What Is Agile?
In recent years, the Agile movement has gained a lot of momentum, especially in IT and software. But people are often confused about what Agile really means. And the false idea that Agile is strictly for IT continues to prevail.
So what is Agile? Agile methodologies were created based on the Agile Manifesto, which contains this set of values and principles:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Agile is a mindset, a way of work that allows product creators to easily adjust to stakeholder and user needs. The Agile mindset was built on the need to foster innovation, and to foster workplaces that support and promote innovation. Each of the following examples shows a real-world interpretation of the Agile principles above.
Agile trait: Production is iterative and incremental. Fully tested, functional chunks of value are presented frequently, and users give direct feedback that may result in changing requirements.
Rationale: Plans are often based on what the planner thinks the end users want or need. Only those users, however, can confirm that a deliverable truly matches their wants or needs. Introducing a product in phases allows the production team to make changes and adjustments along the way. This vital characteristic of an Agile framework prevents the all-too-familiar scenario of a production team developing a full product, only to have it rejected by the end user.
Example: A marketing team believes that there is a high demand for articles, white papers, and e-books about a particular topic; let’s call it Thought Leadership Now. Instead of creating a full complement of literature about Thought Leadership Now, the Agile marketing team creates and releases one blog post. If the target audience for this content is not receptive, the team has the opportunity to reconsider the audience, the topic, the media, and/or the distribution channel.
Agile trait: Stakeholders and developers communicate often to help the project team understand stakeholder needs, and to give the project team the flexibility to use any reasonable methods to satisfy those needs.
Rationale: For any product delivery to be successful, creative teams must understand and be fully informed of stakeholder requirements as they evolve.
Example: Business leaders of a construction organization are finding that when requirements and drawings are changing quickly, they cannot rely on email to disseminate the information effectively to the construction team. To support a more Agile work environment, the leaders attend morning “toolbox” meetings to ensure that the crew has the latest drawings and revisions and knows the priorities and goals for the day. Team leaders then collaborate to execute the day’s work plan based on this up-to-date information.
Agile trait: Teams experiment with process changes. This includes data gathering through measuring velocity, testing quality, and monitoring other indicators of their own productivity. The information learned helps them adapt and improve their processes.
Rationale: Work demands, the production environment, team membership and cohesion, and corporate culture determine how team members should best interact to achieve their combined goals. Allowing teams to self-organize around measurable successes has proven highly successful.
Example: An IT team is composed of a large number of new members along with a few seasoned members. During a retrospective meeting, the team hypothesizes that it can ramp up new members faster by using pair programming, with a new member operating the keyboard while a seasoned member observes and advises. They measure velocity and quality as usual, but they also measure team knowledge to see whether pair programming helps new team members learn more quickly.
An Agile framework allows team members to collaborate to decide on the most effective and efficient ways to complete work while making sure that the end users receive what they want and need. The focus is on people and interactions, not processes and tools.
As long as an organization follows the four tenets of Agile, it can’t go wrong.