jon Kern was working in the aerospace industry. He was growing increasingly frustrated with how long many business processes were taking. Even more frustrating was the fact that a process couldn’t be changed later on, as all of the following processes were designed using the earlier stage.
He began meeting with a group of 17 other software developers to create a strategy for developing a faster, more efficient development system. These meetings would form the basis of what would become the Agile Manifesto.
The Agile Manifesto
The Agile Manifesto is the skeleton around which agile methodologies are organized and implemented. Written by Jon Kern and his 17 collaborators, the Agile Manifesto states the mission of agile development and the ways in which it is implemented.
The first tenet states that agile developers learn by doing and then teaching others to do the same. In the process of actually developing software, the agile developer or engineer learns to value the individual and interactions over processes and tools.
This is just another example of how agile is platform agnostic and can be implemented using any system in any industry.
Next, the Agile Manifesto states that agile methodologies focus on making working software rather than comprehensive documentation. This is a radical shift away from bureaucratic red tape which bog down a development project in inefficiency.
Perhaps the most important tenet of the Agile Manifesto is “customer collaboration rather than contract negotiation.” This is in keeping with today’s customer-centric business philosophy. It’s also another example of focusing on actual results rather than getting caught up in red tape.
Finally, the agile developer values responding to change over following a set plan.
Looking at the core concepts of the agile methodology gives you an idea of how prescient these principals were. They predicted some of the major challenges of conducting business in the 21st Century before it had even begun. It’s a good illustration of why you should pay attention and implement agile project management into your business strategy no matter what industry you’re working in.
The Agile Manifesto goes on to lay out some more core principles behind agile development. These principles will give you an idea of how to implement agile in your organization.
Principles Of The Agile Methodology
The first principle of the agile methodology states that an agile developer’s top priority is delivering quality software through early and continuous delivery. This principle has clearly taken root in today’s business world, judging from the prevalence of continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD).
It’s also the first indication that agile methodologies move beyond the linearity of the assembly line and Fordism. Multiple things can happen at the same time in software development. It completely reconfigures the way we think about a number of different business processes.
It also takes advantage of some of the business technology that’s emerged in today’s connected business world. When software can connect to a central server, like anything that uses the cloud in any regard, new builds and versions of the app or software can be rolled out to address problems when they arise. This feature alone makes it possible to get products on the market exponentially more quickly than methods rooted in the industrial revolution.
The second principle states that agile developers welcome change, even late in the process. This also indicates a fundamental shift in business psychology. Very few things in life are ever static and that is particularly true of the rapidly evolving world of software development and technology.
The next principle is deliver working software as quickly as possible, ranging from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Preference is given for shorter rather than longer development cycles.
Business partners and developers must work closely together during every stage of the development process. We’ll see further examples of this when we look at implementing agile methodologies for yourself. It’s also in keeping with many modern business philosophies, which state the business processes be measurable, actionable, and repeatable.
The next principle states that projects should be implemented around motivated individuals. You give the independent teams and members the tools and resources they need to function. Then you get out of their way to let them work.
This is another reason why agile is so popular among business owners and employees alike. It helps individual team members to feel valued and respected. This way, team members are given free reign to rise to the occasion and work to the height of their abilities.
The next principle states that the most effective way to convey pertinent information is via face-to-face interactions. This explains the prevalence of regular meetings in agile development, which we’ll explore more thoroughly when we talk about agile project management.
Next, the agile principles state that agile processes should support sustainable development. This means that the level of productivity from every stage of the agile process needs to be able to be maintained at a constant pace throughout the entire project.
The agile principles also state that continuous attention to technical excellence and sound design help enhance agility. This is another example of how agile as a philosophy is in-line with other 21st Century business principles.
The final three principles of the agile methodology further focus on productivity. The next states that agile development needs to focus on simplicity, focusing on the most essential tasks. It’s the epitome of “work smart, not hard.”
Finally, the core principles of agile reinforce the need for small, independent teams. It states that the best architecture and design arises from small self-organizing teams.
Now let’s take a more in-depth look at how you can implement agile methodologies for yourself. We’ll also take a look at agile project management as it’s such an essential part of how agile is actually put into practice.
How To Implement An Agile Methodology
By structuring our article in this way, we’ve approximated how agile came into being in the first place. Now that you understand the philosophy of agile, it’s time to see how it’s actually put into practice.
At this stage, agile is far more than the rule than the exception. Many major companies, from Apple to Google, employ agile methodologies in some aspect of their organization. It’s understandable, considering that 65% of companies that use agile project management meet their deadlines as opposed to 40% of companies that don’t.
