The future of agile

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It was a great pleasure and honour to be asked by Steve Wake to start a blog on agile and how it affects and can enhance the APM community. At the same time, it is perhaps not surprising, as what is known as agile is 15 years old. Its strength is demonstrated in how it has survived its early criticism and is now becoming the norm rather than exception, with blue chip organisations now embracing it and even those working in very controlled industries.

So what has made it so successful? In future posts, I will explore specific aspects of agile, but, to whet the appetite, I would like to give you a brief history, current trends and how APM can and should be involved.

Agile has its roots in IT development. IT projects were being seen more and more as initiatives that delivered late and cost far more than originally planned. If that wasn’t enough, what was delivered often didn’t meet current business requirements – either being out of date or full of misunderstandings. This was happening in a fast moving, competitive business environment and with a world economy in recession. Traditional approaches (often called “waterfall”) implemented a process-driven, almost production line, structure on what is essentially a creative and innovative discipline. Too much was determined up-front without allowing the evolution needed to ensure the end result will meet requirements of today, necessarily embracing change as it happens. Too little was delivered along the way – keeping everyone waiting potentially for years before being able to benefit.

Hence a new approach was needed, and agile filled this gap.  The Agile Manifesto was signed in 2001 and defined a set of principles. I would interpret the key aspects as:

  • Agile puts the customer firmly in the centre. The driving factor is ensuring whatever is being developed will satisfy customer needs.  
  • As much as possible, an incremental approach is taken. Value is delivered to the customer early and often.
  • Empowered, multi-functional teams ensure that delivered capabilities meet requirements. Although documentation is still important, it does not drive the outcome.
  • The emphasis is on delivering those items that add real value and delivering them on time.   
  • A culture of openness, honesty and transparency is fostered, ensuring that potential issues are surfaced before they become critical.
  • Constant feedback is vital to ensure that the final result really meets the needs of the organisation.
  • Planning is vital, but plans will change.

Good agile approaches ensure this happens in a controlled way, incorporating just enough planning, governance and design.

These are aspects to which I will return in future blogs.

So what about the future of agile? Whilst the manifesto tended to focus on software development, the true concept of agile is far more. In fact, it is a philosophy that concentrates on empowered people and their interactions and early and constant delivery of value into an enterprise. The best agile approaches are very disciplined and can and should be integrated into corporate procedures such as governance. This enterprise level agile is becoming more and more popular, with even relatively conservative business areas, such as the finance and public sectors adopting it.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that we are seeing agile starting to permeate all aspects of an organisation, and not just projects and programmes within IT. For instance, small, empowered, cross functional teams are effective in delivering real benefits early and often. This idea can be used throughout an organisation – involving those that will use products and services in their design and implementation but keeping teams small and removing unneeded bureaucracy. When customers are included, the right outcome of the right quality is virtually guaranteed.  

So agile has a lot to offer the wider enterprise, and we could perhaps see a time when the whole of an organisation is run on agile principles.  Since this will not be about projects or programmes, I believe the emphasis will be on behaviours and structures as opposed to processes and tools. The Agile Enterprise will have adopted a culture that empowers its employees and welcomes feedback and change.  It will not be siloed into departments or other business areas but will support the flexible creation of cross functional teams that can quickly develop and implement new products and services. 

APM has a vital role to play in this future. The project and programme management community needs to understand how to work within an agile environment, and APM is well placed to provide advice and guidance. It is therefore exciting that DSDM and APM will be working together to produce this. Steered through the APM Planning, Monitoring and Control SIG, the first meeting happens later this month.

I hope you have benefited from this introductory post. In future blogs, I will be giving progress on this joint initiative, and also deep diving into some key areas such as agile governance, leadership and agile throughout the organisation.

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Posted by Steve Messenger on 7th Jun 2016

About the Author
Steve is the current Chairman of Agile Business Consortium.

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