The pandemic has upended our lives, forever changing the ways in which we work and live. Faced with unprecedented turmoil and trying to navigate their way through to the new normal, organizations everywhere have realized that in order to survive and thrive, they need to be Agile. Only those organizations that were able to weather the storm and adapt to the challenges thrown up by the pandemic have survived. What these organizations all had in common was agility.
Agile helps enable product innovation, facilitate organizational adaptability, improve leadership effectiveness, improve team productivity and reduce time to market. Top companies today have adopted agile methods including Spotify, eBay, Twitter, IBM, Capgemini, Accenture, Deloitte, Hewlett Packard, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, ExxonMobil, Verizon, Walmart, Dow Jones, Tesla and many more.
In this article we attempt to demystify Agile for beginners, and will walk you through the evolution of Agile, the Agile Mindset, various methodologies and the best approach to Agile adoption.
Agile is the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment. —Agile Alliance
The increasing pace of change, rapid evolution of technology and the need to execute complex projects have driven the need to adopt practices that help to deliver quickly and have a provision to adapt to customer needs. This is only possible with a framework like Agile, which emphasizes on moving things fast while maintaining quality and focusing on customer happiness.
In sharp contrast to traditional project management methods, Agile follows a flexible, iterative approach that has proven to be very efficient.
As far back as 1957, a group of innovative developers who were building software for IBM and Motorola started using incremental development techniques and found that they worked much better than traditional hierarchical processes. Bernie Dimsdale, John von Neumann, Herb Jacobs, and Gerald Weinberg can therefore be credited with the rudimentary formulation of Agile, though at that time it was not termed as such.
Today’s agile approach was formally introduced in 2001, when a group of seventeen software development professionals got together at a ski resort in Utah to talk about alternative project management methodologies. They were able to find common ground and arrived at the definition of Agile that we follow today – a flexible, lightweight and collaborative software development approach that easily adapts to changing market conditions and ensures rapid releases. They then mapped out this vision in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.
The Agile Manifesto is the document that resulted out of the collaboration between these 17 software development professionals, who called themselves the Agile Alliance, and was published in February 2001. It is built on 4 core values and lists out 12 Agile principles for software development.
While all these ideas had been floating around in the software development world for over a decade, it is only when they were put down in the Manifesto that they became concrete and were properly defined.
The Agile Manifesto outlines 4 values that make Agile different from traditional project management methods:
It also lists out 12 principles that represent best practices to be followed. These are:
Most Agile practitioners feel that success in Agile projects depends on the successful inculcation of an Agile mindset. Essentially, the Agile mindset represents a departure from conventional ways of thinking in project management. Traditional, bureaucratic leadership mentalities and top-down methods of management, the ‘Waterfall’ process, must be let go in order to adopt the Agile mindset.
To get the agile mindset, first focus on “being agile” and “thinking agile”, in order to “do agile.” An agile mindset helps to embrace challenges and does not shy away from failure. In fact, failure is viewed as a learning opportunity. Agile practitioners can fulfil the needs of their customers by co- adapting, innovating and co-creating quick releases of usable software in short iterations.
Agile mindsets keep core values in mind, and ensure mutual respect, accountability, and effective collaboration. Agile teams are adaptive to change, follow ‘inspect and retrospect’ learning cycles and improve themselves continuously.
Agile can mean different things to different people. The dictionary meaning of Agile is to ‘be able to move quickly and easily’. But when we talk about Agile in software development, there is quite a debate around the nature of Agile. Is it a framework? Is it a methodology? Is it a mind-set?
For most people, Agile is a framework. Following the values and principles mentioned in the Agile Manifesto helps to implement the iterative and incremental model of Agile; however, Agile is not a set-model and can be tweaked based on the needs of the organization.
Agile is quite different from traditional project management. It has borrowed the best practices, tools and techniques from several other frameworks like XP and Kanban. The concepts of iterations, timeboxed sprints and continuous review has been borrowed from Extreme Programming (XP). Even the concept of task boards is not a creation of Agile but has been borrowed from the manufacturing industry that uses Kanban boards to keep a track of inventory.
