Agile is not an app designed to solve tasks or a list of steps to follow in order to efficiently complete a project. It is a work ethos that proposes a change in mindset – both individually and as a team. And, it’s already being used by companies such as Facebook, Google and PayPal. This is because in the age of immediacy, agile can deliver an increase in productivity and improve customer relations.
A bit of background
In 2001, several executives from some of the world’s top software companies came together in Utah, convened by the renowned software engineer Kent Beck: one of the pioneers in software design patterns. The aim was to consolidate a trend which had been brewing for years and to standardize a method which would serve to streamline software development processes.
Up to that point, projects at major software companies had been completed sequentially (in other words, one task couldn’t be started until the previous one had been completed) and these ran under hierarchical structures from top to bottom in a cascading manner. These were methods such as CMMI or SPICE:
The meeting in Utah ended up producing the so-called Agile Manifesto, whose principles were:
Value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
Value working software over comprehensive documentation.
Value customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
Value responding to change over following a plan.
What does agile consist of?
Agile is a work methodology that consists in breaking down large and cumbersome projects into smaller tasks, which are much faster to execute and less prone to distractions, providing better results in terms of productivity.
Agile advocates that the best measure for gauging the progress of a project is the amount of delivered working software, or in the case of non-tech companies, the number of products and services in use.
Regardless of the type of industry the company belongs to or whichever team is working with agile, its principles vow to deliver work to customers efficiently, with great results and within an ever-shorter timespan.
Another peculiar feature of agile is the need for joint reflection by the team. Its members are the people deciding which measures need to be adopted in order to drive up the effectiveness of the work and are in charge of implementing these.
Company managers must also be involved in the rest of the team’s work. With agile, the hierarchy remains intact, though those managing shouldn’t just be waiting on deliverables or be working on other tasks during this time. They should be working together with the others.
With agile, managers and employees work hand-in-hand to deliver well-addressed working products within ever shorter deadlines.
Pace of work
Agile prioritizes a sustainable pace of work, which never wanes or suddenly speeds up. For example, mad dashes and occasional full-on days in order to meet deadlines are not envisaged. However, these are in other methodologies such as Scrum.
Despite this, this sustained pace of work is not at odds with delivering deadlines quickly and also with reducing timescales. In fact, reducing production cycles is one of the precepts of this method and its manifesto.
Technology and design
This method cannot be truly appreciated without, among other things, the notion that we should always strive for technical excellence and good design. If we continuously monitor this, agility will be enhanced. This in turn improves turnaround times without jeopardizing quality, which in turn drives up customer satisfaction.
It’s not possible to grasp agile without the constant pursuit of technical excellence and good design.
How to apply agile in day-to-day operations?
The customer comes first. Although this may seem so blatantly obvious that any methodology would incorporate it, the rest of this methodology cannot be fully appreciated without understanding that this is the precept that can never be overlooked. Anything that comes between customer satisfaction and us – such as personality clashes within a team or a project executed half-heartedly – will cause us to lose sight of this precept and expose us to definite failure.
Change is our ally. If a customer decides to make changes, we must see this as great news. It doesn’t matter if these changes are requested at later stages within a project and set us back. A team engaged with agile knows how to overcome our initial response to reject change and instead turn it into the customer’s competitive advantage. Changes should always be welcomed.
Workability prevails over everything else. One of agile’s top priorities is the delivery on a regular basis of software, or products or services used by a sector – all the way from car manufacturing to the construction industry. The “working” aspect is key: with customer satisfaction always being the priority, the aim must always be to deliver a fully working product.
Nothing like face-to-face. Agile clearly states this in its manifesto: there is no method more efficient and more effective for communicating information to the rest of the team, whether it be coworkers or subordinates, than face-to-face interaction. Regardless of the number of online communication tools we have, personal contact will always be prioritized.
Motivation is also important. This methodology also stresses the importance of the team remaining motivated thanks to an environment, support and equipment suited to their needs: high motivation allows work to continue being met within the appropriate timeframes.
Whether to apply agile or not…
Over time, agile became popular among companies from all different sectors – not just the ones related to software. Against the backdrop of digital transformation, other industries ended up integrating it and adapting it to their circumstances. However, despite this methodology offering benefits, it also has its disadvantages.
Greater overall productivity: due to its pursuit of efficiency, applying agile improves company productivity. This is because by successfully reducing the time worked on a certain project, there is an increase in time available for other projects.
Faster ROI (return on investment): frequently delivering work allows earnings to accrue from the very beginning.
Reduced risk: constantly delivering work to the customer allows the team to get to know the customer’s opinion during the process without having to wait for the final delivery. This allows the team to correct any potential errors during the process.
Increased quality of the final product: this is because, during the development process, the product has gradually been adapted for the customer in an optimal way.
Less detailed documentation: its way of executing processes with a product which gradually evolves as the project advances, means that other elements, such as drafting comprehensive documentation, come second and are always dependent on workability.
Greater uncertainty: it’s assumed that the customer’s needs will constantly change, meaning that the initial development of any project is often carried out with less planning than with other methods.
Translated by Jamie Broadway
Photo: Welcome to the Jungle
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