Agile: It means nimble, fast, adaptable and efficient – all the things a project manager wants his or her teams to be. But what is agile to a project manager, and how do we do it right?
Agile. You may have heard the term before and asked: “Just what is better about agile?” In a nutshell, agile practices enable companies to deliver value faster with greater quality by having high-performing teams focusing on incremental delivery of projects that have the highest business value.
As we all know, the pace of change is only increasing in today’s complex, competitive marketplace. Operating under conditions of extreme uncertainty, companies large and small are transforming how new products are built and launched by engaging people throughout the business to adapt and respond to change faster with agile.
Agile practices have been proven to reduce costs and deliver higher-quality software and products that better meet customer expectations. In 2011, The Standish Group reported that agile projects had three times the success rate of the traditional waterfall method and a much lower percentage of time and cost overruns.
Let’s define what’s commonly known as the traditional way of working: business leaders in your organisation spend months defining the requirements for a new product or service. Then, they hand them over to development, followed by integration, then testing, production and finally to maintenance – six to 12 months later, there may (or may not) be a product for management to evaluate. In this time, the needs of your customers, business, and the market are likely to have changed, rendering the original requirements obsolete. So, it’s back to the drawing board while competitors are pushing out products and updates one after the other, and your business is losing time, money, market share and morale.
Agile solves this problem by releasing incremental functionality early and often, rigorously prioritising items that provide the greatest value for customers and the business. Rather than working with lengthy development and test cycles, dedicated, cross-functional teams break projects down into smaller pieces and deliver running, tested features.
Agile provides everyone involved (including customers) the opportunity to provide feedback based on frequent inspection, enabling firms to pivot as they acquire new knowledge and business conditions change quarterly, monthly, and even daily due to new threats, competitors and opportunities.
With agile, project managers can closely align development and business objectives so everyone knows at any moment where projects stand and what teams need. It also reduces the risk involved in project management by speeding up learning – the more you know, the more you can refine forecasting, planning, budgeting, resource capacity, and so on.
Ultimately, the visibility and transparency that agile provides allows for the rebuilding of trust between business and development. The business gets involved, becomes fundamental to the success of the final product, and begins seeing a return on its investment much earlier.
The first step towards adopting agile in your organisation is to identify, articulate and widely communicate the reason. What is the main point that is so important that your company needs to embark on this journey? What
benefit will agile bring? Quicker time to market? Gaining competitive edge? With this catalyst well understood, you are ready to inspire your people to change.
Organisational change at this level can be difficult. This process is a mindset change and a shift in the way an organisation operates – senior leadership must embrace it, be willing to adjust the culture as necessary and be open to admitting and learning from mistakes. It’s critical to speak to other professionals who have been through the process while leveraging the expertise in your own company.
Questions to ask include:
- What development approach tends to work best?
- What are the possible pitfalls?
- How can we be successful with regard to the required behaviour change?
To best evaluate your options, it’s important to remove your planned product itself from the conversation. If you currently work in a waterfall fashion and want to go agile, the product will come back into the equation later. If you’re new to the concept of agile, increased awareness and understanding is vital and the agile community is inherently very open and willing to share expertise.
Ultimately, the core tenets of agile are collaboration, transparency and learning. It brings people together to work successfully and communicate effectively on a daily basis, giving individuals the power to make decisions and therefore increasing ownership of, and accountability for, their work.
As agile becomes mainstream in the business world, it’s inevitable that we’ll see failures alongside great successes. Agile is here to stay and if you don’t embrace it, you’ll be left behind.
Blog written by Ronica Roth and Phil Knight.
Ronica Roth is a certified scrum trainer and agile coach at Rally Software in the US.
Phil Knight is a major account manager at Rally Software in the UK.