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What Is Agile?

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.What is Agile?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.Evolution Of AgileAs 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. Agile ManifestoThe 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.  Agile Manifesto Values and Principles The Agile Manifesto outlines 4 values that make Agile different from traditional project management methods: Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools Working software over Comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation Responding to change over Following a planIt also lists out 12 principles that represent best practices to be followed. These are: Satisfy customers through early & continuous delivery Welcome changing requirements even late in the project Deliver value frequently Businesspeople and developers must work together daily throughout the project Build projects around motivated individuals The most effective way of communication is face-to-face Working software is the primary measure of progress Maintain a sustainable working pace Continuous excellence enhances agility Maintain simplicity at all times Self-organizing teams generate the best architectures, requirements, and designs Regularly reflect and adjust your way of work to boost effectiveness Agile is a MindsetMost 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. The Agile dilemma! What does it mean to you?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. What are the benefits of Agile?Allowing software to be created in short iterations Ensuring rapid delivery of working software Reducing documentation Implementing a regular feedback mechanism Incorporating testing into development to ensure bult-in quality Providing relative estimates Offering a high degree of transparency Ensuring customer satisfaction   Creating motivated teams Providing more control over budgets  What Problems Does Agile Solve?There are several problems that Agile can solve which traditional project management cannot. These include: Keeping the product relevant: The short release cycles ensure that the product released in the market is always relevant. This also helps in adapting to changing requirements and releasing a feature that is current and not outdated.  Better project control: Traditional project management often goes overboard in terms of time, resources and money. Agile with its focus on smaller, cross functional teams and shorter delivery cycles helps with better control over project resources, meetings, allocation of tasks and delivering a product of value.  Faster ROI: Rapid iterations and flexibility make teams more productive and help releasing product sooner into the market. When testing is carried out simultaneously along with the development, it ensures that quality is built-in, and you have products that are ready to release sooner. This consequently results in faster ROI.  Reduces risks: There are four major factors that help reduce risk in Agile projects. These include more transparency between teams and stakeholders, small teams, prioritization of the product backlog and limiting work in progress. All these ensure that risks related to quality, scope creep, and overshooting of time and budget are reduced.  Principles of Continuous InnovationThe 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: Creating self-organized and autonomous teams: Giving teams a high degree of flexibility helps them become more creative and innovative.  Happy customers: Happy customers will keep coming back and your reputation in the markets will be maintained. Your focus should be on creating quality products and ensuring that you meet the brief your client has given you. Quick releases: Make sure that every iteration delivers value. Releasing products fast is the benchmark of Agile projects and helps to ensure customer satisfaction and retain quality. Transparency: Being transparent with teams and stakeholders ensures that everyone in on the same page regarding progress, quality and requirements. This reduces the chances of something going wrong in the later stages. Retrospect: Retrospections are an important of continuous improvement and innovation. Retrospective thinking helps to identify challenges or impediments and helps address them in the next iterations.   Bringing about the Agile transformation: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.   Understand organizational needs and work culture: Before you take up the arduous exercise of Agile transformation, understand where your organization stands and what are your needs. This includes the needs of your workforce. You also need to consider the current work culture in your organization. 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. Understand organisational objectives and align Agile to business strategy: Agile must conform to an organization’s business strategy. A full-scale transformation encompasses all aspects of an organization including people, processes, structure, technology and strategy. It’s important to understand how Agile will add value to the organization and how it will differentiate the business in the market from competition by helping it become more nimble, flexible and adaptable. Tailor Agile, adapt and improve: Some organizations are agile right from their inception, they are built on the foundations of Agile. But there are other traditional organizations who want to become agile by transforming stage by stage. The first step in the transformation is to tailor Agile to organizational needs and objectives. Once this is done, there is a need to understand that technology is ever changing and so is the workforce. 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.What are Agile Methodologies? 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: Kanban Lean Scrum Adaptive Project Framework (APF) Extreme Programming (XP) Crystal Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) 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. What is the best approach to Agile adoption?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.How to amplify the impact of Agile?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. In conclusion 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! 
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What Is Agile?

Susan May
Blog
19th Aug, 2021
What Is Agile?

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.

What is Agile?

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.

Evolution Of Agile

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. 

Agile Manifesto

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.  

