If you’ve been in the world of Project Management, Agile is something you would have heard of! A software development methodology that is founded on the principle of iterative development, Agile has been proven to enable quicker delivery of value, and greater responsiveness to evolving requirements and market changes.
This blog is a primer to help you understand what Agile is all about. Our experts answer the questions that might crop up in your mind, so that you can get a better understanding of the benefits of Agile and why it is preferred over traditional software development methods.
Simply stated, Agile is the capability of a development team to respond to change. This ability becomes very relevant in a volatile environment and is the most suitable approach for projects in which conditions and requirements are in a state of constant evolution. Agile development follows incremental deliveries— instead of delivering the product all at once, right at the end.
While Agile started out as a software development approach, today this methodology has been applied to projects across industries and sectors, ranging from manufacturing to construction, financial services to advertising and marketing, and many more.
Agile methodology has proven to work well for any project where there is an element of uncertainty (which is most projects these days!). Its popularity stems from the fact that it has significant benefits over traditional waterfall methods which are rigid and do not adapt to change.
There are many reasons for Agile being the preferred approach used by organizations, large and small. It enables teams to deliver products rapidly, releasing minimum viable products (MVPs) in successive iterations and responding quickly to change. Customer delight is guaranteed, with end-users and stakeholders getting regular updates from the team and being allowed to give their feedback.
Agile has often been called a mindset rather than an approach. What this means is that, in order to truly reap the benefits of the agile approach, Agilists must get used to ‘being agile’ in addition to just ‘doing agile’.
Let’s understand the difference between the two terms. As part of a software team that uses Agile processes, let’s say you were using Scrum—you might have been part of Daily stand-ups, creating user stories and pulling tasks from the Product Backlog. You might have been faithfully following Agile processes and working in Sprints to create value. But somewhere, something has not been falling in place, and the results are not what you would expect from an Agile approach. What could have gone wrong? The answer is that, rather than just ‘doing Agile’, everyone needs to be on board with ‘being Agile’! There is a very fine line between the two.
Doing Agile means that your team is following all the principles, policies and processes that are laid out in the Agile Manifesto. There is not enough emphasis on the Agile values, and the Agile mindset is missing- which means that your behaviours and attitude are not in tune with Agile. Someone who has an Agile mindset lays emphasis on quality and performance and results, and not merely on following principles and taking part in events.
Teams that emphasize on ‘being agile’ have the mindset of teamwork and collaboration and look for gains by the team rather than gains by the individual. They are transparent, adaptive and collaborative and practice value-driven development. They follow the Agile values, which are:
The most important change lies in the Agile mindset, and till everyone is on board with ‘being agile’ it may be wise to have a coach guide you through the process.
The 15th State of Agile Report from digital.ai state that the two most urgent reasons for adopting Agile are the speed and flexibility it offers in the face of unpredictable and volatile working environments. Organizations also recognise that there is a need to focus on alignment across teams to streamline the software delivery process, and Agile goes a long way toward enforcing collaboration and communication which helps achieve this focus.
Some of the key benefits of an Agile adoption are:
The recent shift in the way organizations look at Agile has resulted in the Business Agility movement. Organizations are now seeking to re-structure and operate in ways that help them to keep up with uncertainty and respond to change.
To do this, a sea change is required in the way people and processes work at all levels of the organization. The Agile mindset must be inculcated and supported by the entire organization, and the shift from doing agile to being agile must be very real.
Business agility is needed for businesses to survive and thrive in the face of uncertainty. Those businesses that were Agile had an edge over the competition during the pandemic. They were able to move ahead—and even accelerate growth—despite the unprecedented turmoil and disruption across industries.
While Agile is still used predominantly in the software development industry, it is also very popular in these industries:
The list of industries in which Agile has made a mark is growing, and just about any sector which must deal with a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment can benefit from adopting Agile. Harvard Business Review talks about VUCA as being a catchall for, “Hey, it’s crazy out there!” and this probably is the refrain across most industries today.
There are many ways in which Agile stands apart from traditional ‘waterfall’ project management methodologies. These are some of the main differentiators:
All work is carried out in short iterations, starting with something simple and adding to it in successive iterations. As the work progresses, due to the nature of the iterative approach it is understood that requirements might change, and the product will continually adapt and undergo refinement at every stage. Planning is also adaptive, and Agile plans and scope can change course to keep up with reality.
Unlike a traditional project which has clearly defined roles and a top-down hierarchical approach, working in Agile is a lot like working in a start-up. Everyone does everything, and there are no predetermined hierarchies. Anyone can pitch in and support anyone else and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Roles like analyst, programmer, tester and so on don’t exist in the typical sense, and teams are cross-functional and self-organizing.
Agile welcomes change and recognises that industry needs will evolve over time. The only way to keep up with change is to embrace it, at whatever stage it comes in. It follows an adaptive rather than a prescriptive approach. Traditional approaches, on the other hand, are rigid and have a fixed set of requirements. They spend a lot of time and effort on developing a product and could find in the end that it no longer meets the needs of the user as the industry requirements have changed in the meantime.
Agile is flexible around scope, but keeps time, quality and budget rigid. This ensures that high quality products are rolled out on schedule and without cost overruns, even as they adapt to change over the course of the project.
Agilists measure progress by the rate at which they can turn customer needs into working software. Small product increments are released during each iteration, and the customer can start using the MVP (minimum viable product) early in the project rather than having to wait till the very end.
Organizations everywhere are finding the immense value to be derived from adopting Agile, whether it is for developing products or services, or simply in their everyday processes and approaches to various problems. Agile helps organizations to see change as a catalyst for innovation and growth. They can be ready to embrace and lead change toward progress, instead of having the change lead them in unpleasant ways!