Agile can be a bit daunting to get started with as it’s so reliant on project management. It can be a bit daunting to get started with but it becomes second nature once you get used to it.
Here are some steps you can follow to put agile into practice in your own organization.
Have a Vision and Start With A Meeting
Every business product or service begins with a problem. What problem is your new project striving to solve? This is the kernel of every agile project.
Of course, you need to reflect on it a bit more. You also need to determine if there’s a market for the product or service you’re hoping to develop. Finally, you need to think about how this product is going to help you meet your business goals, whatever they might be.
To help structure your thinking, think about:
- Who your product is intended for
- Why they need it
- What your product is going to be
- How you’re going to make it
This initial barrage of questions will trigger a secondary line of questioning. You’ll also want to think about what sets your product apart from others that are already on the market. This is known as the unique value proposition (UVP) in the business world.
Once you’ve thought about these questions, you’re ready to start assembling the teams that are going to be working on the project. This should be a face-to-face meeting, in keeping with the agile principles. If you’re not able to gather in the same physical space, as in instances of remote collaboration, you should coordinate a time when everyone can be available on a telecommunication tool like Zoom.
Design Your Process Roadmap
Remember, one of the main advantages of adopting agile methodologies is increasing transparency and accountability. It’s so that every member of an organization knows exactly what they need to be doing at any given time.
The process roadmap could be seen as the blueprints for your entire project. This will be overseen by the agile project manager.
The process roadmap will visualize what different features need to be implemented and in what order. The business goals of each feature need to be determined, as well. This will help you to create metrics so you can assess if you’re meeting your goals or not.
This big picture thinking also helps individual teams understand how they feet into the larger whole. This helps foster a sense of community and collaboration among your team members.
Create A Release Plan
At this stage, you’re starting to create a timetable for when your product is going to be released. This also will help you and your teams know how they’re performing. It also helps give different teams advance warning of the part they’ll play in the release as a whole. For instance, the marketing department will get very busy as you get closer to the release date.
Knowing this ahead of time will help them to allocate the necessary resources to make sure the project will meet its deadlines.
Now you’re ready to be begin working on your project in earnest. Sessions in agile are known as “sprints,” which are short development cycles designed to meet particular goals. Sprints are usually between one and four weeks long.
Each team should make a list of features they think they’ll be able to implement in that amount of time. If they’re not able to meet all of their goals, that’s okay. The leftovers can be rolled over into future sprints.
Stay Informed With Daily Meetings
We’ve mentioned the importance of regular face-to-face meetings in agile. Agile teams help ensure that each team knows where the others are at and how they’re progressing towards the overall goal.
These daily meetings are known as “stand-ups” in agile jargon.
Daily meetings aren’t the only ways to monitor the progress of a project in agile. We talked earlier about some of the different frameworks that are commonly employed in agile. Kanban is one of the more prevalent and widely-used.
Kanban is an example of how many of the terminologies in agile have become an everyday reality for anyone that’s familiar with business products in any regard. Kanban is a format of descending tasks, similar to a series of descending index cards on a project board.
This organization method is most commonly seen in products like Trello. Kanban boards are an essential part of any project management system. It’s especially important in any organization using remote collaboration in any regard.
Review Following Sprints
In addition to daily meetings, you should schedule more elaborate meetings after each round of sprints. This way you’ll be able to discuss what went right, what went wrong, and any potential pitfalls and stumbling blocks you ran into along the way.
The meetings following a sprint should be comprehensive and involve anyone involved in the project in any way. You should invite investors and shareholders to these meetings as well, giving them an opportunity to see how their investments are being used and to provide feedback during the design and development process.
Remember, agile is intended to be an iterative, evolving process. This is towards the goal of making your design process as efficient and productive as possible.
You should have gathered a number of useful insights during the initial sprints and then during the meetings that followed. Now it’s time to return to the top of the process and begin a whole new batch of sprints.
The steps of implementing an agile methodology should give you an idea of why you need to do so. Old-fashioned business processes, emphasizing the hierarchical and linear, are bulky, slow, and unwieldy. They can’t evolve as quickly as today’s lightning-paced business world demands. Putting an agile methodology in place helps keep your organization lean and efficient, making you as competitive as possible. Any and every advantage is necessary in today’s quickly moving, interconnected world.
Looking To Implement Agile In Your Organization?
Employing an agile methodology can improve any business under the sun, from aerospace to software development to manufacturing. If you’re looking for help implementing or expanding your agile operations, find out how our Application Development services can help you meet your business goals on time and under budget!