Agile Manifesto Values and Principles

 The Agile Manifesto outlines 4 values that make Agile different from traditional project management methods: 

  • Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools 
  • Working software over Comprehensive documentation 
  • Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation 
  • Responding to change over Following a plan


It also lists out 12 principles that represent best practices to be followed. These are: 

  1. Satisfy customers through early & continuous delivery 
  2. Welcome changing requirements even late in the project 
  3. Deliver value frequently 
  4. Businesspeople and developers must work together daily throughout the project 
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals 
  6. The most effective way of communication is face-to-face 
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress 
  8. Maintain a sustainable working pace 
  9. Continuous excellence enhances agility 
  10. Maintain simplicity at all times 
  11. Self-organizing teams generate the best architectures, requirements, and designs 
  12. Regularly reflect and adjust your way of work to boost effectiveness 

Agile is a Mindset

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. 

The Agile dilemma! What does it mean to you?

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. 

What are the benefits of Agile?

  • Allowing software to be created in short iterations 
  • Ensuring rapid delivery of working software 
  • Reducing documentation 
  • Implementing a regular feedback mechanism 
  • Incorporating testing into development to ensure bult-in quality 
  • Providing relative estimates 
  • Offering a high degree of transparency 
  • Ensuring customer satisfaction   
  • Creating motivated teams 
  • Providing more control over budgets  

What Problems Does Agile Solve?

There are several problems that Agile can solve which traditional project management cannot. These include: 

  • Keeping the product relevant: The short release cycles ensure that the product released in the market is always relevant. This also helps in adapting to changing requirements and releasing a feature that is current and not outdated.  
  • Better project control: Traditional project management often goes overboard in terms of time, resources and money. Agile with its focus on smaller, cross functional teams and shorter delivery cycles helps with better control over project resources, meetings, allocation of tasks and delivering a product of value.  
  • Faster ROI: Rapid iterations and flexibility make teams more productive and help releasing product sooner into the market. When testing is carried out simultaneously along with the development, it ensures that quality is built-in, and you have products that are ready to release sooner. This consequently results in faster ROI.  
  • Reduces risks: There are four major factors that help reduce risk in Agile projects. These include more transparency between teams and stakeholders, small teams, prioritization of the product backlog and limiting work in progress. All these ensure that risks related to quality, scope creep, and overshooting of time and budget are reduced.  

Principles of Continuous Innovation

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: 

  • Creating self-organized and autonomous teams: Giving teams a high degree of flexibility helps them become more creative and innovative.  
  • Happy customers: Happy customers will keep coming back and your reputation in the markets will be maintained. Your focus should be on creating quality products and ensuring that you meet the brief your client has given you. 
  • Quick releases: Make sure that every iteration delivers value. Releasing products fast is the benchmark of Agile projects and helps to ensure customer satisfaction and retain quality. 
  • Transparency: Being transparent with teams and stakeholders ensures that everyone in on the same page regarding progress, quality and requirements. This reduces the chances of something going wrong in the later stages. 
  • Retrospect: Retrospections are an important of continuous improvement and innovation. Retrospective thinking helps to identify challenges or impediments and helps address them in the next iterations.   

Bringing about the Agile transformation:

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.   

  • Understand organizational needs and work culture: Before you take up the arduous exercise of Agile transformation, understand where your organization stands and what are your needs. This includes the needs of your workforce. You also need to consider the current work culture in your organization. 

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. 

  • Understand organisational objectives and align Agile to business strategy: Agile must conform to an organization’s business strategy. A full-scale transformation encompasses all aspects of an organization including people, processes, structure, technology and strategy. It’s important to understand how Agile will add value to the organization and how it will differentiate the business in the market from competition by helping it become more nimble, flexible and adaptable. 
  • Tailor Agile, adapt and improve: Some organizations are agile right from their inception, they are built on the foundations of Agile. But there are other traditional organizations who want to become agile by transforming stage by stage. The first step in the transformation is to tailor Agile to organizational needs and objectives. Once this is done, there is a need to understand that technology is ever changing and so is the workforce. 

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.

What are Agile Methodologies? 

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: 

  • Kanban 
  • Lean 
  • Scrum 
  • Adaptive Project Framework (APF) 
  • Extreme Programming (XP) 
  • Crystal 
  • Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) 

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. 

What is the best approach to Agile adoption?

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.

How to amplify the impact of Agile?

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. 

In conclusion 

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! 

Susan

Susan May

Writer, Developer, Explorer

Susan is a gamer, internet scholar and an entrepreneur, specialising in Big Data, Hadoop, Web Development and many other technologies. She is the author of several articles published on Zeolearn and KnowledgeHut blogs. She has gained a lot of experience by working as a freelancer and is now working as a trainer. As a developer, she has spoken at various international tech conferences around the globe about Big Data.


Website : https://www.zeolearn.com

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