Whatever Agile means to you, the benefits it brings about can be leveraged by all.
There are several problems that Agile can solve which traditional project management cannot. These include:
The rapidly changing markets and the rate at which technology is going obsolete stand testimony to how essential it is for businesses to continuously innovate. In this world of change, organizations that do not innovate and adapt cannot survive long. Agile development is synonymous with continuous and rapid innovation, helping organizations to stay ahead of the competition and reap profits. Continuous innovation can be built into agile organizations by following certain principles:
For most organizations that are traditional, undergoing the Agile transformation can be a huge undertaking. Often, Agile transformations fail because the organization has not done the due homework that is needed to undergo this transformation. There are several criteria that need to be considered and managed in order to ensure that our Agile transformation is successful.
Agile demands a complete overhaul of the existing traditional work culture and requires that solutions be tweaked to make them compatible to the problem as procedural solutions cannot be applied to every problem. Agile challenges the traditional top-down hierarchy and makes it more horizontal, giving employees more autonomy and flexibility. An organization trying to adopt Agile must consider all these parameters before setting out on its transformation.
Agility is all about embracing change, and hence an organization that is undergoing transformation must also be ready to adapt itself. And finally keeping with the values of Agile, the organizational processes must set out on the path of continuous improvement to make the system a well-oiled machine where there is a high degree of integration between business, technology and people to ensure business continuity, high-quality and the ability to meet changing business requirements.
An agile methodology is a means of managing projects by breaking them up into several short iterations. At every stage, it involves constant collaboration with stakeholders, the execution of clearly laid out events, and the facilitation of continuous improvement.
There are several Agile methodologies that are popular, and each comes with its own set of benefits. Some of the most used methods include:
Each of these methods follows the Agile Development cycle, which involves short iterations. Every iteration has a Planning/ Design/ Development and Testing Cycle before the release of a small product increment.
There are several methodologies under the Agile umbrella. These methodologies are built on the values outlined in the Agile Manifesto. Each of these methodologies may be suited to different projects and organizations can choose one or a combination of more to suit their project and culture needs.
Used by 66% of respondent organizations as laid out in the 15th Annual State of Agile Report, Scrum is the most popular agile framework used to deliver working products or solutions in time-boxed durations called "sprints”. It is a lightweight framework that helps people, teams and organizations find solutions to complex problems and deliver continuous value.
You know you are doing the Heart of Scrum, if the team has a potentially shippable increment of product at the end of a sprint-- Jeff Sutherland
Scrum’s inherent simplicity, high performance and short iterations ensure maximum productivity. The beauty of Scrum is that it works well with small projects at the team level and delivers great results when scaled at the organizational level to manage large projects.
While it is not too hard to implement team-based Agile, in order to amplify the impact of Agile it is necessary to scale its adoption across the entire enterprise. This has proven to be a challenge in companies that work on complex projects spanning geographies. It is not easy to create a system of scaling Agile that allows teams with vastly different functions to reap the benefits of flexible delivery and an adaptive approach.
Scaling Agile delivery across teams and bigger initiatives requires the breaking down of traditional mindsets and the implementation of radically different ways of working. There are several frameworks that have been successful in large-scale Agile adoption, the most popular among them being the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®). By empowering complex organizations to leverage the benefits of Agile software and systems development at scale, SAFe helps teams at different levels to deliver quickly on shared objectives and a common mission.
Agile and Scrum methodology has revolutionized the project management landscape, giving organizations a shot in the arm and the ability to cope with changing market conditions and unpredictable customer requirements.
Especially in the post-Covid world, when companies have realized the benefits of following Agile approaches, the resilience that is afforded through Agile adoption has proven to be a gamechanger. Experienced Agile practitioners who can add value to Agile teams across the enterprise are highly prized across all industries. There’s no better time than now to get started on a career in Agile!